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April 12, 2011 Chu Ju’s House by Gloria Whelan By Mary Blow
Grades 6–8

    This year, I was blessed to receive a class set of Chu Ju's House by Gloria Whelan, which tells the story of Chu Ju, a 14-year-old Chinese girl struggling to survive in a country where males are traditionally valued more than females. When Chu Ju's parents decide to give her baby sister away because of the One-Child Policy, Chu Ju leaves home with her. Teaching literature from other cultures requires a considerable amount of background knowledge. However, it is exciting learning about different cultures, and that excitement spreads through the class.

    After reading Chu Ju’s House, students engage in a mini research project, exploring an aspect of Chinese culture alluded to in the novel. This assists the students in developing a thorough understanding of the legal and cultural conflicts presented in the novel. In this post, you'll find a study guide, instructions for a vocabulary wall mobile, and  SMART Notebook activities.


    You can purchase Chu Ju's House here.

    Enduring Understanding


    Some cultural traditions should be preserved and honored while others, which infringe on human rights, should be changed.

    Essential Question

    When should cultural traditions or policies be honored or changed? 


    Prereading Activities














    KWL Chart


    Chu_ju_house_kwl1 Use a KWL chart to assess students’ prior knowledge of Chinese culture. As a whole group, make a list of what the students know or think they know. Add this to the “We Think We Know” column. The word think is used because some students think they know information, but it may  be inaccurate. The information in this column is either confirmed or amended during the learning process. While reading, students add to the “We Want to Learn” column. In this column, we add interesting topics related to Chinese culture mentioned in the book. Leave the “What We Learned” column blank until the end of the learning experience.

    Download the SMART Notebook file "Chu Ju's House Prereading Activities."


    Background Knowledge on Chinese Culture

    IMG_6086Before reading Chu Ju's House by Gloria Whelan, students will need background knowledge in order to understand the cultural conflicts. Students may not know where China is located. Help students make a connection between their geographic location and that of China. Time for Kids has a free teacher's handout "A Look at China" to help teach the geographical connections.

    Two major conflicts drive the story. The first is the One-Child Policy, the government’s attempt to control population growth in an already overpopulated China. Some of this content is inappropriate for 6th graders, so if you have younger students, consider providing them with a graphic of the One-Child Policy instead. Below are useful teacher resources on the policy:

    The second conflict that builds tension is the Chinese tradition of valuing males more than females. Unless students understand this tradition, Chu Ju's running away will seem implausible. As a result of this traditional value, social and economic issues are emerging in China. Whenever possible, I like to tap into current events, thereby creating fiction to nonfiction text-to-text connections. Two New York Times Upfront articles “China Starts to Give Girls Their Due” and “China’s Stolen Sons” describe social struggles that have emerged in China as a result of a traditional gender preference.

    Students respond to these articles by writing an opinion piece. Using text details from both articles, the students respond to the question, “Do you think traditional values help or hinder China’s progress?”



    Chu ju vocab mobile

    Introduce the vocabulary words prior to reading. Below are ten Tier 2 words, high-frequency words used across all content areas. (For more on the three tiers of vocabulary and education, see Super Duper Publication's Handy Handout #182.) Most of these words are selected from the first half of the book because repeated exposure to the words increases retention. Display the words in the classroom.

    A vocabulary word mobile allows you to hang the words on the wall or from the ceiling so they can be read from both sides. They make a great reference and serve as a reminder to utilize the new words when writing. Download an image of the book cover and the list of vocabulary words to create your own word wall. Print them on card stock paper and attach them to each other using yarn. Below is a list of the words and the page numbers:

    • solemn (2)
    • astrologer (2)
    • kilometer (3)
    • divination (5)
    • auspicious (5)
    • gilt (8)
    • kowtowed (8)
    • denounced (11)
    • scythe (117)
    • tethered (124)

    An interactive vocabulary matching activity is included in the SMART Notebook download above. A mini-lesson demonstrating how to utilize online dictionaries is integrated into the unit as well. However, prior to using a dictionary, students are encouraged to use their knowledge of affixes, base words, and Greek and Latin root words to try and determine the meaning. Second, they rely on context clues. When all else fails, they may resort to a dictionary.

