I Hate English Discussion Guide
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
About this book
Children will bring to this story a curiosity about different cultures and an empathy with the young character's confusion in a strange, new home. Ellen Levine's story will help them realize that all children, regardless of their cultural background, share the same fears and joys in growing up.
- Chart paper or whiteboard and markers
- World map or globe
- Class set of I Hate English! by Ellen Levine and Steve Björkman
Step 1: Tell students that they will be reading a story about a young girl named Mei Mei (pronounced May-May) who moves from Hong Kong to New York City. For Mei Mei, the strangest thing about her new home is that people speak English, not the Chinese of her native land.
Step 2: Activate students' prior knowledge by encouraging them to share words that they know from languages other than English. Make a chart like the following to organize their responses. You may wish to write in some examples to model a response, as shown. Be sure to ask students to explain where or how they learned the foreign words.
Step 3: After filling in the chart, ask students if any of them can speak a language other than English. Encourage volunteers to speak their language to the class and translate it.
Step 4: Ask if any students have been to a place in which they didn't understand the language that everyone else was speaking. Discuss how they felt in this situation.
Step 5: Prepare students for two of the special geographical places used in the story — Hong Kong and Chinatown. Use a world map or globe to point out where Mei Mei lived before she moved to New York. Have students trace on the map or globe the route Mei Mei might have taken to fly from Hong Kong to New York.
Step 6: Ask students if they have visited New York's Chinatown or Chinese communities in other cities. Have them describe the restaurants, shops, and other cultural aspects of these places.
Step 7: Distribute copies of the book, and call attention to the cover illustration. Tell students that the title of the book is I Hate English!. The author is Ellen Levine, and the illustrator who drew the pictures, Steve Björkman.
Step 8: Ask students to study the picture on the front cover. Help them use the title and the illustrations to make predictions about what might happen in the story. Ask:
- Why do you think Mei Mei hates English?
- What do you think Mei Mei might be thinking in the picture?
- What do you think might help Mei Mei stop hating English?
Step 9: List students' responses on the board or chart paper. Ask them to notice if their guesses are accurate or not as they listen to the story.
If you wish, you might ask students to learn three new words or phrases in a foreign language. Encourage them to ask a friend, fellow student, relative, or neighbor to teach them. Share what they learn later in a whole-class discussion or in groups later in the week.