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South Korea Unit Study

I am having a blast writing a column for the Old Schoolhouse magazine called the International Schoolhouse.  In the article, I get the chance to share with you about the landscape, the history and the culture of the highlighted country, in this case South Korea.  However, there is so much to tell that simply overflows a 1500 word article that I have decided to compile the remainder of the information as a unit study for you. 

I have a heart for the country of South Korea.  My sister was born in Seoul and our family adopted her when she was four years old.  She has since visited her birth country and has become a fabulous cook.  She cooks a variety of food, but her Korean dishes are to die for!  I'll share a few below.  My father also spent quite a bit of time during his military career in South Korea just after the Korean war.  As children, we loved to watch his old slide shows and see that handsome young man (could that really be our dad?) who had many pictures taken of himself and the darling Korean children at the orphanages he visited during his free time.

If you do not subscribe to the Old Schoolhouse magazine, you can read a sample issue here -  Or better yet, subscribe here - The Old Schoolhouse Magazine - and get the fall issue this month with the Korea article that I have written, plus many, many more wonderful articles of encouragement from other inspirational authors.  It is their best issue yet.  Oh, and did I mention that you get 25 free gifts with your new subscription.

Okay, so now that you have read the article, it's time to dive in for some hands-on learning to cement your student's growing knowledge of this small but fascinating Asian country.

Unit Study:

1.  READING SELECTIONS - Let's start with some extra reading.  Listed below are some great books about Korea, or set in Korea, that will provide many hours of enjoyable reading.  The links below will take you to for more information, but you can find these at your local library.  Read for pleasure alone, or have your kids write a book report on one of these selections.


The first book above is a picture book for the younger set and it is about Korean cooking and one very popular Korean dish in particular known as Bibim Bap, or otherwise known as mix-mix rice (recipe below, but read the book first).  The next two books are part of a series that are getting great reviews and is about a girl in war-torn Korea during the Japanese occupation of WWII.  The last book is set during medieval times and is a great fictional read as well.  While you are at the library on your next visit, don't forget to pick up some picture books as well.  South Korea in Pictures would be a good choice, but there are probably several to choose from.

2. HISTORY & TIMELINES - After more than 50 years of "cold war" between the divided countries, North and South Korea are making some serious attempts at reconciliation this past month.  The Korean War may have appeared to have ended in 1953, but a peace treaty was never signed and the two lands have kept a total of over 2 million troops on their shared border all of these years.  Could we see a united Korea again after all of these years?  What caused the division in the first place?  Take a peek at the timeline of Korean history below to find some answers to these plaguing questions.

Learn more about South Korea by compiling historical facts and events from Korea's turbulent history and adding them to your timeline.  If you do not have a timeline on the go, you can construct one by following these directions - How to Make a Timeline Easily.  Here is a link to a wonderful resource for timeline entries about Korea -

3. MAPWORK - A unit study would not be complete without taking a good look at the lay of the land.  Click here for both a labeled and unlabeled map of Korea.  Have your students mark some of the major cities (Seoul is the capital of S. Korea and P'yongyang the capital of N. Korea), the neighboring countries, and the seas to the east and west, at the least.  For older students, have them use your teacher's map and fill in the rest!

4. RECIPES - This is my favorite part - the food from the land!  And I love Korean cuisine!  If you do the above activities on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then take some time on either Thursday or Friday to whip up some authentic Korean dishes in your kitchen.

In Korea, rice is served at every meal. At breakfast it is sometimes served as gruel, especially for elderly people and children. At other meals, steamed rice is accompanied by soup, meat, fish, vegetables and, of course, kimchi (recipe below). Rice is of such importance that meals are described as consisting of rice and panch'an, a term that incorporates whatever else is served with the rice.

Korea has an abundance of fish and other seafood, and often the fish is combined in surprising ways with meat or poultry. Like the Japanese, Koreans use seaweed, especially the dried laver seaweed known as nori by the Japanese and kim by the Koreans. It is used as a relish.


