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More criteria for a good cultural training lesson

1. Includes techniques
An area of cross-cultural training that is often neglected in the EFL classroom is treating dealing with people from other cultures as a set of survival skills similar to the communication techniques of skimming, scanning, guessing vocabulary from context, asking for confirmation etc. Techniques relevant for cross-cultural training include becoming aware of differences, asking politely about differences, finding information on the Internet etc. about other cultures, subtly giving people advice on their own culture, and apologizing when they make mistakes.

2. Can be used soon
As with the language that we decide to concentrate on after needs analysis, students are most interested in learning cultural information they can use soon. As with needs analysis generally, that need is often far from obvious. As well as information and topics linked to their business, studies and holiday plans, you can choose cultural topics that are relevant to what goes on in classroom communication (polite requests,gestures), and EFL exams (turn taking in CAE speaking etc). Another approach is to look at what other cultures they will come into contact with outside the classroom through their own cultural habits that have roots in other countries, immigrants, or the media like movies set in particular countries.

3. Is something they pass onto others
One great way of making sure the information sticks in students’ minds is to make it something that they pass onto someone else, even if they only do it in L1. This can happen naturally when they meet people outside the classroom if it is something their friends are likely to take interest in like a stereotype being completely untrue,a surprising link between their country and yours, or something topical. Alternatively, you can build that into the lesson with mingling tasks, project work, student presentations etc.

4. Explains something they have always been wondering
This can take a certain amount of mind-reading, but giving information or an explanation that fills a hole in their knowledge that they were just waiting to fill is the best way of making sure it sticks. Ways of finding out what students are likely to be interested in include watching local TV and reading local magazines to find out what countries and what aspects of their culture most people are interested in.

5. Comes up in future lessons
This can either be built into the syllabus directly or can be achieved by choosing a topic you know is likely to come up when a particular topic, language point, test preparation or type of classroom communication comes up.

6. Makes them more observant in the future
This can be achieved by teaching them to draw their own conclusions from basic information and doing roleplays in which they have to work out what cultural habits their partner is pretending to have on the hoof.

7. Serves as a warmer
This doesn’t have to be true of every cultural topic, but is a great way of bringing some cultural awareness training into almost any lesson. Easily adaptable examples include gestures that vary by country and roleplays of cultural misunderstandings.

8. Is personalized/is based on first hand experience
As with grammar and vocabulary explanations, making an explanation directly linked to the life story of the teacher or one or more students really helps the information seem relevant and makes it easier to recall. Ways of doing that include bluff- in which students describe real and made up examples of cultural misunderstandings or travel problems and the other students guess which one is true.

9. Teaches the teacher something
This is not a purely selfish point, honestly! As good as your acting skills might be, if you are genuinely interested in what the students are telling you that can really come through and increase their motivation to talk and to listen to what you have to say. As teachers can sometimes know more about the culture of the country they are living in than the students, this factor needs to be built into the lesson with things like talking about regional differences, differences between generations, differences between subcultures like goths and punks, and differences between countries they have been asked to research.

10. Includes vague and generalising language
This is a great way of making sure that the class is not just gross generalisations and that there is practice of the language in almost every sentence. Useful phrases include “a majority of…”, “certain segments of society…”, “almost all…”, “most…” and “not so many…”

11. Groups things together
This is a good way of both making the information manageable and memorable, and of showing students that you have planned the topic carefully.

12. Includes comparison
A good way of making sure to avoid wild generalisations in class that does not demand too much complex language is to compare two or more different countries.

13. Has different stages
As with many of these points, this is simply a case of transferring good practice in a language-based lesson into a cross-cultural training based one. Stages could include: warmer, listening or reading, students trying to make generalisations from that information, checking that against the generalisations or theories you are presenting, using that to analyse other differences or other situations, pairwork or groupwork roleplays, re-cap, homework.

14. Revises and introduces something new
This can mean revising language and/ or cultural theories or information from other lessons, and the same for making sure there is some new input.

15. Has a mix of skills
Although most textbooks have listenings and readings on other countries or particular topics around the world, it can be difficult to find the one you need to fit in with the time of year, what country your student is going to on holiday etc. One way round this is to keep files of things you have found over the year arranged by country or area and by topic (meetings, gift giving, hospitality etc.) Other skills to try and fit in include pronunciation (e.g. country names) and writing (e.g. a do’s and don’ts guide for visitors to your country).

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net April 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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TEFL.net : TEFL Articles : Home and Abroad : More criteria for a good cultural training lesson