Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

“Where the Mountain Meets the Moon”

Created September 10, 2014


The Lesson


Grace Lin

Grace Lin.

Credit: Alexandre Ferron. Courtesy gracelin.com.

“Bringing fortune to our house! Making Fruitless Mountain bloom! You’re always wishing to do impossible things! Stop believing stories and stop wasting your time.”
―Grace Lin, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Despite her mother’s disapproval of stories and dreaming, Minli gathers her courage, her resourcefulness, and her openness to new people and places, to take a remarkable journey to accomplish the impossible. This book, a celebration of the importance of imagination and story, introduces upper elementary students to Chinese culture and tradition. It blends an adventure narrative with a female hero, a collection of traditional and invented folktales, and an array of Chinese-style paintings and woodcuts into an appealing and challenging reading experience.

After a brief discussion of types of challenges—physical, emotional, economic, etc.—students read the entire book, focusing on the main narrative. They keep journals to record the challenges Minli faced, and how she met the challenges. They identify the friends and mentors who helped her, and the character traits that led to her success.

In the first part of the lesson, students read each of the embedded folktales as they cover the main narrative. The second part of the lesson has students return to the book to explore how the folktales enhance Minli’s story. After learning about the concept of the frame story, pairs of students take one of the folktales to analyze and then illustrate a key scene from it. As an optional activity, they may make a bulletin board or wall display that shows the embedded stories within the frame of the main narrative. In the final activity and summative assessment, students plan and then write a personal narrative about a challenge they have overcome, using vivid descriptions of persons and places

Guiding Questions

  • How can the links between the frame story and the embedded Chinese folktales be represented to show how they reinforce the underlying themes of courage and generosity?
  • How can students use Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as a mentor text to write a personal narrative with vivid language?

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Define a frame story and explain the complex way that subsidiary stories are embedded within the novel
  • Identify different types of challenges in the story
  • Use vivid language to construct their own personal narrative.

College and Career Readiness Standards

Anchor Standard

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1
    Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Grade Level Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.2
    Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.5
    Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.2
    Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.2.d
    Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.

Day 2. Optional Activity Grade Level Standard 

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.5.5 Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.


The child of immigrants from Taiwan, Grace Lin was born in the United States in 1974 and grew up in New York State. For years, she and her siblings were the only Asian American children in her school and she was the only one in her class. Thus she spent much of her childhood trying to ignore her Asian heritage in order to fit in better with her peers. In a poignant essay entitled “Why Couldn’t Snow White Be Chinese?” Lin discusses her sense of otherness and states that as a child, she found her dual identity to be a burden.

Trying to come to terms with her own identity, she searched for and treasured books that featured Asian American characters, even when their portrayal was oversimplified or stereotyped. “Imagine how much more those books would have meant to me,” she wrote later, “if they had been books of substance, if they had reflected my life with more accuracy and heart, addressed concerns and struggles and triumphs that really affected me.” She also loved the books of Chinese folktales that her mother gave her, in spite of their being too simply told.

After high school, Lin attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where she earned a BFA in illustration. She supported herself designing for a party company, “two years contributing to the world’s landfills” as she puts it, until her first book was published. Since then, she has traveled to China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, learning more about her own heritage. Those eye-opening visits made the folk tales and fairy tales her mother had shared with her as a child seem more alive. She has written over a dozen books, many of them using Asian American child characters, in an effort to help Asian American children appreciate their heritage and to create the kind of books she wished she had been able to read when she was growing up.

At the end of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and in her essays, Lin shares photos and drawings and discusses how she came to use and adapt elements of Chinese culture in her stories. A Newbery Honor book in 2010, this novel moves on from the ordinary lives of Asian Americans in her other books to a fantastical adventure in a timeless, traditional China. The protagonist Minli, like one of Joseph Campbell’s archetypal heroes, leaves her home, sets out on a quest, has to pass through many crucial tests to reach her goal, and returns to her village bringing back the aid that the villagers and her family need. She accomplishes her tasks, undertaken with the help of a talking dragon, by showing generosity, courage and integrity. Students reading the book will not only share the adventure, but will learn much about traditional values in Chinese culture.

