Good news: You don’t need a pair of Dorothy’s red ruby slippers to instantly transport yourself elsewhere.
In fact, you can take your entire ESL class with you on a trip without packing a single bag.
Since world travel is usually not an option for full English classes, bring foreign cultures into your classroom instead!
These four culture lessons will not only increase your students’ interest in the language, but they’re also a great way to have students practice their language skills—from reading comprehension to speaking fluency.
Each lesson can be planned as a one-day lesson or a three-day-long immersion, depending on your goals and the time you have at your disposal.
And beyond this small—but very high quality—selection of lesson plans, there’s more out there to explore. You can extend any of these lessons by supplementing them with relevant lesson plans from Lesson Planet. Search the site for similar cultural topics, and you’ll hit the jackpot!
Now, let’s get the ball rolling—there will be time to explore all of Lesson Planet later.
4 ESL Culture Lessons to Take Your Students Across the Globe
Before jumping into the proposed lessons, you should know that a priority for planning all of them is tracking down authentic content for your students to use. Authentic content is made by English speakers for English speakers—not for learners. This kind of content will give students fabulous insight into new cultures.
FluentU is an ideal place to find stuff like this. That’s because FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Using FluentU, students will be more engaged and learn better. Not only does FluentU offer video, but it offers scaffolding that isn’t available anywhere else; students will find authentic content approachable and within reach.
We’ve provided video recommendations for each lesson below, but we also recommend that you browse the FluentU English library to find even more gems! Say “goodbye” to spending hours searching for good videos on YouTube and “hello” to focusing on actually teaching your students.
1. The United Kingdom
There are a lot of interesting elements of the UK to explore in the classroom. For the three-day approach, start off by introducing the UK to the class, using videos to explore the accent and culture. A great way to do this is by watching videos about stereotypes:
Before watching the videos, discuss some stereotypes that your students are already familiar with. Have them volunteer their own and make a list on the board. Then watch the videos and ask students what they think. Are these stereotypes true or false? What is true or false about them?
Then assign each student an element of the UK to research themselves. This could either be an individual region or country within the UK, such as Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the Lake Country, or else a topic like the Queen, the Beatles or Winston Churchill.
As homework, have your students research their topic and prepare a five-minute presentation for the class, which can be given at the beginning of the following few classes. You can also give students the option to prepare their research either as an oral presentation or as a written essay. If you have time at the end of this first class period, you can also let students begin their research in class.
On the second day, allow the students to decorate the classroom. Come prepared with materials like magazines to cut out, poster board, pencils and markers, and let students to come up with their own decoration. Feel free to brainstorm with them first to come up with ideas before decorating. Here are a few to get you started:
- London red phone booths
- Don’t Panic posters
- Union Jack flags
Put students in groups to work, and make sure that as they discuss their decorations, they are speaking in English. Wander the classroom and offer help, correcting their grammar as needed. The decoration will not only get them in the spirit, but it can be a great ambiance for a short party in class on the fourth day with English biscuits and tea, if you have the time at your disposal.
The following plan for day three can be paired with one of the stereotype videos for a one-day approach.
With the classroom decorated and stereotypes already covered, try exploring the unique elements of British English. This can include accent, spelling and grammar.
Depending on the level of your students, you may want to try a few different exercises. Beginner students might work on the British accent. Try using tongue twisters to help them master the unique properties of this accent. One fun tongue twister would be to try to have them learn to pronounce this very long Welsh town name!
Intermediate students can try their hand at British spelling. Make a worksheet with some of the differences between American and British spelling. Then have students make flashcards and work in pairs to master the spellings.
2. The United States of America
The lesson plan for the USA will follow the same pattern as that for the UK. Start things off by assigning each member of the class something to research. In the case of the United States, an individual state might be the best choice. In this case, ask students to be sure to include the following among their research:
- the state motto
- the state bird
- the date the state joined the union
The first day, you can assign these topics and also introduce the USA to the class. In this case, it could be interesting to explore regional differences. Look at a map of the continental USA and divide it into sections based on the regions you want to cover. Depending on the video or map you choose to use, you can explore these regions generally or via a specific characteristic like cuisine or accent.
On the second day, your students can decorate the classroom. Split students into groups depending on the state they researched and which region it is in. Then divide the classroom into sections and allow each region to design a portion of the classroom thematically.
Make sure that as they discuss their decorations, they are speaking in English! You can also create an ambiance in the classroom by playing some American videos. This could be anything from American television shows to videos about different time periods like this video featuring music from the 20s.
If you are taking a one-day approach, use the following day, which will be the third day of a longer immersion. For a one-day lesson, begin with one of the regional videos, and then delve directly into an exploration of one of the specific regions. A great one to use is the South, which has a rich and distinct history and accent.
