02.07.17

Celebrating Bilingual Authors: First Graders Create Friendship Books in Chinese

LiMei Ye
Head Teacher of a Mandarin Chinese Section of Grade One, Lower Division, Avenues: The World School

In a child’s intellectual life, the move from kindergarten to first grade is a big leap. At this age, children are expected to start making connections between verbal communication – listening or speaking – and written language. They are taught, and expected to master, how to write down words they hear or say. Eventually, they learn to put the words in the correct order to form sentences. The last step is to put these sentences together in a cohesive way to form writing that sends a clear message. And because first graders had been studying friendship as part of their World Course curriculum, we thought a wonderful way of combining this study with the writing skills they were working to learn would be to engage in a “Book on Friendship” project, in which students could become authors of their very own books.

Working on the "Book on Friendship" project.

Working on the “Book on Friendship” project.

Since the first graders in our classroom are in the Chinese immersion program, they would of course write their books in Chinese! Therefore, the student authors did not only have to consider the thoughts they wanted to express – what they knew and had learned about friendship – but also the language they would use to express themselves, specifically the Chinese characters and phrases they would use to write their books. To help prepare them, we read books related to friendship and engaged in class discussions about “friendship breakers,” “friendship builders,” why it can be hard to make friends, how to make a new friend and what friendship really means. As we engaged in these discussions, we summarized and recorded students’ thoughts and responses on a flip chart; even if a child responded in English, we recorded it in Chinese. We then emphasized the words on the flipcharts they would need to use when writing their books, such as “朋友” (friend), “友谊” (friendship), “好像” (…is like…), “一起玩” (to play together), “爱” (love), “让我高兴” (to make me happy), “分享” (to share), etc.

Celebrating friendship!

Celebrating friendship!

After this initial exercise, students were given two sheets to guide their work on their books: one containing a Chinese character writing grid to help them with their stroke order and accuracy and one with a list of high-frequency words and words related to the topics of friends and friendship, organized into categories like “people,” “verbs,” “places,” “adverbs,” “objects,” etc. Then, it was time to begin! Students either started by drawing a picture to illustrate how they feel about their friends or by writing a sentence about friendship and using that as the basis for their illustration. They were free to create as many pages as was comfortable for them: some completed four, five or even six pages, while some focused intensely on creating two or three pages that described and illustrated their thoughts in great detail.

The last step was to bind the loose pages together and of course, compose an “About the Author” blurb for the back cover listing some facts about the student, accompanied by a smiling portrait.

Now that each first-grade author had completed his or her “Book of Friendship,” they were ready for a book tour! First, we practiced reading our books to each other in our classroom. On parent drop-in day, students were able to share their books with their families, as well as a short piece of writing about friendship they had done in English. Next, they visited the kindergarteners to read their books to them, and finally they met with their Spanish-speaking peers in first grade to both read aloud their books in Chinese and listen to the friendship books the other class had written in Spanish.

Students read their books to one another.

Students read their books to one another.

Sharing books with each other.

Sharing books with each other.

These books are now displayed in the hallway, and it is wonderful see the proud smiles of the first graders when they notice an Upper Division student pause on the way to the elevator, pick up a book and start to read.

Students shared their books with family on parent drop-in day.

Students shared their books with family on parent drop-in day.