Poetry Comes Alive in Chinese Class

In any language, poetry has the power to inspire and transform. This was certainly a goal of Chinese teacher Lin Wang, who recently introduced a captivating poetry initiative to his Class 6 and 7 students. Through this immersive unit, Mr. Wang also sought to honor May’s Asian American Heritage Month, which celebrates the culture, traditions and history of Asian Americans in the United States.

As their wonderful work demonstrated, his students – six in Class 6 and 11 in Class 7 – embraced this multi-layered assignment with imagination, determination and a solid command of both spoken and written Mandarin.

Pivoting to remote teaching, Mr. Wang employed various tools to help his students develop and strengthen their language skills. “How to provide immediate and effective feedback can be a challenging area for distance learning,” he noted, adding that he found the most success with Flipgrid, a grid-oriented educational website that enables video discussions.

To introduce their projects, the students were first asked to record themselves on Flipgrid. After listening to each submission, Mr. Wang was able to easily respond to elements of their performances like pronunciation, tone and fluency. These comments helped them prepare for the upcoming class presentations, which were conducted on Zoom.

Drawing on their knowledge of the Tang Dynasty, which they had explored in previous lessons, the students began by hand-copying two poems from this era, carefully forming the elegant Mandarin characters with their pencils. Then they were invited to embellish their papers with images from the poems. Some chose dark buildings; others selected bright birds and gentle flowers.

Buoyed by this lively exercise, the Class 6 and 7 scholars advanced to the next step in the poetry project, writing their own verses in both Mandarin and English. With Mr. Wang’s guidance and limited only by their imaginations, these poets tackled a host of subjects that included the changing seasons, the transportive nature of dreams, uplifting rainbows and coping with the pandemic.

“When I was writing my own Chinese poem, it was raining, and I looked out of the window and it inspired me,” said one. “I was thinking about what is going on now. We did not expect that it was a big deal, but now we are here, in this situation,” offered another. Like before, the students decorated their work in their individual styles and scanned or photographed the pages, making sure to save on their computer desktops.

With their projects complete, the classes met to present their work. While Mr. Wang and classmates looked on from their digital boxes, each student took a turn sharing her screen. With their vibrant work as eye-catching backdrops, the students proceeded to introduce themselves in Mandarin and recite their traditional and original poetry. After each presentation, the audience had the chance to ask questions and offer positive feedback.

For the final step, several volunteers from Class 6 and 7 participated in an energetic Middle School Assembly that celebrated poetry in all its delightful manifestations. The students were thrilled to be able to share their mastery of Mandarin with Classes 4-7.

Through this terrific, end-of-year endeavor, the students in Chinese 6 and 7 ably and enthusiastically expressed themselves through the power of poetry. “I’m overjoyed to see my classes completing such a challenging project,” remarked Mr. Wang. “It was very successful.”

The students agreed, including this one, who offered a thoughtful reflection on the experience:

“When I was thinking about what to write for my poem, I was thinking about what is best about New York, and what New York is famous for, because that is what I miss a lot. I thought about the nature (trees, mountains, flowers) of New York, and mainly the characteristics (people, buildings, cars),” she said. “Sharing in our Zoom room was also very fun because I got to share all my hard work with my classmates, while also getting to see their presentations and being able to see their drawings and poems, which was their own creative spin on the project.”