Chinese New Year

The story of the Chinese New Year:
The Chinese New Year is one of the many colourful events celebrated in our multicultural calendar.

You are no doubt familiar, for example, with the Year of the Ox (2009) and the Year of the Tiger (2010), but do you know the story of the Chinese New Year and how the years got named after animals?

Below is the story of Chinese New Year (in bold). You can download the entire story at the bottom of the page. Read it and then read the suggestions for using it with your class.


  • To revise numbers 1 - 100
  • To revise or learn the names of the 12 animals in the story
  • To revise or learn names of family members
  • To say years, e.g., two thousand and four, nineteen ninety nine
  • To listen and understand the general meaning of the story
  • To broaden cultural awareness and to reinforce concepts of wisdom, fairness and inclusion.
  • To use the future with "will" (optional)
  • To listen to instructions (optional)


  • Make flash cards for each of the animals and a flashcard of a King and his daughter, the Princess.
  • You will need blutak or magnets to attach the flashcards to the board.
  • You will need red paper to make lanterns and/or red packets (optional)
  • Find out if any other teachers in the school are working on the theme of the Chinese New Year and if you can collaborate in any way.

Timing: The sequence and activities suggested below could be spread over two to three lessons depending on the amount of detail you decide to go into to. Aim to finish the before storytelling activities and the first telling of the story in lesson one, and begin and end each subsequent lesson with a retelling of the story.

Stage 1: Before storytelling

  • Revise the numbers 1 - 12
  • Revise dates (see here and talk about last year, the old year, 2014, and this year, the new year, 2015.
  • Write the date of 3 February on the board and ask pupils if they know what is special about this day. Depending on your class, elicit anything they know about the Chinese New Year in their first language if necessary or tell them it is Chinese New Year. Get children to locate China on a map. Find out if anyone knows the story of the Chinese New Year and elicit the names of the animals.
  • Elicit or introduce names of the animals by showing the flashcards one by one saying its name, getting pupils to repeat and then sticking them on the board. Introduce each animal in this way, revising the others as you do so.
  • Now play a few games with the flashcards to practice vocabulary, e.g., What's missing?; Listen and point, e.g., Show me the dog! Children point; Classifying: Give me the name of a reptile/mammal/bird, etc.

Stage 2: Storytelling

Tell the story making use of your classroom board with the flashcards stuck on it in the following sequence.

  • 'Long ago in China, there lived twelve animals.' Count 1 - 12 encouraging pupil participation. 'There was a rat' invite pupils to point to the picture of the rat and repeat, 'an ox,' now point to the pictures only and invite pupils to say the name of the animal, 'a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon, a snake, a horse, a ram, a monkey, a roster, a dog and a pig.'

    'When the old year was coming to an end, all the animals began to quarrel noisily. Each one wanted the New Year to be named after it'.
    Mime quarrel or say the word in the L1 to convey meaning.

    'The animals made such a noise that even the king heard the quarrel from far away.'
    Mime noise and introduce the flashcard of the King - you could put your hands over your ears pretending to be the King hearing all the noise.

    'The king had a clever daughter. She asked the animals why they were quarrelling.' Introduce the flashcard of the daughter then pretending to be her speak directly to the animals and say 'Why are you quarrelling?'

    "I want to have the New Year named after me", said the tiger.
    "Me too", said the rat.
    "Me too", said the ox.
    "Me too", said the rabbit.
    "Me too", said the dragon.
    "Me too", said the snake.
    "Me too", said the horse.
    "Me too", said the ram.
    "Me too", said the monkey.
    "Me too", said the rooster.
    "Me too", said the dog.
    'Me too", said the pig.

    Point to the tiger as you say the word. Then say 'Me too said the ….' Point to the flashcard and get the pupils to say the name. Repeat a couple of times then point to the dragon and encourage pupils to say 'Me too' continue in this way.

    'The princess said, "We shall have a swimming race across this river. The winner will be named after the New Year.'

    'The animals agreed. They lined up on the bank of the river. "One, two three, go!" shouted the princess.'

