For some students that I’ve met over the years, having the chance to study or work in Canada is the ultimate dream come true.
However, most of them actually know very little about the nation north of the United States.
Considering that Canadian life and culture may deviate greatly from the life and culture of your students’ own countries, being able to teach them about Canada will definitely help them adjust to life in their new environment if they move there. It’s also a good way to teach students a bit more about the English-speaking countries of the world.
So, how can you teach your students about Canada (even if you’re not Canadian)?
These lessons aim to provide some food for thought through ESL-focused activities you can put to use in the classroom. And best of all, they’ve been developed for students of all levels.
Get your students speaking, listening and eating like a Canuck with the activities below!
5 Creative Canadian Culture ESL Lesson Activities
1. Weather and Seasons
Task: Describing Winter Activities
Since winter in Canada features snow—lots of snow—focusing on winter-time activities is ideal for students unfamiliar with winter weather.
Vocabulary: go to a winter festival, go skating, play hockey, go skiing, have a snowball fight, build a snowman
Pre-Activity: Show student pictures of all four seasons and ask them to identify each one (spring, summer, autumn/fall, winter). Students will raise hands to indicate which one they like best.
Activity: Present the grammar for expressing what students like/don’t like and can/can’t do. You can contrast winter activities (“You can go skiing in the winter”) with summer activities (“You can’t go skiing in the summer”). The same goes for ice skating, playing hockey (street hockey or even roller hockey can be played in the summer) building a snowman and so on. Visual aids would certainly help illustrate these activities, as many students might be unfamiliar with some of these activities.
Next, students can indicate which of these activities they like and don’t like: “I like to go skating” / “I don’t like to have snowball fights.”
Post-Activity: Students will write a 100-word email to a friend/relative back home telling them about the activities they can do and what they like and don’t like to in Canada. Providing a sample email will certainly help students know what you expect from them.
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2. Food and Drink
Task: Ordering at Tim Horton’s
What could be more Canadian than Tim Horton’s?
Vocabulary: double-double, donut, bagel, specialty drink, cold stone, hot bowl
Pre-Activity: Introduce this question: What are you in the mood in for today? In pairs, students will indicate what they would like to eat and drink. Students can speculate what they think the items in the vocabulary list are.
Activity: Use this menu from Tim Horton’s. You can peruse the website and show students what each item actually is. Then, introduce the following basic model:
What can I get you?
And the reply:
I’d like _____, please. Or,
Can I get _____, please?
Don’t forget to add “please” since Canadians are very polite.
You can expand on this activity by using this model:
Server: What can I get you?
Customer: I’d like a double-double and a hot bowl, please.
Server: Certainly. Anything else?
Customer: No, that’s all, thank you. / Yes, I’d like _____, too, please.
Server: Certainly, Sir / Ma’am. That’ll be 5 dollars, please. (While there are no prices on the website, you can use a ballpark amount.)
Customer: Here you go, thank you.
Post-Activity: Have students work in pairs taking turns being the server and customer. They can use the model conversation provided, or any other, and expand on it using their own ideas, selecting items from the menu and vocabulary provided.
3. Idioms and Expressions
Task: Becoming Familiar with Canadianisms
This is essentially a shopping list of Canadianisms students will hear and may not understand.
Vocabulary: Canuck, washroom, serviette, candy bar, hydro, postal code
Pre-Activity: In pairs or small groups, students will brainstorm about the meanings of the words and expressions presented above. Students can then switch partners/groups and compare their ideas.
Activity: You can then provide a simple definition for each term:
Canuck: a Canadian person
Serviette: paper napkin
Candy bar: chocolate bar (Snickers, and so on)
Postal code: zip code
In pairs or small groups, students will then craft a conversation using the vocabulary presented in the lesson.
Post-Activity: Each pair/group will present their conversation to the class. Students will then vote for their favorite.
4. Sounding Canadian
Level: Upper Intermediate
Task: How to Sound “Canadian”
This task is meant to introduce students to the Canadian accent. The speaker in the video below is not Canadian and provides a demonstration on how to achieve this accent.
Media: There are several videos available. I suggest using this one.
Pre-Activity: Introduce the topic by indicating that the Canadian accent is very similar to the Standard American Accent. Then, watch the video on how to “sound” Canadian. Students will then indicate whether it was easy or difficult to understand.
Activity: Students will identify where the speaker’s originally from (she’s Australian, by the way). Challenge students to follow the “instructions” on how to mimic sounding Canadian. Students can practice in pairs.
Post-Activity: In pairs, students will have a free talk about an upcoming trip to Canada using the speech patterns described by the speaker in the video. Then, each pair will present their conversation to the class. Students will vote on the most “Canadian” accent.
Take this activity a step further with FluentU.
5. Canadian Landmarks
Task: What to Do in a New City
People are naturally curious and interested in visiting famous sites and landmarks. While there are many places to visit, this is a short list of some of the most famous places in Canada. Students will ask for/provide recommendations based on the information they’re given.
Media: This is a great video on famous Canadian landmarks (say Chateau Frontenac five times fast).
Pre-Activity: Students will watch the video once. They’ll write down the names of the places they hear (one landmark’s name is in French so you can give students a pass on that one). Then, in pairs, students will discuss which places sound more appealing to them. They’ll explain the reasoning for their choice.
Activity: Students will make a quick list of things they can do in their chosen landmark. In pairs, one student will ask questions about what can be done at this landmark. Be careful to make sure that you don’t get two students with the same landmark. Each student will ask for/provide recommendations on things to do/see at their chosen landmark.
Post-Activity: Students will write a 200-250-word review of their chosen landmark. This can be posted to a class blog or submitted individually.
Considering that traveling to a new country may be overwhelming to some, visiting an English-speaking country might well be terrifying for many. While others might see it as a wonderful challenge, the fact is that any forewarning will help your students adjust more easily to life in Canada.
So, learning about Canadian culture is vital for a smooth transition. The ideas contained in this post, while by no means exhaustive, provide a great way to help students get a leg up on what life is like in Canada.
Also, the internet is full of resources that can provide students with food for thought prior to moving to Canada. While life in Canada may vary greatly from life in other countries (especially because of the weather), students will certainly benefit and appreciate the heads up.
The important thing is that these culture-based lessons can be done at any level. So, the sky’s the limit!
And One More Thing...
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On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word "searching," they'll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like "fill in the blank."
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