Different Cultures in Chicago's Neighborhoods: Chinese and Mexican Communities

byNadra Ruff


If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn”

Ignacio Estrada

A focus on results rather than means: By emphasizing required achievements, the standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgement and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the standards (2015, Common Core State Standards Initiative). Thus, having a distribution of literacy and informational passages embedded in the reading framework allows for shared responsibility for students’ literacy development. This unit will include a mixture of literary and informational text to teach students about different cultures in Chicago’s neighborhoods where they live. This unit directly addresses the last line of the statement that teachers are free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgement and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out by the standards.

This unit is designed for 3rd grade students, but could be adapted for other grade level students in grades 4th-8th. The school where the unit will be implemented is located in the inner city of Chicago in the Englewood Gresham area, one of Chicago Public Schools hardest communities. The school has 92% of low income students and 10% special education. The population is 99% Black and 1% Hispanic. The school is considered underutilized having an enrollment of 325, but should have an enrollment of at least 540 students. The school’s performance over time in reading, math, and science has been improving in small steady increments of progress, with fluctuating mobility rate trends.

The issue that needs to be addressed within my school is the reading gaps in all grade levels. This is a special problem with students in grades 3rd-8th where standardized testing determines how the school’s annual yearly progress is calculated, our school has been on probation for over 14 years. This is my 6th year there having taught 6th grade for three years, and also 4th, 5th, and 3rd. I have endured the heavy lifting of trying to pull students up to grade level in both reading and math, but reading is the lowest. Although I have produced great gains it’s still not enough for the work that needs to be done throughout the school.

The development of this unit seeks to address the academic achievement gaps within my grade level through a cultural unit of study. The unit will encompass the use of literature and informational text at different reading levels, styles of print, text features, and comprehension levels. Through the use of these two forms of writing students will receive a wealth of knowledge and experiences with learning about the two cultures of study being the Chinese and Mexican culture. By implementing unit based instruction that is of interest, hands-on, and engaging students will be able to make progress with their reading and comprehension abilities, as well as learn about the cultures that surround them in their neighborhood in order to become welcoming and understanding of diversity among cultures. I envision that this unit of study can be a paradigm for teaching culture in other Chicago classrooms and beyond, a method to help all other teachers in different places across the country.


Chicago is a city of many cultures. Among those cultures I will focus on the Chinese and Mexican cultures. I selected these two particular cultures due to my students’ misconceptions about people of these two cultural ethnicities. Students live in communities that are surrounded by the geographical location of these two cultures neighborhoods. I also chose Chinese and Mexican cultures because my students have a hard time understanding the behaviors and actions of these two culture of people due to limited or no knowledge of their background. There are a few Chinese and Mexican businesses in my students’ neighborhood that allow students and their families to interact with these cultures on a daily basis. As a result, students have some prior knowledge of some of the observed behaviors that these two cultures exhibit but no meaning as to why. Another reason I chose these two cultures are their commonalities among their traditional living structures, customs, and food, and yet obvious differences such as their language, style of clothing, and physical features for students to study and become culturally aware of their diversity.

The purpose of my work, however, is not just to analyze the Chinese and Mexican cultures, but to enhance my students’ cultural awareness. By examining a historical sequence of cultural diversity in Chicago’s neighborhoods, with historical events that took place for Chinese and Mexican immigrants, this unit will offer students an understanding of how members of a culture meld into communities while trying to maintain cultural identity and honor their ancestors. My mission is that I must be able to teach several aspects of cultural differences and location to my students in a manner that they will be able to understand and make connections among these two cultures and themselves. The goal of research is the pedagogical approach for teaching about these two culture’s historical attributes in the Chicagoland area. It is important for students to recognize and comprehend that the Chinese and Mexican cultures have their native country that they came from, and how and when they arrived to America and then settled within the city of Chicago. Students will learn how food, tradition, and location brought cultures together and allowed them to rally in unison in certain areas, and establish their cultural communities and livelihoods. Students will need to be able to discuss and explain how these two cultures among many others contributed to making Chicago a diverse city, and how location plays an essential role.


It is important for the historical background accounts of the two identified cultures to be taught and demonstrated through meaningful experiences. In order to support the foundational knowledge needed is to identify with these two cultures, their struggles, and their transitions.

The first waves of Chinese immigrants came to the U.S. after hearing of the “Golden Mountain” or “Gum Saan” when California’s Gold Rush began in 1848. Civil war and famine back home in southern China, where most of the first immigrants were from, propelled them on as well, so that they could work in the U.S. and send money to families back home. In steamships, they arrived in San Francisco’s harbor, where the first Chinatown was founded (Retrieved from http://www.goldenventuremovie.com/Chinese).

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in Chicago in the 1870s, long after the other Chinese had settled in California, Oregon and Washington. It began with the completion of the transcontinental railroad which recruited Chinese as almost 80% of its work force. When the last railroad track was laid in 1869 and work came to an end. Chinese population began to disperse to the mid-western and eastern states from the Pacific Coast where they originally concentrated. But the anti-Chinese sentiment along the Pacific Coast was the most potent factor that sparred the Chinese immigrants advancing eastward. The prejudice against the Chinese intensified in the 1861's when economic conditions in America took a turn for the worse. The depression forced many laborers out of work. And because Chinese were a small, but visible minority, they became easy target for persecution and humiliation.

