Agreeing to Disagree: 6 Activities for Tackling Cultural Differences

Agreeing to Disagree: 6 Activities for Tackling Cultural Differences

Culture permeates everything we think and do.

Everyone is influenced by culture. The thing is, not everyone can pinpoint what beliefs, assumptions, and values come from their culture. In fact, if you asked your students to tell you about their culture, they may not know just what to say or where to start. These activities will get them, and you, past the cultural blinders. With these activities, issues of culture will naturally come forth, and that will give you and your class a chance to talk about them.

6 Activities for Tackling Cultural Differences

  1. 1

    Body Language Stumpers

    How well do your students know body language in other cultures? You’ll find out with this simple, no prep activity. Explain to students that the class will try to stump each other with gestures that are used in their native cultures. One person will come to the front of the room, do a gesture which the class will repeat (nothing offensive, please) and then try to guess the meaning of. Start the activity yourself by miming some gestures such as hailing a taxi, saluting, giving a thumbs up, pinching your nose, etc. Once students get the idea of the activity, invite your class members up front to mime gestures that the rest of the class can guess at. If you like, award points to the first student to correctly explain each gesture. If a student is able to stump the class, award that person the points.

  2. 2

    Hello Challenge

    How many different ways in how many different languages do your students know how to say hello? You may find out with this simple and quick activity. Start by dividing your class into two teams. Without talking amongst themselves, have one team give a number of how many different ways to say hello they can come up with. (E.g. We know five different ways to say hello.) The other team then makes a statement increasing the number. (E.g. We know six different ways to say hello.) Teams go back and forth until one team thinks they cannot list that many ways to say hello. At that time, they challenge the other team to do it. (E.g. Okay. Name your twelve ways to say hello.) If the team is able to come up with that many was to say hello, they win. If they are not, the other team wins. If you like, brainstorm with the entire class any additional ways to say hello. You can also do this activity with other common words such as good-bye or love.

  3. 3

    Party Roles

    To play this game, you will need to come up with a list of appropriate behavior for different cultures. Items on your list might include maintain eye-contact, avoid eye-contact, make comments frequently to show that you are listening, get very close to the speaker, etc. Give all but one person in your class a role to play. Then have the one remaining person play the host of a party. The host will welcome each of your class members who will then role play their specific behavior. They will interact with the host and each other. At the end of activity, the host should make a guess at the specific behavior each person had to play. If possible, share with your students the cultures in which each behavior is considered appropriate.

  4. 4

    Always Time to Celebrate

    Do your students know that there are holidays and celebrations almost every day of the year throughout the world? As a class and using an empty calendar, have students brainstorm all the holidays they can think of either from their country or other countries around the world. Then, have students take turns making a statement about one holiday or celebration. The statement can be either true or false. After someone makes a statement, students must decide whether the statement was true or false. You can find a great holiday reference list here. If you like, have students read about the holidays in a specific country and add them to a class calendar.

  5. 5

    It’s All About the Venn

    Most countries and cultures have more in common than we realize. This activity is great for stressing that people around the world are more alike than we might think at first. Draw a Venn diagram on the board and label each circle with the name of a country. (If you are teaching English overseas, this is a great activity to do with your home country and your host country). Then, have students brainstorm things about the people in each culture, writing them in the correct area of the Venn diagram. As a follow up activity, divide your class into three groups to fill out another Venn diagram. Label the circles for two countries or cultures that are at least a little familiar to your students. Then assign each team one area of the Venn diagram to complete. Give students five minutes to list as many facts in their section of the diagram as possible. When time is up, have each group copy their list on the board and let students argue if items should be moved to a different area of the diagram.

  6. 6

    What Is Important to You?

    Values vary from person to person and from culture to culture. It is natural for a person’s culture to affect how they view the world around them. In this activity, students’ cultural values will come through as they rank how taboo conversation topics are. Start by listing ten to twenty conversation topics on the board. Some should be comfortable, everyday topics while others are uncomfortable or culturally sensitive ones. Have each person in your class rank the topics from least taboo to most taboo. When students have finished ranking the topics, have them work with a partner to come up with a ranking they can both agree on. When each pair is done, have them join with another pair and rank the topics again so that all four people agree. You can continue in this manner until the entire class is working together to come up with a ranking everyone can agree upon.

How do you encourage your ESL students to talk about their cultures?

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