Dyan Branstetter | January 2017

Happy Year of the Rooster! Arts Integration Ideas for the Chinese New Year

We have just entered the Year of the Rooster according to the Chinese Zodiac. Chinese New Year is a celebration tied to the lunar-solar Chinese calendar. It is a time to honor ancestors and heavenly deities and renew family ties. Teaching Chinese culture provides many opportunities for arts integration ideas and Chinese New Years crafts: visual art (masks, kites, paper making, silk, scroll art, calligraphy, sculpture, etc.),  performance art (Chinese Opera, face mask changing, dragon dance), the list goes on and on!

I incorporate Chinese New Year as an extension of my 3rd-grade social studies curriculum, which includes a short study on Ancient China. This unit of study typically falls around the time when my ELA curriculum includes Ed Young’s Chinese folktale Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Tale From China as a literature study, making a perfect thematic tie-in between ELA and social studies.

When there are so many possible integration ideas, it can be difficult to choose which direction to take, and sometimes lessons and units can become too large. When this happens, not only is it overwhelming for the teacher but sometimes we lose sight of the original objective. Our unit becomes based on all of the projects and activities instead of constantly circling back to the essential question or big idea we want the students to retain.

To help focus, collaboration with an expert can help. I shared my ideas for an Ancient China unit with my school’s art teacher, and she explained the art skills and standards she was planning to address through the artwork students would be creating. This information allowed me to support her curriculum during my lessons, and students would be able to focus on the art when they were in art class because they would have the prerequisite social studies background knowledge.

In addition, I could extend some of my other arts integration ideas during a separate ELA class with the same students. The overall topic was the same, but we were essentially working through two separate, yet related, arts integration ideas at once. My higher students really grasped the connections between the two projects and it deepened their understanding of Chinese culture. It helped my lower level students because subjects weren’t as “siloed”; there was a natural flow from subject to subject. This alleviated some transitions for them and helped build connections as well. Read on to see how we implemented our plan.

During Art Class:

In art, students learned the concept of proportion. They worked with proportion while creating Chinese Opera Masks based on the art of ancient Chinese face mask changing. Students are always fascinated by the magical ability that these performance artists demonstrate, which adds context and engagement while they create their own mask. Here are a few related resources:

During Social Studies:

During this class, students explore basic information about Ancient China. The unit is broken down into the following topics. Each could be developed into a full unit on its own, but my task is to give an overview of the topic so that the students are introduced to, rather than mastering, the complex history and culture of Ancient China. I use the resources linked below in addition to WebQuests, articles with graphic organizers, video clips, and activities to share this information with students. It seems like a lot, but again, it is an overview. We spend about two class sessions on each topic.

  1. The Geography: Where China is located, the basic landforms and geographic features of the land, the Great Wall of China.
  2. The History: The major dynasties of China, history of the writing system, the art of Chinese calligraphy
  3. The Government: How the Han dynasty affected the government of ancient China, nobles and emperors, the Terra Cotta Warriors
  4. Economics: a brief study of the Silk Road and Chinese currency
  5. Culture: The importance of tradition in the Chinese culture, Chinese New Year.

During English/Language Arts (ELA):

My grade level flexibly groups for ELA, and I work with the students who are at and above grade level. While all of our classes have the same curriculum and standards, our pacing is very different. Due to the nature of my students, I am able to enrich and extend topics to help deepen understanding and create the rigor that is enough to give them a challenge.

After our analysis of Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Tale From China, we read about the artist and author Ed Young, Chinese-born American. We briefly compare this tale to the American version of Little Red-Riding-Hood and use the text as an opportunity to emphasize text-based evidence through this activity. We also closely examine the illustrations using the strategy See Think Wonder. We discuss how the illustrations help to convey and support the mood and theme of the text and discuss techniques Ed Young used to achieve that.

This leads us to the history of Chinese art since the illustrations are uniquely painted in panels. I share this video related to Ancient Chinese Scroll Art, and we use our background knowledge from social studies to create our own scroll art similar to the work described here. Someday I would like to extend this to allow students to use their landscape scroll art to become the setting of an original folktale.

Arts Integration Ideas: Reaching our Goal

Even with our scaled-back intentions, there is still a lot going on. However, my goal is to expose students to Ancient Chinese culture while integrating art standards, and I start each class session by circling back to that essential understanding with students so that we are all in sync with our goal. There were so many other ways that we could have used Ancient Chinese arts to integrate these standards, but it is nice to have some alternatives to swap in for future years if the needs those students are different or if we want to try something new.

Don’t Forget to Register!

If you are interested in more examples of Arts Integration Ideas and STEAM in action, make sure to register for EducationCloset’s Arts Integration and STEAM Online Winter Conference! See you there this Saturday, February 4, 2017.

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.