This is the "Classroom Activities" page of the "Girl in Translation: A Teacher Toolkit" guide.
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Girl in Translation: A Teacher Toolkit   Tags: chinese americans, girl in translation, immigration, labor  

Last Updated: Apr 26, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Historical Research & Google Earth Tour

  • As students read Girl in Translation, ask them to keep a running list of all the important locations (cities, countries, major historical sites) visited in the novel. The list should include places like Hong Kong, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Times Square, Statue of Liberty, etc. For maps of New York City, visit the New York City Guide website.
  • Divide students into small groups and assign (or have them assign) a different location to each person in the group.
  • Each group member should research his/her location at the time of the novel (1980s) and today. Each person should: 
    • find two images (one from the 1980s and one contemporary) that show his/her location.
    • create two well-written paragraphs about the location (one about life there in the 1980s and one about life there today).
  • Each group should create and present a Google Earth tour of the locations featured in the novel to provide historical context to for the text. (Alternatively, they could upload their images to VoiceThread and add comments reading their paragraphs aloud).

Note: If you want students have the historical context in advance of their reading, you can provide the locations to them and have them present their tours before reading Girl in Translation.


    Analysis of New York Times article from 1989

    • Have students read "Year of Snake Marks Decade of Change in Chinatown".
    • As they read, ask them to highlight the information that supports Kim's experience in Girl in Translation (i.e., education, garment factories, labor conditions, desire for a better life).
    • Ask them to star any information that seems to contradict the story and to write down any questions the article raises for them about the book.
    • Then discuss the article and their responses as a class.

      Video Analysis

      • Ask students to reread sections of the novel in which Kim talks about Chinatown in the 1980s (pp. 3—4, 14—17, 28—30, 197—203).
      • Have them jot down words they would use to describe Chinatown based on her narrative (i.e., noisy, busy, colorful, etc.).
      • Then show them this YouTube video of Chinatown in 1986. As they watch, ask students to create a second list of descriptive words.
      • After viewing the video, ask students to compare and contrast their ideas of Chinatown before and after viewing the video.
        • What do they know about Chinatown in the 1980s based on their reading and the video?
        • What can they infer about life in Chinatown at this time?
        • What questions do they have about life in Chinatown?

        Cause & Effect Using Interactive Immigration Map

        • Ask students to think about Kim’s story and to do some research about why people immigrate. Instruct them to list common push (economic trouble, government oppression) and pull (economic opportunity, political freedom) factors related to immigration and migration.
        • Then have them use the New York Times Immigration Explorer map to track immigration from China to New York and also from China to your hometown/state from 1970 to the present.
        • Ask them also look at immigration to their home states from other countries.
          • Which immigrant groups have been most prominent in your state?
          • How do the immigration patterns for New York and your hometown/state compare and contrast?
          • What push and pull factors might account for the similarities and differences?

          PBS Immigration Poll & Discussion

          • After studying Asian American immigration and completing Girl in Translation, have students complete the PBS Searching for Asian America Poll.
          • Lead a discussion about the different questions, the answers, and how the class's responses compare to others'.

            Sweatshop and Child Labor

            Students may have a strong reaction to the exploitative labor practices that Kwok describes in her novel, particularly the element of child labor.

            • Introduce students to some general facts and figures about child labor around the world and in the U.S., using Every Child Counts: New Global Estimates on Child Labour (PDF download of 2002 report by the International Labour Organization) or the child labor map from the website Worldmapper. [Note however that data on child labor is difficult to compile since the practice often takes place illegally and is routinely under-reported]. Next assign individuals or small groups to investigate child labor in a nation covered by the U.S. Department of Labor report, By the Sweat and Toil of Children. Students can complete a chart describing the industries where children are employed, working conditions, and ages and hours of employment for their target location. Have groups report their findings to the class, discussing common themes and differences. Where is "the worst" place for children to work, and why do you think so? How do the descriptions they found compare/contrast with Kim's experiences? Also, why do students think the U.S. Department of Labor report excludes discussion of children's employment in the United States?
            • Direct students to the website Behind the Label. This is a multimedia news website sponsored by UNITE HERE, the union of textile workers, and a coalition of religious leaders and youth activists dedicated to raising public awareness about sweatshop labor. As students explore this site, have them generate a list of tools and strategies that sweatshop workers and their allies are using to combat exploitation in sweatshop settings today (e.g. economic boycotts of sweatshop-produced clothing on college campuses, class-action lawsuits, letter writing campaigns, etc.).
            • Have student teams collaborate to create a pair of public-awareness posters, using text and image collage (this can be done on paper or using the online tool Glogster). Poster theme #1:"This is Child Labor Today." Poster theme #2: "What Can You Do to Stop Child Labor?"


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