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The Chinese lantern festival – an introduction

Approximate duration: 2–3 lessons


 Key competencies:

  • Thinking
  • Using language, symbols and texts
  • Relating to others

 Effective teaching:

  • Enhancing the relevance of new learning
  • Facilitating shared learning
  • Providing sufficient opportunities to learn

 Links to social inquiry processes:

  • Finding out information
  • Exploring values and perspectives


 Conceptual understandings/learning intentions: Today we are learning that...

  • (Level 1) Chinese New Zealanders express their culture in their daily lives.
  • (Level 1) There are similarities and differences in the cultural expressions of Chinese New Zealanders and other New Zealand cultural groups.
  • (Level 2) Chinese New Zealanders express their customs, traditions and values through their own cultural practices.

How did the customs and traditions of the lantern festival begin?

As a class find photographs from earlier Lantern Festivals and discuss the following questions:

  • What are some of the things that are the same or nearly the same in all the photos?
  • Are any of the things you see happening a little bit like celebrations that you know?
  • What would be a good name for this celebration?
  • Do you think this celebration started in New Zealand or has it come from somewhere else?

The teacher tells the students that these photographs are from the Chinese lantern festival which is a celebration that originated in China but is also celebrated around the world. Students work in cooperative groups to study one photograph more closely. They fill in the photo analysis chart. NB: Younger children may need to do this activity as a whole class with the teacher providing guidance and recording their ideas.

The teacher becomes a storyteller and narrates the story "Yuanxiao" about the origins of the lantern festival. The students name all of the characters in the story and identify the different emotions that each character feels, for example: a sad palace maid, a worried emperor, a wild fire-god. The students practice miming the characters and their emotions.

The teacher groups the students into teams with 3 or 4 members and gives them a scene from the story to act out, for example:

  • Yuanxiao feeling sad because she is locked away in the palace all year round.
  • Yuanxiao becoming friends with the Minister Dongfang Shuo.
  • The lanterns being lit and the firecrackers being let off.

Students decide how to present their scene – they may choose freeze frames, mime or mini play - and take time to rehearse their scene. Each group then presents their scene to the rest of the class. The scenes are presented in chronological order so that the whole story is put together.

The teacher makes "Find out about the lantern festival" question cards and gives one question to a group of 3 or 4 students. If necessary, the teacher re-tells the story of Yuanxiao to the students and asks them to listen carefully for the answer to the question that is on their card. Get one person in each group to read out their question before you begin.

The students share their answers to the questions after the re-telling of the story. The students then revisit the photographs and their photograph analysis chart to see if they can recognize any more customs and traditions associated with the Chinese lantern festival or if they can answer any of their questions.

Extension Activity – The students make sweet dumplings (Yuanxiao) following this special recipe.

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