In the Classroom: The Chinese Zodiac

Today we're talking about the Chinese Zodiac.  The legend goes that once upon at time, a very long time ago, before calendars and clocks, the people had no way to keep track of what day or year it was.  To solve this problem, the Jade Emperor decided to create a calendar.  The calendar would be twelve years long and each year would be named after an animal to help the people remember them. In order to decide which animals to use for his calendar, the Emperor initiated a race pitting all the animals in the kingdom against one another. The twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac represent the first twelve animals to finish the Emperor's race.

The Chinese believe a person's character is determined by the year they were born. People take on the characteristics of the animal of that year. Below is a list of years and characteristics for each of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac:

Snake (1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013) 
Snake people love good books, food, music and plays.  They have good luck with money.

Dragon (1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012)
People born in the Year of the Dragon have good health and lots of energy.  They also are good listeners.

Rabbit (1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011)
Rabbit people are nice to be around.  They like to talk and many people trust them.

Tiger (1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010)
People born in this year are brave. Other people respect them for their deep thoughts and courageous actions.

Ox (1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009)
People born in this year are dependable and calm.  They are good listeners and have very strong ideas.

Rat (1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008)
Rat people are very popular.  They like to invent things and are good artists.

Pig (1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007)
People in the Year of the Pig are very good students. They are honest. They always finish a project or assignment.

Dog (1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006)
Dog people are loyal and can always keep a secret.  Sometimes dog people worry too much.

Rooster (1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005)
People born in this year are hard workers.  They have many talents and think deep thoughts.

Monkey (1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004)
Monkey people are funny and can always make people laugh.  They are good at solving problems.

Ram/Sheep (1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003)
People born in this year are good artists.  They ask many questions, like nice things, and are very wise.

Horse (1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002)
People born in this year are popular, cheerful and are quick to compliment others.  Horse people work very hard.

A few weeks ago, we were inspired by this pin on Pinterest to make Chinese Zodiac masks. Because the majority of your students were probably born in one or two years, they each could make a mask representing the year they were born or everyone could make one for the Year of the Snake.

scrap paper
large paper or styrofoam plates
large white paper
markers, crayons, or paint to decorate
glue, glue sticks, or tape
string, tongue depressors or chopsticks

1. Decide what animal mask you are going to create.  Draw a circle on a piece of paper and sketch a drawing on what you would like your mask to look like.
2. Poke a hole in the center of your plate.  Use this as an entry point to cut out the inside of the plate. Leave at least an inch around the rim intact.
3. Place the plate face down onto a large piece of white paper.  With a pencil, trace a circle around the outside of the plate.  Now, trace a circle around the inside of the plate. (Teachers, these steps could be done ahead of time for your younger students.)
4. Using a pencil, draw ears, horns, or any other distinguishing features.  These can be outside your circle.
5. Using crayons, markers, or paint decorate your mask.  Make it come alive.  (I used circular strokes to make my ram mask's "fur" look more realistic.)
6. Carefully cut out your paper circle. Don't cut the ears off!
7. Attach the paper circle to your plate.  Attach a tongue depressor or chopstick to the bottom of your mask using tape.  Or punch a hole on the left and right hand sides of your mask and string string through the holes.

Want your class to learn more about the Chinese Zodiac or Chinese history and culture?  The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum has the presentation for you!  Your class can come visit us at our museum or we can come right to you!  For more information about Educational Programs at SDCHM, visit our website here.

-Laura Touhey

P.S. I made masks for each of the years of the Chinese Zodiac.  If you would like to see other examples, send us an email at or post a message on our Facebook page.  We're happy to share!


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