 Sources for biographical information:

Preparation and Resources

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Keeping a Reading Journal

This first activity introduces the book and requires students to read it and keep a journal. The goal of this activity is to have students engage with the text through a series of focused questions listed by chapter and page in Worksheet 1. Keeping a Reading Journal. The questions focus exclusively on the “frame story” of Minli’s travels, giving students first-hand experience with frame story analysis.

Depending on the ability level of the class and the time available, teachers may assign the book for independent reading at home; have students read independently or in reading groups in class as you work with individuals; have students read it aloud in class; or use a combination of these methods. The journal topics generally cover a group of chapters; teachers may assign them all at the beginning or assign individual topics as appropriate.

Using a classroom map, show students the location of China and ask them what they know about it. (Most students will say it is very big and has a huge population; a few may be able to bring up current events involving China.) Explain that the class is going to read a book about a young Chinese girl who had many challenge to overcome.

Write the word “challenge” on the board and ask students to define it. (Something that takes great physical or mental effort to do successfully) Show students photos of types of challenges (see Preparation and Resources) and discuss the types of challenges shown. With each photo, ask students to identify what is happening in the picture, what kind of challenge is presented, and what kinds of skills or abilities the subjects need to be successful. Ask students to think of and share other types of challenges they have seen or experienced.

Distribute copies of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Give students a few minutes to survey the book and look at the pictures. Tell students about Grace Lin, using information from the Background section. [Optional activity: Show them the first 1:40 minutes of Al Roker’s interview with Grace Lin in which she covers much of the same material. See Preparation and Resources.)]

Tell students that they are going to read the book and keep a reading journal; explain how you would like them to proceed, i.e., how many pages or chapters to read and which journal questions to answer. Give them copies of Worksheet 1 or assign questions from the worksheet as the class progresses.

Have students read with the method and at the pace you find best for your class. Before each set of chapters, distribute the questions that students should answer and make sure that they understand what they are looking for. If the boys in the class seem likely to find it difficult to identify with a female protagonist, suggest that they imagine a twin brother accompanying her on her journey.

After each assignment, review the journal questions in a class discussion or individual reading group discussions. (The first column of Teacher Resource: Plot Outline provides a summary for the suggested answers. This outline can serve as a reference for the teacher for the entire lesson.)


When students have finished reading the book, hold a Socratic seminar or other type of discussion.

Here are some questions to extend students' understanding of the novel.

Be sure to include evidence from the text in their answers.

  • Use evidence from the text to argue who is the most generous character in the book.
  • Why did Ma change from being envious of other people’s wealth to being content? Why did Minli also learn to be content?
  • In the book, what were many suggestions about the word that was written on the paper the Magistrate wanted—the secret of happiness. What do you think is the secret of happiness?
  • How important is magic in the story? Do you like books with magical elements? Why or why not?
  • Another main theme idea of this story is friendship. What is a true friend? Which characters in the book prove to be true friends?
  • Think about how important the telling of stories was to Minli and Ba. What benefits did they get from the stories? How important are stories in your life?
Activity 2. Folktales in “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon”

In this activity, students return to the novel to analyze the folktale embedded within it. They learn the new concept of a “frame story” and explore how the embedded stories enrich and amplify and reflect the main story.

Explain to students that they have been working mostly with the story of Minli and her quest, and that now they are going to look at the other stories that are woven into the main story. Show students a collage picture frame with multiple photos or draw one on the board. Tell them the novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is like the picture frame, with one main frame story holding many other stories within it. Write the definition of a frame story on the board (a main story which has other stories contained within it) and have them copy the definition in their notebooks.

Distribute copies of Worksheet 2. Frame Stories in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Go over the worksheet to be sure that students understand it. (Teacher Resource: Plot Outline can serve as suggested answers.)

If you wish, divide students into pairs. Give each student or pair a story to work with from the following list or let them choose one themselves, being sure that no two are working on the same story. (Teachers do not have to assign all the stories.)

