K-5 Mandarin Chinese
Linden Elementary School,
Pittsburgh Public Schools
Reviewing: The Mouse Bride: A Chinese Folk Tale
Languages: English and Chinese
After having read and considered the book The Mouse Bride, I came to the conclusion that though a beautiful book and compelling story, it would require considerable manoeuvring to incorporate in a meaningful way into the class. First I will consider the qualities of the book itself that make it at times valuable and at times challenging to incorporate into the classroom.
The Mouse Bride is a beautiful book—it has larger, lovely illustrations that show many aspects of Chinese life and culture, from musical instruments to traditional Chinese architecture that would engage visual learners. The book is bilingual, so I would be able to read it in Chinese (a necessity as my class is primarily to teach language and not culture; the district guidelines state that 80% of the class should be in the target language). Furthermore, the language is in the context of an interesting story, and not simply drills. The story is not a translated English story—it is a Chinese folktale, so it also does convey culture.
Its main issue, however, is the level of language presented. The Chinese vocabulary necessary to understand the story is extensive and specific. The Chinese characters written on the pages are very small, while the English words are large and demand more attention especially for a student struggling to understand the Chinese. This book does not constitute comprehensible input for my students either when read in Chinese or if I were to read it to them.
Can it still be used then? Potentially in a significantly altered context. The teacher could tell the story without strictly following the words in the book. She could limit and repeat the vocabulary in such a way that it would bring the language back into the zone of comprehensible input (preferably after previewing it for her class). She could also consider implenting call and response style story telling when possible. She could use an Elmo projector to project the images on the board for a large class, and also so that the students could see the Chinese characters (she could possibly even black out the English words). The lesson plan, of course, would also need rigorous questioning to avoid an excessively teacher- centered lesson plan and to maximise student talk. One possible option would be to set up a activity when students retell the story to each other.
So, despite the fact that the book alone is not comprehensible for students, a teacher could structure a lesson that uses the story and the images to teach Chinese language in his or her classroom.