How I Made my Students Really Mad

This semester, I am back to teaching a composition course for college freshmen. Apart from learning in-depth about research writing, we also read the play A Raisin in the Sun in College Writing II.  This play took stage in 1959, and it focused on an African American family in Chicago. It showed what life was like for blacks in the 50’s and 60’s. I wanted my students to know a little more about the civil rights movement and also the discrimination and segregation of this time period in American history.

To begin the lesson, I asked everyone with blue or green eyes to sit on the left side of the room and everyone with brown eyes to sit on the right side of the room. They were expecting a quiz on the introduction to the book, so they were very confused about what I was doing. I explained that instead of a quiz, we would be working on something else for which they would receive points. I gave the blue/green eyed students a page copied from the dictionary and told them they had to copy it letter-for-letter, word-for-word. They all glared at me with a look that seemed to say -Uh, are you serious? The brown-eyed students seemed scared to get their assignment next. However, they were relieved when I told them they would be working on a word search puzzle about pizza. As they were working, I told them to be sure and find the word pepperoni. I went over to the other side of the room and told that students that they better finish the whole page. I let this go on for about 3 minutes, then I finally allowed them to stop. I asked them how they felt knowing that the other half of the room was working on a different assignment. The light-eyed group said they felt angry at me and at the other group of students. They said they wondered what they did to deserve the terrible assignment. The brown-eyed group said they felt badly but not badly enough to exchange assignments with anyone or to even ask questions about why the assignments were different. I did have one blue-eyed guy ask me why he had to do the dictionary assignment and not the pizza one. It all worked perfectly. I asked my students to relate their feelings and the way I treated them to how Africa-Americans felt in the past. I think it really hit home with them and made a good point.

I then went on to show 2 YouTube videos. This first video really makes me emotional. I really can’t believe this happened so recently in my own country. I can’t fathom why people thought they were better solely based on their skin color. This video is a general overview of everything that happened. It’s about 5 minutes long.

The second video is about Bull Connor, who greatly influenced the civil rights movement, because of the terrible things he allowed to happen in Birmingham, Alabama while he was the commissioner of public safety for the city. It’s about 10 minutes long and really worth the watch.

After the activity, the videos, and a discussion, I really felt my students were ready to read A Raisin in the Sun and fully understand the context and the time period. I hope that no matter the grade level, this recap of my lesson might be helpful for you to teach about the civil rights movement, especially since it is black history month. Share with me some ideas you’ve used to teach this same topic.

Chinese New Year

I am sponsoring a diversity club here on campus. It’s a new club we’re starting up this semester. To kick it off, we did a presentation today about the Chinese New Year, since today is, in fact, Chinese New Year. It went really well! I wrote it and a student from Taiwan delivered the speech. I think most Americans know nothing about the holiday. Here is the presentation; I hope you learn a thing or two.

Today is Chinese New Year. You didn’t even realize today was a holiday, did you?

Over 1.4 BILLION people around the world celebrate it. It is called Chinese New Year because one of the main places it’s celebrated is in China, but it’s also celebrated in Australia, the U.S, Taiwan, Korea, Canada, Malaysia, and anywhere else that has a large Chinese population.

Have you heard of the Chinese Zodiac? Perhaps you’ve been in a Chinese restaurant and seen a placemat that lists years and animals. This is similar to Western astrology, like being a Gemini or Virgo. There is also a Zodiac sign given to each year. This new year is the year of the horse, or,ma, in Chinese.

Here’s a short video about the legend of the animals in the zodiac.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5aY11MpvsI

There are many traditions that people keep as they celebrate the Chinese New Year, which is also called Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year. The Festival lasts 15 days. Most people have about 1 full week off work and 1 full month off school. How nice!

During this time, everyone travels home to be with their families, just like at Christmas in the US. In mainland China, the population is over 1 billion people, so the trains and buses are so crowded!

Red is the lucky color of the New Year and everything is decorated with red and gold. We decorate with paper lanterns. In fact, the last day of the New Year celebration ends with something called the Lantern Festival. On the 15th day of the lunar calendar, you can go around town and see huge lanterns or light displays. These huge light displays can also be found at temples.

Fireworks are a huge part of the celebration. Did you know that fireworks were invented in China and have been around for over 1,000 years? It is said that we began using them to drive away evil spirits from our New Year. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, you will see and hear so many fireworks.

Hong bao, or red envelope, is used to give gifts of money. This is always done for Chinese New Year. Again, the color red is lucky and also wards off evil spirits. Mostly the hong bao are given to children. This is probably pretty similar to giving Christmas gifts.

 Of course a huge part of any holiday is the food. There are many traditional foods that we eat for Chinese New Year. One of the main ones is fish. The Chinese word for fish is yu. It sounds similar to the word for riches. So, on New Years we eat fish so that our wishes will come true in the year to come. Many sweets are also eaten because they symbolize a sweet and rich life. Can you see that the Chinese really love symbolism? The luck might come from the name, as I already stated or it might even be considered lucky based on what the food looks like.

I hope you enjoyed learning about Chinese New Year.

 

Photo I took in Xi'an, China for New Year 2011

Photo I took in Xi’an, China for New Year 2011