    I do not teach the Chinese terminology. Gloria Whelan does a wonderful job using context clues to clarify these terms, and she provides a Chinese glossary at the back of the book. The children do not need to know how to pronounce the words to comprehend the literature. What is important is that they know the foreign words refer to "grandmother," for instance, or a city. 


    During-Reading Activities

    When exposing students to literature from other cultures, read the first chapter aloud and model how to use context clues to determine the meaning of foreign words. While reading, students answer questions from the Chu Ju's House study guide and track possible research topics. The guided reading questions encompass varying levels of thinking and different types of writing activities: descriptive, explanatory, and opinion. Group students for a think-pair-share activity. Individually, students answer ten out of the twelve study guide questions. When finished, they meet with a partner to compare answers. After discussing the questions and answers, they create a master copy using the BEST details from both students' answers. Both students are graded on the master copy, thereby engaging students in analyzing written responses, evaluating relevant details, and fostering higher level discussions.


    In addition to answering the study guide questions, students collect possible research topics. My goal is to get my students asking questions while they read. For instance, they should be asking, “What is the Cultural Revolution?” It is important to engage in a think-aloud, modeling how to identify a research topic. Start the list with the first topic that piques your interest. For example, to the right is a picture of a fishing boat that may be similar to the boat that Chu Ju stayed on for a short time. Show the students the picture to interest them in the Chinese fishing industry and the lifestyle of a fisherman who lives on boat.

    Photo: A view of Hong Kong Harbor with fishing junk boat. Copyright iStockphoto.

    As your students progress through the book, feel free to show them the video that I created to accompany Chu Ju's House, which shows aspects of the various industries Chu Ju worked in and provides images of the Chinese New Year and the infamous city of Shanghai, a kaleidoscope of color at night.






    Postreading Activities

    After the students finish reading, they research a topic of their choice. At this time, the “What We Want to Learn” portion of the KWL chart is completed. Working in pairs, the students select a topic and engage in a mini research project. They are required to use one library book, one library reference book, and one Internet resource. They present a brief overview of a topic. Below is a list of some possible topics inspired by the book:

    • Population growth
    • Industry: fishing, silk, fruit orchards, rice farming, fish farming
    • Communism in China
    • One-Child Policy (caution: preselect resources)
    • Gender preferences
    • Banned books
    • Effects of population growth on environment
    • Cultural Revolution
    • Communist ruler Mao Zedong
    • Chinese astrology
    • Chinese lunar calendar 
    • Chinese zodiac (see "Chinese Zodiac" Scholastic printable)

    Students create a presentation to teach their topic to the class using tools such as GlogsterPreziVoiceThreadFakebook (for biographical presentations), ExtraNewspapers (newspaper templates for MS Word) and The Newspaper Clipping Generator.

    If you don't have access to technology, Jim Burke has a list of “103 Things to Do Before/During/After Reading” that is helpful in tiering assignments to meet the diverse needs of your students.


    Poetry Connection

    Integrating nonfiction, fiction, and poetry is important to scaffold and spiral genres and skills. It also  fosters connections among genres. Have students read “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” by William Wordsworth, for instance, noting the poem's detailed description of the setting. After making sure that they understand that the poem describes the bird’s eye view of a cloud, have them rewrite the poem describing a setting from the book. For example, they might incorporate the rice paddies where Chu Ju spent so many hours tending the crops. 

    An alternative is to read “Made in China” by Francis Duggan. The students might enjoy responding to the poem through Chu Ju's eyes. What would Chu Ju think of this poem?

    Additional Resources

    For more background information on China, see: "China Facts" from National Geographic, PBS's China From the Inside, and an article on the pipa, a traditional Chinese instrument. Read an example of a Chinese myth on Scholastic's Myths From Around the World, and download the Scholastic printables "Chinese New Year!" and "New Year's Dragon!" To explore the geography of China, make a map of China at National Geographic's MapMaker, and visit Scholastic's Global Trek unit on China. And for literature circle books that are compatible with Chu Ju's House, see my "Chu Ju's House & Friends" booklist. 



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    Susan Cheyney

    GRADES: 1-2