The Mongols Attack Japan

I’m back – I hope to stay.

Dear Year 8 students, 

I hope you still remember me after my long absence on sick leave! After my emergency operation, I needed quite a long time to get back to normal. Fortunately, my organs appear to be functioning properly now – more or less. Here’s hoping they stay that way.

I hope that you have all been happy at school and have managed all the demands on your time.

The mini-unit below is about the Mongols and their attacks on Japan in the 13th century. I understand that you have already learned quite a lot about medieval Japan and these Mongol attacks with Ms Giesbrecht. Like other medieval events that we have encountered, such as the Norman Conquest and the Black Death, these two failed invasions illustrate the beliefs and mentality of the would-be conquerors and the desperate defenders.

Below, you will find some extra activities, quizzes and websites about this remarkable story, followed by a Kahoot.

Kind regards from Ms Green

Artist: Katsushika Hokusai Source: The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Public Domain via Wikipedia


The Mongols conquered a vast empire in far less time than the Romans had required to conquer a smaller one. As a fighting force, the Mongols were efficient, ruthless, systematic and terrifying. When the leaders of a city realised that they were in line for a Mongol attack, they often surrendered meekly and began to pay tribute. This was a sensible idea, for the Mongols were tolerant towards their subjects but merciless towards their foes.

Below you will find some useful resources to help you discover what happened when the seemingly invincible Mongols attacked Japan in the thirteenth century. As the picture above suggests, it is always complicated to attack an island, especially one surrounded by potentially stormy seas. 

Handouts and Activities

Extension Task: Write a paragraph titled “The Story So Far” in which you use these key words and new vocabulary: Kublai Khan, Japanese sovereign/emperor, tribute, Mongols, Samurai, empire, code of honour, typhoon, brutal, armada.

Corresponding Task: Watch the video (Why were the Mongols so effective?) under “Recommended Videos” below and answer questions ⓐ, ⓑ and that are listed there.

Online Quizzes and Activities

(Simple multiple choice questions to help you focus on the main wording and details in the videos)

Recommended Websites

(The three handouts above are based loosely on this much longer article, along with other sources.)

Recommended Videos

ⓐ As you watch the video, write down key words. I shall do the same on the board. We shall have a quick quiz afterwards on the meaning of some words.

ⓑ The presenter lists 3 reasons why the Mongols were such successful conquerors. Write these down too. He repeats the reasons, so don’t panic if you miss them on the first run-through.
1♦ 2♦ 3♦ 

ⓒ Discussion question: Which three words would you use to sum up the Mongols and their style of conquest? (You can borrow words from the handout and the video.)


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Night of Notables, 2017

A message from an admirer

Dear 7X,
From 2003 until 2014, I was one of the Night of Notables teachers every year. I helped to organise it and regulate the chaos of setting up, the lining up, the speech giving and the whole experience. Then I taught Year 8 History for two years and became a mere visitor to the event. Yesterday, I was dreading the setting up double. “It’s always chaotic,” I told a less experienced colleague. “Brace yourself.”

Actually, with you as my class, it was not chaotic at all. You were all so focused and organised. You seemed completely unfazed by small matters like having to fit all your display materials on exam tables, not having a table at all initially, and then later, being squashed into a room with hundreds of admirers. You just sailed right on and did your stuff. By twenty minutes from the start of the double, you had the situation well in hand. I was almost a bystander. 

Of course, I expected no less of you. All the same, it is an unalloyed pleasure to be the teacher of such a self-reliant, resilient crew of young dreamers, thinkers and entrepreneurs.

Kind regards,
Ms Green

Please write a comment about the Night of Notables, in which you respond to any or all of the following questions:

  • What did you most enjoy about the project and the night?
  • What did you learn from it?
  • What did you discover about yourself and your friends?
  • Were there any particularly amusing moments, bizarre questions or unexpected crises?
  • Which skills did you develop or hone as you went about your work?
  • Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome and how did you go about it?
  • What could we as your teachers do in order to make the project better or easier to manage?
The many delightful details of the Night of Notables…
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Welcome to History, 7X!

Dear 7X,

I have heard all about you already from at least two of your other teachers, Mr Jäckisch and Mrs Andrews. So I know that you are curious, perceptive, witty and delightful. Do you mind living up to such high praise? No pressure!

As I grow inexorably older (no faster than you are, but sometimes it seems that way), I notice that, even in the 30 years since I gained my teaching qualification, the story of history has changed quite significantly. Historians keep digging (literally and figuratively) and scientists have found entirely new ways to unwrap the enigmas of history.

As a consequence, while I once used to discuss the question of whether the Neanderthals were related to Homo sapiens with my students in an uncertain, speculative way, I can now state, more or less categorically, that some of our genes come from that mysterious group of people who hunted and gathered, just as we did, but did not survive to see the modern world that we have made. You can find more on this topic at this post.

The internet has also changed how I teach, how my students learn and the sheer breadth of material available to us all. For instance, it was only after the internet became available that I discovered how many women artists in the Renaissance were never mentioned in my old history books. Here is an example.

Since I have also changed in the last 30 years, I perceive history differently as well. One reason is that I have taught myself two foreign languages in the past 8 years. When you read history in another language, you discover that English writers have sometimes left out vital details. Every people has its own story and its own way of telling it.

Unravelling the tangled threads of history…

In short, history is a fluid, ongoing mystery, a continuous endeavour to tease out the truth from all the stories, the lies, the propaganda and the partial sources at our disposal. I hope that you will enjoy the process of unravelling the tangled threads of the human story and that you will contribute your own youthful exuberance, wisdom and knowledge to the process.

Kind regards from

Ms Green

Four Periods in History | Introductory Handout

Essential Terms for Describing Time:

• Prehistory

The time before the first writing appeared, in the period between 3500 and 3100 BC. Once people could write records, they could write history. That’s when we say that “history” began, though the human story stretches much further back into the mists of time.

• BP – Before the Present

This is frequently used by scientists who deal with huge numbers of years and want to provide a rounded indication of how long ago something happened. 

• BC – Before Christ

The time before the birth of Christ, an expression used in Christian societies

• BCE – Before the Common Era

The time before the birth of Christ, without Christ’s name being mentioned; employed in non-Christian societies and increasingly in Christian societies when an objective style of describing history is desired; equivalent in meaning to BC

• AD – Anno Domini, Latin for “Year of our Lord”

The years that have elapsed since the birth of Christ, an expression used in Christian societies 

• CE – Common Era

The years that have elapsed since the birth of Christ, without Christ’s name being mentioned; employed in non-Christian societies and increasingly in Christian societies when an objective style of describing history is desired; equivalent in meaning to AD


And last of all, a Jumble Kahoot: 

Panorama of Four Periods of the Human Story: Prehistoric, Ancient, Medieval and Modern Periods
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