There were many anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The legal system was also discriminated against them: A law passed in 1863 inadvertently encouraged acts of violence against the Chinese by forbidding them to testify against white men in court.

It was under such circumstances that some ambitious and restless young men began to venture away to other places. Some of them arrived in Chicago. Though the first official report of Chinese in Chicago could be traced in 1870 census report, little was known about these settlers except they were residing in Morgan county of Southern Illinois. The Chinatown neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, is on the South Side, centered on Cermak and Wentworth Avenues, and is an example of an American Chinatown, or ethnic-Chinese neighborhood. By the 2000 Census, Chicago Primary Metropolitan Statistical Areas has 68,021 Chinese. The combined 60616 and 60608 zip codes in Chicago, as of the 2010 Census, were home to 22,380 people of Chinese descent. Chicago is the second oldest settlement of Chinese in America after the Chinese fled persecution in California (Harry, 2008).

Mexican immigrants also endured some challenges coming to America just as the Chinese did. For almost a half-century after the annexation of Texas in 1845. There was a significant migration in the other direction: Mexican citizens who left the newly annexed U.S. territories and resettled in Mexican territory. Around the 1890s, new industries in the U.S. Southwest especially mining and agriculture attracted Mexican migrant laborers. The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) then increased the flow: war refugees and political exiles fled to the United States to escape the violence. Mexicans also left rural areas in search of stability and employment. As a result, Mexican migration to the United States rose sharply. The number of legal migrants grew from around 20,000 migrants per year during the 1910s to about 50,000 – 100,000 migrants per year during the 1920s (Steinhauer, 2015).

The first Mexicans who came to Chicago, mostly entertainers and itinerants, came before the turn of the 20th century. In the mid to late 1910s Chicago had its first significant wave of Mexican immigrants. Originally the immigrants were mostly men working in semiskilled and unskilled jobs who originated from Texas and from Guanajuato, Jalisco, and Michoacan. In the 1920s migration increased (Kerr, 2014). Mexican Americans are populated in the Chicago Metropolitan area. Mexican neighborhoods include Pilsen in the Lower West Side and Little Village (this is also where the Mexican Museum of Art is located) in South Lawndale. As of the 2010 Census, 578,100 residents of the City of Chicago, had full or partial Mexican origins. If one were to measure only Mexican born immigrants, Chicago (with 677,000) is second only to Los Angeles (with 1,751,000) on the list of cities with the largest Mexican born populations (measured in 2012).

Both the Chinese and Mexican cultures share some commonalities of enduring changes, and challenges within their native countries which prompted them to leave to migrate to America for more opportunities and a better way of life, and from there some of them found their way into Chicago. They share similarities in their histories of immigration, just as they do with some of their traditions and customs. The research that has been conducted to identify some of the Chinese and Mexican traditions and customs as comparisons and contrast will help students understand these two cultures in relation to each other and themselves, as a means of people having a set of values and morals that they live by that is taught as a child, past down, and is a practice of their family views of how to live.

Important Traditions and Customs

Every culture has multiple traditions and customs that are passed down from generation to generation. I will report a few of the more popular traditions and customs for the Mexican American and Chinese American cultures. They generally do not share the same holidays/festivals but there are some similarities in the ways they celebrate.

Most Mexicans are Roman Catholics and those of Mexican descent in Chicago practice this religion, as well. Catholic holidays can include Christmas, Easter, Passover, etc. (Mexican American Culture, n.d.). Celebrations in Mexico have a habit of being very grand and colorful. Much time is spent preparing for the festivities. During Christmas, the Christian nativity scene is reenacted in every town; carols are sung throughout December, leading up to Christmas day. Christmas mass is observed with many participants in every church! (Y. Alguilar, personal communication, 2011 July 8).

Each region in Mexico has its own traditional music and dances. Some examples of such dances (with accompanying music) are the Mexican Hat Dance, La Bamba, Salsa, and the Dance of the Ancients (Dances of Mexico, n.d.). The dancers may be very young or very old depending on the traditions for each region. In the Dance of the Ancients, it is not older people who perform the dance. Instead, it is usually children who are dressed up as their grandparents would appear, dancing with canes and sticks to music (R. Gonzalez, personal communication, 2011, July 8).

Names are much different from many other North American names. Everyone in Mexico has two last names, the mother’s maiden name and the father’s last name (What’s in a Name?, 2006). For example, a child’s full name (let’s call her Elena) with her mother’s maiden name of García and her father’s name of Fernandez would be Elena García Fernandez. And when Elena García Fernandez gets married to Alberto Lopez, she would add her husband’s last name to her name. Thus, she would become Elena García Fernandez de Lopez. Many students who have immigrated from Mexico continue to use both last names for documentation, however, they will only use one last name in their classes and with their friends (Y. Alguilar, personal communication, 2011 July 8).

In Mexico the normal greeting is to be hugged and given a kiss on the cheek. It would be rude to only shake hands (R. Gonzalez, personal communication, 2005 June). It’s okay for a man or a woman to hug and then give a kiss on the cheek. However, men may greet each other differently, by a handshake and then a hug or just a hug.

