January 25, 2017

Chinese New Year: Free Teaching Resources

Celebrating the Chinese New Year is a terrific way to introduce kids to the concept of holidays around the world. Your students may not realize that people in other countries often celebrate completely different holidays, or they may celebrate the same holidays but have different holiday traditions.

For example, most countries celebrate the new year on the first day of January, but the Chinese New Year can fall anywhere between January 20th and February 20th. In 2017, the Chinese New Year begins on January 28th. New Years celebrations in most countries include festive events like parades and fireworks, but there are also many differences in New Year's Day traditions.

I'd like to share two activities I developed to help students explore the similarities and differences between the Chinese New Year and New Year traditions in the United States. The first activity consists of a Venn diagram and facts to sort about the Chinese and American New Years. The second activity is a guided discussion based on the book Sam and the Lucky Money.

Both of these activities are in my February Activities pack, which is free for my newsletter subscribers. If you aren't on my mailing list, click here to sign up for Candler's Classroom Connections, and I'll send you this free 26-page February Activities pack.

Comparing Chinese and American New Years
A Venn diagram is a great tool for exploring the similarities and differences between the Chinese New Year and New Year celebrations in other countries. Here's a lesson outline you can use with upper elementary students, but feel free to modify it as needed with your own students.

1. Prior Knowledge Sorting Activity 
Before you begin, assign partners and ask students to sit with their partners. Tell the class that they will be learning about the Chinese New Year, and ask them to talk with their partners about anything they may have learned in the past about this holiday is similar to or different from the American New Year.

Next, give each pair one copy of the American and Chinese Facts printable and have them cut apart the fact slips. Then give them the Venn diagram printable or have them draw a Venn diagram with the two circles labeled Chinese New Year and American New Year. Tell them that you'd like them to guess where each fact goes on the Venn diagram. To do this, have them to shuffle the slips of paper, stack them face down, and take turns flipping over the facts. As each fact is revealed, the students talk over where they think it should be placed on the Venn diagram, and they place the slip of paper accordingly.

2. Reading and Researching the Facts
Leave the slips of paper in place for the next part of the activity, but cover the Venn diagram with a sheet of paper. Or use a digital device to take a snapshot of each Venn diagram if you aren't able to complete the lesson in one sitting.

Read aloud aloud a children's book like Chinese New Year for Kids or an informational text article about the Chinese New Year. As you read, ask your students to think about where they placed the slips of paper representing the facts about Chinese and American New Years. When you finish reading, ask students to uncover their Venn diagrams and move any slips they feel need to be changed. Before moving any of the fact slips, they need to discuss those changes with their partners.

If there are any fact slips that were not mentioned in the book or article, allow time for students to research those facts online or in the school media center. An answer key is provided in the freebie.

If your students discover other Chinese or American New Year traditions that are not described on the slips of paper, ask them to write the new facts directly on the Venn diagram.


3. Interview Family Members About New Years Traditions
For homework, ask students to interview a parent, grandparent, or other family member to find out what they know about New Year traditions in their own country. They should also ask if their families have any special New Year customs or traditions of their own. When students return to school the next day, provide time for them to share what they learned and add any relevant details to their Venn diagrams.

4. Lesson Wrap Up: Read Sam and the Lucky Money
For a final look at Chinese New Year traditions, read and discuss the favorite children's book, Sam and the Lucky Money. This story is based on the tradition of giving money in red envelopes on special occasions. In this touching story, a young boy named Sam learns what it means to be lucky. You can use these discussion cards to lead a whole class discussion, or use the cards with one of the cooperative learning discussion strategies I described in my post, Task Card Talk: 6 Strategies to Boost Learning.


Discover More Freebies in the February Activities Pack
Are you wondering why this activity is in my February Activities pack when the Chinese New Year is in January? As you might have guessed, this freebie is one I created several years ago, and the Chinese New Year was in February the year I developed the activity. So that's where it's stayed, despite the fact that sometimes the holiday is in January. In addition to these activities, you'll find loads of other printables and lessons for February, including resources for winter, Black History Month, International Friendship Month, and Valentine's Day. Enjoy!

