People and Places


Highland houses: The case of honai
and tongkonan


This lesson demonstrates how highland homes in Southeast Asia are a product of the surrounding environment and play an important role in social and cultural structures.

Subject History / Social Studies
Topic Highland houses: The case of honai and tongkonan
Key idea Across time, people respond to the varied natural environment of a region in multiple ways that shape their
worldviews and way of life.
Key concepts Environment, highlands, lowlands, coastlands
People, worldviews, way of life
Commonalities and diversities
Level Lower secondary
No. of periods / lessons 1 period (1 period is approximately 50 minutes)
Facilities needed: A/V equipment and Internet access to play the video clips (or hard copy with similar content)
Sources and handouts for distribution
Prerequisite knowledge No prerequisite knowledge required.
Understanding the attributes of highlands (as explored in Lesson 3: Highlands and agriculture) is a plus.

Learning objectives
By the end of the lesson, the students will be able to:

  1. Identify key features and the significance of
    highland homes.
  2. Link the community’s way of life and
    their traditional building methods to the
  1. Examine images and videos to identify and
    explain the significance of the materials and
    structures of highland homes.
  2. Create and rationalize future homes suitable
    for the environment they live in.
  1. Demonstrate awareness that environment
    shapes our worldviews and way of life.
  2. Cooperate in groups to complete the tasks
  3. Recognize how people’s environments and
    values shape their housing


Download the lesson plan for details on the talks and activities suggested below.

1. Hook

Students watch and discuss  a short video on houses in highlands.

2. Group work: Source (image/video) analysis

Students discover the structures of highland homes in Toraja and Papua. They think about how the structures are used and in what ways they are connected to their surrounding environment.


3. Two column note taking on the Papuan Voices video clip

* Option 1, for A/V equipped classroom

After watching a video, students reflect on the value of the honai as a cultural structure and its meaning in Wamena and Torajan society.

4. Two-column note taking on Houses of the
Highlands: The tongkonan and the honai

*Option 2, for  non-A/V equipped classroom

After reading the provided articles, students reflect on the value of the honai and tongkonan as a cultural structure and its meaning in Wamena and Torajan society.

5. Discussion

Students evaluate their original assumptions about the region, people, use of, and materials used in the construction of the honai and tongkonan and compare housing from their own country’s highlands with housing being examined in this lesson.

6. Reflection: Performance task

Students brainstorm the layout of their future homes according to the environment that they live in and present their visualization to the class .

Students and teacher conclude that our way of life (housing) is shaped by the
environment we live in.