The Chinese have fewer celebrations but they are just as actively celebrated, even in Chicago. Three main festivals are the Chinese New Year, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Moon Festival. Each has a myth that explains why it is celebrated and how to celebrate it. Many Chinese (and Chinese Americans) follow each festival with gusto! Special types of food are made for each festival; a special type of rice dumpling is made for the Dragon Boat Festival while Moon Cakes are made for the Moon Festival (K. Lin, personal communication, 2011 July 1). These celebrations are also huge and very colorful with particular dances and music for each festival. Some of the dances include a traditional Fan Dance, a Dragon Dance (using a dragon prop), or other animal dances (Chinese Customs and Traditions Index Glossary, n.d.).

Greetings and names are also different from most North American customs and very different from Chinese customs. These tend to carry over with Chinese immigrant students more than with children born in the United States (K. Lin, personal communication, 2011 July 1). The family name is first, followed by the given name. Many Northern Americans see those of Chinese descent as very respectful due to the ways people are greeted in China. Titles are always used (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., etc) when addressing someone, sometimes even years after meeting them. Your given name is only used by those extremely close to you. For example, I would call my friend Zhou Yi, using both her family and her given name. Only after many years of close friendship, may she invite me to call her Yi Fei (her given names) or Fei (the nickname her parents gave her) (Zhou Yi Fei, personal communication, 2011 July 10). Most children who assimilate into the American culture tend to show more respect to their elders or people with titles but lose the formality with their peers (W. Lin, personal communication, 2011 June 30). A limp handshake that lasts a few seconds longer than most North Americans are used to is now the norm in China. In the United States, though, most Chinese Americans will quickly change the way they shake hands using a firmer and shorter grip.

Culture in the Classroom

Culture plays a major role not only in society, but also in the classroom. How children are raised by their parents and their communities affects how they interact with peers and adults in the school. Everyone has some cultural twist that his/her teacher is not familiar with a natural consequence of the multiculturalism of the United States (Tanner, 2011).

Proxemics, or the proximity of one person to another, is one dimension of how culture affects learning. Students of Mexican origin tend to enjoy more closeness in family and society (Mexican American Culture Differences, n.d.). These students tend to stand closer to their friends, sometimes a little closer than their friends are used to. On the other hand, students of Asian descent are the opposite (Jimenez, 1996 January). More distance shows respect.

Eye contact is another thing dictated by culture. Depending on what you learned at home or in the community, eye contact may be extremely rude or it may be a sign of honesty and is expected. In the Mexican culture, looking someone in the eye while talking is a form of disrespect (Jimenez, 1996 January). The same is true in China (Wang Fei, personal communication, 2011, July 5).

Chinese American students and Mexican American students have more similarities when learning in the classroom. In both of the ancestral countries, education tends to focus on group work (Mexican American Culture Differences, n.d.). According to W. Lin (personal communication, 2011 June 30), class sizes in China can be anywhere from 40 to 60 students. This means that teachers must employ many group and paired activities to reach every child. The group is more important than the individual (Y. Alguilar, personal communication, 2011 July 8). Memorization is also focused on by both cultures leading to an emphasis on role learning after the material is committed to memory (Differences in Mexican and American Culture, n.d.)

Another similarity among the Chinese and Mexican culture is their food. The amazing thing about the intersection of Chinese and Mexican are the flavor profiles that are strikingly similar. The combination of Chinese and Mexican flavors and foods known as Mexi-Chinese may sound like a new innovation, Chinese and Mexican cuisines have actually been intermingling for hundreds of years now (Bon Appetit, 2013). The history of Chinese influence in Mexico began roughly 450 years ago, when Spanish trading ships (the so-called Manila Galleons) brought silk and other Eastern goods to the Western coast of Mexico in exchange for silver. Three hundred years later, Chinese immigrants came to Mexico as cheap labor for major projects including railroad and irrigation. As a result, Chinese ingredients like soy sauce became a regular part of some Mexican diets (Bon Appetit, 2013). Marilyn Tausend writes in “LaCocina Mexicana: Many Cultures, One Cuisine”, because the port was on the trade route from Asia to the Philippines and on to Mexico the influence can be felt in dishes like pescado zarandeado, a Sinaloan classic in which a whole snook is butterflied and broiled with a soy marinade that tastes distinctly Mexican by way of Shanxi (Chinese).

The information that has been researched about the Chinese and Mexican culture is important because it has developed my background knowledge about the challenges both cultures endured in their country and their reasons for traveling to America in hopes of a brighter future. This information will also help me teach my students about the two countries and the reasons, and era of time, that immigrants left to come to America. The use of the research and various text will serve as an instruction model to get students to understand that these two cultures have been in our country for many years and have helped develop a culturally diverse society here not only in America but in our city of Chicago. From the research gathered, students will also learn in what parts of Chicago these cultures are heavily present. The informational text research will help students understand and become aware of what is immigration, culture and customs, and location. It will also work to challenge students to make connections. They will make connections with text to self, other text, and the world around them.

Content Objectives

The content objectives that will be addressed within this unit are specifically English Language Arts and social studies, immigration, culture, and geographical location. These three topics will be addressed with a variety of text styles in relation to the literature and information seminar that Jessica Brantley designed where we explored many kinds of texts and a variety of ways of reading them, in order to clarify the relation between “literature” and “information.” An important component of the seminar was to consider the relation between students’ reading and their own writing. Often an analytical paper is the response to reading literary fiction. But it is also useful to imagine the reverse: creative writing as a response to informational reading (Brantley, 2015).

