By Max Millard

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Date: Tuesday 2-27-07
Grade Level: 6
School: Presidio Middle School
Teacher: Irene Collier
Supervisor: Gayle Leyton

Ia. Learning objectives and outcomes

- Students will learn about Asoka and his edicts.

- Students will learn to analyze billboards and learn how to condense a message into a simple slogan.

- Students will learn to illustrate their slogans with appropriate pictures to make their own billboards.

Ib. Language objectives

- Students will learn about the meaning of these terms as they related to the reign of Asoka (emperor of the Mauryan Empire, 3rd century B.C.): Buddhist values, general welfare, justice, security.

- Students will learn other vocabulary related to Asoka's edicts, including:
uniformity in judicial procedure
without good cause
three days respite
undertake a fast for a better rebirth

III. Background/rationale

By the time of this lesson, the class had already been studying ancient India for two weeks. During this lesson, they were introduced to Asoka, one of the most influential persons ever to come out of Asia. Asoka is still largely unknown outside of India, and this lesson helped to make him and his legacy relevant to today. He was noted for writing edicts about human conduct that were displayed on tall pillars, the same way that billboards or street signs attract attention today. This lesson combined the students' knowledge of advertising with their knowledge of Asoka to create the kind of billboards that might be seen in today's world.

IV. Process

A. Into: The teacher shared some information about Asoka with the class, and discussed his edicts. Many of Asoka's edicts, particularly those on practical morality and the way of compassion, were engraved on pillars and rocks erected throughout India. More than 30 of these survive and are the chief source of information on Asoka's reign. He strongly influenced the development of Buddhism, not only by making it the state religion, but also by sending Buddhist missionaries to other countries, particularly Sri Lanka, which became the center of classical Buddhism. The students used their textbooks to follow the lesson about Asoka and to see pictures from his time, especially a picture of an edict on a pillar. Then the teacher announced that the class would be then divided into groups of two, who would create their own billboards the next day.

B. Through: The teacher read these eight edicts by Asoka and led a class discussion about their meaning:

  1. I have had ponds dug and shelters erected along the roads.
  2. It is good not only to spend little, but to own the minimum of property.
  3. It is desirable that there should be uniformity in judicial procedure and punishment.
  4. If the unconquered peoples on my border ask what is my will, they should understand this: I desire that they should trust me and should have only happiness in their dealings with me.
  5. ... the officials of the city should always see to it that no one is ever imprisoned or tortured without good cause.
  6. There is no gift that is comparable to the gift of dharma, and this is: good behavior toward slaves and servants, obedience to parents, generosity toward friends, acquaintance, and relatives ... and abstention from killing living beings.
  7. Everywhere, I, Asoka ... have arranged for ... medical treatment for people and medical treatment for animals.
  8. Men who are sentenced to death are to be given three days respite. Thus their relations may plead for their lives, or the men may make donations or undertake a fast for a better rebirth in the next life.

The teacher then divided the class into pairs and asked each pair which edict they wanted to sloganize and illustrate. The student pairs all chose an edict. The teacher showed some modern billboards, printed from the Internet.

C. Beyond: The teacher asked all the students to think about their edicts overnight and to look at billboards at other advertising on the street, on TV or on the Internet so that they could come prepared the next day to do their projects. They had to make up a slogan that was related to their edict, but could be a modern twist or variation. Then they had to illustrate it, using pictures and elaborate lettering that resembled a real billboard.

VI. Materials

pictures of billboards
paper strips showing Asoka's edicts

Quiz: Buddhism and Asoka

1. What was the Buddha's real name?

a. Hare Krishna
b. Prince Gupta
c. Siddhartha Gautama
d. Maurya

2. What does karma mean?

a. rebirth
b. good health
c. a person's thoughts, words and actions
d. a place of worship

3. What is the major religion in India today?

a. Buddhism
b. Hinduism
c. Islam
d. Sikhism

4. What did the Buddha say was the main cause of suffering?

a. disease
b. old age
c. hunger
d. greed

5. What is ahimsa?

a. fasting
b. prayer
c. suffering
d. nonviolence

6. What is Buddha dharma?

a. law or teaching
b. a place of worship
c. meditation
d. enlightenment

7. When did Asoka live?

a. about 2300 years ago
b. at the time of the Great Pyramids
c. about 1000 years ago

8. Why was Asoka a vegetarian?

a. It was healthy.
b. He didn't like to kill animals.
c. He believed in fasting.
d. It would save water.

9. How big was Asoka's empire?

a. bigger than India today.
b. smaller than India today.
c. about the same size as India today.

10. Which of these was not one of the goals of Asoka's government:

a. Buddhist values
b. general welfare
c. voting
d. security