Infuse Deep Thinking in a Book Trailer

I was talking with Pu-mei Leng, another nationally renowned TCI Chinese teacher and author, about our classes, I got the idea of book trailer from her.  She humbly claimed that it was not her original idea.  Unfortunately, I could no longer recall where she might get the idea from.

“It’s like a movie trailer, but it is about a book for students to make.  I don’t even set any criteria, only tell them to surprise me.  It was for a homework assignment, some kids really blew me away.”

Pu-mei is a teacher who doesn’t need to control her students at all time.  Her tolerance for ambiguity allows her students’ creativity come to life.  I always admire that character treat of hers.

That was exactly what I did.  One day in class, on a fly, I asked students to create a book trailer as homework over the weekend.   When students bombed me with questions on how, some kept asking what I wanted from them, I shared few links on “How to create a good book trailerwith them and then I said, “Show me what you understand and surprise me!”

Just as Pu-mei indicated, I was impressed by few really good ones, at the same time, wondered how I could raise the bar high for the class as whole.



Some students’ work was so shallow, a feeling of the lacking of depth kept gnawing me.   After students captured the plot and core message, what else is there that I haven’t directed their attention and thinking to yet?

When we read a book, what truly captures our heart and mind so we would keep reading?  Reflecting back on my own pleasure reading experience, I know besides a good plot, it is the mixture of feelings, emotions, relevance, and  a sense of belonging or purpose draws me into a good read.  Then, why only asking students to demonstrate their comprehension of a plot?  They have more to offer, I need to offer a platform for them to demonstrate it.

Many teachers at this point would ask: but my novice level students (even intermediate low level students) don’t have the language to do the deep thinking, we already ask them to retell a story, to summarize a plot and capture the core message, now you are telling me these are not enough?  That’s crazy!

As I’m exploring how to use simple languages to express big ideas and reveal deep thinking, I agree that novice level students don’t have the proficiency to output everything in a target language.  Even high level students struggle with how to use target languages to completely express their ideas, then, how to make it feasible?

Here is a question I’d like to ask you: After you provide abundant compelling, comprehensible input and keep your class in a target language during the vast majority of time, do you think it would be okay to allow your students to do some critical thinking for few minutes in their native languages?

My answer is a definite yes.  Allowing students few minutes to think critically in their native tongue drives your message home deeply.

Therefore, I started to brainstorm what would be included in the book trailer rubric .

Now, it’s time to spill the bean.  How did the book trailer turn out exactly?

Honestly, picking up each kid from where they are to wherever the next high ground they could reach is always a work in progress, isn’t it?  Two types of students struggled with this project initially: 1. concrete thinkers.  2. students who are not used to tune into other’s feelings and emotions, let alone to be comfortable to show their feelings and emotions.

Concrete thinkers don’t read a text between the lines.  Nor, they could think about relevance to the real world.  In kittens’ series, there is a character named Elvis (formally Elves), a black cat who was abandoned by his owner at birth due to the owner’s superstitious belief: a black cat was unlucky.  He was also an outcast in the cat society.  Nobody wanted to befriend him.  Until one day, he could prove himself…  When I was writing this book, I wanted to draw a parallel of racism in the story.  My concrete thinkers in class simply took the story at the face value.  It was only when I presented the question, the relevance to the real world, to them, they started to think differently.  The end of project from them is more than gratifying for me.  As for the conscientious students who are typically kind, thoughtful and empathetic, they could connect with the project right away.

Book Trailer By Ignite Chinese


In a previous post, I briefly blogged about a sci-fi fantasy story: Panda 008.  A Panda was born in a lab.  Evil scientists want to use him to clone pandas since there is only 2000 pandas left in the world.  He strategically orchestrated several escape plans until he succeeded in the end.  One freshman student, who won the academic award at my school, and took two AP classes during his freshman year, really struggled with creating a book trailer with this story.  When I was giving him feedback regarding “an emotion you could identity with…”, he said: “I have never been locked in a lab and have people doing experiments on me constantly, I don’t share the same emotion with him.”

What I reminded him was: he was talking about sharing a direct experience.   It is impossible for us, human beings, to directly experience everything in the world.   However, emotions are universal.  Regardless of our ethnicity, race, religion or culture…  The way we express our feelings might be different, however, feelings are universal.  Love is love, we all feel it in our heart.  Betrayal is betrayal, we feel in our gut.  Fear is fear, which we fear in our stomach…

Sometimes, I wonder: can we really teach empathy to kids?  I had doubts before.  Now, I firmly believe in “yes”.


If you are going to use this book trailer rubric, another difficulty for kids to overcome is “the questions you are going to raise to demonstrate critical thinking…”.  A lot of them would fall back directly to the story, they came up with reading comprehension questions instead.  When I pointed out the questions should be related everything above: the core message, the personal and worldly connection and the conflicts…  They often got it immediately.

Of course, the biggest obstacle is how to put everything in less than 90 seconds!

After the project is done, I asked students to write a brief reflection on what challenged them, which aspect extended their horizon, and what they would take into the next project.  Here is a quick glimpse into their experience.

As we are wrapping up this school year, you might be looking for a project to do with your students.  Give the book trailer a try.  If you run into any problem, please let me know.

Lastly, please allow me to share one more book trailer.  This girl talked about how much she related to Elvis and being different.  She thanked me for the opportunity to express herself.  I am the one who is in gratitude for her trust and demonstration of vulnerability.

Transcript: I know I’m different.  Everybody sees me, they see my difference.  But am I having a different heart from yours? …

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