10 cultural English language lesson ideas
Culture is all around us, from the food we eat and how we eat it, to what we wear, as well as in our individual and collective histories. It plays a role in how we communicate with each other too, which is why bringing culture into the language classroom is important. Giving students cultural context in addition to language tuition can help them visualise how language is used and more importantly for language teachers can help answer the age-old question of why a language does what it does.
With that in mind, here are some cultural activities, ideas and plans to use with (English) language learners:
While negative stereotypes shouldn’t be encouraged, using recognisable characteristics of a place or people can be very useful. Have a look at this short video with Stephen Fry for some inspiration on UK customs.
1. With the help of some props, try practising greetings e.g. using a crown, encourage one student to be the Queen and let other students use the strict formalities to which you must adhere when meeting Her Majesty.
2. Collect a range of cutlery and crockery and write a list of instructions on how to lay the table for dinner. They must use the clues to work out which item is which and what goes where.
3. Most schools and workplaces in the UK still require men to wear neckties. Give one student a tie and another the instructions for four different knots and let them perfect the art of tying the perfect Windsor. Extend the activity by talking about how important or not appearance is in different walks of life.
The Roaring 20s
Having a theme makes planning activities a lot easier and using a period in history can really help.
4. Get students to make a short silent sketch (think Laurel and Hardy) using gestures. Whilst it may sound counterproductive to language learning it can show how gestures vary between countries and cultures and how body language is an important part of language exchange and understanding.
5. With the help of YouTube, teach students some basic Charleston steps and ask them to create a short routine. Dance lessons, however basic, are great for teaching commands and directions.
6. Show the trailer for Suffragette and explain how the start of the 20th century was a turning point for the rights of women in society. Start a debate with students about whether we live in an equal society 100 years later.
Choosing a geographical location can give plenty of scope for a range of themes.
7. Explain that New York is one of the world’s fashion capitals. Challenge the students to make an item of clothing using materials from the recycling bin, newspapers etc. When they have finished, ask them to explain what they have done and ask their opinions on sustainable fashion and consumerism.
8. Madison Avenue was once famed for its advertising agencies (think TV show Mad Men). Get students to create an advert to promote New York using language of persuasion. Develop this by saying that it will form a page in a travel magazine that they will have to produce covering all aspects of New York, from music, theatre, business and news. It’ll get them writing in lots of different styles.
9. Find songs with New York in the title and study the lyrics. Ask students to compare songs and how they treat the city, usually either as a place of success or failure.
Bonus: Food for the thought
10. Learning about culture is one thing but teaching it is quite different. Encourage other teachers to have cultural get-togethers where you have tasting sessions of food from different places. Try making simple samosas if the topic is India or mince pies if talking about Christmas in the UK. If you find the ideas simple enough and have the equipment, try them out with your students.