Year of the Monkey: Books and Activities for Chinese New Year

2016 Chinese New Year is Monday, February 8th and it’s the year of the Monkey. How can you celebrate with students?

Cross-Curricular Activities

Here are some ideas to help you and your students get involved with reading and writing about the Chinese New Year.  Additional ideas can be found in individual book teacher guides and the LEE & LOW Chinese New Year Resource Guide for Teachers.

Art:

  1. Explain that the Chinese dragon represents strength and goodness. The dragon appears at the end of the New Year parade to wish everyone peace, wealth, and good luck. Have students draw a picture of a Chinese dragon and describe the dragon in a paragraph. Instruct students to draw the dragon so it has the features of several creatures. Chinese dragons often have the scales of a fish, the beard of a goat, the claws of an eagle, and the body of a snake. For an excellent and more detailed lesson on drawing a Chinese dragon, check out the Art Institute of Chicago.
  2. Provide students with construction paper, tissue paper, colored cotton balls, crayons, safety scissors, glue, and other art supplies to make their own lanterns, masks, flags, and other items for a Chinese Lunar New Year Parade. Several students may even wish to work together to make a lion or a dragon. Let students carry their creations and hold their own parade. You may wish to download some Chinese music to play during the festivities.

Science:

  1. For the New Year, Chinese children are given red envelopes with brand-new money inside. Make a solution of 1/2 cup white vinegar and 1/4 cup salt in a nonmetal bowl. Let students drop pennies into the solution, wait a few minutes, then remove and dry the coins with a paper towel. Students will have shiny “new” pennies to wrap in red paper and give as gifts to their friends and families.
  2. The Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar as opposed to the solar calendar. Have students investigate the two calendars and compare them using a Venn diagram. Why does the Chinese New Year fall on a different date each year?

Writing:

  1. Encourage students to describe a New Year’s celebration that they spent with their families. What kind of activities took place? How did they celebrate?
  2. Have students write an original story about a holiday they celebrate.

Social Studies:

  1. Many video clips of Chinese Lunar New Year parades are available online. One example is from the History Channel. If possible, let students view one or more of these to see a real parade. Have students describe the excitement, preparation, and festivities of the parade.
  2. Teach students about the history of Chinese Americans. When did they first immigrate to the United States? What were the reasons they left their homeland? In which cities did they settle? What were the origins of Chinatowns? What challenges did Chinese people and Chinese Americans face in the United States? One place to learn more is the timeline of Chinese in America from the Museum of Chinese in America.
  3. Have students locate China on a map or globe and tell students that China is one of the largest countries in the world. Have students mark the capital of China, as well as their location in the United States. On what continent is China? Which countries border China? What are some major rivers in China? What seas and ocean border China?
  4. Explore the 12-year cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar with EDSITEment’s lesson on the Chinese Zodiac and video, “Why the Rat Comes First: A Lunar New Year Story,” from the Asian Art Museum.

Math:

  1. Students may enjoy learning how to write the Chinese characters for the numerals 1 through 10. Here are the characters for 1 through 10 from the BBC for students.
  2. Write the Mandarin numbers, their pronunciations, and their numerical equivalents on the whiteboard. Have students practice saying the number words until they are familiar with their pronunciations and meanings. Then give students simple math problems  to solve using these number words. For extra challenge, encourage students to write a simple math problem in Chinese and share with their peers to try.

Books for Chinese New Year

(Download the list as a PDF here).

SPOTLIGHT: The Magical Monkey King: Mischief in Heaven This is an adaption perfect for elementary schools of one of China’s favorite classics, Journey to the West. This Monkey is arrogant, bold, clever, and hilarious. Every child in China grows up listening to stories of the irrepressible Monkey King. Join Monkey as he wins his title as King of the Monkeys, studies with a great sage to learn the secrets of immortality, and even takes on the job as a royal gardener in the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Chinatown Adventure A young Chinese American girl is spending the day in Chinatown with her mother. With so many interesting things to buy, how will she spend her money?

 

 

D is for Doufu: An Alphabet Book of Chinese Culture and I Love China: A Companion Book to D is for Doufu This book introduces readers to Chinese culture, beliefs, and legends in today’s context. It explores the meanings of 23 Chinese words and phrases while providing an interesting historical and cultural background.

 

 

 

Golden Dragon Parade Chinese New Year is here. Come along to the Golden Dragon Parade.

 

 

 

Sam and the Lucky Money Sam can hardly wait to go shopping with his mom. It’s Chinese New Year’s day and his grandparents have given him the traditional gift of lucky money. Yet, Sam discovers that sometimes the best gifts come from the heart.

 

 

 

The Day the Dragon Danced Sugar and her Grandma are going to the Chinese New Year’s Day parade, but Grandma is skeptical about New Year’s in February and scary dragons.

 

 

 

 The Dragon Lover and Other Chinese Proverbs These proverbs are used in everyday Chinese life to illustrate moments of humor or clarity in our actions. Each of the five stories collected here feature animals that help readers shed light on the truths of human nature.

 

 

 

The Monster in the Mudball When Jin’s little brother is kidnapped by the monster Zilombo, Jin teams up with Chief Inspector of Ancient Artifacts Mizz Z on the streets of England to find him and defeat the monster.

 

 

 

The Wishing Tree Every Lunar New Year, Ming and his grandmother visited the Wishing Tree. Grandmother warned him to wish carefully, and sure enough, Ming’s wishes always seemed to come true. But one year—when Ming made the most important wish of his life—the tree let him down. 

(Download the full book list and activities as a PDF here).

Chinese New Year

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language for second through sixth grade in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in the Bay Area, CA as a Teach for America corps member where she became passionate about best practices for supporting English Language Learners and parent engagement. In her column for Lee & Low’s The Open Book blog, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

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