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

Chinese: Exploring New Directions

Chinese II - IV, grades 9 - 12: In this lesson, Haiyan Fu's multilevel class explores direction - both literally and metaphorically. While Chinese IV students practice reciting Chinese cultural poems, students in Chinese II and III work on mapping the locations of nearby restaurants and providing directions to them.



Haiyan Fu


Mandarin Chinese II-IV




Northside College Preparatory High School, Chicago, Illinois

Lesson Date

January 15

Class Size



Block schedule, 96 minutes twice a week

Video Summary

In this lesson, students in Chinese II-IV work on the theme “directions.” The class begins by reviewing the previous day’s vocabulary, then practices writing characters. Next, Chinese II and Chinese III students work together in groups: The Chinese III students in each group describe local restaurants to prepare for a restaurant review project, while the Chinese II students use a map to practice giving directions to the restaurants. Meanwhile, Chinese IV students prepare and present a dramatic interpretation of two poems to the class. Finally, the whole class reads and interprets a portion of a poem that contains “directions” vocabulary, and then watches a filmed, musical performance of the poem.


Standards Addressed

Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentational

Cultures: Making Connections, Acquiring Information


authentic materials
Authentic materials are resources that have been developed specifically for native speakers. These include print, audio, and visual materials.

character dictation
A character language such as Chinese does not use an alphabet for sound/symbol correspondence, but rather integrates both meaning and pronunciation in its characters. Character dictation can be used to build character recognition and sound/symbol correspondence. The teacher or a student dictates characters to the class to build familiarity with individual characters’ meaning and to practice creating sentences in various contexts.

heritage speaker
A heritage speaker is a student who is exposed to a language other than English at home. Heritage speakers can be categorized based on the prominence and development of the heritage language in the student’s daily life. Some students have full oral fluency and literacy in the home language; others may have full oral fluency but their written literacy was not developed because they were schooled in English. Another group of students — typically third- or fourth-generation — can speak to a limited degree but cannot express themselves on a wide range of topics. Students from any of these categories may also have gaps in knowledge about their cultural heritage. Teachers who have heritage speakers of the target language in their class should assess which proficiencies need to be maintained and which need to be developed further. See also native speaker.

proficiency level
Proficiency describes how well a person functions in a language. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages further defines proficiency with a set of guidelines for assessing communicative abilities. The guidelines cover how an individual performs across three criteria: function, content/context, and accuracy. When combined, these criteria determine the student’s communicative ability to be Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, or Superior. See also performance level.

Spiraling is the process of teaching a theme or language rule to different levels of learners by creating multiple tasks that are increasingly complex. For example, a lesson on weather can be spiraled as follows: (1) Novice students can describe the weather in short formulaic sentences; (2) Intermediate students can talk about the weather and its effect on their activities, or gather information from broadcasts or newspapers; and (3) Pre-Advanced students can tell a story about a frightening weather-related event or follow a description of weather in a literary piece.

Connecting to Your Teaching

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

  • In a multilevel class, how can the more proficient students motivate the lower-level students to continue to learn the language?
  • What aspects of poetry compensate for beginning students’ limited language understanding?
  • How do you go about collecting and connecting authentic materials to expand themes in lessons/units (for example, a poem or play turned into a film, or an article on a historical event used as background for a short story)?

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.

Interpreting Literature (Spanish) and Interpreting La Belle et la Bête(French) show students interpreting a cultural work — a story and a film respectively.

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.

  • Use spiraling to address developing language proficiency and/or higher order thinking skills and to teach a multilevel class. To reach across three levels of instruction, Dr. Fu had to plan inventively with the theme “directions.” She did so by spiraling from a very concrete task (giving directions) to an abstract one (exploring new directions in poetry). Spiraling a theme permits students to revisit the theme as their language proficiency expands. Think about how you might spiral themes like artwork from the target culture, a historical event, or a current event across different levels. What language and/or cultural tasks would be appropriate for each level?
  • When selecting literature for students to interpret, choose works whose background or setting is accessible to students. Reading literary works requires a balance of language proficiency and experience, and in many languages, contemporary literature is linguistically more accessible than traditional pieces. Dr. Fu selected her literary pieces based partly on the language of the piece. She chose contemporary poems rather than ancient ones because the language in the contemporary poems was colloquial and the lexical and grammatical structures were simple. This holds true for many languages. The goal is to challenge students to interpret poems or other literary pieces but not frustrate them. That requires editing the tasks you give them, not the text.


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.

Interpretive Communication

Learners understand, interpret, and analyze what is heard, read, or viewed on a variety of topics.

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.

Interact with cultural competence and understanding

Relating Cultural Practices to Perspectives

Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the cultures studied.

Relating Cultural Products to Perspectives

Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the products and perspectives of the cultures studied.

Connect with other disciplines and acquire information and diverse perspectives in order to use the language to function in academic and career-related situations

Making Connections

Learners build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using the language to develop critical thinking and to solve problems creatively.

Acquiring Information and Diverse Perspectives

Learners access and evaluate information and diverse perspectives that are available through the language and its cultures.

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