  • In Chapter 1:
    The Story of Fruitless Mountain
  • In Chapter 3:
    The Story of the Old Man of the Moon
  • In Chapter 11:
    The Story of the Dragon
  • In Chapter 12
    The Story of the Goldfish Man
  • In Chapter 15:
    The Story of the Secret of Happiness
  • In Chapter 16:
    The Story of the Dragon Gate Waterfall
  • In Chapter 18:
    The Story of the Buffalo Boy’s Friend
  • In Chapter 23:
    The Unknown Part of the Story of the Old Man of the Moon
  • In Chapter 24:
    The Story of the String of Destiny
  • In Chapter 30:
    The Story the Girl Told the Green Tiger
  • In Chapter 34:
    The Story of the Village of the Moon Rain
  • In Chapter 36:
    The Story of the Green Tiger and the Healing Tea
  • In Chapter 38:
    The Story of Da-A-Fu’s Ancestors
  • In Chapter 40:
    The Story of the Dragon’s Pearl
  • In Chapter 42:
    The Story of Wu Kang

Give students time to reread and analyze their stories and fill in the results on Worksheet 2 as you circulate to answer questions and give assistance.

Give students a clean copy of Worksheet 2 and tell them that their classmates will be reading their work. Give them time to legibly recopy (and edit!) their work. Collect the second worksheets for assessment purposes when they have finished.


Assess the second copy of Worksheet 2 for completeness, accuracy in recalling details of the story, and mechanics of writing.

Have students write a paragraph or more using the following prompt:

Your values are your principles, the things that you hold to be important in life. You may value money, friends, family or ideals like honesty, generosity, and faith. As you look at the embedded folk tales in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, what are three values that seem to be important? Explain what you mean by each value and show how it is illustrated in one of the embedded folk tales. Be sure to use evidence from the story to support your ideas.

Optional activity

Click here for a PDF outlining an optional second activity.

Activity 3. Vivid Language
  • As a pre-activity, ask students to list the challenges Minli had to face (for example: living in poverty; being threatened by the monkeys; overcoming her fear to climb the bridge of string).
  • Ask them what qualities she showed as she overcame these challenges (for example: courage, cleverness, persistence).
  • Assign students the task of thinking of a time when they had a challenge to meet.
  • Have them write three sentences about this challenge in answer to these questions:
  1. What was the challenge?
  2. How did you meet this challenge?
  3. What qualities did you have to show to meet this challenge?

When the students come to class, give them time to share their sentences from the pre-activity in small groups. Ask them to tell the groups how they felt after dealing with this challenge.

  • Tell students that they are going to use their three sentences as a basis for writing a kind of story called a personal narrative. Remind them that to be a narrative, a story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It must have at least one character, a setting, and a plot or series of events that occur.
  • Tell students that before they write the story, they are going to practice the skill of using vivid language.
  • Put the following sentence on the board: “There was a mountain near the village.” Then have students turn to the first sentence of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and follow as you read it aloud: “Far away from here, following the Jade River, there was once a black mountain that cut into the sky like a jagged piece of rough metal.”

Lead a class discussion about the differences between the sentence on the board and the sentence in the novel. Encourage students to consider why Grace Lin chose those particular words to describe the mountain.

For example:

  • “Far away from here” introduces the suggestion of an exotic location and/or time;
  • The “Jade River” suggest China, which is known for jade. It also suggests something valuable;
  • The “black mountain” seems ominous and threatening;
  • The fact that the mountain “cut” the sky like a “jagged piece of rough metal” suggests that it is harsh and perhaps dangerous. (If the class has already studied the concept, teachers may want to point out that this is an excellent example of a simile.)
  • Have students read the second paragraph. Then ask what they think of when they see each of these words and phrases: crowded; faded brown; coax the rice; tramping and stooping; dried mud. Try to elicit the feelings about the life of Minli’s village that these words convey. Ask students: Suppose Grace Lin had just written “Their village was dirty and their work was hard.” How is this paragraph different? Which gives the reader a better understanding of the village?

Ask students to choose a page at random and read aloud the most vivid sentence they can find to the class. What words do you think make the description colorful? What words bring it to life?

Distribute Worksheet 3 and go over the directions with the students. Work on the first sentence together. Write “The house was on the hill” on the board. Under “house” have students brainstorm as many words as they can for house: mansion, shack, apartment, rancher, hut, etc. Then do the same for “high ground”: mountain, hill, crag, and slope. Finally, see if students can come up with a vivid verb to replace “was”: sat, clung, perched, etc.

