Thursday, March 08, 2012


Part One:  A Reflective Essay

East Asia is often thought of as "other side of the world" – literally and figuratively.  While I was growing up, my mother had an idiomatic phrase she used to describe a person who had seemingly vanished into thin air: "They got on a slow boat to China."  This attitude stuck with me for years, until I began to meet East Asian people, learn about their culture and history and to realize that some parts of my world had their origins in East Asia.  One such element is tea, the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.  I have always liked a nice cup of (iced) tea, but when I began to learn more and more about it, I became fascinated by varieties and combinations available to those who become connoisseurs of this delightful delicacy.  Then I had the opportunity to learn more about the history of the plant and how it eventually came to influence the course of human history itself, as illustrated in Sarah Rose's fine book For All the Tea in China.  Last fall, I had an opportunity to have a live chat with Ms. Rose via Skype for my school's periodic book club event. I was hooked on tea – not just drinking it, but learning and teaching about it.

This excellent training opportunity on East Asia through the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia (NCTA) has given me an unique opportunity to take this up! Professor Hayford has in interest in food as an avenue to culture studies and enrichment/enlightenment.  Hence, I have been inspired to follow tea in more depth. (Initially, I was interested in pursuing a variety of products, but tea provided to be fertile territory enough indeed.) Tea, it seemed to me, was a powerful prism through which one could look at East Asia: its origins in China, its spread overseas as it has become the second most popular beverage in the world, its development in Japan as quite literally a manifestation of a philosophy and a concrete expression of a culture in the tea ceremony, and its role in Korea society, reflecting that nation's role as the dynamic crossroads of East Asia.

I am high school teacher of language and literature, and one thing that we are often advised to do is to keep in mind is that not every student is engaged by words on a page and that we should strive to accommodate all types of learners in our classrooms through a variety of activities.  Indeed, we should and tea provides me with just that opportunity.  While there is no shortage of (excellent) writing on tea, there are a myriad of other things one can do with it – including preparing and drinking it! Most high school students have never actually drank warm, green tea without sweeteners, a sad state of affairs to be sure indeed.   

Food and drink are necessities for human life, but they are so much more than that.  They are a powerful source of cross-cultural experience.  One may not be able to speak Japanese, Korean or Chinese; nor may one be able to learn and analyze their history and culture easily.  But anyone can eat and drink – and smile and laugh – in every language, in every culture.  One should never miss this opportunity indeed.  It can serve as the first step to a new world, a warm gesture of friendship and amity in world often tongue-tied by linguistic and cultural differences.

 Part Two: Teaching Opportunities

Hopefully, I will be able to continue to teach a World Literature class on Asian literature in the upcoming years.  (Eventually, I would like to be able start a class on East Asian literature and history at my school; our sister school has had one for decades, but we have not exported it to our school yet.)  I will incorporate these class activities this semester and will continue to do so in the future, hopefully. But I think I can reach across departments, too.  I think I can get our Social Studies and Family and Consumer Sciences (the new terms for home economics) to help sponsor some of these activities outside of a classroom setting, too.   Also, I plan to incorporate East Asian literature into our mainstream curriculum more and more, such as a segment on haiku and sijo poetry in our unit on poetry in Freshman English.  A tea ceremony would fit right in there, for sure.  Also, every Spring my school has a multi-cultural Assembly and Fair, and a tea tasting booth would fit right in, I am sure.  Also, as the ELL Director, I will incorporate these activities into the curriculum of our ESL classes as well.

Part Three:  Application Strategy

I plan on incorporating five different activities into my World Literature class this year:

1)      Non-fiction narrative reading and oral interaction/discussion: Students will read segments from For All the Tea in China and engage in a Skype discussion with its author, Sarah Rose.  This will apply my knowledge of Chinese history practically as I guide students through this process.

2)      Developing "video literacy," presentational and argumentative skills: Students will view the film All in the Tea and present on what this shows them about modernizing China as well as its role in the current events.  This will apply my knowledge of modern Chinese society undergoing a change that will put it back into a key role as a player on the world stage.

3)      Non-fiction reading / literary analysis/cross cultural: Students will read segments from The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo, present a series of summary response journals, and create a "Book of Coffee" which evaluates coffee in the light of American society, as Kakuzo does for tea in Japan. This will apply my knowledge of Japanese culture as learned in this class.

4)      Using web-based resources and kinesthetic learning: Using web resources, students will learn what is necessary for an authentic Japanese tea ceremony, get the necessary resources to do so, and stage, as closely as possible, an authentic Japanese tea ceremony.  Similar application as above.

5)      Non-fiction expository text reading and compare/contrast skills: Students will read a segment on tea in Korea from the book The Story of Tea on iPads and then, using Keynote presentation software on those iPads, present what they have learned about the how Koreans approach tea, emphasizing the similarities and differences with other East Asian societies.  This applies my district's dedication to technological investment and my knowledge about modern Korean society from our class.

Part Four: Standards Addressed

The following are from the Illinois State Standards for Reading for High School Seniors and are addressed in the following TIP:


1.A.5a  Identify and analyze new terminology applying knowledge of word origins and derivations in a variety of practical settings.

1.B.5a  Relate reading to prior knowledge and experience and make connections to related information.

1.B.5b  Analyze the defining characteristics and structures of a variety of complex literary genres and describe how genre affects the meaning and function of the texts.


