Mandarin class at John Gill is a two-way immersion program (balanced numbers of native English speakers and native Mandarin speakers take turns modelling and learning). Instruction is delivered in various modes to maximize student learning: whole class, small group, and one-on-one with the teacher. Teachers are credentialed, and have expertise in teaching students a second language. They receive specialized training throughout the year with a focus on best practices for teaching in an immersion program. In grades K and 1, the instructional focus is on oral language development. The teacher conducts all instruction and conversational dialogue in Mandarin. Translation is not used, but through strategies like Total Physical Response, the teacher is able to communicate lessons, instructions, and social language effectively in Mandarin. The special tones and enunciation of Mandarin is emphasized in these early years of language learning.

Students learn poems, songs, and conversational language through simple, yet familiar chants and nursery rhymes in Mandarin. The frequent use of realia (real-life items) is integrated into daily lessons through an interactive approach. For example, learning about the five tastes is brought to life with real food items to taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and even spicy! The students are regularly engaged in role playing, games, singing, rhythm, and many other hands-on methods of instruction. The students conduct science experiments, such as growing plants, and engage in a variety of art projects all of which promotes rich language development in a fun, creative, and interactive way.

Reading and writing are taught in a developmentally appropriate limited time frame. We teach the simplified characters and begin with a focus on the radicals and understanding the origin of the character’s pictorial form. Students enjoy the drawing and artistic nature of writing. Stroke order and stroke names are taught to instill correct formation and importance of the stroke order.

Students have the same age/grade level curriculum as their peers in an English only curriculum. Topics relating to their community and the world around them are presented in Mandarin. In addition to the subject matter content, all social language is conducted by the teacher in Mandarin.

Students gain experience learning the target language in a natural way while they are in the early years of critical language development for hearing the sounds, tones, and particular enunciation specifics of the language. The immersion program gives children the invaluable experience of learning about the culture of the language in a natural setting with native speakers. 


The Kindergarten students in the Mandarin Immersion program are exposed to many enriching and engaging educational experiences. Lessons are highly engaging, offering many strategies for students to comprehend and collaborate, thus the students have many opportunities to authentically use their language and extend learning.

Content Based Units

The students are taught the target language of Mandarin through authentic use of language in their daily exposure to Content-Based Units. Each Content-Based Unit is a three-four week unit where the students are immersed in a theme. In this way, students learn Mandarin in a natural way as they study Science and Social Studies themes.

For example, Kindergarten students at John Gill’s Mandarin Immersion Program have been studying about Citizenship (公民权), Community (社区), Life of Long Ago and Today (从前的生活和现代的生活), Weather (天气), Plants (植物), and Animals (动物).

Essential Questions

Each Content-Based Unit begins with Essential Questions posed to the students. The
questions facilitate the learning as the students progress through the unit.

Sample Questions for a Community Social Science Unit:
  1. What is a community? 什么是社区?
  2. What people are part of our school community? Why are these jobs important? 我们的学校社区有那些职工? 他们的工作为什么重要?
  3. What jobs do people do in our city/ community? Why are these jobs important? 我们的城市市区有哪些职工?他们的工作为什么重要?
  4. What kinds of services/activities do a community provide? 一个社区提供哪些服务和活动?

Sample Lesson

As students learn about the community workers, they complete a Process Grid to help organize their thinking around key community workers. The goal is to increase student Mandarin vocabulary so they are prepared to describe one community worker and their role.

  Firefighters talking with students

Home-School Connection

Each Unit of Study includes a Family Engagement piece to build the Home-School Connection.

Here is a sample family engagement piece (sent home to parents):

Home/School Connection: parents and students build a model of a community structure and/or a community worker as a popsicle stick puppet. Structures are arranged on a map of Redwood City in class. Students then present information about community structures and/or community workers to classmates and visiting parents.