Unlocking Cultural Puzzles

Unlocking Cultural Puzzles

by Judie Haynes

Understanding and interpreting the cultures of English Language Learners (ELLs) is an important part of the ESL/bilingual teachers' role. Awareness on the part of mainstream staff members will help them deal more effectively with cultural questions. As ESL/bilingual professionals we need to teach strategies which help our colleagues understand the role culture plays in the behavior and learning of ELLs.

Role of ESL/Bilingual Teachers

Whenever a mainstream staff members thinks an ESL youngsters' behavior seems unwarranted, bizarre, rude, or in some way unexpected, it's possible that this is a sign of cultural misunderstanding. And it is the ESL/bilingual professional who is called upon to unlock the cultural puzzle.

Can ESL/bilingual or classroom teachers learn all there is to know about the various cultures in your school? No, of course not! However, training in culture can help.

Effective staff development courses are a way ESL/bilingual professionals can help mainstream staff members better interpret the cultures of the diverse student populations in your school. Participants will gain an awareness of how much culture affects language acquisition and behavior. They will gain insight into their own culture and learn some tools to help them unlock cultural puzzles.

Download our cultural scenarios from the Culture Quiz and choose those you think are relevant for your school and second language population. This lively activity is a favorite at staff inservice programs. Divide participants into groups of three or four and provide each group with one or two cultural scenarios. Have groups discuss what they think is causing the problem in their scenarios and present their conclusions.

Scenarios included in the Culture Quiz are based on the my actual experiences and those of my ESL colleagues. The responses included are not necessarily the only possible answers.

Scenarios from the Culture Quiz

Here is a taste of scenarios from the Culture Quiz:


Activity Downloads

Note: To view the classroom activities, you must have Acrobat Reader intalled. Acrobat is a free application available from Adobe Systems.

PDF fileCulture Questions (15k .PDF)

Related Links

Twenty Cultural Questions
Help the classroom teachers in your school solve cultural differences. Here are twenty new cultural scenerios gathered from participants in my workshops over the past year.