16 Ways To Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month in Your Classroom
The Classroom

16 Ways To Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month in Your Classroom

Newsela Editorial
Apr 17, 2024

We celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month every year in May as a way to recognize and remember the contributions these diverse groups have made to our shared American culture. We’ve curated a collection of articles, resources, and activities to give you and your students easy ways to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month in the classroom:

Meet the different groups that make up the AAPI community

Over 50 groups make up the rich and diverse AAPI community. AAPI Heritage Month is the perfect time to explore a variety of cultural experiences and traditions. With Newsela Social Studies, you can have your students look into a new culture each day of the month, or group your lessons by topics:

Celebrating AAPI cultures and communities

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are part of a diverse multicultural group that has influenced and impacted the overall culture of the United States in many ways. Teach students all the ways you can celebrate diversity this month by exploring how AAPI cultures and communities enrich our lives:

  • Explore United States twists on AAPI dishes and treats, like Hawaiian poke, India-inspired ice cream flavors, and Chinese fortune cookies.

  • Discover how and when yoga first came to the U.S. from India and if it was always meant to promote fitness.

  • See how K-pop music is influencing more college students to study the Korean language, history, and culture.

Remembering AAPI histories and experiences

AAPI people have made tremendous contributions to today’s U.S. culture and it’s important to remember and reflect on their heritage and past experiences. Look back at the history and experiences of AAPI communities with lessons like:

  • Discovering which areas of the United States were historically home to AAPI immigrants, like Seattle for Japanese-Americans, and New York’s Little Syria. 

  • Learning more about legislation that concerned AAPI immigration, like the Chinese Immigration and Exclusion Acts and the Immigration Act of 1924.

  • Revisiting what life was like for AAPI people during World War II, specifically Japanese Americans and their experiences in internment or incarceration camps.

AAPI activism

Throughout American history, AAPI communities have faced many challenges and experienced many triumphs. Teach your students about how people from these communities have advocated for themselves and how your students can continue to be allies today:

  • See how the graphic novel “We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Acts of Resistance During World War II” shows the types of AAPI activism that existed during that era.

  • Explore the experiences of Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic and discuss why there was a rise of anti-Asian bias during that time.

  • Learn about how members of the AAPI community have stood up for other marginalized ethnic groups, such as when K-pop fans combatted opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Recognizing AAPI leaders and trailblazers

Teach students about AAPI leaders of the past and present who have broken and are still breaking barriers in politics, sports, the arts, and everywhere in between:

  • Read about the historic election of Vice President Kamala Harris, which marked the first time a Black and South Asian woman held the position.

  • Discover the next generation of Asian superheroes and how Marvel’s “Agents of Atlas” is different from the company’s other franchises.

  • Learn about snowboarder Chloe Kim and how she solidified her place in Olympic history by being the first woman to win two gold medals in halfpipe.

Young leaders and achievers

Adults aren’t the only ones who can make a difference. Explore how AAPI youth are changing the world one initiative at a time:

Celebrating young AAPI leaders making a change

Teach about high school students in a Pacific Islander Club who used their passion for poetry to fight climate change. Pair students together to discuss how the club is making a difference by having them answer questions like:

  • What methods did the students use to push for change?

  • What challenges did they face as they tried to make their voices heard?

  • How does their work reflect the importance of activism and leadership in the AAPI community?

Celebrating young AAPI leaders in science

Young scientists and inventors have the power to change the world. Have students learn about some AAPI leaders like Ruhani Ahluwalia or Gitanjali Rao who are trying to solve problems like beating cancer and fighting America’s water crisis with their research. Then introduce activities like:

  • A Think-Pair-Share that gets students thinking about why this research is inspiring and if changemakers like Ahluwalia and Rao have changed students’ opinions about science and science class.

  • Brainstorming sessions that encourage students to think about a scientific topic they’d like to research.

  • Science projects that encourage students to take their brainstorming ideas and put them into practice by creating S.M.A.R.T. goals and starting low-stakes research and experiments in their interest areas.

Celebrating young AAPI leaders in education

Does your curriculum have AAPI studies requirements? Some young AAPI leaders are working to get more AAPI history, language, and other courses available at all levels of education. Have students learn about their peers fighting for more AAPI inclusion in the classroom:

  • Learn how the rise in anti-Asian bias following the COVID-19 pandemic created an increasing demand for Asian American studies courses on college campuses across the U.S.

  • Discover how 14-year-old Mina Fedor created AAPI Youth Rising, an organization that teaches community lessons about AAPI history and anti-Asian violence.

  • Have students create a proposal for their teachers, principals, or district leaders about ways they can diversify the school’s curriculum and update or improve the current course offerings.

Celebrating young AAPI leaders who show determination

Sometimes, being a leader or a trailblazer means making the best of your current situation. It can also mean being resourceful and using the tools available to improve your circumstances. Teach students about the AAPI youth leaders doing just that with content and activities like:

  • Discovering how learning a new language—whether it’s computer code or English—can help refugee students communicate better with their teachers and classmates.

  • Reading about a third-grader who was born without hands and was still able to win a national handwriting competition for her cursive penmanship.

  • Sharing an interviewing project where students pick a family member or friend who has shown determination or resourcefulness and create a written article or video about what they learned from that person.