By using the framework of objectives that were practiced and set forth in seminar, I was able to develop content objectives for my unit that incorporates objectives of literary and informational pieces to learn about the Chinese and Mexican cultures in Chicago, in relation to the three identified focus topics. It will be essential for students to be able to decipher the commonalities and differences among these cultures. The goal is to have students start to understand the concept of culture as a concrete way of being that defines people. The idea of culture can be abstract in thinking, so given real experiences and exposure to the reality of the selected culture’s history and traditions students will start to comprehend the elements that make these cultures diverse and a contribution to society. If students are able to understand and identify these aspects of the Chinese and Mexican cultures they will become more receptive to the people they interact with that are different from them.

Students will discuss explicitly information about when and why the Chinese and Mexican culture migrated to America to explore new ideas about the topic of immigration using information from a given text. They will ask and answer questions about the geographical location and traditions for these two cultures from given text to increase understanding. Students will also identify the structure and features of literature and informational text to assist with their comprehension of information presented to them. They will recount key details and explain how they support the main idea of what makes the Chinese and Mexican cultures different and/or alike. Students will also respond to the different pieces of text making meaningful connections, and use writing to analyze literature. They will build vocabulary for reading and writing through analyzing the different forms of text, and examine how an author chooses specific details, such as the title of the text, to support points in a text. Students will also demonstrate their understanding of how the theme, being how the Chinese and Mexicans went through a process of forming communities while maintaining cultural identity. Last but not least students will read and interpret information as it is implied by maps that illustrate the passage in which the Chinese and Mexicans traveled to American and the local Chicago neighborhoods they reside in. Students will be exposed to a variety of teaching methods and strategies that will address their learning styles and abilities, so that they gain a thorough understanding of the purpose and objectives of this unit.

Teaching Strategies

Strategies are the fundamentals to teaching lessons. An effective teaching style engages students in the learning process and helps them develop critical thinking skills. Traditional teaching styles have evolved with the advent of differentiated instruction, prompting teachers to adjust their styles toward students’ learning needs (Gill, 2015). Thus the teaching strategies that will be implemented to teach this unit will involve graphic organizers, cooperative/collaborative group discussions, project-based learning, some lecture, demonstrations, learning by teaching, and experiential learning. These strategies will help to address the different learning styles of students within my classroom who are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. Boundless Education version 4 July, 2015 provides a more detailed account of these teaching strategies for an accurate description of the strategies I will be incorporating to teach this unit and the learning styles of my students it will address.

Graphic organizers are visual representations of knowledge, concepts, thoughts, or ideas, they are also known as a teaching strategy. To show the relationships between the parts, the symbols are linked with each other; words can be used to further clarify meaning. By representing information spatially and with images, students are able to focus on meaning, reorganize and group similar ideas easily, make better use of their visual memory. This strategy will be utilized by way of a Venn diagram for students to identify commonalities and differences between the Chinese and Mexican culture. Lectures, on the other hand, are often geared more towards factual presentation than connective learning. Lectures will also be given to give students explanation of important historical events, and will be accompanied by visual aids such as photographs and other forms of graphic organizers like concept and idea webs to help prompt their thinking, as well as their verbal and written language.

Collaboration: this strategy allows for students to actively participate in the learning process by talking with each other and listening to other points of view. Collaboration establishes a personal connection between students and the topic of study and it helps students think in a less personally biased way. Group projects and discussions are examples of this teaching method. Teachers may employ collaboration to assess student's abilities to work as a team, leadership skills, or presentation abilities. Collaborative discussions can take a variety of forms, such as fishbowl discussions or group projects. Students will engage in these strategies these discussions about the Chinese and Mexican culture’s journey to America and how they settled into Chicago. After some preparation and with clearly defined roles, a discussion may constitute most of a lesson, with the teacher only giving short feedback at the end or in the following lesson. This strategy of teaching also address the auditory learner along with verbal direction and reinforcement, lectures, group activities, reading aloud which students will receive from selected literature and informational text to teach about the two cultures traditions, and putting this information into a rhythmic pattern such as a rap, poem, or song will also address the auditory learner. Students will create and listen to Chinese poems written by Du Fu such as “Song of the Wagons” and Mexican American poetry written by Jorge Lujan like “Con el Sol en los Ojos/With the Sun in My Eyes”.

Demonstrations are strategies that are similar to written storytelling and examples in that they allow students to personally relate to the presented information. Memorization of a list of facts is a detached and impersonal experience, whereas the same information, conveyed through demonstration, becomes personally relatable. Demonstrations help to raise student interest and reinforce memory retention because they provide connections between facts and real-world applications of those facts. This strategy will be employed through read alouds and shared projected readings of non-fiction text, one text being “Coming to America: The Story of Immigration” which is a non-fiction text but is written in a narrative style, and explains the traditions and locations of the Chinese and Mexican cultures in America and their history.

Learning by Teaching: in this teaching strategy, students assume the role of teacher and teach their peers. Students who teach others as a group or as individuals must study and understand a topic well enough to teach it to their peers. By having students participate in the teaching process, they gain self-confidence and strengthen their speaking and communication skills. Students will work within this teaching strategy when they map out areas on a Chicago map where the Chinese and Mexican neighborhoods are, and teach their map reading and mapping strategies to their peers within their groups.

