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Sample Unit: Japanese Poetry and Minecraft

Earlier this school year, I created a unit to teach medieval Japanese history concepts while emphasizing the role of social structure through both visual and written narrative. As always I designed the lesson with the primary goal of addressing my students’ prevalent reading and writing deficiencies.

After completing the background lesson for this unit, I asked my students to choose and then research the lifestyle and role of a citizen selected from one of the following hierarchical classes:

  • Kuge Class – Emperor, Shogun
  • Buke Class – Daimyos (Lords), Hatamotos, Samurai
  • Heimin Class – peasants, artisans, merchants, monks, thieves
  • Eta Class – butchers, undertakers, dung haulers, ninja (not the Hollywood version)

They then each wrote a poem from the perspective of that citizen. During the medieval period, tanka poems were very popular. Similar to haiku, syllables for tanka were important — and the syllabic pattern for tanka in Japanese is 5-7-5-7-7. Tanka poems place emphasis on the environment and emotions – a natural bridge to connect poetic verse and model landscapes in Minecraft.

When students completed their poems, they were tasked with creating a visualization of it in Minecraft. They modified the landscape to fit their poems, adding features such as bridges, meadows, and farms.

Next, they used a special block in Minecraft known as a command block which, when stepped upon, displayed a line from their poem. They placed five hidden command blocks along a pathway through the environment they designed to complete the project. We then spent a wonderful day strolling through each student’s poem and learning about medieval Japanese culture.

John is a Google Certified Teacher and featured presenter at conferences and workshops around the country. He loves teaching 21st century skills to his students and his passions include: student blogging, Minecraft in the classroom, photography, Apple and Google. John is a contributor to Minecraft in the Classroom, a Peachpit Press book published in October 2014. He blogs at


Shining Sun – Student-created Tanka Poem in Minecraft

Shining Sun by Cindy from John Miller on Vimeo.