English as a second language (ESL) classes generally emphasize English grammar and vocabulary to lay the foundation for speaking, reading and writing correctly in English. Yet these classes are also an important opportunity to teach students about various aspects of the culture in which they're immersed. Teaching culture in ESL classes is beneficial not only for students' growth as English speakers, but also as citizens of the world.
Provide a wide array of cultural information in different formats, including DVDs, music, readings, online programs, guest speakers, literature and newspapers. This helps ESL students learn about a culture from a variety of viewpoints and provides a broader perspective of this culture.
Ask your students to point out the things they notice about cultural information they learn in class, whether from a written description, picture, or video. Have them mention the differences they observe between their own cultures and the culture that they are studying, using the instructional material as a reference point.
Assign research papers or projects on topics pertaining to the culture being studied and tell the students to choose a subject within the culture that interests them. Have each student present what he learned to a group of students or to the class, speaking in English, and including a questions and answer session.
Place students in pairs and ask them to explain to one another their understandings of a particular reading or assignment. This activity is known as reformulation and can help ESL students make sense of what they have learned about the English-speaking culture in question.
Quiz your students, testing them on the cultural information they've recently learned or help them learn new information. For example, use true or false questions about Australia, if this is where the ESL class is being taught, and have the students guess at the correct answers, if they do not already know them.
Add fun activities to your culture curriculum such as games, short plays, debates, songs and field trips to help keep students' attention and engage their interest.
- Keep in mind that your students may learn at a slower pace than you'd imagine, especially as they're still learning English. Pace your vocabulary and speaking speed accordingly. While they might not understand each word you say, students can still participate and understand the general ideas of the culture being presented.
- Do not attempt to cover all aspects of a culture, since it will be impossible to teach everything in the short amount of time a class schedule allows. Your job is to introduce your students to the culture in question and capture their interest so that they'll want to keep learning.