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        Culture, What You See and What You Don't

        This lesson introduces the idea of culture to middle school ELL students, from the perspective of self and society, and aims to get students to consider how culture shapes their ideas, beliefs and identity.

        Lesson Summary

        Culture is a complicated and dichotomous concept for adults, so introducing a conversation about it to middle school students is no easy task, but nonetheless this plan aims to simply start a conversation about it. This is a lesson that is heavy on class discussion, so please feel free to integrate the optional video in the "Supplies" section below, and also keep in mind that any instructor can modify the plan however they want adding additional activities or extending it to a multiple day plan. Lastly, every instructor has had some sort of conversation about the classroom being a "safe space" at some point in their career, so please consider reminding students of your shared agreements, or rules, because conversations about deep culture can become emotionally charged undertaking that requires respect and empathy.

        Time Allotment

        One 45 min class

        Learning Objectives

        Students will analyze and discuss important terms relating to culture such as values, morals, beliefs, behavior, customs, stereotypes, and generalizations (among many that could come up) in class conversation, and also in their writing.

        Prep for Teachers

        It is important for teachers to perhaps write a personal journal entry the night before the class simply answering this question: What is my personal culture? You might think of your personal morals,values, goals or your taste in the fine arts or humanities. Perhaps you will think about your beliefs, knowledge and wisdom, which impact your behavior? You might think of examples of important features of your national culture, religion, family traditions or perhaps even your company culture--your value of being a lifelong learner as an educator? Wherever your journaling takes you remember that your students will probably have a tough time wrestling with the notion of who they are, culturally speaking, or how others might see them through this lense. Just take your time and write.


        When it comes to discussions of deep culture concepts try to consider the high emotional charge conversations relating to these might be. Maybe in your writing interrogate some of these concepts in relation to your personal life or mode of being. For example, are you a punctual person, and do you expect all your students to without exception abide by this cultural expectation your school has set? Perhaps some of your ELL students are unconsciously struggling with the difference of concept of time from their home culture to their school’s? However you decide to broach the various concepts of deep culture in your class conversation, it couldn’t hurt to write about one or two of these concepts as it relates to your own culture.


        Lastly research a good definition for culture, one that might be easy for your middle school ELL students to quickly ingest and understand. For example, the Wikipedia page on culture starts by defining culture as “Culture is a word for people’s ‘way of life’, meaning the way groups do things. Different groups of people may have different cultures. A culture is passed on to the next generation by learning, whereas genetics are passed on by heredity. Culture is seen in people’s writing, religion, music, clothes, cooking, and it what they do.” The article goes on to talk about culture as it relates to the arts, knowledge, belief, behavior, values, morals, goals, customs and finally yields “Most broadly, ‘culture” includes all human phenomena which are not purely the results of human genetics”. Maybe take something like this and distill it down to a digestible one sentence definition that is not as didactic as “the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education”. The important thing is that you find the definition that fits you and your class.



        Introductory Activity

        • Have a definition of culture written on the board before students enter the class.

        • Students are asked to brainstorm and write a list of words that they associate with their personal culture. The teacher will also write these words and phrases on the board as well.

        • Then the Iceberg of Culture visual aide (without terms) is projected. The students are told it’s a symbol used in many contexts to metaphorically refect there is a lot more than what meets the eye to something (perhaps pause to explain a few) and next they are asked what they think it means or represents relating to the concept of culture. Eventually the metaphor is explained if the students can’t quite draw the figurative connection. Then the teacher engages the class in a conversation about the general features of surface culture we all know well, i.e. food, music, dress etc.

        • The teacher shares a few examples of surface culture, and one example of deep culture, from their own life before students start journaling activity.


        Learning Activities

        • Have students write quietly answering the question: What is your personal culture and how is it different from other people’s?

        • Then have student volunteers share what they wrote. Ask students why every person’s personal culture is different? And lead them in a conversation aiming for deep culture concepts.

        • Next the he teacher engages the class in a conversation about the difference between surface culture and deep culture and uses examples from his/her own life. A list of deep culture words, terms and phrases should began to emerge.

        • Lastly the teacher projects the Iceberg of Culture visual aide, with terms, and ask students which deep culture concepts stand out to them and why? Students are encouraged to be respectful of each other's deep cultural conceptions. Instructor should lead a conversation about as many of these deep culture concepts as time permits.


        Culminating Activity

        • The PDF Iceberg of Culture handout is passed out to students and they are simply asked to circle the deep concepts of culture they don’t understand, which should help teacher how to move forward with a follow up lesson to this lesson.




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