1.B.5b  Analyze the defining characteristics and structures of a variety of complex literary genres and describe how genre affects the meaning and function of the texts.



3.B.5  Using contemporary tech­nology, produce  documents of publication quality for specific purposes and audiences; exhibit clarity of focus, logic of organization, appropri­ate elaboration and support and overall coherence.

3.C.5a  Communicate information and ideas in narrative, informative and persuasive writing with clarity and effectiveness in a variety of written forms using appropriate traditional and/or electronic formats; adapt content, vocabulary, voice and tone to the audience, purpose and situation.

Speaking and Listening

4.B.5a  Deliver planned and impromptu oral presentations, as individuals and members of a group, conveying results of research, projects or literature studies to a variety of audiences (e.g., peers, community, business/industry, local organizations) using appropriate visual aids and available technology.

China:  The Birth Place of Tea; Tea as a Bridge to the West


The emphasis on this lesson will be on connection of tea as a phenomenon moving from China to Western societies, connecting them.  Tea is among the most popular beverages in the world today, in fact.  The first link connects to "For All the Tea in China," a book that examines the way in which the British "stole" tea from China and began developing both it and a tea trade in India.  The second element is a film about a man named David Lee Hoffman, an entrepreneur who started the company The Republic of Tea, which one of the earliest forces in the U.S. culture for the re-establishment of drinking authentic green tea, which is now a common trend, although we drink it cold, something the Chinese find abhorrent.

Book: For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose


Activities –


Day 1: Students will read a few selections from the above book and discuss it to ensure comprehension of the text.  Students will also develop a list of questions for the author:


Day 2:  We will have a Skype Discussion with Ms. Rose discussing her thoughts on the applicability of her story to the modern world.  I actually did with a group of faculty members last fall! Ms. Rose is a delightful young lady and wonderful author. She talked to us for an hour for free at my school.  I can connect my Skype program to a special projector and camera and we can have a live exchange, like a video conference call for only pennies. Skype Handle: "thesarahrose"


Video: All in The Tea directed by Les Blank about David Lee Hoffman


Activities –


Days 3 and 4: Students will view the documentary All in the Tea, directed by Les Blank.


Day 5: Student will be placed into pairs and be shown a review of the film "Kung Fu Panda" to familiarize them with the structure of a movie review.  Then students will engage in a stimulated movie-review program, similar to the old Siskel and Ebert show, in which the students review the film and discuss what they insight they got into a modernizing Chinese society from it.  Each pair has five minutes to present their "thumbs up/thumbs down" viewpoint.


Japan: Tea as a Way of Life


The purpose of this activity is to look at tea as a part of an Asian society in situ.  Students will read texts on the importance of tea in Japanese culture, learn through the process of comparison/contrast with the "coffee culture" of the United States and actually complete an authentic (or as authentic as possible) Japanese tea ceremony for themselves.  The point here is to acquaint students with rituals from other societies and appreciate the wisdom of a measured, practiced ritual of great antiquity, something with which most American adolescents are not familiar.


Book: The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō




Day 6: Students will read segments of the book by Kakuzō and ask questions as necessary; then they will generate standard summary-response journal entries on each segment. 


Day 7 and 8: Working in the computer lab in teams of two, students will then create a "The Book of Coffee" that evaluates coffee in the light of its role in American society as does Kakuzo for tea.


Website: Japanese National Tourism website on Tea Ceremony and The Japanese Tea Ceremony 




Day 8:  Students will carefully study the two above websites, producing a carefully written summary of what is necessary for conducting an authentic Japanese tea ceremony.


Day 9 and 10: Students will visit the local Teavana store and purchase the necessary tools for an authentic Japanese Tea Ceremony and conduct an actual Japanese tea ceremony, which will be videotaped for posterity/evaluation.  Local Japanese visitors will be invited to help assess the quality of ceremony as enacted; alternatively they may view the video at a distance from Japan using a posting to YouTube by evaluation by Japanese in Japan.


Korea: Domesticating Tea in Korea, the Dynamic Crossroads of East Asia


The purpose of this activity is to highlight how Korean history illustrates the influences of both Chinese and Japanese societies as well as their own unique "twist" on things.  This assignment will seek to use cutting-edge, current technology to explore and spread information. 

eBook: The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide (Kindle Version)




Day 11: Students will work in groups of two or three, each group receiving an iPad 2. (My school is going to implement a pilot project in regard to this in a few weeks.)  They will download the above book The Story of Tea:  A Cultural History and Drinking of Guide and read the chapter "Korea: Tea Continues Its Spread." Working in teams, students will use the app "Keynote" (Apple's PowerPoint clone) to create a summary of the events that mark the spread of tea in Korea, noting the influences that represent both change and continuity with other East Asian traditions.


Website:  Traditional Korea Non-Tea Teas Field trip to local Asian Supermarket.


Day 12: Koreans drink many other "teas" besides the traditional tea from the tea plant Camellia sinensis.  Students can explore different types of herbal teas from Korea and see which they would like to drink and do so on a class fieldtrip to an Asian supermarket.



Works Cited

There is no need for traditional works cited for this project; all works cited in the above project have built-in hyperlinks.  In some cases, this is to their web page where they can be downloaded as e-books, their Netfilx webpage where they can be streamed and viewed, or sources where they can be downloaded for free, such, where one can download an English translation of The Book of Tea.  All websites have a hyperlink to their URL.  Just click and you are there!  







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