“文wén房fáng四sì宝bǎo”–‘Four Treasures of the Study’
The “four treasures of the study”–(笔bǐ 墨mò 纸zhǐ 砚yàn)writing brush, ink stick, paper and ink slab —are writing tools with a long cultural tradition and unique artistic style created by the ancestors of the Chinese nation. They have played an important role in recording Chinese history, popularizing various cultures, and promoting the development of Chinese calligraphic and pointing art over thousands of years.
It was a great time for our Grade 7 students to use ‘Four Treasures of the Study’ to practice Chinese Calligraphy.
Why worry about an old story that doesn’t even sound like English? This is a question that many students and perhaps teachers have asked as they take on what is thought to be the oldest long story in English, Beowulf. This was the question we asked in British literature as well, and hopefully we’ve all found answers to this question.
To get a background for that time, the students created posters about events across a 700-year time period. These posters then were compiled into a timeline that became the focus for the class. This gave us a formation for predictions of how the people would act and the values they would hold.
As we read, we tried to understand how the time period was shown in the writing itself. Because Beowulf was told for centuries before it was written down, we could reflect on both the temporal setting (the time it takes place) and the time period it was recorded. Looking at religious, political and social influences helped us to see how the people changed and yet also stayed the same.
The story itself is full of gory fights, loyalty and bravery. To really enjoy these scenes, the students took different major parts of the texts and acted them out for each other. Using materials they found around the classroom, they were able to have a king, a dragon, swords and shields to show the heroic times. Not only did this help the students visualize the action of the story, it was also a time for everyone to show off their acting chops. We’ve got some great actors in this class!
The summative test was based on the question what does Beowulf teach us about life. Though, as one of our students pointed out, “Beowulf seems unrealistic because in real life you can’t find anyone like that,” it does also have a universal message that the students noticed. “It seemed a lot like a tradition myth that is handed down from generations. There are stories like that in Korea as well, though it is unrealistic,” said another student.
Students first worked in small groups to brainstorm ideas and then used support from the text for their points. The next day students had a double period to write how these themes they identified connected and supported each other, using the text for support. The papers that resulted were well thought-out and strongly written.
Overall, the students came to see that Beowulf is not only an old story, but, as one student observed, “The story was written in Britain, but it applies to the whole world.”