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year of the horse
Year of the Horse

It is the Chinese New Year on the 31st January, the start of the Year of the Horse.

'Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. In China, it is also known as the 'Spring Festival', the literal translation of the modern Chinese name. Chinese New Year celebrations traditionally ran from Chinese New Year's Day itself, the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month. The evening preceding Chinese New Year's Day is an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner. Because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, the Chinese New Year is often referred to as the "Lunar New Year".'

So if you were born in the year of the Horse, this is your profile according to Chinese astrology.


January 25, 1906 to February 12, 1907 (fire)
February 11, 1918 to January 31, 1919 (earth)
January 30, 1930 to February 16, 1931 (metal)
February 15, 1942 to February 4, 1943 (water)
February 3, 1954 to January 23, 1955 (wood)
January 21, 1966 to February 8, 1967 (fire)
February 7, 1978 to January 27, 1979 (earth)
January 27, 1990 to February 14, 1991 (metal)

Celebrities include:

Thomas Edison - Leonard Bernstein - Barbara Streisand - Clint Eastwood - Ingmar Bergman

The Horse personality often varies radically. In Asia, it is believed that those born in the years of the Horse may be tyrants, revolutionaries, or thieves. On the other hand, they have great capacity to excel. Others are often in awe of them, worship them, but seldom really understand them.
Horses are good at handling money, but often lose interest in their goals. Chinese believe that horses are born to race or travel, therefore Horse people leave home at a young age, and remain restless throughout their life. They are impatient, yet quick-witted with a huge ego. They have a hard time belonging anywhere for long.
Horse people do well in groups and are never short on conversation. Social contact is important to the Horse and they often form close relationships with others and will give up anything for a good romance.
The Horse represents desires and wishes they are usually associated with males. The ancients deemed the Year of the Horse to have masculine attributes. The hour of the Horse falls at high noon and the month of the Horse includes the Summer Solstice, which are both strong "yang" forces.


There is a lesson plan about the Chinese New Year on the site. First there is a lead in with a discussion about some fortune cookie sayings. Then there is a general article about the Chinese New Year, followed by an introduction to the Chinese calendar where students find out which animal represents their birth year. Then they read & discuss an interpretation of their animal characteristics.

Plan at:
Materials at:

Activity Village has lots of excellent materials for the younger learner:
Some nice Chinese zodiac posters, lots of adjectives to play with:
Stories from China:

Apart from the New Year celebrations it is an excues to bring in material about China. here are few examples:


The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

Many people have wondered over the years how it was that the rat, the smallest of all the creatures, was given the honour of having the first year of the Chinese Zodiac named after him. This is the story I have heard.

A very long time ago, the Jade Emperor, who ruled the heavens of China, sent a message to all the animals asking them to come together so that he could give each of them a year, which would make it easier for the people of China to keep track of time. The cat and the rat were good friends and decided to travel to meet the Jade Emperor together.

When it came time to leave, however, the cat was taking a nap. The rat, realising that he would have to use all his cunning to be noticed by the Jade Emperor, left his friend sleeping, and set off on his own. This is why there is no year named after the cat, and also why cats have hated rats ever since.

When the rat arrived, the Jade Emperor welcomed him and the other animals and told them that they should all take part in a swimming race. Once again, the rat realised that he would have to be very clever if he wanted to win the race. He found the largest, strongest animal, which was the ox, and pleaded with him to let him ride on its head. The ox was kind and strong, and agreed that they would swim across together. The rat travelled safely across the river on the ox's back, but, just before they reached the other side, climbed over the ox's head, jumped onto land, and reached the finish line first. The rat had proved its cunning, and the Jade Emperor named the first year after the rat and the second year after the ox.

Apart from a straightforward reading text or some live listening - you tell the story to the students, this might be suitable to cut up, every three lines, & logically order, use as a live listening or use as a dictation, a traditional one or a running dictation (see: Running around - ) - for both younger learners & adults.


Here is a 20-part overview of the Chinese New Year - lots of facts. For big classes the students could have one section each & mingle, explaining & listening to other sections, possibly completing a chart, & then discussing which information they found the most interesting. And for the smaller group, use only choose the most interesting sections & do the same. Clearly, grade the sections to suit the level.

1. The 15-day festival, which starts on January 31 this year, is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. It starts with the first new moon of each calendar year and ends on the full moon.

2. Food is a big part of Chinese New Year celebrations, and many meals are eaten with family and friends. Some traditional dishes for the holidays are nian gao cake, steamed rice pudding, long noodles, and dumplings.