Experiential learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience, "learning from experience." Experiential learning focuses on the learning process for the individual. An example of experiential learning is going to the zoo and learning through observation and interaction with the zoo environment, as opposed to reading about animals from a book. Thus, one makes discoveries and experiments with knowledge firsthand, instead of hearing or reading about others' experiences. This strategy can and will be connected to project based learning where students will develop a hands-on project that they will explain connecting all of the information they have learned about the Chinese and Mexican cultures that they can report to the class. These interlinked methods of teaching will address the kinesthetic learners (also known as tactile learning) which is a learning style in which learning takes place by the student carrying out a physical activity, rather than listening to a lecture or watching a demonstration. These kind of learners can handle doing two or more task at one time and have good hand to eye coordination. Another task that students will engage in that will also address experiential learning is when they take their field trip to the Chinatown to observe the Chinese culture in their neighborhoods. Students will tour their town and sketch out their architectural designs and written language (characters for writing) and make note of their behaviors and language they speak. They will do the same activity for their trip to the Mexican neighborhood and visit the Mexican museum of art.

Teaching strategy is the method used to deliver information in the classroom, online, or in some other medium. Effective teaching strategies help to activate students' curiosity about a class topic, engage students in learning, develop critical thinking skills, keep students on task, engender sustained and useful classroom interaction, and, in general, enable and enhance the learning of course content. The goal of a teaching strategy is to facilitate learning, to motivate learners, to engage them in learning, and to help them focus. There is no one best strategy; we can select from several instructional strategies for just about any subject. It is important to vary instruction to not only keep the students' interest, but also to allow them to interact with content in a variety of ways that appeal to various learning styles (Boundless Education, 2015). The various teaching strategies that I have included along with the learning styles of my students will assist me in teaching the content objectives for this unit to provide students with an assortment of opportunities for learning about the Chinese and Mexican cultures immigration to Chicago, traditions, and geographical location.

Classroom Activities

This unit integrates shared reading activities, articles, writing exercises, hands-on activities, mapping geographical locations where the cultures are deeply populated in Chicago, and read alouds of text that are both fiction and non-fiction with bold print and pictures. There are extension activities with multi-media experiences, and field trips to Chinatown and the Mexican museum of art. Before the start of the lessons students will complete a pretest about some of the terms and concepts they will learn about immigration and culture. The pre-test is designed to activate prior knowledge and build their curiosity about the topic. They will also engage in an interactive read aloud of the text “Coming to America: The Story of Immigration” by Betsy Maestro. This text serves as the mentor text for the unit and will engage students in an introductory lesson to present the major concepts of the unit.

Introductory Lesson “Coming to America: the Story of Immigration”


Introducing immigration through literature provides a catalyst for facilitating critical thinking skills. The story provides an opportunity to introduce needed tools for students to use in analyzing, organizing, and understanding background information for future lessons.

  • Culture
  • Time, Continuity, and Change

Before Reading:

Ask: Have you ever met someone who speaks a different language or was born in a different country? Talk about the people and the places. How do you think it feels to move to a place where people speak a different language from yours, and where daily routines are unfamiliar? An idea web can be created on the board for students and teachers to engage in creating and writing out these ideas.

Show: Look at the cover of Coming to America. Point to the picture of the Statue of Liberty. Discuss what liberty means. Look in the book at pictures of Ellis Island. Talk about what you think these people are doing and where they are going.

Connect: Why do you think all of these people are so happy about seeing the Statue of Liberty? Let’s read the book to find out!

During Reading:

Ask: What are some things that you would choose to bring along if you moved to a new country? Why do you care so much about these things?

Show: Pick one of the characters or families and make up a story about them, Point out details that hint at where they came from, their names, and why they are living their home.

Connect: Describe some activities you do with your family that are fun. Talk about what other families do that looks like fun. Talk about whether you will do these same activities with future families. Immigrants bring their family activities and add new and interesting activities and ideas to our community.

After Reading:

Ask: What is good about having people in our community from many different backgrounds? What happens when people with different backgrounds come together in one place?

Show: Throughout history, immigrants have done wonderful things for our country as well as for our individual communities. Talk about famous immigrants. Students will review YouTube video: “Immigrants are America” about famous immigrants to support engaging in discussion.

Connect: How can we help immigrants and people who are new to our community (quick write: short detailed writing piece; a paragraph or two) feel welcome and adjust to their new life? What would you think you would need if you were new to this country?

Lesson ideas were derived from Literature Guides: http://learningtogive.org/teachers/literature_guides/ComingToAmerica.asp

Extended Writing Exercise

Students will watch the YouTube video titled “America, a History of Immigration: 1880-today.” This is a cartoon animated video that will serve as a media visual to support the literature book “Coming to America: The Story of Immigration.”


  • Students will write within a historical context by creating a character and describing his/her experience as an immigrant.
  • Students will reflect on the difficulties many people face when emigrating.
  • Students will practice creative writing skills.


  • Writing Journal
  • Pen
  • Post-it notes


Students will be given elements for developing a character about an immigrant. The elements may include: country of origin, year of immigration, destination, age, level of education or skills, language, travelling alone or with a family, and etc.

