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Chinese New Year: Teaching pupils about the 12 zodiac animals

26 January 2017

Saturday the 28th January is Chinese New Year, and schools across the country will be learning about lots of Chinese traditions, and decorating their classrooms in Chinese-inspired colours, to mark the occasion.

There are loads of interesting ways that you can teach your pupils about Chinese symbolism, including teaching them about the 12 animals of the zodiac, and their significance in modern culture.
The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 signs and is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar. Pupils will be interested to discover that, while our Gregorian calendar is largely based on the Earth going around the sun, the Chinese calendar is based on the cycles of the moon.
This would be a great time to talk to your pupils about the moon and its significance in modern culture and our months of the year, before moving onto the 12 animals of the zodiac.

About the 12 animals of the zodiac

The 12 animals of the zodiac represent the 12-year lunar cycle, in which the moon’s cycle repeats itself every 12 years. The origins of the Chinese zodiac go back thousands of years, and pupils will be fascinated to hear the story of the zodiac, in which Buddha called upon all of the animals on Earth, but only 12 responded to his call.
Which of the Chinese zodiac signs you fall into depends on the year you were born, rather than the month, and pupils will love finding out which animal they are.
Show your pupils pictures of each animal, and ask them which characteristics they think each animal represents. For example, your pupils may assume that the ox represents strength and working hard.

Learn about the qualities of each animal

These animals each have their own traditional attributes, which are as follows:

  • Rat - 2008 - charming, picky, ambitious and bright.
  • Ox - 2009 - patient, hardworking and dependable.
  • Tiger - 2010 - powerful, aggressive, courageous.
  • Rabbit - 2011 - affectionate, virtuous and kind.
  • Dragon - 2000 - full of strength and energy, and always on the go.
  • Snake - 2001 - determined, wise and intense.
  • Horse - 2002 - popular and talkative.
  • Goat - 2003 - creative and elegant.
  • Monkey - 2004 - charming, intelligent and inventive.
  • Rooster - 2005 - proud, sure of yourself and enjoys learning.
  • Dog - 2006 - Loyal, sincere and works well with others.
  • Pig - 2007 - Brave, noble and makes lifelong friendships.

(Image credit: Zarn)

Discuss these characteristics with your pupils. Do they think that their animal accurately displays their characteristics? If not, which animal do they think would suit them? Pupils can vote for which child in the class displays the most characteristics for each animal.

Let children ‘be’ their chosen animals

Your classroom will most likely be divided into two zodiac animals by birth year, so it’s a good idea to let pupils vote or choose which animal they would like to be, based on characteristics. Bring in some materials so that your pupils can ‘be’ their chosen animal for the day.
Ask your pupils if they can think of any recent times when each other have displayed the characteristics of the zodiac animals. Can they think of any times when one of their peers has been very talkative? Worked well with others? Been exceptionally patient? This encourages your pupils to analyse their good behaviour, and even learn some new words to add to their vocabulary.

Make a Zodiac Display

Get your pupils to make a zodiac display, based on the 12 animals. You could have one A3 page for the rat, one for the ox, one for the dragon and so on. Your pupils can draw different items and characteristics that are to do with each animal. For example, the horse is popular and talkative, so your pupils could draw the horse surrounded by friends and having conversations.

Additional teacher resources

Here are some additional teaching resources, based on the Chinese zodiac, that you might find useful:

  • Chinese Horoscopes: An Easy Guide to the Chinese system of Astrology by Debbie Burns
  • Chinese Astrology by Henning Hai Lee Yang
  • Children of the Moon: Discover your child’s personality though Chinese Horoscopes by Theodora Lau

Interested in more news? Visit our blog for more teaching tips and hints.

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