Interculturalism may be a common research topic, but in many instances, it is really hard to introduce different cultures into the regular curriculum. In our country, primary school children have approximately two English lessons per week, and we don't have public English preschools at all.
Naturally, primary school English teachers are worried that they may miss a critical outcome from the core curriculum, while preschool teachers often think that preschool children are not mature enough to be immersed in different cultures. Many educators relate interculturalism with developing a thematical lesson which usually revolves around the idea of a holiday, while in fact, culture is all around us and holidays are just one little cultural aspect that people notice. Being a bilingual preschool teacher and an online ESL teacher for children, teens, and adults, I have many opportunities to introduce different cultures into my lessons.
I will share examples of cultural immersion for different ages and different groups of students.
1. 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade - While completing my National Geographic Certification, I developed a thematic unit that dealt with ocean and river pollution. We started from the global perspective of ocean pollution, and then we narrowed down our perspective to river pollution. After guided brainstorming, we concluded that there are many rivers that flow through many countries. In our case that was the Danube. Another example was the Nile. In the last lesson of the thematic unit, I organized a live video chat on Zoom, where my online students from Egypt joined our lesson. The children had the opportunity to hear about pollution in the Nile from actual Egyptians. We discussed the processes of recycling and the attitudes the Egyptian and Serbian people had about pollution and waste disposal. We reached the same conclusions - we must decrease the amount of waste in our schools, no matter where we live. The chat also developed a deeper understanding of the river Nile and what it meant to agriculture and survival in Ancient Egypt, as well as modern Egypt.
2. Adult ESL students - My online student from Italy loves traveling, and he was especially interested in Eastern cultures. He is in love with Turkey, mosques and traditional Turkish food. On the other hand, I have a few Turkish students as well. I organized joint lessons where the student from Italy listened about Turkish culture, watched authentic photos and videos in Turkish, and even learned how to brew Turkish coffee. The students from Turkey were extremely motivated, and they gave us a tour of their homes and showed us many traditional objects they still use. Their English level was lower, so the student from Italy was the initiator of the conversation, and the Turkish students benefited greatly from such kind of lesson.
3. Pre-K - After completing activities about the food travel miles, we visited a local market, shopped for our lunch following the zero-waste rules (no plastic bags and no plastic of any kind). After that, we cooked a simple meal together and wrote down the recipe. We shared the recipe with students from Thailand over Skype, and in return, they took us to a night market, which we do not have in our country. They showed us Thai street food and being on such a market live was otherworldly.
I hope you understand after these examples how easy is it to introduce culture in your daily curriculum. When it comes to language acquisition, rest assured, your students are learning, even if they do not have tons of worksheets in front of them. New vocabulary will be introduced through an authentic conversation. You can always supplement it with speaking prompts and flashcards if you wish.
You do not have to be an online ESL teacher at all! The Internet is not your enemy, so embrace it and connect your classroom to other classrooms in different countries. The classrooms should not have borders, and you are the only person who can decide where your adventure ends. (If you want to become pen pals or connect your classrooms, you can post in many teacher groups on Facebook or join Microsoft for Education and connect your classroom through Skype in the Classroom page.) Skype in the Classroom
Milica Vukadin, B.Ed.
Blog: Alice in Methodologyland