Unfortunately, I found it too difficult to keep up with regular posts about our unit on the book "New Gold Mountain" by Christopher W. Cheng. Instead, I am offering some suggestions for the activities that I found useful. Please also check New Gold Mountain #1 and New Gold Mountain #2 for earlier posts.
Learn to play Fan Tan - The Chinese miners regularly played Fan Tan, a card game, and often gambled away their new-found wealth. We had a few games and came to realise how noisy the game could be and how easily it could lead to frustration and arguments - especially if money was involved!
Letters back to China - In the book one of the characters writes a letter back to his village in China. He doesn't tell the truth about his situation given that he has gambled away all his gold playing Fan Tan! Students wrote two letters back to China: one painting a rosy picture of the situation, and one giving a more honest account.
Character Comparison - As a class we made a Venn Diagram to illustrate the similarities and differences between Rowan (of Rin) and Shu Cheong. Students became really engaged in this activity and sought out lots of great examples of similarities. When we had finished brainstorming, students wrote the comparison in essay form. I gave them an introductory paragraph and then helped them to work through a structure for following paragraphs. We thought of some useful phrases for beginning paragraphs: 'An important similarity is...' 'Yet another similarity is...' 'Both Rowan and Shu Cheong...' We also thought of some comparison connectives (I'm sure they have a proper name) like 'whereas', 'while', 'however', 'although', 'but', 'and', 'whilst'.
Historical Diary - I already mentioned that students created a diary entry from the perspective of a convict. Later in the unit we repeated this activity with students writing from the perspective of an explorer of their choice. I borrowed a huge pile of non-fiction texts about explorers from the library. Students were given about 30 minutes to research their explorer and take some notes. They then moved into small groups focused on the same explorer to share the knowledge they had uncovered. After this sharing time students went back to working independently and created their diary entries. They were given more time to work on this in future lessons.
Final Weeks - In the final weeks I wanted to give students a chance to take charge of their learning and self-manage their tasks. Students needed to complete the reading of the text and review, edit and publish one of their written pieces from the term so that we could compile them into a class book. Students responded well to this and most completed both tasks by the due date.
Thoughts on the unit...
This was a great book to use as part of our study of Australian History as it helped students to consider the non-European perspective. It provided us with an opportunity to discuss racism and to form arguments against racism.
I enjoyed introducing students to historical fiction and found the diary format an easy way for students to dabble with writing historical fiction for themselves.