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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices

Chinese: Communicating About Sports

Chinese I, grade 6: In pairs and in small groups, Jie Gao's students develop interpersonal communication skills as they state their sports likes and dislikes. They practice writing Chinese characters for an ongoing activity — a letter they are composing and sending to Chinese students. At the end of the lesson, the students create skits to perform for their classmates.



Jie Gao


Mandarin Chinese




Bigelow Middle School, Newton, Massachusetts

Lesson Date

February 4

Class Size



50+ minutes, four times during a six-day schedule


Video Summary

In this lesson, students talk about sports. While their classmates learn the names and characters for eight sports, two native speakers learn more difficult Chinese vocabulary about the Olympics. Then students practice the new vocabulary and express their likes and dislikes about sports through a series of activities, including pairs discussions and group skits.


Standards Addressed

Communication: Interpersonal, Presentational

Comparisons: Language, Cultural


native speaker
A native speaker considers the target language to be his or her first language. Teachers seek opportunities for students to communicate in person or through technology with native speakers. Students in foreign language classes who are first- or second-generation immigrants and who use the language extensively outside the classroom are also considered native speakers. These students typically maintain the cultural norms of their heritage in certain situations. See also heritage speaker.
Role-playing is an activity in which students dramatize characters or pretend that they are in new locations or situations. This activity challenges students by having them use language in new contexts.
Total Physical Response (TPR)
Developed by Asher, Kusudo, and de la Torre (1974), TPR is an approach for teaching vocabulary that appeals to learners’ kinesthetic-sensory system. First, the teacher introduces new vocabulary words and establishes their meaning through corresponding actions and gestures. Students mimic the teacher’s actions as they learn the words, and eventually demonstrate comprehension through the actions and gestures. Ultimately, the language is extended to written forms, and students begin to respond verbally. Research evidence attests to the effectiveness of TPR for learning and retaining vocabulary. See also Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS). Asher, J., J. Kusudo, and R. de la Torre. “Learning a Second Language Through Commands: The Second Field Test.” Modern Language Journal58 (1974): 24-32.

Connecting to Your Teaching

Reflect on Your Practice
As you reflect on these questions, write down your responses or discuss them as a group.

  • How do you incorporate communication into lessons that are focused primarily on new vocabulary? How do you help make these exchanges more interpersonal, so that students feel they have a stake in their communication?
  • How do you encourage students to express themselves when the words they want to use are not part of the main lesson?
  • How do you incorporate writing into a lesson, particularly when the language uses characters instead of letters and words? How do you accommodate differences in motor skills, such as left-handedness vs. right-handedness, among students when you teach writing in a new script?
  • What long-term or ongoing projects have you developed that allow students to integrate the various pieces of language they are acquiring along the way?

Watch Other Videos
Watch other videos in the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 library for more examples of teaching methodologies like those you’ve just seen. Note: All videos in this series are subtitled in English.

Sports in Action (German) illustrates word-building for beginners through sports, and Daily Routines (Japanese) uses comprehensible input to introduce new vocabulary and begins introducing written language with a non-alphabetic writing system.

Put It Into Practice
Try these ideas in your classroom. Where it’s not already evident, reflect on how to adapt an idea that targets one performance range for application to other performance ranges.

  • Plan a lesson in which students can use new vocabulary to express an opinion. Even if students have learned only a few new words, have them use these terms to state how they feel about something. (For example, Ms. Gao had students express personal preferences using eight new sports terms.) Provide additional words to students who want to go beyond the given word group. They will remember these words.
  • When teaching vocabulary, group or chunk words based on common factors. Students learn and remember new words better when they see the patterns and connections among them. For example, when Ms. Gao taught new sports vocabulary, she concentrated the lesson on sports that use balls. In Chinese, these sports have a common character, which enables students to learn them as a set.
  • Design a project or activity that serves as an “umbrella” for smaller classroom activities, especially at beginning levels. For example, projects like writing letters to other students or developing skits can effectively incorporate new information with older work in a realistic, ongoing method of communication.
  • Review a lesson that you have recently taught to see if it would be useful and appropriate to incorporate TPR.


World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages
The World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages create a roadmap to guide learners to develop competence to communicate effectively and interact with cultural understanding. This lesson correlates to the following Standards:

Communicate effectively in more than one language in order to function in a variety of situations and for multiple purposes

Interpersonal Communication

Learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken, signed, or written conversations to share information, reactions, feelings, and opinions.

Presentational Communication

Learners present information, concepts, and ideas to inform, explain, persuade, and narrate on a variety of topics using appropriate media and adapting to various audiences of listeners, readers, or viewers.

Develop insight into the nature of language and culture in order to interact with cultural competence

Language Comparisons

Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the nature of language through comparisons of the language studied and their own.

Cultural Comparisons

Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.


Lesson Materials
Winter Olympics Worksheet (PDF, 16 K)
Worksheet that native speakers used for Internet research

Skit Card (PDF, 26 K)
Information that students used to create their skits

Curriculum References
Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks

Jie Gao’s Additional Resources

Web Resources:
Online portal for news and information from China (available in Chinese only). Note: Students used this site to research the Winter Olympics.

Series Directory

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 2003. 2016.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-731-2