Assessment Criteria

  • Degree to which the reader can empathize with the immigrant in the story.
  • Accuracy and usage of historical information.
  • Writing skills: grammar usage, spelling, and critical thinking.

Lesson One


Teach students some basic directional skills and mapping techniques so they can identify geographical locations of the Chinese and Mexican neighborhoods in relation to their communities. Spatial thinking is another objective to be practiced from these activities. Spatial thinking allows students to comprehend and analyze occurrences related to the places and spaces around them, and at measures from what they can touch and see in a room or their neighborhood to a world map or globe. Spatial thinking is one of the most essential skills that students can develop as they learn geography, and environmental sciences.

Students will:

  • Understand cardinal directions.
  • Practice using maps.
  • Learn how to use a compass.


  • 1,2,3 Suddenly in China: The Sacred Flower (read aloud before lesson)
  • Compass
  • Compass wheel
  • Post-it notes
  • Chicago maps and other kinds of maps
  • Color pencils
  • Index cards
  • Social studies journal
  • Overhead projector (Chicago’s city map large projection)

Directions and Maps

 In two parts, students will be taught about the cardinal directions and how to use a compass and maps. The read aloud for this lesson 1,2,3 Suddenly in China: The Sacred Flower will lead students into the concept of direction and maps, in terms of traveling and distance.

Part 1: Directions

  1. Stand in a circle in the classroom. Ask students:
    • Where is the dry erase/chalk board?
    • What direction is the dry erase/chalk board?
    • How far are you away from the board?
    • Which way is north?
  2. Explain the other cardinal directions and use a prompting phrase to aid students' memory, such as the phrase "Never Eat Sour Wheat."
  3. Ask students to use post-it notes to mark the other directions in the classroom.
  4. Explain what a compass is and how it functions.
  5. Use a compass to test the accuracy of where students placed post-it notes to mark directions in step 3. Make any needed corrections.
  6. Say the different directions out loud, and ask students to point where the direction is on a compass wheel or on a makeshift wheel. You can also hand out cards with directions for students to place on the wheel. For older students, ask them to determine more precise directions, such as northwest or southeast.

Part 2: Maps

  1. Explain to students how to use maps. Demonstrate several types of maps, such as topographic, city, or state maps. Have sample Chicago maps of the Chinese and Mexican neighborhoods for students to view, and blanks maps for them to map out the two cultures neighborhoods with color pencils.
  2. Ask students to list what information they can get from a map, such as directions, landmarks, and building projects.
  3. Ask students to work together to determine which direction each of the neighborhoods are locate by using a compass. Students will also engage in the following activities:
    • Going from your neighborhood to the Mexican neighborhood which direction is that?
    • What direction of the city is the Chinese community located?
    • Outline your neighborhood and estimate your distance away from the Chinese and  Mexican communities.


Test students' understanding of directions and mapping by taking them outside and asking them to point or position directional cards in the directions that are said aloud (such as east, west, or southeast).

Here are some ways to assess students' comprehension, reflective of grade level.

Exceeds standard: Student was able to point or place cards in the correct direction eight out of eight times.

Meets standard: Student was able to point or place cards in the correct direction seven out of eight times.

Below standard: Student was able to point or place cards in the correct direction fewer than seven out of eight times.

Lesson Two



  Compare cultural similarities and differences, such as family traditions and customs, and the traditional clothing, food, and poetry of the Chinese and Mexican cultures. Given a similarities and differences chart and Venn diagram, each student will compare and contrast the given elements for both cultures by writing at least five descriptive words or phrases in each column of the chart. Then will then extend the activity by creating a collage of differences and similarities for the Chinese and Mexicans on a Venn diagram graphic organizer.


  • YouTube videos: Chinese culture, traditional customs, food, etc. and Mexican food, cultures, and traditions.
  • Similarities and Differences chart
  • Chinese poem: Song of the Wagons and Mexican poem “Con el Sol en los Ojos/With the Sun in My Eyes.”
  • Graphic Organizer Venn Diagram
  • Magazines, grocery store sales paper, and printed pictures of cultural aspects from both cultures.
  • Pencil
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Colorful construction paper
  • Overhead projector


  1. Explain to students that they are going to view 2 videos about the cultural diversities of the Chinese and Mexican culture.
  2. Review with students what similarities and differences mean.
  3. Demonstrate for students how to complete the similarities and difference chart and inform them that they will be utilizing the chart as they view each video to list 5 similarities and 5 differences among the Chinese and Mexican culture.
  4. Have students partner talk about the details that they included in their chart from the video before they share out loud to the class one similarity and one difference.
  5. Read and project small excerpts of the Chinese and Mexican style of poetry and let students include on their charts aspects that are in common or different among the two forms of poetry.
  6. Provide students will a Venn diagram graphic organizer, magazines, grocery store sales papers, and printed pictures for them to cut, sort, and glue on their Venn diagram in a collage format things that the Chinese and Mexican cultures have and/or do alike and things that are different. Students may use their similarities and differences chart to assist them with this activity.
  7. Give students construction paper (color of their choice) and let them glue their finished product of their Venn diagram on it and place a catchy created title above. This activity can serve as a bulletin board display task.


Students will be assessed on the completion of the similarities and differences chart, and Venn diagram. They should have at least five descriptive words or phrases under similarities, and five under differences. Students should have their Venn diagrams completely filled in with a collage of pictures that appropriately outlines each culture’s commonalities and differences through the use of pictures.

