Adult Ed

Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

Overview | Activities

Introductory | Learning | Culminating | Extension | Community

Introductory-Reading and Listening

Read the essay "HOT DOGS AND APPLE PIE" as a class. Beginning ESL classes can listen to the essay as it is read; learners in advanced classes may be assigned individual sections of the essay to be read aloud. The "Hot dogs and apple pie" handout is divided into passages, separated by /. Instruct students to underline unfamiliar words.

Give students time after reading/listening to the text to record a list of unfamiliar words on separate sheets of paper or index cards. Ask students to identify three words that are most unfamiliar to them. Walk around the room and review with students the pronunciations for three of the terms on the list and repeat the pronunciations in small groups.

Ask students to log onto the Merriam Webster website ( to record the definitions for their list of unfamiliar words and to write down the word's foreign language equivalent. As students record the definitions, they can click on the audio icon () to hear the pronunciations of all of the terms on their list.

Discuss with students what the author may have meant when she says in lines 11-12 "They want us to hold on tight to those elements of Chinese culture." [Explain to students that Chinese culture, like any other culture, describes a way of living -- art, history, social settings and food are part of a larger concept that often helps define a person's identity. The author is referring to the first generation's desire to see its children uphold some of the traditional/cultural concepts that are distinctly Chinese and very different from American ways of living.] Ask students if they've ever felt pressured to choose between traditions and how they've managed to reconcile differences, if there are any?

Learning-Viewing and Writing Jigsaw

Divide the class into three work groups. Each group will view a different video clip from the Becoming American series. Each group will respond to the video clip by answering the associated questions on loose leaf paper. The teacher can then record student responses to the first question on newsprint for posting during discussion; the first question is objective whereas the second question is subjective. Only record the responses to the first question. Responses to the second question can serve as sources for language experience stories or individual essays.

Group 1 Being Chinese American
  • What is the central theme being discussed by Mr. Chin?

  • Can you describe a similar event in your own life?
  • Group 2 A Kind of Declaration of Independence
  • What traditions are being challenged by the speaker?

  • What is the significance of the video clip title to American culture?
  • Group 3 1898 Wong Kim Ark v. U.S.
  • Which constitutional amendment is at the center of this case?

  • What stereotypes are being challenged by this historical account?

  • [Group 1: The central theme being discussed is bi-culturalism and/or hyphenated identities. Group 2: The speaker describes two traditions being broken in her traditional Chinese home: demonstrated independence of women and youth "rebellion". Group 3: The 14th Amendment.]

    Culminating-Speaking and Writing

    Distribute the "CHAIN DRILL STARTERS" handout. Explain to students that the strength of the Becoming American series is the ability it has to relate the Chinese Experience to the human experience. It connects viewers and website visitors to the people who are telling their own stories. Invite your students to learn more about themselves by beginning a dialogue with others.

    Divide the class into small groups of 2 or 4 students. Allow student groups to perform chain drills in rounds according to the questions presented on the handout. Monitor student responses.

    Language Experience Stories-Photo essay analysis
    Ask students to log onto the A Portrait of New Americans Web site
    ( if they do not have their own personal photos. Ask students to describe one of the seven images in the photo essay, relating the image to a personal experience; beginning speakers can record their responses on audiotape or have their responses transcribed by a more advanced peer, a literacy coach or their teacher. More advanced students can write their responses on loose leaf paper. Ask students to read their responses out loud as a means of evaluating other literacy skills and/or literacy levels.


    Explore the life and works of immigrants throughout history. Notable examples are Horace Kallen ("Father of hyphenated identities"), Louis Adamic (author and writer), Jerry Yang (Yahoo! Founder), Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State), or Nadia Comaneci (athlete)

    Study in greater detail the theme of Asia and identity by using the site, Bridging World History (Free registration at required to view Video on Demand) There are 26 units of world history that can be researched on this Web site. This interactive site allows learners to build bridges or explore thematic pathways that make the study of world history more personally and culturally relevant. Each multimodal page offers learners an opportunity to read a related article, view associated images and artwork or analyze maps relevant to the period being researched.

    "Collect" articles from the Traveler Interactive by creating PDFs of personally selected text ( or explore.

    Use the Bridging World History audio glossary to listen to the way some of the LOTE words are pronounced in English. The site lists the words alphabetically.

    Encourage Non-Chinese speakers to learn Pin Yin pronunciations. Log onto the Pin Yin Practice Sheet and listen to pronunciations of various Chinese tones (Real Player required).

    Practice dictionary/research skills by encouraging students to use online dictionaries as translators. An online English-Chinese dictionary is available at; other web-based resources like Word can be used for Spanish, French and Italian entries.


    Visit Ellis Island first online ( and then in person. Ellis Island was, for many 19th and 20th century immigrants, the Gateway into America. After exploring the history of this beautiful NYC area landmark online, tour the museum in person.

    Start a foreign film club with the class. Since most foreign films are now produced with English subtitles or have closed caption capability, use them as teaching resources. Show films on special "family nights" and invite members of the ESL community, along with their friends, neighbors and family. Organize the class into groups according to continent or country or province (which ever arrangement is most reasonable) and allow students to pick the films. Encourage them to explore a variety of different themes in their selection. If American films are used, put the closed caption on the screen.

    Celebrate You, Whoever You Are
    Turn your classroom into a "coffee house", "tea room" or "java hut" and host an open mic session, poetry reading or ESL chat room. Use the poem "You, Whoever You Are" as an idea generator and theme. The poem is available online at, an immigration resource for teachers and students.