This is a good time to show students how to use a print or online thesaurus, but remind them only to use words that they are comfortable with; a “fancy” word is not necessarily the best word.

Have students complete the worksheet. When they have finished, have them compare the results with a partner to see what different effects they get when they use vivid language. Then ask them to share their best sentence with the class. For number 4, you could even ask students to walk across the classroom to act out the sentence as they rewrote it.


Rewrite one of the following passages to make it more vivid, using specific language and concrete details.

One day I thought I would surprise my friends. I brought my pet into school. We walked down the hall and into the classroom. My teacher said she was really surprised and she told me how she felt about my pet. The principal told me that was not a good idea.

I went down to the cellar the other day. The cellar was dark and kind of creepy. There were a lot of things down there. I was glad to see a few things from when I was younger and I started to play with them. Then I dropped something and it made a loud noise. My father came down the stairs and asked what I was doing down there.


Students plan and then write a personal narrative about a challenge they have overcome using vivid descriptions of persons and places. Writing the narrative of their own challenge gives students a chance to reflect on the themes (courage, persistence, imagination, resourcefulness) of the Lin novel from the first two lessons as they see them enacted in their own experience.

Before students begin their draft remind them in the real world it is not a good idea for children to leave home to confront evil and danger. Emphasize that Minli’s story is a fantasy; in the real world, it is dangerous for children to run away from home, and naturally it is impossible for them to scale a ladder to the moon. Still, real life faces everyone with difficult challenges that require courage and ingenuity.

  • Part 1. Have students tell the story of their challenge and how they met it. Have students explain how they grew or changed because of this experience. Remind them to include vivid language.
  • Part 2. Have them compare their experience with Minli’s adventure.

As they work, hold writing conferences with individual students in need of assistance.

After students have completed the first draft of their story, conduct a peer-editing session in your usual manner (or a self-editing session if you think any of the stories cover sensitive material that the students would be uncomfortable sharing). You may use Worksheet 4: Narrative Rubric provided for both student self-assessment and your own final assessment.

Questions to ask during the editing process:

  • Is your story really a narrative? That is, does it have a beginning, a middle, and an end?
  • Have you clearly set out the challenge?
  • Have you added vivid details about how you met the challenge?
  • Have you described the setting, the place where the events of the story occur, in clear and specific language?
  • Have you described the characters in the story with enough vivid detail so that the reader can picture them and understand their actions?
  • Have you explained how you felt when you had met the challenge?
  • Are all your sentences complete and correctly written?
  • Have you checked your spelling?
  • What are three things you can do to make your narrative even better?
  • Ask students to write one final paragraph in which they compare themselves with Minli. Did they show the same qualities that she did in her quest, or did they use different qualities to meet the challenge?

Extending The Lesson

  • Let students investigate online resources for folktales from China. Numerous collections of Chinese folktales can also be accessed through the library. You may wish to use these tales for additional literature or composition study. Suggested techniques:
    • Character study
    • Summary
    • Comparison/Contrast
    • Illustration
    • Retelling of folktale
    • Dramatization of the folktale
  • If students are interested in folktales in general, the Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools website has a resource on the underlying structure of folktales that fits well with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and can easily be adapted for a younger class.
  • Primary Source lesson, “Chinese Dragon: A Powerful Metaphor in Chinese Cultural History” designed for Grade 4 talented and gifted classes, introduces students to the meaning of the dragon symbol in Chinese history, art, and literature. EDSITEment lesson Lions, Dragons, and Nian: Animals of the Chinese New Year, contains an overview and activities on the Chinese dragon in that context.

The Basics

Time Required

3-4 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Fables, Fairy tales and Folklore
  • Literature and Language Arts
  • Auditory analysis
  • Compare and contrast
  • Creative writing
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Fairy tale analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Literary analysis
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Summarizing
  • Textual analysis
  • Writing skills
  • Eileen Mattingly, Director of Education for Journeys in Film, former chair of the Humanities Department at Indian Creek Upper School (Annapolis, MD)

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