3. Homes are cleaned top to bottom before the beginning of the new year, and all cleaning equipment is put away before New Year's Eve because it's believed that good fortune may be swept away if cleaning is done on New Year's Day.

4. The Chinese New Year's Eve and New Year's Day holidays are very family-centered celebrations. Many dinners are held with family and friends, deceased relatives are honoured, and children receive gifts and participate in traditions like cleaning ahead of the celebration and the Lantern Festival.

5. Before New Year's Day, homes are decorated with trays of oranges and tangerines (which are also brought by visitors during the holiday), a candy tray with eight kinds of dried sweet fruits, and live plants and vases of fresh flowers. Wishes for the new year are written on red paper.

6. There is a focus on ancestors and family members who have passed during the festival. On New Year's Eve, a dinner for ancestors is arranged at the family banquet table, so that all family members, deceased and living, can ring in the new year with a communal feast (called weilu), according to Nations Online.

7. Legend holds that the Chinese New Year began with a battle against a mythical beast called the Nian, who would come on the first day of the new year to eat children, livestock, and crops. In order to protect themselves from the Nian, villages put food in front of their doors believing that the creature would eat that and leave everything else alone. It was believed that the Nian was afraid of the colour red and firecrackers, so people would hang red lanterns outside and set off firecrackers.

8. Firecrackers are set off on New Year's Eve to send out the old year and welcome in the new. In China, officials are trying to discourage fireworks displays this year in order to reduce air pollution, reports The Guardian.

9. There are different traditions for each day of the New Year celebration. Many people abstain from meat on the first day, as that is believed to bring good luck for the year. Instead they eat a vegetarian dish called jai, which contains ingredients like lotus seed (signifying having many male children), dried bean curd (representing wealth and happiness), and bamboo shoots, explains Fresh tofu is not included, as the white colour is considered bad luck and representative of death and misfortune.

10. On the second day, the Chinese pray to both their ancestors and to all of the gods. It's believed that this day is the birthday of all dogs, as well, so canine friends get a lot of love (and food!) on day two.

11. On days three and four, sons-in-law are expected to pay respects to their parents-in-law.

12. The fifth day of the Chinese New Year is called Po Woo or Po Wu, reports, and on that day people stay home to welcome the god of wealth. It's believed that visiting family and friends on this day will bring bad luck.

13. Visiting is back on from days six to 10, where the Chinese also visit temples to pray for wealth and health in the coming year.

14. On day seven, farmers display their harvest and make a celebratory drink from seven types of vegetables. As day two is considered the birthday of dogs, day seven is the birthday of human beings, and long noodles (for longevity) and raw fish (for success) are eaten as part of the celebrations. Check out this recipe for long life noodles with chicken.

15. The Fujian people have a family reunion dinner again on day eight, with midnight prayers to Tian Gong, the god of heaven (and the namesake of China's first space station).

16. Offerings to the Jade Emperor are made on day nine. In Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor is the ruler of heaven and the creator of the universe, according to

17. On days 10 through 12, friends and relatives receive dinner invitations. That means that on the 13th day, people eat rice congee and mustard greens to recover from days of rich meals. Check out the recipe for congee here.

18. The 14th day is spent getting ready for the Lantern Festival on the 15th night. On the fifteenth day, when the moon is full, the Lantern Festival is held. As part of the festivities, children carry lanterns in a nighttime parade.

19. Red is a key colour for New Year's celebrations, as it symbolizes a bright and happy future. People wear red clothing during the festivities, explains Colour Lovers, and children, unmarried friends, and close relatives are given little red envelopes (lai see) with money inside for good luck.

20. This year will mark the beginning of the Year of the Horse: this animal signifies surprises in adventure and romance, and people born during this year are believed to be good communicators, kind, talkative, independent, and impatient.

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We've briefly touched on Community Language Learning (CLL) in other Tips so it's time for a slightly more detailed look. This approach was developed by Charles Curran (1972) in his Counseling-Learning model of education. He took his core idea from Carl Rogers, who promoted the students as a group, rather than a class, & all the dynamics that a group entails. CLL views the teacher as the counselor, who guides the students, the clients, within the supportive group.

The basic procedure is as follows:

1. The students sit in a circle, having already built up a dynamic of trust. They have a tape recorder in the middle of the circle & they decide what to talk about, the topic, something that they choose & all are interested in.