January 22, 2017

Promoting Kindness in the Classroom through Teambuilding

I've been a fan of cooperative learning since I first stepped into a classroom, and I'm convinced that teaching kids how to work with others is one of the best gifts we can give them. Research consistently shows that in order to be successful in any career, we have to know how to get along with others and to work together as a part of a team.

These social skills are important in everyday life, too. People who embrace diversity and who treat others with kindness are far more likely to be happy than those who are rude and who have no tolerance for different perspectives.

Now more than ever, we need to take a stand against bullying and intolerance. We must proactively teach kids how to treat each other with kindness and respect. But we need to do more than teach kids to tolerate diversity, we should teach our students to appreciate each other's differences and celebrate their uniqueness!

I'll be the first to admit that it's not always easy to foster these character traits in the classroom. Cooperative learning provides a framework for promoting kindness, but teaching kids how to get along with others requires more than just seating them together in teams and telling them to work together. We need to teach specific social skills and do everything in our power to foster a caring classroom community, right from the first day of school. I believe in this point so strongly that I've created a whole page on Teaching Resources called How to Create a Caring Classroom. Visit that page to check out the freebies and other resources there which include a free replay of my webinar, How to Launch a Super School Year. I also created an entire page on my site with strategies for teaching social skills in the classroom.

The best place to start promoting kindness is within cooperative learning teams. When students take part in teambuilding activities, they develop stronger bonds with their teammates. As they work with different teams throughout the year, they will eventually connect with all of their classmates and will learn to appreciate everyone's unique qualities.

Teaching Students How to Give Genuine Compliments
One powerful strategy for fostering appreciation for others is to teach students how to give and receive genuine compliments. Some children might not have any experience at all with praising and complimenting others, so begin the lesson by having your class brainstorm a list of positive statements and words of appreciation.

Remind your students that no one wants to hear empty praise because we know when others are not being sincere. Sometimes it takes a little work to find meaningful ways to praise and compliment each other, but it's worth the effort. If you've introduced growth mindset to your students, remind them that praising someone for being persistent or open to new ideas is more meaningful than telling someone that they are smart or pretty. Here are some sentence starters you might want to introduce:
  • I like the way you.... 
  • I appreciate it when you.... 
  • Thanks for... 
  • I enjoy working with you because...
  • I admire the way you... 
  • What's special about you is...
  • I'm glad you're on my team because... 
Teambuilding to Promote Classroom Kindness   
After you discuss what it means to give a genuine compliment, you'll need to provide opportunities for your students to practice this skill. Cooperative learning teams are the perfect place for students to test out these strategies in a safe environment. Furthermore, the process of actively looking for positive traits and complimenting others is a powerful teambuilding tool.

One way to do this this is to assign a team task that's somewhat challenging, such as a STEM activity, and ask your students to practice complimenting each other as they work together. After you introduce the activity, remind your students to look for opportunities to give specific and genuine compliments. Walk around the room as they work, and point out any nice compliments that you hear. For example, stop next to a team and say something like, "I just heard a really nice compliment in this team. Sally complimented Linda for coming up with a creative way to holding the straws together on their puff mobile."



Team Compliment Cards
Another effective strategy is creating Team Compliment Cards. In this activity, students show appreciation for their teammates by writing compliments on homemade cards. Each person writes his or her name on one card, and all cards are passed around the team. As the cards are passed from student to student, they write compliments about the person who is the “star” of each card. Finally, the cards are returned to their creators, and everyone can read the compliments their teammates have written about them.

To find the full directions, download the Team Compliments Cards Freebie from my TpT store. Several templates are included, or you can have students create their own cards from blank paper. This activity works really well after students have been working with the same team for several weeks, and it's a great closure activity to do right before you move students to new teams. In fact, this activity is so powerful that after students read their compliment cards, it's not unusual for some of them to beg me to keep their team together for a few more weeks!

Promoting Kindness in the Classroom
I hope these teambuilding strategies will make it a little easier for you to promote kindness in your classroom. To find additional resources, search TpT using the hashtag #kindnessnation to discover dozens of freebies from TpT sellers who believe that promoting kindness and acceptance of others should be a priority in every classroom. To make this task a little easier, we've joined together to provide teachers with ready-to-use resources for fostering a caring classroom community. Enjoy!