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

Chinese: Exploring New Directions Class Context


The things that they do in class — activities, language tasks —have to be from the student, from whatever they want to do and want to say. So the student can have a lot of control over the process and they will be very interested.

– Haiyan Fu




Chinese II

Basic Chinese Grammar Structures

Weather; More Complex Sentences

Location; Geographic Description of Our School

Direction; Directional and resultative complements


Group Projects: Storytelling; Integration of All Grammatical Points

Chinese III

Review; Past Experience; Body and Medicine


Leisure Activities

More Grammatical Structures


Writing and Reading; Midterm Project; Cooking and Restaurant Reviews

Introducing People; Cultural Study: Marriage

Presenting Facts and Arguments; Cultural Comparison: Educational Systems

Seeking Information; Cultural Study: Area Studies and Travel

Comparative Information; Cultural Study: Political and Social Systems

Chinese IV*

Wudi to Qin Dynasty; Modern Versions of Classical Texts, Folk Tales, and Proverbs

From Shijing to Tang Poetry; Classical Poetry and Authors Yuan Drama and Ming-Qing Novels; Stories/Legends and Drama/Novel

Modern Times — May 4th Movement 1; Classical to Modern Literature

Modern Times — May 4th Movement 2; Essays and Poetry

Modern Times — May 4th Movement 3; Drama

Contemporary — Revolutions 1; Popular Literature

Contemporary — Revolutions 2; Literature and Movies

*The first topic listed in each unit is for historical background. The second topic includes reading, writing, discussion, and dramatization activities.

School Profile

Haiyan Fu teaches Mandarin Chinese I-IV at Northside College Preparatory High School in Chicago, Illinois. The school serves the North Side community, a diverse region in Chicago with a large Asian population. Students apply for freshman-level slots at this selective enrollment high school, a magnet school that offers a rigorous academic curriculum. The Northside World Language Department offers students a choice of seven languages: Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Latin, and Spanish.

Lesson Design

Using the Standards as a guide, Dr. Fu designs her lessons to develop students’ ability to express themselves in Chinese. Each course is divided into five-week units, and each unit focuses on a different theme. Although Dr. Fu selects the main topics and general activities for each unit, she incorporates students’ personal interests to help shape their learning. This both motivates students and creates opportunities for comparisons between Chinese language and culture and the dominant language and cultural heritage of the students. Dr. Fu adjusts her curriculum as she works with each new group of students. At the end of each unit, students are assessed on a presentation that reflects all of the elements of the unit and shows how well they are functioning in the language.

To help students learn and retain their knowledge of Chinese characters (typically the hardest part of learning Chinese), Dr. Fu designed a student-led daily dictation. At the end of each class period, students select several characters or phrases from the current unit to learn for homework. The following day, one student leads the class through the dictation, while the other students write each character, its phonetic spelling, and its meaning. After they finish the dictation, students review each other’s papers, which gives them one more chance to study the characters. Dr. Fu then collects and grades the papers.

The Lesson

This lesson combined students in Chinese II-IV in a single class. Although these classes are not typically merged, the common theme of “direction” allowed for the participation of the three levels in a cooperative learning activity. Prior to this class, the Chinese II students had been studying geography, including using general terms like “east” and “west” and describing the location of their houses. They had also learned the vocabulary for places in the city, such as the post office and barbershop. The Chinese III students were in the middle of a unit on cooking and restaurant reviews, and were working on describing local restaurants, the ingredients of their dishes, and the dining experience. They worked with the Chinese II students to determine and describe the location of the restaurants.

The Chinese IV students were transitioning from a unit on classical poetry to a unit on modern poetry that used modern language — a new “direction” in literature. As part of their unit project, students had to interpret two poems, research their authors, and perform them, which they did for the Chinese II and III students in this lesson. The project also included a written comparison of the old and new styles of poetry. The Chinese IV class included three heritage Cantonese speakers, one of whom had regular exposure to the language outside of class.

Key Teaching Strategies

  • Differentiated Instruction: In a multilevel class, the teacher plans projects in which students work on some tasks according to their proficiencies then come together periodically for shared tasks.
  • Establishing Routines: The teacher establishes clear, expected routines to maximize productive class time, increase student responsibility, and minimize distractions or opportunities for misbehavior. Examples range from consistent procedures to begin the class (from discussing the day, date, and weather for today, yesterday, and tomorrow to having students pair up to craft one comment about a prompt or a visual) to cooperative learning activities for language practice to routines for providing peer feedback.

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.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-731-2