National Writing Project

Resources for Teaching Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Date: April 23, 2011

Summary: May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, so NWP has collected these resources and lesson plans from NWP teacher-consultants and other sources to support learning about Asian Pacific American history and current issues.


Listen and watch this multimedia presentation by a fourth-grade class about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. More ›

The month of May was chosen for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States in May 1843 and to mark the anniversary of the transcontinental railroad, completed on May 10, 1869. The majority of workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

In 1992 the official designation of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month was signed into law.

NWP teacher-consultants have written about Asian Pacific American students and taught Asian American history in innovative ways. Below are some resources in which they share their insights.

Also listed are numerous resources to help plan lessons and find essay contests for students. If you have other resources to share, please send suggestions to

NWP Resources

Why Are the Asian American Kids Silent in Class?
Author Carol Tateishi, co-director of the Bay Area Writing Project, probes into why Asian American kids are silent—a difficult question that dates back several generations. The answers are complex, but the recommendations Tateishi puts forth are more than possible.

Time is Not on our Side: Literacy and Literature for High School Language Learners
Given that teachers often have too much to teach, and too little time, Dana Dusbiber suggests an alternative approach to teaching literature for secondary English language learning students. "In my classroom were Mien and Hmong students from Laos and Thailand," she writes. "As I learned about their lives—what their travels and family relationships and cultural practices had taught them about life, literacy and learning—I knew that I needed this background knowledge if I was to be their teacher."

Nerds, Normal People, and Homeboys: Asian American Students and the Language of School Success
Stanford Goto examines how a group of high-achieving Chinese American high school freshmen perceive themselves as learners and group members and how these perceptions relate to existing research on Asian American success.

Creating Intentional Communities to Support English Language Learners in the Classroom
Judith Rance-Roney, who is with the Hudson Valley Writing Project, advocates for inclusion of ELL students in English classrooms by proposing strategies that encourage interaction between native English-speaking and ELL students in ways that benefit both groups.

VoiceThread Ties Together Voices, Images, and Writing
Elementary school students use a new technology to interview Japanese American internees about their experiences during World War II, eventually producing a multimedia presentation called "Letters from the Internment Camps."

Bringing Hard Talk to Your Writing Project Site—with the Theatre of the Oppressed
Consider the following scenario: An Asian American teacher has just had a long day at school. As she walks in front of the school, a car pulls up, and an African American student calls out, "Do you speak English? I need some directions."

"Otherness" and Other Imponderables: Teaching Hmong Students Academic Writing
The authors describe a tutoring program targeted at Hmong college students, examining the personal characteristics and tutorial strategies that work most successfully in advancing the learning of this student population.

Searching for Excellence in Education
Catherine Crystal, a Bay Area Writing Project teacher-researcher who spent a five-month sabbatical teaching in Hanoi, Vietnam, shares what she learned about the educational system in Vietnam and how it fuels a drive for excellence in students.

The Latehomecomer

Book Review: The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, by Kao Kalia Yang
Lynn Jacobs, a teacher-consultant with the Northern California Writing Project, finds this account of Hmong history and culture to be special because of the vivid and personal picture it presents of the Hmong people to outsiders.

Wikis Foster Scaffolded Collaboration When Teaching Farewell to Manzanar
Sarah Hunt-Barron, a South Carolina teacher-consultant, documents the use of wikis to foster collaborative, project-based learning about Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's Farewell to Manzanar, a memoir about the Japanese American internment during World War II.

Our Writing and Learning Connect Us: Chris Tsang
Chris Tsang of the Boston Writing Project had his students take on a major project interviewing refugees from Laos and creating narratives of their lives. These narratives are being added to a national traveling exhibit. "I want my students to see themselves in the curriculum, in the literature they read and the history they study," Tsang says.

Preliterate English Learners: Refugee Camp to the U.S. Classroom
Despite high motivation to learn English, Hmong students, like all new arrivals, present educators with unique challenges. How can teachers begin to understand these students, their backgrounds, and their needs?

Other Resources

Center for Asian American Media
The Educational Distribution service of the Center for Asian American Media offers a lengthy list of high-quality works by and about Asian Pacific Americans, for use by colleges, universities, and K–12 schools. Accompanying study guides and websites are available.

Asian American History Websites and Resources
Resources from the Center for Educational Telecommunications, a nonprofit organization devoted to producing, publishing, and consulting in the area of multiculturalism, with a special interest in Asian and Asian American concerns.

Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project
Densho's mission is to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished. The website offers irreplaceable firsthand accounts, coupled with historical images and teacher resources, to explore principles of democracy and promote equal justice for all.

Thematic lessons and teaching ideas support the study of how Asian Pacific influence travels oceans to influence and define American culture today.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Teaching Resources, Smithsonian Education
Smithsonian Education offers lesson plans, music, activities, and other resources for the study of the Asian Pacific American experience.

National Park Service
The National Park Service points out historic places central to the Asian and Pacific experience in America, and provides some lesson plans.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 
Educational resources provided jointly by the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Presidential Proclamation of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
"I call upon the people of the United States to learn more about the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities."

Asian Pacific American Writers and Book Lists

The Asian American Writers' Workshop
The Asian American Writers' Workshop is a national nonprofit arts organization devoted to the creating, publishing, developing, and disseminating of creative writing by Asian Americans.

Pacific Rim Voices
Pacific Rim Voices consists of a series of projects—the Kiriyama Prize, the young readers' website PaperTigers, and an online literary magazine, WaterBridge Review—centered on books and reading as a means to encourage greater understanding of and among the peoples and nations of the Pacific Rim and South Asia.

Notable Asian American Blogs
From Angry Asian Man to Hyphen Magazine, these blogs offer the most up-to-date announcements and opinions on Asian Pacific American news and events.

High School Recommended Reading List (PDF)
Recommended for high school students and older, this list includes important books about Asian Pacific American history and identity.

Asian American Curriculum Project
The Asian American Curriculum Project's mission is to educate the public about the great diversity of the Asian American experience through the books they distribute and to foster cultural awareness.

Eastwind Books of Berkeley hosts this extensive catalog of Asian American literature, Asian studies, ethnic studies, language learning, traditional Chinese medicine, and martial arts books.

Writing Contests

Growing Up Asian in America
Annual competition open to Bay Area students. The theme for the 2011 Growing Up Asian in America art and essay contest was "Lost and Found."

2011 Asian American Short Story Contest
Hyphen and The Asian American Writers' Workshop proudly present the 2011 Asian American Short Story Contest. We're teaming up again to put on this national, pan-Asian American writing competition—the only one of its kind. Grand Prize: $1,000, publication in Hyphen magazine.

2011 Asian American Essay Contest
For college-bound high school seniors of Asian American descent in New Jersey, the topic of this contest is paying tribute to the generations of Asian Americans / Pacific Islanders who have enriched America's history.

2011 Chinese American Citizens Alliance National Essay Contest
This essay contest is intended to foster creative thinking and self-expression and encourage an awareness of current local and world events. Top placing finishers receive cash scholarship towards their education endeavors.

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