Up the Culture Game: Teaching Holiday Celebration Through Content-based Activities!

By Pu-mei Leng

Spring Festival and Lantern Festival are coming up fast!  Read the following post to learn how Leng laoshi teaches Lantern Festival in her Chinese class!

The riddle activity for the Chinese Lantern Festival was created for the topic of Celebration of Festivals. All of my festivals were first taught on the calendar talk, very basic vocabulary and one or more important features on a specific festival, like everyone did, for example, Chinese in the north eat dumplings in the New Year. As their level advances, more details are added to the celebration of the festivals. This will give students multiple exposures and different aspects of the same festival and deepen their understanding of cultural perspective.

The process of teaching a festival can last for four years or more. By the time I plan the caimi (riddle guess) game, the students have learned a few things about Lantern Festival: It is on the 15th of the first month in the lunar calendar and it the first full moon of the year.  Lantern Festival is like the Mid-autumn festival, the celebration is in the evening because both are on the 15th of the month, the day of the full moon. Lantern Festival (shang yuan jie) is the celebration of the moon. Here is a topic of cultural comparison, the sun worship vs. the moon worship in Ancient cultures.

The three major activities on the day of Lantern Festival are eating dumpling (元宵so the name of 元宵节) watching the lanterns displayed or participating in the parade with lanterns, and riddle guessing. I think most teachers will bring the 元宵 to the classroom for students to taste at least once. There are plenty of videos of people watching colorful and intricately designed lanterns on Youtube. Riddle guessing can only be found in written descriptions or literature. This prompted me to create an activity that students can experience the process of riddle guessing during the Lantern Festival.

I like the idea because it is an input activity in which students will engage in reading. However, to create a comprehensible input riddle guessing is a challenge. I eliminate the riddles for guessing Chinese characters and only focus on the description of simple objects only because I remember some riddles I played as a kid:




I did test them with some advanced students and it was difficult for them. So I decided to choose objects only and print the pictures to give them some clue. It worked very well. I have tested on Level 3 and above.


This the how the activity was set up: 10 red lanterns were hanging in the classroom and I printed two sets of riddles in two different color papers. They were cut in strips and folded in half with words inside. The riddles were randomly taped on the lanterns. Students could only pick 1 at a time, if they figured it out, they will sign their names, folded with the name outside and place them under the pictures. If they could not figure out what they picked, they could put it back for others to guess.

Even though they do not know every word, the words they know will give some clue for them to figure out. They are used to figure out the meaning from the context. Riddle guessing is a fun game for them because it is challenging enough to keep their interest and satisfying when they are rewarded with the right answers.

In a larger context of culture, riddle guessing reflects Chinese’ fascination with playing with words and word games both in spoken words and written words. We will see this fascination in a particular style of riddle guessing, 拆字, taking apart of the Chinese characters for the riddle next time.

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