Beef is the most popular meat in Korea.  Beef is not usually cooked in one big piece. It is very thinly sliced and cut into bite-size pieces; sometimes the slices are beaten out for extra thinness. The beef is then kneaded well with a marinade and left for 2-4 hours so that it is tenderized and flavored. While Korean charcoal grill or broil such meals as bulgogi or bulgalbi, everyday cooking includes boiling, steaming, stir frying and deep or shallow frying. 


The seven basic flavors of Korean food are garlic, ginger, black pepper, spring onions, soy sauce, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds.  Yum!

Here are a few of our favorite dishes.  Don't forget the big pot of steamed rice.  Enjoy!

Kim Chi (spicy pickled cabbage)

Ingredients :


1/2 cup

1/2 teaspoon


2 cloves

5 cm

3 teaspoons

1 tablespoon

2 1/2 cups

Large Chinese cabbage

Sea salt

Cayenne pepper

Spring onions, finely chopped

Garlic, finely chopped

Fresh ginger, grated

Chopped fresh chili

Caster sugar

Cold water

Method :
  • Cut the cabbage in half, then into large bite-sized pieces.

  • Place a layer of cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with a little salt. Continue with layers of cabbage and salt, finishing with a salt layer.

  • Cover with a dinner plate that will fit as snugly as possible over the top of the cabbage.

  • Weigh down the plate with cans or a small brick and leave the bowl in a cool place for 5 days.

  • Remove the weights and plate, pour off any liquid, then rinse the cabbage well under cold running water.

  • Squeeze out any excess water and combine the cabbage with the cayenne pepper, spring onion, garlic, ginger, chili and sugar.

  • Mix well to combine before spooning the cabbage into a large sterilized jar.

  • Pour the water over the top and seal with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days before eating.

Note : Kim Chi is an accompaniment eaten with Korean main meals and with steamed rice. For an authentic flavor, use 3 tablespoons of chili. Bottled chopped chili can be used instead of fresh chili.

Bulgogi (grilled marinated steak)

Ingredients :

2 tablespoons

1 tablespoons

4 tablespoons

1 bunch (about 8)

1(about 2 inch)

6 cloves

2 tablespoons

5 tablespoons

2 lb / 1 kg

Dark soy sauce

Light soy sauce


Scallions, white  and tender green parts only, coarsely chopped

Fresh ginger,  peeled and grated

Garlic, minced

Cooking rice wine

Sesame oil

flank steak, sliced as thin as possible

Cooking oil

Method :
  • Mix all the ingredients thoroughly except the sliced beef.

  • Add the beef and marinade for about 1 hour.

  • Heat some cooking oil in a large frying pan.

  • Put the sliced beef in a few at a time and sear on both sides for about 1 minute per side.

Note : This is a festive national dish of Korea. A good choice for New Year. Often cooked at the table on small grills and diners seated around it. Kim Chi (above) often accompanies it.

Japchae (transparent noodles with vegetables)

Ingredients: 1 pack transparent noodle (dangmyun),
  (soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, drained)
  1 medium onion, thin sliced
  1/2 carrot, thin julienne
  1 bunch spinach, blanched, cut into 3 inches
  10 oz  thin slice beef
  5 green onions, cut in a bias
  7 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated, thin sliced
  oil to saute
  salt and pepper
  2 tbsp sesame seeds
Beef marinade: 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp minced garlic,
                     1/4 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp sesame seeds
Shiitake marinade: 1/2 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp sesame oil
Noodle seasoning: 1 and 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 4 tbsp vegetable oil
In a non stick pan, add oil and saute vegetables.
All ingredients have to be cooked separately.
To use the same pan, start with light color vegetable.
An ideal order will be onion - green onions - carrot - shiitake mushrooms - beef.
The vegetables don't have to get any color, just need to be softened.
Saute and move to a big bowl to cool a little bit.
Put a non-stick wok or large pan on a medium heat.
Add dang myon seasoning, pour in dang myon.
Bring to a boil, stir occasionally for a few minutes until dang myon absorbs water.

