[an error occurred while processing this directive]

A Shadow Play: The Origins of Dictatorship

Grade Level



World Studies, Government, Advanced Placement Comparative Politics, Advanced Placement World Studies (important note: lesson should be used following the AP exam as an enrichment activity.)

Estimated time of completion

In addition to watching SHADOW PLAY, the lesson and its activities may take from 90 minutes to 180 minutes, making it appropriate for one or two blocks in schools on the block schedule.


Viewing the documentary SHADOW PLAY, students will learn about the rise to power of one of this century's most ruthless dictator who presided over the fourth most populous nation of the world. In completing this lesson, student will piece together the different forces and values that clashed in Indonesia producing Suharto's ascent to power and its aftermath.

The centerpiece of this lesson is a student-centered activity in which the students will make shadow puppets that represent characters and forces at play in the events described in the movie. The students will then exhibit their puppets, explain the significances of each puppets design, and explain the interaction between the puppets in a shadow play that serves as an allegory for the events in Indonesia that lead to Suharto's assumption of power.


Students will:

  • Dramatize the story of Suharto's rise to power.
  • Identify the conditions that lead to the establishment of his dictatorship
  • Interpret and evaluate how each of those conditions contributed to what occurred.
  • Analyze if there are parallels that may exist between the West struggles against Communism in the past and its current struggle against terrorism.


    This lesson addresses the following national content standards found at http://www.mcrel.org:

    [World history]
    The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes

    Standard 43
    Understands how post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up

    The 20th Century Since 1945: Promises and Paradoxes
    Standard 44
    Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world

    What is the Relationship of the United States to Other nations and to World Affairs?

    Standard 22
    Understands how the world is organized politically into nation-states, how nation-states interact with one another, and issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy

    Standard 23
    Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the United States and other nations


    (The project may be completed with fewer items than listed below)

  • Black poster board. Other forms of cardboard are acceptable though may be harder to work with.
  • Newsprint to use as a display background.
  • White carbon paper, if available.
  • 14-16-gauge wire and/or inch dowel. Strips of cardboard cut and taped together may make an acceptable alternative.
  • Heavy thread or round head solid brass fasteners.
  • Masking tape.
  • White newsprint.
  • Index cards, 5 x 7 are preferable.

    The items such as the wire, dowel, thread or round head solid brass fasteners, will not be necessary if the puppets are only going to be displayed and not used in a performance.

    Teaching Procedure

    1. Introduce and show the video SHADOW PLAY.

    2. Have students take notes while watching using the graphic organizer.

    3. Provide the students with background on Wayang Kulit, or the ancient Indonesian art of shadow play, a PowerPoint presentation (for Macintosh of for PC).

    4. Break the students into workable groups.

    5. Assign a puppet to each group and provide each group with instructions for completing the activity.

    6. Have the students mount an exhibit of their puppets in the classroom.

    7. Curators will then interpret the exhibit for the class, bringing together the different elements of the people, forces, and events symbolized in the displayed puppetry.

    Assessment Recomendations

    The exhibits may be evaluated using a suggested rubric.

    Extended Activities

    1. Student may want to put on their own shadow play rather than mounting a static display.

    2. To meet the fourth object of the lesson, teachers may want to extended the lesson using the activity Communism and Terrorism: Parallel Threats to the West?

    3. Students with computer skills may be interested in producing computerized versions of shadow puppets. See http://www.harapan.co.jp/english/indon_e/cgi_wayang.htm

    Related Web Sites

    The following Web sites may be of use to a teacher preparing a lesson on this topic:

    CIA factbook information on Indonesia.

    Bali & Beyond, a performing arts company, is the host of a web site featuring considerable information on the culture of Indonesia.

    A page of links to puppetry resources, including technique, construction, puppeteers, tour schedules, and related issues.

    Print this page.
    Email this page to a friend.
    Continue to Lesson Plan 2

  • Photo of the silhouette of a shadow puppet

    The silhouette of a shadow puppet, as seen when illuminated from behind a screen.

    These files require Microsoft PowerPoint
    A Shadow Play
    Download for Macintosh
    Download for PC

    © 2002 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

    Real Player 56k T1 Real Player 56k T1 Introduction Lesson Plans Lesson Plan 1 Lesson Plan 2 National Standards Resources