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Practical Techniques for Teaching Culture in the Classroom NNETESOL 2011


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Techniques for integrating the teaching of culture into the English language or ESL classroom. Handouts and bibliography available at

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Practical Techniques for Teaching Culture in the Classroom NNETESOL 2011

  1. 1. Practical Techniques for Teaching Culture in the Classroom Joe McVeigh NNETESOL Nov 5, 2011
  2. 2. 1 Literature and poetry
  3. 3. The Blind Men and the Elephant A Hindoo Fable by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)
  4. 4. The Blind Men and the Elephant It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.
  5. 5. The Blind Men and the Elephant The first approached the Elephant, And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl: “ God bless me! But the Elephant Is very like a ______!”
  6. 6. The Blind Men and the Elephant The second feeling of the tusk, Cried, “Ho! What have we here So very round and smooth and sharp? To me ‘tis mighty clear The wonder of an Elephant Is very like a _______!”
  7. 7. The Blind Men and the Elephant The third approached the animal, And happening to take The squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up and spake: “ I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant Is very like a ________”
  8. 8. The Blind Men and the Elephant The fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt about the knee, “ What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain,” quoth he; “ ‘ Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a __________”
  9. 9. The Blind Men and the Elephant The fifth who chanced to touch the ear, Said: “E’en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a __________”
  10. 10. The Blind Men and the Elephant The sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope, Than, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope, “ I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant Is very like a __________”
  11. 11. The Blind Men and the Elephant And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the _______ !
  12. 12. Culture a question of perspective
  13. 15. What do you think about when you think about teaching culture?
  14. 16. What do you mean by culture
  15. 17. A Definition of Culture (Kohls 1996) <ul><li>Culture is an integrated system of learned behavior patterns that are characteristic of the total way of life of a given society. </li></ul><ul><li>It includes everything that a group of people thinks, says, does, and makes — its customs, language, material artifacts and shared systems of attitudes and feelings. </li></ul><ul><li>Culture is learned and transmitted . </li></ul>
  16. 18. Elements of a particular culture
  17. 19. 2. Exploring values What are some key values of the target culture that you teach to?
  18. 20. <ul><li>Traditional American values and beliefs </li></ul><ul><li>Individual freedom and self-reliance </li></ul><ul><li>Equality of opportunity and competition </li></ul><ul><li>Material wealth and hard work </li></ul><ul><li>(Datesman, Crandall, & Kearny, 2005) </li></ul>Exploring values
  19. 21. <ul><li>Bathing: do you use the same water? </li></ul><ul><li>Eating: silverware vs. hands </li></ul><ul><li>Blowing your nose: take it with you? </li></ul><ul><li>Where do you keep your toilet? </li></ul>Exploring values: Cleanliness
  20. 22. 3. Exploring proverbs <ul><li>The squeaky wheel gets the grease. </li></ul><ul><li>You’ve made your bed now lie in it. </li></ul>
  21. 23. Exploring proverbs <ul><li>There’s more than one way to skin a cat. </li></ul><ul><li>God helps those who help themselves </li></ul><ul><li>A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush </li></ul><ul><li>Cleanliness is next to Godliness </li></ul>
  22. 24. What are some elementary cultural norms that will help people adapt to the target culture that you teach to? 4. Survival basics
  23. 25. <ul><li>You and a friend have gone to a restaurant in the United States. How do you pay for your meal? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A) Pay the person who takes your order before your food comes. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>B) Pay the person who brings your food after your meal. Wait for them to bring change. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>C) Get up from your table and pay someone near the door before you leave. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How do you know? </li></ul>Survival basics
  24. 26. What types of cultural norms do ESL students need to learn in order to thrive in the academic world? 5. Classroom culture
  25. 27. Classroom culture <ul><li>Plagiarism – proper source citation </li></ul><ul><li>Participation – grades for “class participation” not too much or too little </li></ul><ul><li>Moving beyond repetition to critical thinking </li></ul>
  26. 28. <ul><li>How are you? </li></ul><ul><li>Shut the damn door </li></ul><ul><li>It’s getting very late </li></ul><ul><li>We really should have lunch some time </li></ul>6. Register and politeness
  27. 29. What does red mean? <ul><li>She turned red . </li></ul><ul><li>He felt blue . </li></ul><ul><li>He seems a bit green </li></ul>
  28. 30. 7. Culture assimilators <ul><li>Describe an incident in which an international visitor is faced with a dilemma, problem, or situation that has a cultural basis. </li></ul><ul><li>Suggest four multiple choice explanations for why things happened the way they did. </li></ul><ul><li>Prepare answers to explain. </li></ul>