2. When an individual has something to say, they record it on the tape. If they don't know how to express themselves, or wish to do it better, they can confer with the teacher, who is outside the circle. This can be done in the mother tongue & the teacher gives the student the English version of what they need to say. This is then taped. The whole conversation is built up on the tape.

3. At the end, after about ten minutes or so, the teacher stops the activity & before the next lesson, transcribes the conversation.

4. The transcribed conversation is used for analysis; highlighting new language, memory jogs on old language, pronunciation work etc.. & hopefully, the students will be able to work out the different aspects but if not, the teacher, would explain & clarify.

On first reading this you may wonder at the stilted nature of the recording task. This can be less fluid than you might hope for at the beginning but after a few times the procedure moves along smoothly. And if you are worried that the the students don't know what to talk about, you could do some pre-work on this by supplying a series of current topics to choose from. You might also need to work out strategies for avoiding one or two students dominating the discussions. And clearly, the smaller the class, the more manageable.

There are lots of variations on the basic procedure. The students, instead of the teacher, could transcribe the conversation at the end of the activity. A lot is made of the bilingualism of the teacher, being able to understand what the student says in the mother tongue & then give an appropriate way of saying the same in English. For beginner groups, it is necessary to have a high level in the mother tongue of the students but from intermediate & up, you could do the whole activity in English. The students could give an approximation of what they would like to say in English for the teacher to give a better way of expressing it.

This technique is clearly very student-centred & can be lots of fun for all. It was designed with beginner students in mind with the idea that after several sessions, the learners begin to incorporate the language from previous sessions & begin to become autonomous, & less dependent on the teacher. Whichever level it is used at, the students really listen to each other & it is good for developing the dynamics of the group.

Read up on CLL as it is a lot more than the procedure described above, & then try it out.
For different ELT approaches, check out:
Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching - Diane Larsen-Freeman (OUP)

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New Year

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all!

It's the time of year when the past year is reviewed so you can see our review of 2013 at:

It's not so much a quiz as a series of questions & photos to stimulate discussion. This is an opportunity to look back over the past year on a global level, practise past tenses, & then move onto how the year was on a personal level, before going on to look at the year ahead, the students plans & what their predictions for 2014. And there are also links there to the quizzes from the last few years to make a fun memory & discussion task. Lots of speaking practice all round.

There's a pdf on questions & answers to print off for classroom use.

If you don't want the photos, here are the questions & answers:

1. Who was sentenced to 35 years in prison, with a good chance of being released in 8?

2. Who sang Space Oddity in space?

3. Where was there a coup d'état in July?

4. Who had a high profile year, being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize & addressing the UN?

5. Who was the world respected leader who died this year?

6. What is the name of the new humble Pope?

7. Which organisation did Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, who were released from Russian prisons, belong to?

8. What were the two mobile phones that made headline news?

9. Who became the first British singles champion at Wimbledon since 1936?

10. Rob Ford said he smoked crack cocaine, but noted, by way of explanation, that this happened"probably in one of my drunken stupors." Which Canadian city was he mayor of?

11. Where was the train crash in Spain that caused the death of 79 people?

12. Who gave away lots of secrets to become a hero to many & a traitor to others?

13. What is the name of the biggest refugee camp for people fleeing from the Syrian conflict, which made it the fourth largest city in that country?

14. Where did the attack on the shopping centre happen in September?

15. What is the name of the type photo that became popular?

16. Where did the bomb go off during a marathon?

17. Which video craze came & disappeared?

18. 6000 people were killed in the Philippines as a result of what natural catastrophe?


1. Chelsea (Bradley) Manning

2. Astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield

3. In Egypt by the army against Morsi & the Mulsim Brotherhood

4. Malala Yousafzai

5. Nelson Mandela

6. Pope Francis - Jorge Mario Bergoglio

7. Pussy Riot

8. Nexus 5 & the iPhone 5

9. Andy Murray

10. Toronto

11. Santiago de Compostela

12. Edward Snowden

13. Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan

14. Nairobi

15. Selfie

16. Boston, US

17. Harlem Shake

18.Typhoon Haiyan

Some other New Year material on the site:

New Year's Resolutions lesson plan:

As the sales are in full flow now there is a lesson plan about the sales that went wrong at IKEA:

And there's a lesson plan about taking presents back to the shops:


A couple of other links, among many, to review searches, videos & stories of the past year:

Google charts for 2013

YouTube in 2013

The BBC news stories of 2013

Yahoo music videos of 2013

Lots of discussion ensues.

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