Learn How TpT Teacher-Authors Promote Asian Pacific American Heritage

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. This year, we asked Teacher-Authors how they highlight Asian Pacific American history and culture in their lessons. Read what they had to say and get inspired with creative ideas on how to meaningfully incorporate Asian Pacific American history into any area of your curriculum — both during the month of May and throughout the school year.

Happy Days in First Grade
1st Grade Teacher

On highlighting Asian Pacific American history and culture in lessons:  “I intentionally integrate various holidays into our instruction throughout the year to celebrate different cultures and experiences. I have found that using picture books and explaining the importance of celebrating diversity has been most impactful in helping my students become more engaged….The students have loved and enjoyed gaining new understandings and perspectives.  In addition, learning about specific famous and distinguished Asian Americans has also broadened their understanding and appreciation of the contributions of Asian Americans throughout our history.” 

Math with Ms. Yi
Middle School Math Teacher

On highlighting Asian Pacific American history and culture in lessons: “As a math teacher, there sometimes doesn’t feel like a natural place in my curriculum for me to talk about things outside of the content. However, I still try to do this in small ways. For example, every year I share holidays that are important to me with my students. During Lunar New Year, for instance, I’ve shared with my students the history and traditions around it — including red envelopes. I’ve brought in treats to my classroom that I enjoyed when I was younger. Through these small gestures, I hope my students not only get to learn about things important to me but also get to learn a little bit of what makes up the API culture.” 

Advice for teachers on where to start: Listen to the voices of API individuals and help to amplify their voices. If you are looking for resources on API history, individuals, or culture, try to find authors whose experiences can be reflected in the resources.

Highs and Lows of a Teacher
4th Grade Teacher

On highlighting Asian Pacific American history and culture in lessons: “I grew up in Korea for the majority of my childhood, and I’ve also lived in Japan, so I try to share my own experience with my students when teaching. For example, during social studies, when students learn about Jamestown and how people brought their own culture and ideas when moving to America, I make a personal connection here by talking about how when I moved to the States, I continued the Korean custom of removing shoes when entering the house. I also sometimes connect American history with Korean history. When learning about the American Civil War, I highlight the Korean Civil War and we have a deep discussion of some similarities and differences. Lastly, when learning about famous leaders in America, I mention some of the notable leaders in Korea, such as King Sejong who created Hangul (Korean alphabet) for his people. Making connections and highlighting Asian Pacific Islander history, culture, and individuals in daily lessons really expands students’ cultural awareness. When I share these experiences, sometimes students from other Asian heritage feel encouraged to share what they know as well (and I learn from them!). I love open discussions and learning from each other!”

Advice for teachers on where to start: “Students have different interests, so it’s important for teachers to share Asian Pacific Americans from a variety of fields. So first know your students’ interests. If you have students that are into sports, highlight some Asian Pacific American athletes. If you have students that love to read, introduce books written by Asian Pacific American authors.”

Keep Your Chin Up
1st Grade Teacher

On highlighting Asian Pacific American history and culture in lessons: “Many people view the month as ‘one more thing’ that we just don’t have time in our schedules to implement. However, you can integrate API history and culture into any curriculum area! Read biographies about influential Asian-Americans or read books written by Asian-American authors. In social studies, learn about the geography of Asian countries. It’s important that they learn that Asia consists of more than just China and Japan, but also includes countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Students can study scientists, Chien-Shiung Wu and Steven Chu, or the first Asian-American astronaut, Ellison Onizuka….I believe that taking the time to spend a few minutes learning about these topics will really help teach our students to have tolerance and acceptance among others while also giving them a more global understanding of the world we live in.”

Advice for teachers on where to start: “According to [a study from] the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2018, only seven percent of books depict characters from Asian Pacific Islander or Asian Pacific American backgrounds. This lack of diversity in children’s books is harmful to the self-image of our students whose stories are untold and under-represented. As a child, some of my favorite books, movies, and TV shows were the ones with Asian characters. My brother and I must have watched Mulan and Rush Hour hundreds of times while my grandma watched over us after school. We loved these characters because they reminded us of ourselves and we felt like we could be just like them. When our students consistently don’t see themselves or see a connection in the books we read and the topics we learn about in school, it sends a message that their culture isn’t important enough to learn about. 

Celebrating and teaching about Asian Pacific American history doesn’t have to be a big project, and it can be fun too! You could share one interesting fact each day, or put a new set of books out on display in your classroom library. You could even bring in a cultural food dish for everyone to try. Students can get active by learning a cultural dance, or get creative by learning about arts in an Asian country. AAPI history matters because our students matter and we all deserve to share our stories.”

Tiny Teaching Shack
K-2 Teacher

On highlighting Asian Pacific American history and culture in lessons: “As much as possible, I like to highlight API culture and history by ensuring that my students are aware of the sheer breadth of diversity and difference within that region. With so much to choose from — the exciting cultural growth fuelled by the K-Wave from South Korea, or the nature and wildlife of a territory as diverse as Australia — there are usually ways to work those subjects into the curriculum for students of all ages. We use every opportunity we can to raise awareness and respect.”

Advice for teachers on where to start: “Sometimes without even knowing it, students of today are embracing the history, individuals, and culture of the region. This might be by listening to pop music from China, or by watching movies featuring majority Asian cast members. I urge educators to highlight when this happens, and to speak about its importance. Furthermore, including Asian-themed resources in the classroom, in the form of picture books, posters, or charts, can also help.”

Donut Lovin’ Teacher
5th to 8th Grade Teacher

On highlighting Asian Pacific American history and culture in lessons: “I love bringing books, stories, news articles, and videos to my students to share the diverse cultures and contributions of AAPIs. I think it is just as important for AAPI students to see their identities reflected in the curriculum as it is for all students to see a diverse representation of identities. I also like to share different traditions such as Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year) or Kodomo no hi (Children’s Day) with my students as a way to start conversations about traditions, culture, and values.”

Advice for teachers on where to start: “For educators to prioritize teaching about AAPI experiences, it may be important for them to do some learning as well. Just like with anything teachers bring to the classroom, they have to build some context and understanding for themselves first. Whether you start by thinking about what you already teach and look at ways to incorporate AAPI representation, or you dive straight into learning more about a specific topic, having a diverse curriculum should happen the entire school year.”  

Some final thoughts: “Though it is important to teach about the diverse AAPI cultures through traditions and celebrations, we cannot limit it to that. One specific part of history that I’d like to see highlighted more often is the forced removal and mass incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans in the U.S. during World War II. As a child, I watched the ways that my grandfather worked to ensure that the experiences of this time period would never be forgotten. Yet, in middle school I remember the few short sentences in a history textbook that was supposed to suffice this huge part of my own family history. As we teach about AAPI identities, cultures, and histories, we can begin to look at injustices in the past and present, building conversations around allyship and advocacy. We can continue the work [that] those before us started.”

If you’re looking for resources on Asian Pacific American history and heritage, here are just a few from the Teacher-Authors above to get you started: