Interview with James Trapp – Doing Dragons Differently

James Trapp at the British Museum

So what’s this ‘Doing Dragons Differently’ training all about?  We interviewed James Trapp to find out more about him and the new free training on 28 November*…

  1. When did you first become interested in Chinese culture?

I was taken to an exhibition at the Royal Academy when I was 14. It was the first exhibition of Chinese art in the west for about 50 years and I’d never seen anything like it before. Something about it just grabbed me and from then on I decided I wanted to find out more.

  1. Why teach through objects? What’s different about this training?

Because objects are fun! It’s true of any language that language and culture work together: the more you have some understanding of the art and culture of China, the more Chinese language makes sense. Objects inform, they enliven, they entertain, and they are very versatile, which is really what this training is about. If you take the time to look properly at objects, you see them in a different light and begin to make connections. That’s one of the big things that the day is about: making connections.

  1. What will this training day cover? What can I take back to the classroom?

The training is based around a quest activity that can be applied to any culture and any subject. The quest gives your visit a focus and encourages your students to think about objects beyond their immediate context in a glass display case. The activity can be partially done in a museum and can also be taken back to school and developed. Ideally it will open some doors to other subject areas. So if it’s a history or a language visit, you can go back and develop it into literacy, or design and technology, or IT, and all sorts of things. It’s widening the scope of your museum visit.

  1. How is this course relevant to me? How do objects fit with my syllabus?

The activity we’re basing the course around is not subject specific and it’s adaptable to all ages. I’ve run it with primary and secondary pupils with great success. How is it relevant? If you can get past all the organisational hurdles in setting up a school trip, then you really want to make the most out of it. This training is suggesting ways that you can get the most benefit out of your visit to a museum. You will find themes within your syllabus – whether you are working at primary or secondary level – that you can work this activity into. So it should be relevant to any teacher.

  1. My school is not near any museums – are you sure this training will be relevant for me?

Yes, for two reasons: (1) Often you might be surprised to find that there is a museum near you, because a museum doesn’t have to be a great establishment monolith like the British Museum or the V&A. There are lots of small local museums which are often enormously rich in material. (2) Many museums now have very good online collections and you can do this quest virtually.

  1. Can you give us one top tip for teaching culture?

Don’t be limited by what you think culture is. Culture covers everything to do with the way life is lived or has been lived in the country you’re talking about. Museums are coming to recognise that. Culture doesn’t necessarily mean high culture. The most important thing is to make it relevant and interesting to your students, however you choose to do that.

  1. Which UK museums have Chinese collections?

A surprising number. Obviously in London you have the British Museum and the V&A. There’s also the Museum of Croydon which has the Riesco collection. The other major collections are the Ashmolean in Oxford, the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, Bristol Museum, a very nice small Museum of East Asian Art in Bath, the Oriental Museum in Durham, the Museum of Liverpool and the Lady Lever collection. In Scotland, Edinburgh has collections and the Burrell Collection is just outside of Glasgow. In Northern Ireland, the Ulster Museum has some Chinese art too.

You’ll find bits and pieces wherever you look. The UK’s had a very long-standing relationship with China, and particularly in port cities and in towns that have been involved in the pottery industry museums are likely to have some small pieces. So there is a lot around.


James Trapp will lead the free ‘Doing Dragons Differently’ teacher training in London on 28 November. He is the Primary Network Coordinator for the IOE Confucius Institute for Schools and former China Education Manager at the British Museum. He has extensive experience of bringing museum collections to life for primary and secondary students.

* Places should be booked in advance for all our training events.

Book your place today!

Bookings are now closed.

We plan to make this training available online in early 2015.  To express your interest, please e-mail us at with the subject heading ‘Doing Dragons Differently’.


More like this…

Click here to read about more teacher training opportunities for 2014/15

Click here to read our interview with Professor George Zhang