The Mandarin program in the North Shore Elementary Schools is a content-connected program which uses an interdisciplinary model to deliver both language and content instruction through a communicative approach. Mandarin is used for a minimum of 90% of the instructional time which follows the guidelines of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
Elementary Mandarin Teacher Wei Huang said, “’All About Me,’ is what Kindergartners are talking about through their first year. It will be our main theme in Grade K Mandarin. More than 99% of our students do not have previous exposure to Mandarin. At this early stage, we are giving our students an introduction to Mandarin. We focus on the basic and concrete topics, such as my name, my age, my family, my pets, the colors I like, the fruits I want, the insects I see in spring, etc.” These are also the topics which students will study or discuss in their regular class time. In addition, the kindergarten students will be able to reinforce the learning of these topics during Mandarin lessons. Ms. Huang continued, “Kindergarteners will also be introduced to the basic pictograph and ideograph Chinese characters (symbol that we use for writing). These characters are the roots for complicated characters that they will learn in the future. Students will learn to mix the words and communicate with each other, even though they are not able to produce a full sentence yet.”
For Grade 1, Mandarin learners are starting their second year of Mandarin. They will focus on the theme of my “school community”. In this level, students will be expected to learn more complicated characters to support their writing. In addition, they will speak complete sentences. The “school community” topics include schoolbag items, the calendar, weather, classroom items, etc. It will be an introductory level for learning. Ms. Huang stated, “We will blend in the knowledge they have learned in the first year. Also, students will continue to learn to recognize and write more Chinese characters. We will always be revisiting their knowledge from kindergarten, which will be considered to be ‘reinforcement’ for our students.”
In Grade 2, students have much better verbal skills. They are able to express themselves fluently in English. As their reading level increases, they are not only interested in the language itself, but want to learn about the culture. They start asking questions about China and the Chinese people, such as “Do Chinese people eat hamburger?” “What do people wear in China?” “What is Cantonese?” In 2nd grade, students focus on the unit of “Traveling to China” and learn related topics including clothes, global weather, food, etc. Ms. Huang said, “To put all these topics together, students will go on a virtual trip at the end of this school year. They will fill out information for their passports, getting airplane tickets, check the weather in the destination, pack appropriate clothes, get on the plane and find their right seats, order authentic food on the plane, and finally visit different places in China to observe the culture.” Most topics are new to students, so they are in the introduction level. At the end of the year, they will use what they learn to complete the virtual field trip successfully.
For Grades 3, 4, and 5, students will use the textbook, “My First Chinese Reader”, to integrate with the lessons. After 3 years of learning Mandarin, it is important for students to start reading and writing Mandarin characters. Ms. Huang reiterated, “Reading and writing in Mandarin is totally different from speaking and listening. Therefore, we do lot of activities to help our students memorize the Mandarin characters. Making sure our students are comfortable with reading the words is our goal. They will be able to read Mandarin in a paragraph composed with learned characters. Writing skill will also be also practiced. With help, they will be expected to write a profile for themselves.” Additional vocabulary, sentences, and culture points will be exposed to the children to ensure the smooth transition from elementary school to middle school. A different textbook will be utilized at the secondary level. With reinforcement and review, the North Shore Elementary students will build a stronger reading and writing foundation to guide them in their future learning of Mandarin.
Article written by Shelly Newman with assistance from North Shore Schools Elementary Mandarin Teacher Wei Huang
Photos by Shelly Newman
Photo Caption: Pictured are second grade students learning Mandarin at the North Shore School District.