    Mime swimming if necessary and draw a river and the two banks on your board moving all the animal flashcards to one side to line up.

    'All the animals jumped into the river and began to swim to the opposite bank. Very soon the ox was in the lead. But he didn't see the crafty rat who climbed up his tail and onto his back.'

    Move the animals into the river and put the ox in the lead and then the rat on his tail and back.

    'When the ox was near the bank, the rat ran along the ox's head and jumped onto the grass. "I am the winner!" said the rat." Well done", said the king. "The New Year will be named the Year of the Rat".

    Using the flashcards show the rat running along the ox's head and jumping onto the grass.

    'The princess felt sorry for the other animals as, one by one, they finished the race. "The next eleven years can be named after the other animals", she said. And so the order is, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.'

    Using the flashcards show the other animals finishing the race in the sequence above.

Stage 3: Second telling

Tell the story again. This time give the animal, king and princess flashcards to pupils and get them to participate in the story as above and by moving and sequencing the flashcards in response to the story. Pupils without cards will continue participating in the storytelling. Give all pupils the opportunity to have a flashcard role in subsequent retellings.

Stage 4:
Acting out the story

This story can easily be acted out by the children using the simple props of the classroom board and flashcards as rehearsed. Pupils could act out the story for another class or parents

After storytelling follow-up suggestions:

1. Which animal are you?

  • Revise numbers and the names of the animals and stick each flashcard on the board.
  • Introduce dates by saying and writing the dates as follows encouraging children to supply the date as they get used to how they are said,
    E.g. nineteen seventy two, two thousand and one etc.


Rat: 1972 1984 1996
Ox: 1973 1985 1997
Tiger: 1974 1986 1998
Rabbit: 1975 1987 1999
Dragon: 1976 1988 2000
Snake: 1977 1989 2001
Horse: 1978 1990 2002
Ram: 1979 1991 2003
Monkey: 1980 1992 2004
Rooster: 1981 1993 2005
Dog: 1982 1994 2006
Pig: 1983 1995 2007


  • Ask a pupil, 'When were you born?' Pupil replies, e.g.'Nineteen ninety four.' Ask, 'What animal are you?' Help the pupil find the animal as necessary and introduce the reply, 'I am the dog'. Repeat with the other pupils.
  • If you would like the children to write provide the following model for them to copy:

    I was born in ………

    I am the …………
  • If you wish, depending on time available and level, you could extend this to the child's family:

    My brother/sister/mother/father was born in …………

    He/she is the …………
  • 2. Craft activities

    You may be able to do these activities in collaboration with the regular class teacher or an art teacher. Remember that they can sometimes be time-consuming and require specific materials and preparation for them to be successful.

    Do not lose site of the language opportunities craft activities offer for giving instructions in English, checking, praising etc. Use English all the time and demonstrate each step clearly ensuring that all children are following.
  • Make a Chinese lantern
    Children may like to make lanterns to decorate their classroom or take home. See www.enchantedlearning.com/crafts/chinesenewyear/lantern/ Red is the traditional colour which is meant to ward off evil spirits so try to use red paper.
  • Make a Chinese New Year Dragon
    See www.kidsdomain.com/craft/dragon.html or if you have access to the course book Pebbles published by Longman see 'Pebbles' 1, Unit 8.
  • Make a fortune cookie
    See www.kidsdomain.com/craft/fortune1.html. This activity will practise the future using 'will'. You can simplify the craft activity using paper for the cookies instead of felt. The objective is to get children to write fortunes as they would in a fortune teller (une cocotte).
    E.g. You will be happy. You will have good luck. You will have a long life. You will be rich etc.
  • Make a Red Packet
    This involves married couples giving children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes. Get children to make an envelope out of red paper and draw a picture of a rabbit on the front for 2011. You may like to introduce Chinese currency, the Yuan, and use this as another opportunity to practise numbers. Children could draw their own Chinese notes to put in their envelopes see www.chinatoday.com/fin/mon/

 By Gail Ellis

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