Tips, tricks, and ideas for teaching a great Lunar New Year ESL Lesson your English Language Learners will love!
Xin Nian Kuai Le!
Something you should know about me is that Lunar New Year (often called Chinese New Year) is one of my FAVORITE holidays. I've celebrated ever since I started learning Chinese 19 years ago (!!), and I love the traditions, the history, and the legends associated with the holiday. Since becoming a teacher, teaching Lunar New Year has become one of my favorite lessons to celebrate with students, and my students always love it too!
Let's Start with the Basics
If you're going to teach Lunar New Year in your classroom, it's important to know the basics! Here's a few facts to get you started:
From here on out, we'll be focusing on Chinese New Year specifically! Chinese New Year tradition is seeped in legend, and knowing the legend is the best way to understand the important symbols of the holiday. Here are some basic explanations of each, along with videos for your students.
Chinese New Year Legend- The Legend of Nian
Every year, at the end of winter, a terrible monster named Nian (Knee-en) would come and terrorize a village looking for food. The people of the village were always scared of the monster. They finally learned that the monster could be scared away with the color red, loud noises, and fire. They dressed in all red, lit lanterns and firecrackers, and played gongs and drums to scare Nian away, and it worked! Each year, people continue to follow the traditions that scared away Nian. Nian is the Mandarin word for "year!"
This video does a great job of nonverbally sharing the Legend of Nian (great for our beginning English Language Learners!), though some of the visuals and sounds may be too much for students who have experienced trauma in their hometowns. Please watch with your students in mind before showing them!
Chinese New Year Legend- The Great Race
The Chinese Zodiac animals are always my students' favorite part of our Lunar New Year ESL Lesson! They have so much fun learning about their Zodiac and comparing their animals' character traits.
Legend says that the Jade Emperor wanted to create a way to measure time, and came up with the idea of the Great Race. Animals were given the chance to compete, with the first twelve animals having a year named after them on the zodiac calendar. The animals demonstrated their character traits in the race, such as teamwork, kindness, and wit. Chinese tradition states that people take on the character traits of the zodiac animal from their birth year.
This Ted-Ed video does a great job showing the animals in the race and explaining the calendar! Stop at 2 minutes 22 seconds for a basic explanation, or watch the whole video for a more detailed explanation of the zodiac!
Chinese New Year Traditions
There are far too many Chinese New Year traditions to share in our Lunar New Year ESL lesson, but I like to share as many as I can! Here are the traditions that I always share:
How I Set Up My Lunar New Year ESL Lesson
The basic set-up for my Lunar New Year ESL Lesson remains the same each year, though the details may change slightly based on time, age or my students, and language abilities! We also play it by ear--some years, my students are content to debate the traits of their zodiac animal for the entire class period, and who am I to stop all that speaking practice?
I like to prep students with Chinese New Year reading passages in the week leading up to the New Year. (Don't want to search for reading passages? Snag my differentiated passages on TPT by clicking here.) We talk about the importance of the holiday, learn important vocabulary, and compare the idea of Lunar New Year to other holidays my students may celebrate.
On the day of Lunar New Year (or as close to it as we can get!) we start by reviewing what we already know about the holiday. Then, we review the Legend of Nian (either with a video or just telling the story), and I have students predict what traditions may have arisen from the legend.
After that, we discuss the basic traditions of the Lunar New Year. I give students the chance to compare these traditions to traditions in their own culture, and it is always amazing to see the connections they create!
I save the Chinese Zodiac for the end of my lesson if I haven't already shared it with them earlier in the week! We watch a video sharing the story of the Great Race, and then I give students time to find their animal and compare their traits. My students always love finding the zodiac animals for their siblings and parents, too!
If we have time, I like to do a craft with students to make the day extra special. We'll make paper lanterns (even my 8th graders loved making these!) or practice writing some Chinese characters. My favorite part of craft time is that it brings so many new conversations about creativity to my classroom, while simultaneously requiring students to follow step-by-step directions. Win-win-win!
Xin Nian Kuai Le!
Holidays can bring such joy to our classrooms and bring a welcome break to our daily lessons. Teaching about the Lunar New Year never fails to bring new life and excitement to my classroom, and the students' conversations always blow me away. I hope that learning about the Lunar New Year brings your classroom happiness, rich conversations, and a greater understanding of the most populous country in the world!
Hey there! I'm so glad you're here!
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