Lessons 3 & 4


Field trips that are suitable for the ending of the cultural unit is to have the students visit Chinatown and the Mexican Museum of Art one week apart. The trips assist in culminating the lessons, videos, and read alouds of literature and informational text that students were exposed to from the unit. Students will be able to identify different aspects of history and customs for both cultures, and make connections to what they see and experience in person on the trip to what they have learned in the classroom. When students participate in both trips they will sketch out the landmarks and architectural designs that they see, words and characters (letters from Chinatown), write observations of people interactions with each other, behavior, language, clothing, and with their community resources. These field trips will serve as practical assessments of the completed unit.

Chinatown Activities

Chinatown Tours: The Chinatown Chamber of Commerce proudly offers one-hour walking tours and half hour bus tours of Chicago’s Chinatown. The tour that students will participate in highlights an introduction to Chinese culture, several Chinatown landmarks, and history of the Chinese community in Chicago. After the tour students will have lunch in one of the many fine restaurants. Chinatown is an ideal site for a unique cultural experience for students.

Mexican Museum of Art Activities

Students will have the opportunity to learn about art and culture through themes were taught in class, and are thus tied to permanent and temporary exhibitions. Museum artists will teach students various art techniques and media, and about the fundamentals of art. Students will participate in an exhibition tour with thematic presentation, group activities and discussions about various pieces of art, and art demonstrations.

Appendix A

Common Core and Illinois State Standards

The curriculum unit will be taught during the social studies block and will cover both language arts and social studies standards. The statewide curriculum is aligned with Common Core and has shifted to a much stronger focus on non-fiction texts. The four main language arts standard objectives are RI.3.2: Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea, RL.3.2: Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text, RI.3.3: Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect and RI. 3.6: Distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text. The intent for these standards is that students will read and demonstrate comprehension of nonfiction texts across the curriculum, including age-appropriate materials that reflect the Common Core state standards for English Language Arts that’s utilized in Illinois. The social studies standard objectives that will be addressed are from the Illinois State Standards which are: STATE GOAL 17: Understand world geography and the effects of geography on society, with an emphasis on the United States. 17.A.1a Identify physical characteristics of places, both local and global (e.g., locations, roads, regions, bodies of water), 17.A.1b  Identify the characteristics and pur­poses of geographic representations including maps, globes, graphs, photographs, software, digital images and be able to locate specific places using each, and 17.A.2b Use maps and other geographic representations and instruments to gather information about people, places and environments.

Appendix B

Chicago’s Demographic Maps for the Chinese and Mexican Neighborhoods

Chinese Neighborhood

Cermak Road including the Chinatown Gate over Wentworth Avenue

Map of Chinatown

Community areas: Amour Square

First Settled: 1912

Population Estimation (2010 Census): 16,325

Zip Code: 60616

Maps and Graphs were retrieved from Wikimedia Foundation and Google Images on July 25, 2015: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinatown,_Chicago

Mexican Neighborhood

Community Area 30 - South Lawndale

26th Street in Little Village

Location within the city of Chicago

Neighborhoods: Little Village, Marshall Square, South Lawndale

First Settled: Mid to late 1910’s

Population Estimation (2010 Census): 79,288

Zip Codes: parts of 60608 and 60623

Maps and Graphs were retrieved from Wikimedia Foundation and Google Images on July 25, 2015: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lower_West_Side,_Chicago

Map was retrieved on July 25, 2015 from Google Images: Chicago Community Areas Map.


Boundless. “Effective Teaching Strategies.” Boundless Education. Boundless, 10

Jul. e. Retrieved 14 Jul. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/education/textbooks/boundless-education-textbook/working-with-students-4/teaching-strategies-21/effective-teaching-strategies-64-12994/

Chinese Customs and Traditions Index Glossary (n.d.). One World – Nations Online.

Retrieved from http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese_Customs/.

Dances of Mexico (n.d.). The Institute for Cultural Partnership. Retrieved from


Differences in Mexican and American Culture (n.d.). Retrieved from


Jimenez Arias, I. (1996, January - March). Proxemics in the ESL Classroom. Retrieved

from http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/state/proxemics.htm.

Mexican American Culture (n.d.). Kwintessential. Retrieved from


Mexican American Culture Differences (n.d.) Primary Education Oasis. Retrieved

from http://www.primary-education-oasis.com/mexican-american-culture-differences.html.

Parma, J., Petersen, D., & Dvornich, K. (2009, January 20). Lesson 5: Teaching

Directions, Maps, and Coordinates. Retrieved from


Quick Facts for Cook County, IL (2015, July 11). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from  


Some General Differences Between Chinese and American Cultures (n.d.). Pre-departure

Orientation for Chinese Students. Retrieved from http://www.china-nafsa.aief-usa.org/culture/differences.htm.

Stiffler, J. (2010, December 6). Culture and Diversity. Retrieved from


U.S. Census Bureau (2015, July 11). Retrieved from


What’s in a Name? (2006) Mexico Matters. Retrieved from


Annotated Bibliography for Teachers

Gill, E. (2013, January 5). “What is Your Teaching Style? 5 Effective Teaching Methods for Your Classroom: Retrieved from education.cu-portland.edu/blog/teaching-strategies/5types-of-classroom-teaching-styles/. This article is a teacher resource that informs teachers how to use the appropriate and effective teaching strategies to address the learning styles of students in the classroom.

