Cultural awareness is to be aware and identify various cultures, as well as, to gain an understanding of those cultures. It’s the ability to be respectful of our differences. Cultural awareness is important inside and out of the ESL classroom. As a teacher you will meet students from different countries. As a student, your teacher and classmates may be a different culture from you. Being aware of our differences will not only foster an open environment for everyone to be themselves, but to encourage us to learn from each other.
For more about how to be culturally aware, watch my latest video from my ESL video series on my YouTube channel.
Ways we can learn from each other
· Having open discussion about our cultures
· Gain understanding from our differences. This includes our race, ethnicity, and nationality, religious or political views.
· Encourage each other to be comfortable sharing an aspect of our culture. For example, a particular way of dress, body gestures, or ways of expression
· Promote awareness and respect of our differences
· Being aware of what to talk and not talk about. For example, religious beliefs and political views
· Encourage to speak English while sharing our differences
· Discourage negative or hateful speech against our differences
Be careful when discussing religion and politics. I have been asked whether these topics should be included in an open discussion or a specific lesson. I have mixed reviews. Religion and politics are very controversial topics. The nature of these topics will present varying opinions. In some cultures, it is FORBIDDEN to discuss these topics.
My advice for both teachers and students: Try not to get into deep discussion about a specific religion or political view. You don’t want to offend anyone. As the teacher, you can manage this by making it into a lesson. Remember to keep the lesson broad and not too specific. For example: You may do a conversation practice where two students are asking about where they are from. One student may say, “I am from Yemen and I am Muslim.” The other student may say, “I am Christian.” Depending on the level of the class, you want to keep this simple and not ask why someone is part of that religion. This can be tricky, because students may be curious or tempted to ask specific questions. If you don’t want to chance that from happening, you can mention that in some cultures people act or dress a certain way to represent their religion and/or culture.
This advice applies to students who may be curious to ask their classmates about their religion or political views. Be careful not to offend anyone by pushing your views, disagreeing or arguing with a classmate about what they believe and feel. Politics can easily turn into an argument, because every country has their own leadership, rules, and standards. Personally, I try to avoid discussing politics or religion in my class.
|Me with my students at cultural event in NYC|
Picture blurred to protect students' identities
YouTube channelCultural awareness is a broad topic. It can be incorporated in lessons, but it should be thought out and well executed. Here are some suggestion in how to incorporate cultural awareness in your lessons:
Lower level classes
· Start with simple dialogue practice with various scenarios with the focus OR mention about culture
· Expand on those dialogues as students start to progress in their language skills and grammar
· Use lots of visuals; pictures are very helpful
· Have students do a project where they can show where they are from. For example, a family tree, a brief essay about where they are from; an international snack day where students bring snacks from their countries
· Field trips- students visit museums, cultural events, or places that promote culture and language
Intermediate to advanced classes
· Same ideas for lower level classes EXCEPT the level of work will be more detailed. For example, students can role play a scenario based on a cultural issue.
NOTE: I did a lesson on prejudice and discrimination with a level 4, 5 and 6 class. I had students act out a scenario that discriminated against a group of people. Since the nature of the lesson was sensitive, the scenario focused on discriminating against a group of students who wore glasses. The students were aware this was a lesson and encouraged not to act this out in real life.
· Assign students to write about an experience where they felt different from someone and read it in class
· Create a storybook of students’ writings on a specific topic such as, importance of accepting each other, learning about a new culture, why prejudice is wrong (ß I actually assigned to several of my classes)
· Field trips with or without the teacher: students can be assigned to do an independent project where they visit a cultural event and write about it
NOTE: You DO NOT have to include cultural awareness in your lessons. These are just some examples. Your class will be different and as the teacher you can decide how you want to implement this topic in your lessons.
Remember, it is OKAY that we are different from one another. Yet, with understanding and a willingness to learn, our different cultures can be a great learning experience for both teachers and students.