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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Joy Luck Club

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The Joy Luck Club was an international sensation when it first came out, read everywhere from beaches to book clubs…and now classrooms. All you'll need is a little luck—and a lot of this teaching guide—to bring joy to your little club (i.e., your classroom).

In this guide you will find

  • an activity that blends character analysis with one of the most addictive games on the planet (no, not Candy Crush…Mahjong).
  • pop culture connections, like our old mainstay The Simpsons and the fact that Amy Tan is in a band. (Who knew?)
  • historical resources, including information on Immigration and the Vietnam War.

And much more.

Hmm, they really should start including snippets of our guide inside fortune cookies…

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: The Joy Luck Club is a story about a very particular cultural group: Chinese immigrant women. But how would the story be different if it were about a different cultural subset? Say, Chinese men? Italian women? Mexican children? 

Your students will be thinking about that as they work to adapt a scene from the novel into dramatic form, changing the cultural group involved, and then act out the scene in class. 

This will require cultural sensitivity and will allow students to think deeply about how the immigrant experience might be different for different cultural groups. To that end, students will do a bit of research before writing their scenes, and then, to demonstrate that they've really thought about the choices they made in altering their scenes, they'll explain their adaptations in a written, literary response. 

Length of Lesson: 2-3 class periods (1-2 classes up front to introduce the activity and get students started on their adaptations, and one class a week or so later for performances)

Materials Needed: 

Step 1: We're going to dive right into this one. Start by having your students poke around the Shmoop guides to immigration. Ask them to take notes on things they find surprising, interesting, or moving. (You can give them 20 minutes for this—perhaps a little more if you have a longer class period.)

Step 2: When students are done searching, give them a chance to share some of their discoveries (anything they found surprising, interesting, or moving) in a short class discussion. 

Step 3: Brainstorming time! Now that students are a little more informed about immigration in the U.S., ask them to brainstorm a list of the immigrant groups with which they're familiar. Encourage them to think about what they read on the Shmoop guides, as well as thinking about their own family, friends, stories they've read, movies they've watched... immigration is everywhere! Some of your students may be immigrants or 1st or 2nd generation American-born descendants of immigrants. Make a list of these immigrant groups in a place where all the students can see and refer to it.

Step 4: Divide the class into small groups and tell students that they will be writing and acting out a scene from the novel. But here's the kicker: they'll be changing the immigrant group involved. Also let them know that they'll be justifying their adaptation of the novel with a supporting written analysis, so they should be sure their choices are deliberate. To that end, they'll need to do a little research before they start writing. 

By the end of class, each group will need to make two decisions: (1) which immigrant group to portray, and (2) which scene from the novel to adapt. It is crucial to emphasize the issue of cultural sensitivity here.

Step 5: Allow as much class time as possible for the groups to work on their adaptations. If you have time left today, get them started. If you can give them the whole class period tomorrow, by all means give it. It would be ideal for students to do their initial research and planning with you there to bounce ideas off of. Your involvement in the early stages will go a long way toward ensuring that cultural sensitivity we keep talking about.

If, however, you don't have class time to offer, emphasize the cultural sensitivity piece once again and let students know they will need to finish their research, write their scenes, and practice their adaptations on their own time. Also, remind them to jot down their sources. Why? Because there's another piece to this assignment—that written analysis we mentioned—and those sources will come in handy once they get to that part.

Step 6: Once the groups have written their scenes, ensure that all group members have copies of their group's script (written or digital). They'll want refer to it as they write their essays explaining and justifying their dramatic adaptation. NOTE: This essay is an individual assignment. Each student will write her/his own paper analyzing the group's script. 

In their analyses, they should refer both to the novel and to the outside research they did on their immigrant group to explain the artistic choices they made.

Step 7: When the scenes are written and the analyses are done, have students perform their scenes and turn in their analytical essays. After each performance, encourage non-performing students to ask questions and offer feedback. 

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th and 10th grade Reading: 1.1, 1.2, 2.3, 2.5, 3.2, 3.5, 3.12; Writing: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 2.2abcd; Listening and Speaking: 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, 2.6abc. 11th and 12 grade Reading: 1.3, 2.4, 2.5, 3.6, 3.7a; Writing: 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, 2.2abcde; Listening and Speaking: 1.6, 1.7, 1.9, 2.5.)

Instructions for Your Students

It's your time to shine. For this activity, you're going to take a scene straight from The Joy Luck Club and adapt it for the stage (or, the classroom floor, at least). Here's the catch: instead of just acting out what happens in the book, you're going to change it up and imagine that a different immigrant group is in the same position. 

How would the scene be different if it were about a different cultural subset? Say, Chinese men? Italian women? Mexican children? Before you answer that, you'll need to do a little research, because we aren't looking for a parody and we *definitely* aren't encouraging you to create a scene based on cultural stereotypes. 

Plus, you're going to have to defend your adaptation in a written, literary response, so you'll want to be sure you make deliberate, considered choices here—which we know you will. 

Step 1: Let's dive right in, shall we? Take some time to poke around the Shmoop guides to immigration. Take notes on anything you find surprising, interesting, or moving. Nothing is too small to notice, so just jot down whatever catches your eye.

Step 2: Take a few minutes to share your discoveries (any of those surprising, interesting, or moving things you found) in a brief class discussion. 

Step 3: Now that you have a little background on immigration in the U.S., it's time to brainstorm a list of the immigrant groups with which you're familiar. For starters, think about what you read on the Shmoop guides. But don't stop there. Also think about the history of your family and friends, stories you've read, movies you've watched... immigration is everywhere! You might be an immigrant, or maybe your parents or your grandparents are. Dig deep. How many immigrant groups can you think of?

Step 4: It's time to get those creative juices flowing. Your teacher will help you divide into small groups and give you your assignment. 

You're going to re-write a scene from The Joy Luck Club as a play and act it out in class. Just one thing: your main characters aren't Chinese women; they're members of a totally different immigrant group. Makes it a little tougher, huh? Oh, and each of you will be writing an essay that explains and justifies the choices you make as a group in creating his script, so it will be important to do some research before you start writing.

By the end of class, your group needs to make two decisions: (1) which immigrant group to portray, and (2) which scene from the novel to adapt. Choose wisely: some scenes might be more adaptable than others, especially when you're portraying a new cultural subset.

Step 5: As a group, do some Internet research on your immigrant group. Be sure to jot down your sources: this will come in handy when writing your analysis. Your teacher will let you know how much class time, if any, you will have to complete your research, write the script for your adaptation, and practice it before your performances. 

We said it before, and we're going to say it again: As you work on your piece, be careful. Please. It would be way too easy to rely on stereotypes of a particular culture in order to create your scene, but we're not interested in stereotypes. We're interested in honestly trying to re-imagine a scene from a different perspective. 

Step 6: When your group is done writing its scene, each group member will need to get cracking on that written analysis. Make sure everyone in the group has a copy of the script to work with (digital or hard copy). Your analysis should explain and justify your group's dramatic adaptation, so make sure you refer both to the novel and to the outside research you've done on your immigrant group in order to back up your creative decisions. 

And just to be clear, this analytical essay is an individual assignment—not a group assignment. One paper per person, please. In final copy format. 

Step 7: We said it was your time to shine, and we meant it. Today's the day: perform your scene, and enjoy watching all of the others. When you're not "on stage," try to watch the other performances critically so you can ask question and offer feedback after each one. And when they're all done? Hand in that analysis. 

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