George Takei’s journey to defy and inspire by breaking stereotypes

George Takei is a Japanese-American actor and activist best known for his role as Sulu in “Star Trek” and his civil rights posts on social media. Throughout his life, Takei has experienced and fought racial mistreatment and stereotypes from people outside of the AAPI communities. Use this curated SEL add-on lesson with your Newsela knowledge and skill-building products to teach about Takei’s activism and experiences by:

  • Adding additional skills practice to your lesson by reviewing definitions and examples of important words for this lesson, like “stereotype.”

  • Assigning the article to let students learn about Takei’s work of fighting stereotypes in his own words.

  • Including an extension activity that asks students to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to share with other classes in the school about the importance of combating stereotypes and discrimination in school and in their communities.

Uncovering the cultural significance of a spicy South Korean delight: Kimchi

Kimchi is a spicy fermented vegetable-based dish popularized in South Korea. But for AAPI Koreans, the dish isn’t just a taste of their heritage. It’s also closely tied to family tradition and bonding. With this SEL add-on lesson, you can teach your students:

  • Why the group activity of making kimchi together—called kimjang—is an important family bonding experience that many AAPI families of Korean descent still practice.

  • To think about the roles that food plays in the family culture and how family meals and traditions can shape our tastes.

  • How their own family recipes may have cultural significance and traditions tied to their heritage.

Explore AAPI cultures through literature

AAPI communities make big contributions to the literature, poetry, and other art we know and love. With Newsela ELA, you and your students can explore some of these contributions and build background knowledge about AAPI authors, their lives, and their experiences:

AAPI identity in poetry

Though you may have spent the month of April exploring the wonders of National Poetry Month, these lessons can take place all year long. Tie poetry to AAPI culture and identity with content and activities like:

  • Reading Janet Wong’s poem “I am not a plucot (but I kind of am).”

  • Exploring how people of mixed Asian descent self-identify in their AAPI communities and how Wong uses metaphors to explain their experiences in her poetry.

  • Discovering what the term “Asian American” means to different AAPI communities, like those from South and Central Asia, East and South East Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

Books by AAPI authors

Dive deeper into the AAPI experience by teaching novels and books by AAPI authors in the classroom. Use our Novel and Book Studies Collection to build background knowledge about the experiences and events in each novel and to create extension activities that help improve engagement with the material off the page. Try it with novels like:

Asian folktales

Cultural folktales give us insights into the beliefs and traditions passed down through generations in different parts of the world. This month, explore Asian folktales with your students to learn more about the cultures behind our AAPI communities, with selections like:

  • “Heungbu and Nolbu: A Korean Story”

  • “The Raja and the Rice: An Indian Story”

  • “Spring and Autumn: A Japanese Story”

  • “Pan Gu: The Chinese Origin Story” 

Exploring AAPI contributions to current events with ELA in the real world

What are some ways AAPI authors and artists are contributing to today’s media? Have your students take a look with some ELA in the real world lessons:

American Born Chinese hits streaming

In 2023, Disney+ announced that the long-awaited screen adaptation of Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel “American Born Chinese” was coming to its streaming service. Use our curated lesson to:

  • Introduce students to the author, novel, and series.

  • Pose a question to your students about the representation of cultural groups in books and movies. How do authentic and inauthentic representations affect the ways others outside of a cultural group view people who identify as part of the group?

  • Add an extension activity that encourages students to write the outline or overview for a book or script that features a character that matches their self-identity or cultural background. Then have them explain why they included certain details or elements in the outline and why those elements help with cultural representation.

Highlighting Vietnamese voices in publishing

In 2020, only 22 out of the 220 authors with books on “The New York Times” fiction bestseller list were people of color. That’s just one of the reasons why Isabelle Thuy Pelaud and Viet Thanh Nguyen created the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network (DVAN) within the publishing industry to highlight Vietnamese voices. Explore this topic with students using our curated lesson that lets you:

  • Assign a reading that teaches about the challenges of bringing Vietnamese and other AAPI literature into the public sphere.

  • Pose compelling questions on the topic, like, “Why is it important to highlight the voices of authors of color?”

  • Add an extension activity, such as teaching students how to write a grant proposal to raise money for DVAN, and how they can persuade donors to spend money on the cause.

Discover AAPI contributions to STEM

AAPI individuals are making a big difference in the world of STEM! Explore awesome discoveries, cool inventions, and inspiring journeys of AAPI scientists on Newsela Science with content and resources on topics like:

  • How Chinese scientists have come up with a way to write invisible messages using special paper, water, and UV light.

  • The Jacksonville, Florida teen who invented Spark Care+, an award-winning personalized music therapy treatment.

  • The 82-year-old app developer from Japan who is breaking barriers by proving older people can master technology and create the technological advances they want to see in the world.

Newsela goes beyond AAPI Heritage Month

We hope these resources make it easier to help you develop relevant, engaging lessons about AAPI histories, cultures, and achievements in your class this May. But Newsela has even more great content, interactive activities, and assessment tools that you can use in the classroom all year long. Not a Newsela customer yet? Sign up for Newsela Lite to explore the best of all our premium product features. Plus, as a Newsela Lite member, you can sign up for a free trial of Newsela’s premium products to try them out!

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