Elicit sensitivity

Parts of a Whole. In this activity, adapted from Mantle-Bromely (1992), students explore the multifaceted nature of culture. First, the teacher asks teams of students to define culture and puts key words on the board. The teacher then hands each team an opaque bag and asks students to feel it and determine what common object it represents. The object should be something that can be broken down into different pieces so that each team receives a different piece. Students discuss what they think the item is and what additional information they may need to be sure. The teacher reveals the item then asks the students how their process may compare to studying cultures (e.g. only had a part of the whole, couldn’t see it all, the pieces come together in a different way).

Extension: Show a clip of the fable “The Blind Men and the Elephant” in the target languages. 

Sample Activity

Circles of My Multicultural Self. From the University of Maryland, students fill out a graphic organizer based on multiple aspects of their identity. The activity encourages them to more closely examine stereotypes, labels, and identity. For example, students may write female, soccer player, Mexican American as part of their identity. Then, they are asked to share stories of when they were proud to identify with this descriptor. Next, they identify stereotypes based on those descriptors and mention a time that the stereotype was not consistent with their identity. Finally, they complete sentences such as I am a female but I am not passive. The teacher then debriefs the conversation by asking questions such as How did it feel to stand up to a stereotype? Where do stereotypes come from?

Sample Activity

 Do Over. Students brainstorm a list of stereotypes of the TL culture. Then they imagine the reactions someone from their culture would have to someone behaving according to one of the stereotypes on the list. In small groups or pairs they hypothesize where the stereotype comes from and create a more sensitive reaction. For ex: a stereotype of Haitians is, as practitioners of vodou, they are into witchcraft and sacrifice. A reaction would be that Haitians are “wacked out” (direct quote from a past student) and their religion sounds crazy. The assumption about vodou comes largely from Hollywood which capitalizes on ignorance. Witchraft and sacrificing an animal sound extreme, but belief in a religion that asks its followers to “drink of my blood” and “eat of my body” (communion in Christianity), might seem pretty crazy. The more sensitive reaction might be to ask if it’s true that….., do you know when that belief started, how does your family participate (do they participate?)

BARNGA. In this game from the Central States Conference (Mary Lynn Montgomery from the University of Minnesota), students learn about cultural sensitivity and culture shock. First, students form groups of 4-6 and each group receives rules in English to a card game (See instructions). They practice once with spoken output and then are asked to play again without speaking and only actions. After they play another round, the winners move right and the losers left to join other circles. Some members stay put. The groups play another round without speaking but soon realize that that each group has been given different rules to the game and they have to negotiate the game. The students continue to play a few rounds until the groups are well mixed. After the game, ask students to write on the board the emotions they were feeling throughout the exercise. Then, relate the game to developing cultural awareness and ask questions like: What happened during the tournament? How did you cope when others did not understand? How does this game relate to language learning? To intercultural communication?

Sample Activity