Giving Learning a Reason

Projects and Activities that Make Learning Chinese Relevant to Students

Shasha Gibbs, Chinese Teacher, Medina High School

When I was teaching English in China, I never had to tell students why they had to learn certain things.  Because of the Chinese educational system, students already know that if they don’t study hard, they won’t be able to go to college which means there won’t be a bright future waiting for them.  Teaching seemed relatively easier over there.

Since I started teaching Chinese in the U.S. four years ago, I have noticed that if the lesson I’m  teaching is not relevant to the students, the lesson often doesn’t go as well as I have expected.  Because of that, I always keep one thing in mind, and that is to design projects and activities that seem most relevant to students, in other words, giving students a reason to learn.  This way, students will be more motivated and often meet the expectations.

For example, when we were learning the unit about animals, instead of teaching students some random animals, I asked students what animals they would want to learn.  After a quick survey, we were able to come up with a list of animals the class would like to learn together.  As I was planning for the lesson, I was able to find a few origami books that show how to make all the animals students have chosen, so I added making origami into the lesson.  At the end of the unit, students were able to make their own origami zoo with the animals they liked and present their zoo to the class using complete sentences.  I was amazed to see how engaged students were during the whole unit.

Another example is about writing a self-introduction.  In order to make students actually want to write about themselves using what they already have learned, I worked with another Chinese teacher from another district and started a pen pal letter exchange project.  My students were told to use the letter exchange to get to know more about their pen pals.  I was surprised to see how much students enjoyed writing and they also cared so much about whether they were making any mistakes like never before.

When we were about to end our unit on family, I decided to have students use what they have learned from the unit to make a video about their family.  Before I told students about the project, I asked my friend in China to make a family video.  After I played her video to the class, I told the students that as an exchange, they will be making their own family videos, so that my friend can also learn about their families.  This project turned out wonderful as well.

During Chinese New Year, we did a variety of things to learn about and celebrate this most important Chinese holiday.  Students made house-shaped posters decorated with the couplets they wrote.  They also made Red Envelopes for all teachers in the building to send out lucky messages for the new year.  We also worked with Home Economics class and made dumplings which are considered as one of the most traditional holiday food for Chinese New Year.  Towards the end of the celebration, we held a Chinese Cooking Contest and invited all teachers and administrators in the building to join us and celebrate.  Students were told to make an informational card for their dishes in both English and Chinese, just in case people have allergies.  All the hands-on activities and projects provided students with various opportunities to gain a better understanding of this traditional Chinese holiday, and more importantly, students enjoyed learning the whole time.

This year for the Chinese New Year, I will be working with the art teacher and having our students help out at a soup dinner held by a non-profit organization to raise money for people in need.  The students from the art class will make soup bowls and my students will make Chinese food to put in the bowls.  By participating in this event, I hope to see students are able to give what they have learned back to the community.

I am also working on finding a sister city/school in China, so that there is actually a reason for my school/city to have a Chinese program in place.  If I’m able to find a sister city, there will be a lot of cultural and economical exchanges going on which will be very beneficial to our program.  If I’m able to get a sister school, my students will have more opportunities to use the language and speak to the natives.  If I’m able to get both of them to work out, it would be wonderful.  If not, my students will still benefit from either one of them.

All and all, I believe that taking students’ interests and preferences into account while we design activities and projects is essential during lesson planning.  Also, if we can provide students with opportunities to get involved in the community and solve real-life problems, students will sense the relevance and will become more motivated throughout learning.  When a reason is given, our students will learn more and better!

This entry was posted in OFLA News: Association, Vol. 51, No. 1 - Fall 2012. Bookmark the permalink.