  29. 31. A male American exchange student in Britain is in conversation with an English girl during a break between classes. The conversation is friendly enough until the boy compliments the girl on her pants. After this exchange, the tone of the conversation becomes decidedly frosty and the girl leaves abruptly. What, the American wonders, did he do wrong? Culture assimilator
  30. 32. Culture assimilator <ul><li>In English culture, compliments between boys and girls imply a closer relationship than the two had. </li></ul><ul><li>The girl viewed the compliment as an effort to persuade her to go out with him. </li></ul><ul><li>The girl viewed the remark as inappropriate. </li></ul><ul><li>The English regard Americans as overly aggressive and the boy proved their point. </li></ul>
  31. 33. Culture assimilator <ul><li>C. The girl viewed the remark as inappropriate. </li></ul><ul><li>The American was unaware that in British English, the word “pants” is short for “panties” or “underpants.” </li></ul>
  32. 34. 8. Exploring idioms and expressions
  33. 35. Exploring idioms and expressions <ul><li>Sports </li></ul><ul><li>Monday morning quarterback </li></ul><ul><li>That’s not cricket </li></ul><ul><li>A grand slam </li></ul><ul><li>Hit for six </li></ul>
  34. 36. <ul><li>Initial Euphoria </li></ul><ul><li>Irritability and hostility </li></ul><ul><li>Gradual Adjustment -- Re-evaluation </li></ul><ul><li>Adaptation or departure </li></ul><ul><li>Reverse culture shock </li></ul>9. Explain the cycle of adapting to culture shock
  35. 37. Explaining the cycle of culture shock
  36. 38. Symptoms of culture shock
  37. 39. Causes of culture shock <ul><li>being cut off from the cultural cues and known patterns which are familiar to you -- especially subtleties </li></ul><ul><li>having your own values called into question </li></ul><ul><li>living for an extended time in a situation that is ambiguous </li></ul><ul><li>living in a situation where you are expected to function normally but where the rules have not been explained </li></ul>
  38. 40. Actions to take against culture shock <ul><li>Learn about the host country and actively pursue more information about it </li></ul><ul><li>Look for logical reasons for everything (even if things don’t make sense to you at the time) </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t succumb to the temptation to disparage the host culture. </li></ul><ul><li>Identify a sympathetic host national and talk with them </li></ul><ul><li>Have faith in yourself and know that the situation will improve with time </li></ul>
  39. 41. 10. Students as experts Students research a particular area of the target culture, then present their findings in written, oral, or poster form. Possible topics: food, work, holidays, attitudes towards money, family structure and life, education.
  40. 42. What should we teach? <ul><li>What topics or content should we include when teaching students about culture? </li></ul>
  41. 43. How should we teach culture? <ul><li>What are some techniques or ideas that you have for teaching culture as part of your class? </li></ul>
  42. 44. Using Realia (Debbie Gill, 1997) <ul><li>Food </li></ul><ul><li>Traditions/Customs </li></ul><ul><li>Sports </li></ul><ul><li>Literature </li></ul><ul><li>Music </li></ul><ul><li>Politics </li></ul><ul><li>Art/Museums </li></ul><ul><li>Magazines </li></ul><ul><li>Social Issues </li></ul><ul><li>Newspapers </li></ul>
  43. 45. Resources <ul><li>Althen American Ways (Intercultural Press) </li></ul>Clark ESL Miscellany (Pro Lingua)
  44. 46. Resources <ul><li>Datesman, Crandall & Kearny: American Ways (Pearson) </li></ul>Kohls Survival Kit for Overseas Living (Intercultural Press / Nicholas Brealey)
  45. 47. Wintergerst & McVeigh Tips for Teaching Culture (Pearson)
  46. 48. Additional Techniques <ul><li>Experiential learning (contact assignments) </li></ul><ul><li>Intercultural lunches </li></ul><ul><li>Observation vs. interpretation </li></ul><ul><li>Texts (Datesman, Gardner) </li></ul><ul><li>Films and TV shows </li></ul><ul><li>Non-verbal communication </li></ul>
  47. 49. Non-verbal communication <ul><li>Gestures </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Fit for a dog </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Come here -- It’s me </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Facial expressions </li></ul><ul><li>Eye contact </li></ul><ul><li>Space </li></ul><ul><li>Intonation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The angry lunch ladies </li></ul></ul>
  48. 50. I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. —— Mahatma Gandhi Cultural Awareness
  49. 52. Valuable skills for dealing with another culture
  50. 53. Why language is not enough <ul><li>“Whopper” is not in the dictionary. </li></ul><ul><li>Have you eaten yet? </li></ul><ul><li>Would you like something to drink? </li></ul>
  51. 54. Photo Credits <ul><li>Photos from flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution license </li></ul><ul><li>Elephant Justin Ennis </li></ul><ul><li>Question of perspective Jonas Tullus </li></ul><ul><li>Question mark & pen Ethan Lofton </li></ul><ul><li>Balanced scale Procsimas Moscas </li></ul><ul><li>Statue of Liberty Ludovic Bertron </li></ul><ul><li>Hotel bathroom UggBoy & UggGirl </li></ul><ul><li>Twilight McDonalds Joe McVeigh </li></ul><ul><li>Clock David Goehring </li></ul><ul><li>Sad teenager Jason Rogers </li></ul><ul><li>Young teacher in class Joe McVeigh </li></ul><ul><li>Taj Mahal Beto en la playa </li></ul><ul><li>Red question mark The Italian Voice </li></ul><ul><li>Thank you flower Joanne Q. Escober </li></ul>
  52. 55. Thank you Thank you ! Download copies of the handout and PowerPoint slides at