First, prepare a video to watch about the South. Depending on the level of your students, here are some great examples:
- The Rebels of South Carolina
- The History of Slavery in the American South
- The Top 5 Causes of the Civil War
- The Failure of Reconstruction
- Problems Only Southerners Understand
After introducing the region, do a reading exercise based on the level of your students. Here are a few examples you could use:
- Short History of the South
- How the South Rewrote History
- Purging the History of the South
- History in the Deep South
Prepare reading comprehension questions, and then ask students to prepare a reaction to the reading, either by setting up an in-class debate or giving them a writing exercise. Encourage students whose research project was on a state outside of the South to compare the culture of their state with that of the South, whichever of the two options you choose.
For a three-day approach to Ireland, you could use also introduce the country by addressing stereotypes, as done in the UK lesson plan.
First, discuss some stereotypes that your students are already familiar with, and then watch some videos and/or read articles addressing Irish stereotypes. Here are a few examples:
- 8 Irish Stereotypes That Are Actually True (article)
- What Are Some Common Stereotypes About Ireland That Are Largely Untrue? (article)
- Irish Stereotypes (video)
- Top 10 Irish Stereotypes (video)
After, be sure to discuss the stereotypes. You can compare them to those about the United States and the United Kingdom if you have already completed one of those lessons.
On the second day, you will address Irish myths and legends. If you are using a one-day approach, use this day. This video is a great way to introduce Irish myths and legends to the class. Next, assign groups one of several myths and legends to research and either present orally or in writing to the class.
Be sure that you are prepared with books and articles that students can use for research, or provide them with tablets or laptops to facilitate their research. If the groups are big enough and your class is small enough, you should be able to present the myths and legends at the beginning of the third day.
Once you have finished these presentations on the third day, you can explore the Irish accent. Use a video like The Foreigner’s Guide to Irish Accents or How to Do an Irish Accent to present the accent, then allow students to attempt the accent on their own. To do this, you could introduce some Irish poetry or songs that students can say or sing to the class. Here are some examples:
Send your English students on a voyage down under with an Australian lesson plan. For a three-day approach, first introduce your students to Australia with this short video. Oddly enough, it was actually designed for immigrants to Australia, but it’s a really great overview of the extremely diverse country.
Next, encourage students to work in pairs to complete this “All About Australia” worksheet, which will help them learn some of the symbols and important characteristics of Australia.
Then, spend the first day talking about Australia’s natural resources.
This can be done via video support and with the help of reading materials. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- Natural Resources of Australia (video)
- Australia’s Top Natural Resources for Export (article)
- Australian Natural Resources (article)
For a one-day approach, pair the short intro video above with day two. Spend the second day on the fun topic of Australian celebrities. First ask students if they can name any Australian celebrities on their own. Then, introduce Australian celebrities via a video.
Using Australian celebrities as a hook will keep your students interested, but of course you’re not going to spend the entire class period gossiping! The reason it’s interesting to use Australian celebrities is that it allows you to segue into important Australian current events issues via other videos.
Here are a few that will help you spur class discussion:
- Hugh Jackman on Aboriginal Communities (this is a great intro for the third day’s lesson!)
- “Australia” trailer
- Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi Australia Interview
- Hugh Jackman Shows Jimmy How to Really Eat Vegemite
Using a video allows you to first do a listening/watching comprehension exercise and then discuss the issues raised in the video.
Finish with a discussion of non-Eurocentric maps in Australia. Allow students to give their opinion of these maps and what their invention means with regards to Eurocentricity in the world today.
Spend the third day exploring the “Stolen Generation” of Australia. This element of Australian history will help you address some of the contrasts in Australian society, both historically and today. A great way to do this is to first introduce the concept of the Stolen Generation with a video explaining the concept and the history.
Then allow students to do a reading comprehension exercise followed by a class discussion or written response, depending on the level of your students and the time you have in class. Here are a few options:
- Another Stolen Generation: How Australia Still Wrecks Aboriginal Families
- A Guide to Australia’s Stolen Generations
- The Stolen Generation (article for kids)
Finish with this video of testimonials from those who lived through the Stolen Generation period.
These are obviously not the only ESL culture lessons you can try out for your classroom. If you’re more familiar with the cultures of other countries like Canada or South Africa, for example, try including these cultures in the classroom too!
No matter which country or culture you plan to teach about, one incredible tool to have on hand is a travel guide. What better way for students to really visualize themselves abroad? They’ll feel like they’re really planning a trip abroad with a great travel guide in hand. The place to start looking for travel guides about any country on the planet is Lonely Planet—the name is known worldwide for good reason.
Anywhere that’s in your lesson plan, there’s a lovely, high-quality Lonely Planet travel guide about that destination.
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you like giving your students real-world language experience, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.
You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
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 “brought,” 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.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.