We open this lesson by reading about the section in the text that shares the customs and traditions that are practiced by the Cambodian families each April.
I ask students to share some customs and traditions they practice with their families. Funny - you never know where misunderstandings occur - I got blank stares and averted eyes on this one until one boy offered Christmas as a tradition because they always go to Grandma's house for breakfast. Boom! Hands went up all over as the light bulbs started going off. I needed them to understand the importance of traditions and customs in their families lives because this would help them to see why the families community in the text chose to have this event each year - and why it made her both happy and sad at the same time (the author does a good job showing and explaining these emotions in the text)
I then share with my students that our objective for today's lesson is to build understanding of the important role that traditions and customs play in our and the characters lives.
I begin this section of the lesson by introducing that we are going to discuss the hardships and suffering the Cambodian people faced in coming to our country. I ask students to read the phrase on page 34 with me "All the 1700 Cambodian who have fled their country to emigrate to the United States bear scars - some on the inside - some on the outside".
I ask students to define what that phrase means by scars inside and scars outside. To scaffold this I first ask about scars and what they look like? Do they go away? Students use context clues and schema to gain their understanding of the meaning. This is a great evaluative question that they can relate to. I continue to question the group by asking, "Does the family in the story feel safe here?" and I ask students to focus on using what they know and how they can support their responses with textual evidence. When we close up this discussion I want them to personalize the author's decision by asking, "Do you feel she feels she made the right decision to come to America? Does she have any regrets?"
Students did so well with their responses I think partially because of the prior sharing with one of my students and her father about their escape to America, and partially because they connected with the boys and the mother in the text, "Where the River Runs" due to the way the author interspersed personal pictures, quotes and facts in the text.
I wanted to sway the focus over to the boys in the text to encourage this connection to people in their community and classroom who have also immigrated to our country so I asked, "Do think she or her boys will go back to Cambodia?" I prompted the students to evaluate both the mom and each of the boys and how being born in our country might affect their feelings about Cambodia. Lastly I asked them to evaluate, "If the family feels safer here or back in Cambodia and the role their heritage plays in these decisions." I love when students are intrinsically motivated to become involved personally in their responses because they are so much more thoughtful and reflective. Here's a video of the lesson with a small group:
We end the lesson by sharing that as generations are born here they begin to forget their past heritage because this becomes their home and the ways they are accustomed to. I ask students to share how those traditions and customs are valuable. To keep those memories alive, I ask students to write in their journals about a custom or tradition they have in their families and how this helps them learn about their background and family heritage of their nationality.