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Chinese journalism project collage

By Nick Yates, ISB Communications

International School of Beijing (ISB) students studying Chinese as an additional language gorged on new vocabulary while picking up tips to stay slim and healthy during a journalism project probing a hot news story on campus.

ISB faculty target real-world learning – classes based not on artificial exercises but on real life. High School Chinese teacher Chuyu Cheng put this into great effect with a course that saw Grade 11 Chinese IB students become reporters and interview members of the ISB community for a story on the recent ban on restaurant food deliveries to school.

Beijing authorities have regulated to enhance food safety on school campuses and to better protect students’ health. As a result, ISB’s practice of allowing High School students, employees, and other adults to order food deliveries to ISB had to stop. Since the start of the 2019-2020 school year, ISB security have not permitted food delivery personnel to enter campus or to deliver food in and around ISB’s gate areas.

It’s been a big change and food for thought, as students and staff have had to get used to either bringing their own lunch or eating the meals prepared for them in the school’s cafeteria. On one hand, teenagers and adults have grumbled about the loss of choice in their tasty treats. On the other, there’s been broad recognition that restaurant food is often unhealthy and that the move is intended to encourage clean lifestyles and ensure safety.

The IB (International Baccalaureate) requires that students like these studying Chinese as an additional language practice a number of different styles of writing, including news reporting. Ms. Cheng asked her class to study examples of articles from the media on food and health, then to interview their Chinese-speaking peers and Chinese-speaking specialists including a chef, nutritionist, and a nurse working at ISB. Their final task was to write a news article in Chinese on the subject of the delivery ban and healthy eating.

“I wanted them to be reporting on a real issue, not an imaginary scenario. I thought that would be a real, authentic learning opportunity. It’s something happening right here on campus,” said Ms. Cheng. “Next year, I’ll have to think of another timely news topic for them to cover. It’s hard work for me but worth it for the depth of the learning.”

The students came up with questions for the specialists in advance. Ms. Cheng reviewed and helped refine them. Rather than do one-on-one interviews, Ms. Cheng organized for the chef to come into class for a grilling that was more engaging of the group. She maintained a list on the whiteboard of vocabulary that came up in the conversation.

“There was no way I could have packed all those new words into one or two texts, but in a 30-minute interview, it all came out spontaneously. I saw a lot of those words in the students’ writing,” Ms. Cheng said.

Chinese journalism project - chef
A group interview of an ISB chef provided an engaging experience

After study of journalism fundamentals, the reports on the food delivery ban did a good job of opening with the main details – the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why” of the situation known to reporters as the “Five W’s.”

“Starting this school year, our school has stopped the food delivery service while our cafeteria has tried to provide a variety of healthy food choices for our students. This change has had a remarkable effect on students’ eating habits… The main purpose of this regulation is to reinforce students’ healthy eating habits,” one began (translation).

Articles by students including Claire S, Michael S, and Eric L picked insightful quotes from their interviewees. “Since it takes a long time for takeaway food to reach our gates from restaurants, bacteria may grow during the journey, and consuming it over a long period may have an adverse effect on immune systems,” said the nurse.

The chef was quoted as saying, “Food safety is our top priority in the ISB cafeteria. Delivered food, on the other hand, can’t be vouched for. Most outside restaurants focus on taste at the expense of nutrition.”

Choice morsels of vocabulary included mian yi xi tong (immune system), gao xue ya (high blood pressure), gao xue zhi (high cholesterol), and hun su da pei (a balanced diet of meat and vegetables).

Like real journalism, the students’ writing captured a plurality of opinions and reported evenly and neutrally on the facts of the delivery ban. “I taught them early on that it is not their job as reporters to stand up for and just represent their fellow students’ viewpoints,” according to Ms. Cheng.

And like the best journalism, the students’ writing was impactful. Their readers have learned about lifestyle choices, and recommendations derived from the project have also been passed to ISB’s catering provider. As for Ms. Cheng, she’s already keeping her eye on the headlines for the next hot news story for her cub reporters to cover.

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