Twenty Cultural Questions

Twenty Cultural Questions

by Judie Haynes

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.

During the past year I have presented at VATESOL in Virginia, TESOL in Denver, and at Stephan F. Austin University as well as at many school districts around the U.S. From these experiences I have collected 20 new culture questions.

What can you do with culture questions in your school? 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.

New Culture Questions

1. You have new students from Mexico. You suspect that they are not literate in native language but wonder why they don’t seem to respond to your Spanish teacher when she speaks to them.

2. Your principal is upset with your student from the a rural village in EL Salvador. He has been reprimanded twice for urinating on the playground. He doesn’t seem to understand that this is inappropriate.

3. You have new Congolese students in your third grade class who are not used to being in school. You make allowances for that until one of your students is discovered undressed in the boys room. What is going on?

4. You have a student from Saudi Arabia who refuses to work in cooperative groups. You have tried changing the groups and putting him with a student who speaks his native language. He still refuses to participate.

5. A Japanese student is uncomfortable when you praise her English insisting that she still had a lot to learn. You try to teach her to say ”Thank you very much” in response to your compliments. She is even more uncomfortable. You wonder why.

6. Your new Somali Bantu students do not seem to be able to sit still at their desks. Even though you give them constant breaks to walk around and stretch, they are continually out of their seats. What is the problem?

7. You are invited to dinner by the parents of your student from Costa Rica. You arrive right on time. You feel insulted because your hosts are not ready to greet you.

8. You notice that your Asian students frequently point to their nose while speaking.

9. Parents of your new students from Guatemala are 45 minutes late for their parent-teacher conference. The classroom teacher feels that they don’t care how their children are doing in school.

10. Your new student from Argentina stares at you all the time. You decide that the student is belligerent and wasn’t taught any manners.

11. You give your Brazilian middle school student the “o.k.” sign when he performs well in class. He looks shocked.

12. The math teacher of your 5th grade students from Mexico is upset because the students do not show their work when they are solving long division problems. In fact, she accuses them of copying their answers.

13. Your Puerto Rican students seem to daydream a lot. You wonder why they are so inattentive.

14. A student from Argentina is experiencing difficulty with writing numbers in Math class. She is especially having difficulties with decimals which she doesn’t seem to understand. When given the problem 108.6 x 507.4, she wrote 55.103,44 as her response.

15. You have new sixth grade student from Bolivia. The student appears to have a negative attitude from the first day. Now he is out of his seat fooling around and you’ve just motioned to him to come over to talk to you. He glares at you and seems even more angry. What happened?

16. A new ESL student from Chili has been getting every addition problem with the number 7 in it wrong. Why?

17. Hui is a 6th grade student in your class who speaks no English. He has an allergy and his nose runs constantly. He uses his fingers instead of a tissue. You and your class are upset by his behavior while Hui is unaware of the impact of his actions. What causes this behavior and how can you handle it?

18. You have new ESL students from Mexico who are absent for what you consider flimsy reasons: A visit to a grandmother, caring for a sick relative or a family party. You feel frustrated because there is no continuity of instruction. Why are the students absent? Don’t their parents value education?

19. The nurse in your school consistently sends sick children home. The parents of your Korean students will send their child back again the next day, still sick.

20. You are a 6th grade teacher. Your new South American student does not seem to celebrate the birthday you have marked on the classes’ birthday calendar. Is this a religious observance?


Activity Downloads

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PDF fileResponses to New Culture Questions (35k .PDF)

PDF fileCulture Questions (15k .PDF)

Related Links

ESL Teacher as Cultural Broker
Simple awareness on the part of mainstream staff members will help them deal more effectively with cross-cultural dissension. As ESL/bilingual professionals we need to teach strategies which help our colleagues understand the role culture plays in the behavior and reactions of second language learners and their parents.

Unlocking Cultural Puzzles
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.