Cultural differences in adult ESL can create a rewarding and enriching experience for both the teacher and the students. Indeed, the opportunity to learn about and explore cultural differences in the classroom is one of the most interesting aspects of teaching adult ESL. Understanding and acknowledging these differences can lead to a more inclusive and respectful learning environment for all students. Sometimes it is crucial; for example, make sure that students from cultures who have little personal space know not to touch their female Saudi classmates, even on the shoulder. If you are new(ish) to teaching adult ESL, I really want to share the importance of exploring cultural differences in adult ESL classrooms and provide some tips for doing so.
Why Cultural Differences Matter in Adult ESL Classrooms
There are many reasons why exploring cultural differences in adult ESL classrooms is important. Firstly, it helps to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for students who come from diverse cultural backgrounds. When students feel valued and understood, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated to learn. Whenever you get a student whose culture is not familiar to you, Google is your friend. Find out everything you can.
But it’s not just about you. Understanding cultural differences can also enhance the overall learning experience for all students. By learning about different cultures and customs, students can gain a deeper understanding of the world and develop more empathy and appreciation for others. Chances are they are very curious about each other, so when you make cultural differences part of your lesson, this opens the door for them.
Finally, exploring cultural differences can also help students to become more proficient in English. When students are able to share their own cultural experiences and perspectives, they are able to practice their language skills in a more authentic and meaningful way.
Tips for Exploring Cultural Differences in Adult ESL Classrooms
There are many ways that teachers can explore cultural differences in adult ESL classrooms. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Use discussion questions to talk about cultural differences in adult ESL
Encourage students to share their thoughts and experiences related to their cultural background.
This can be done through open-ended discussion questions, such as “What is a typical holiday celebration in your culture?” or “What are some important values or customs in your culture?”
For a set of 90 ready-made discussion question cards, check out this set I made: Cultural Differences Adult ESL Speaking Topics.
Encourage cultural exchange
Encourage students to share their cultural traditions and customs with one another. This can be done through activities or presentations where students can showcase their cultural heritage. Here are a few ideas.
- Cultural fairs or presentations: Students can create a display or presentation showcasing their cultural heritage, including traditions, customs, and cultural artifacts.
- “Guess the culture” game: Students can bring in cultural artifacts or photographs and have the class guess which culture they represent. This can be followed by a discussion on the characteristics and traditions of the culture.
- Cultural cooking demonstrations: Students can bring in traditional dishes from their culture and demonstrate how to prepare them. This can be followed by a tasting session, where students can sample each other’s dishes and learn about the cultural significance of the food.
Incorporate cultural themes into lesson plans
Consider incorporating cultural themes into your lesson plans, such as holidays, customs, or traditions. This can help students to learn about and understand different cultures in a more hands-on and interactive way. Here are some tips for how to do that.
- Start by identifying the cultural themes that align with your lesson objectives. For example, if you are teaching a lesson on food and cooking, you could incorporate cultural themes related to food traditions, customs, and cuisine.
- Choose authentic materials that represent the cultural theme you are exploring. This could include articles, videos, photos, or other resources that provide insight into the culture and traditions being studied.
- Use the cultural theme as a starting point for discussion and activities. Encourage students to share their own cultural experiences and perspectives related to the theme. This can help to foster cultural exchange and understanding among the class.
- Incorporate language-specific activities that focus on the cultural theme. This could include vocabulary development, grammar practice, or communication skills related to the theme.
Utilize role plays to explore cultural differences in adult ESL
Role plays can be a fun and engaging way for students to explore and compare cultural differences. For example, you could have students role-play a conversation between two people from different cultures discussing a topic such as dating or greetings. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
- “Cultural role reversal” role play: Students can role-play a conversation between two people from different cultures, but with the roles reversed. For example, a student from a collectivist culture could play the role of an individualist and vice versa. This can help students to understand and appreciate different cultural perspectives.
- “Cultural misunderstandings” role play: Students can role-play a conversation between two people from different cultures experiencing a misunderstanding due to cultural differences. This can be followed by a discussion on how to resolve such misunderstandings and the importance of cultural sensitivity.
If you are looking for a no-prep print-n-go resource package that includes scripts, scenario cards, vocabulary, and more, you might like Cultural Differences ROLE PLAYS for Adult ESL.
Exploring cultural differences in adult ESL classrooms is a valuable and enriching experience for both teachers and students. By using discussion questions, role plays, cultural themes, and cultural exchange, teachers can create a more inclusive and respectful learning environment for all students. By doing so, students can develop a deeper understanding of the world and become more proficient in English.