Falcon, C. 1,2,3 Suddenly in China the Sacred Flower. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 2010. This paperback back with detailed pictures vibrant in color is a fictional text about a boy who travels through time on a boat to visit many of China’s cultural and historical sights.

Maestro, B. “Coming to America: The Story of Immigration” (1996). This informational text that will also serve as one of the mentor text for the unit is child-friendly with warm prose, it is an introduction to the history of immigration to the United States that offers young readers a perspective on the heritage that all Americans share.

Michener. A. P. Mexico (2006). Pulitzer Prize winning author James A. Michener, paints a powerful portrait in his writing of the horrible condition in Mexico’s criminal justice system that affects the nation and ultimately causing a revolution to take place.

Sedlar, R.J. (2013, February 25). Bon Appetit/Ingredients Retrieved from https://www.bonappetit.com/mexican-chinese-food. This website is a restaurant sight for chef John Riveria Sedlar, the site provides background history of the merging of the Chinese and Mexican American foods. The restaurant serves and create dishes with the mixture of ingredients from these two cultures.

Annotated Bibliography for Students

Fox, M. (1997). Whoever you are. Orlando, Florida: First Voyager Books Whoever You Are is a story about the many similarities and differences people all over the world share. In the story readers are reminded that people are different. Some people dress differently, speak different languages, and live in different places. Some people even have different colors of skin. Although we are all different, this story helps readers see how everyone is similar. Everyone smiles, cries, laughs, learns, and has feelings. Everyone is the same in many ways regardless of how different things may seem.

Hamanaka, S. (1999). All the colors of the earth. New York, NY: Harper Collins. There are many colors that can be found on Earth. These many colors make the world beautiful and vibrant. There are also many colors of skin, eyes, and hair. This story helps readers see that everyone is beautiful in his or her own way. It is one’s many colors, inside and out, that make them beautiful. Without the many colors of skin, eyes, and hair, everyone would look alike and our world would not be interesting and unique. This story teaches readers that everyone is special and beautiful even if they look different from others.

Yangsook, C. (2003). The name jar. New York, NY: The Dragon Fly Books. After leaving Korea to come to the United States, Unhei enters a new school. On the first day of school, Unhei is teased about her name and decides she wants to change it. Her classmates create a jar where they place all of their suggestions for her new name American name. In the end, Unhei realizes the importance of her Korean name and how it reflects her culture and identity. She keeps her real name, and explains to her culture to her classmates where they all start to explore their own names and backgrounds.

Hollyer, B. (2004). Let’s eat. New York, NY: Henry Holt & Company. This story is about the different foods people eat around the world. Many cultures have their own unique foods that they eat, and this book provides photographs of many different cultural dishes. Children learn about what other children like to eat throughout the day and are able to compare it to the foods that they themselves enjoy. It also provides readers with information about traditions, races, and religions found throughout the world.

Ivanko, M. (2004). Be my neighbor. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge Publishing. Be My Neighbor is about the many different ways people live. The story tells how a neighborhood is a place people live. All over the world, there are many different types of neighborhoods that people live in. This story shows how each neighborhood is unique in its own way. Some neighborhoods have different cultures, ages, ethnicities, beliefs, and ways of living, but each neighborhood is filled with people who enjoy living in that particular way. Regardless of where one lives, or the many differences found throughout the world, everyone can be neighbors and treat each other kindly.

Tyler, M. (2005). The skin you live in. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Children’s Museum. This children’s book is a rhyming book about the many different skins that people have. It discusses different skin colors, different hair colors, different eye colors, and many other differences that people have with appearances. Throughout the story, readers learn about self-esteem and multiculturalism. Everyone has his or her own unique appearance, but it is what’s in the inside that counts.

Online Resources

(YouTube Videos)

“Immigrants are America” by Micheal Mudd, January 31, 2007. Retrieved from www.youtube.com

“America, a History of Immigration: 1880 – today” by Serotte Law, September 27, 2013. Retrieved from www.youtube.com

“Chinese Family Cultures and Traditions Project” by Desu Chu, September 17, 2013. Retrieved from www.youtube.com

“China: Chinese Culture, Traditional Customs, Food, etc.” by Wordoor October 27, 2011. Retrieved from www.youtube.com

“This China” by Beijung Boy 1985, August 18, 2006. Retrieved from www.youtube.com

“China Fun Facts” by Mocomi Kids, October 30, 2014. Retrieved from www.youtube.com

“Traditional Mexican Cuisine-Ancestroal, Ongoing Community Culture, the Michoacan Paradigm” by Unesco, November 8, 2010. Retrieved from www.youtube.com

“Mexico’s Living Culture, Guelaguetza” by Videorey Video, February 20, 2013. Retrieved from www.youtube.com

“Real Mexican History” by Israelite History Channel, December 17, 2013. Retrieved from www.youtube.com

“Mexico Fun Facts Series EP26” by Mocomi Kids, December 9, 2013. Retrieved from www.youtube.com

“Mexican Food, Culture and Traditions” by Idarroch, April 28, 2014. Retrieved from www.yahoo.com

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