In about 10-15 minutes they start to stick together.
From this point, stir constantly until the noodle gets soft and translucent.
Take off from the heat, let cool for a while.
If needed cut the length.
Mix with vegetables, sesame seeds, salt and pepper to taste.

Bibim Bap (Mix-Mix Rice)

Ingredients: 3 cups rice, a handful of soy bean sprouts
  4 dried shiitake mushrooms, 1 zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  1/2 cup go sa ri (packaged fernbrake in water)
  1/2 cup mu (Korean radish), julienne
  4 oz beef, thinly sliced, 1/4 cup carrot, julienne, 1/2 onion, sliced
  4 tbsp gochujang (Korean chili paste), 4 eggs
  sesame oil, vegetable oil for sautéing
soy bean sprouts seasoning: 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1/4 tsp gochugaru (Korean chili powder)
                1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp sesame seeds, a pinch of sugar
shiitake mushrooms seasoning: 1/2 tsp sesame oil, 1/2 tsp soy sauce, 1/4 tsp sugar
zucchini seasoning: 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1/4 tsp minced garlic, 1/4 cup water
fernbrake seasoning: 2 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 tsp minced garlic, 1/2 tsp soy sauce
                1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sesame seeds
radish seasoning: 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1/4 tsp minced garlic, 1/4 cup water
beef seasoning: 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp sesame oil, 1/4 tsp minced garlic
                 pinch of pepper
Wash rice until the water comes out clean.
Add 3.5 cups of water, cook rice in a rice cooker.
Or cook in a pot on a high heat until the water is absorbed.
Reduce heat to very low, cover with a lid, cook for another 15-20 minutes.
Turn the heat off, leave for 10-15 minutes with a lid on.

Marinate beef with seasonings.

Soy bean sprouts -
Wash and add to a pot, pour 1/2 cup water and a pinch of salt, cover the lid.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cook for 5-7 minutes.
Don't peek it, if they smell like cooked beans, they're done.
Pour into a colander, let cool for a while.
Add seasonings, mix.

Shiitake mushrooms -
Dried ones need to be reconstituted, add warm water, leave until softened.
Wash, squeeze out water, slice thinly.
Add to a pan with seasonings, saute briefly.

Zucchini -
Add in a pan with seasonings (see above) on a high heat with a lid.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cook for 2-3 minutes.
Open the lid, let cool.

Fernbrake -
Drain the water, add oil to a pan, saute with seasonings (see above).
Add sesame seeds at the last minute.
Let cool.

Radish -
Add in a pan with seasonings (see above) on a high heat with a lid.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cook for 4-5 minutes.
Open the lid, let cool.

Onion -
Saute with some salt.

Carrot -
Saute with some salt.

Saute beef on a high heat.

To assemble the bowl -
Put rice on the bottom, arrange vegetables around.
Add egg yolk (or sunny side up, or just fried) on top.

Serve with go chu jang (Korean chili paste) and sesame oil.
Tips: You can use any vegetables such as spinach, bean sprouts, or mushrooms (oyster, enoki).
Blanch mushrooms, squeeze, add some sesame oil, salt and sesame seeds.

5. CRAFTS - Korean Han-Ji: Dak Paper Doll Craft

Crafts in Korea are not like crafts in America.  These are works of art and a "craft" might takes months instead of minutes or hours.  Take a look at this link and see what I mean:

Perhaps you will be inspired to make some easier and less intensive paper dolls - American style - and put on a puppet show.  All you need is paper (or even easier - coloring books), colored pencils (or pens), popsicle sticks, glue, some creativity and you are on your way.

And remember to have fun!

Warm Regards,

Terri Johnson
Knowledge Quest, Inc. - try our maps free! - we are looking for authors for our new book - see what we're up to. - our business helping your business to succeed!


Terri Johnson is the creator of Knowledge Quest maps and timelines.  Her mission for the company is to help make the teaching and learning of history and geography enjoyable for both teacher and students.  She has created and published over 20 map and timeline products.  Her Blackline Maps of World History have been widely recommended in the education community.  Terri resides in Oregon with her husband Todd and their five children whom she teaches at home.


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