American Culture ESL Discussion Questions

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Your ESL students are ready to discuss several aspects of the American culture because they know quite a bit about it. This lesson gives you some questions you can ask so your ESL students freely express their thoughts.

Outside the Box

We often hear people tell us that thinking 'outside the box' is a healthy exercise. When we teach ESL students, they can certainly give us a very different perspective because American culture is new to them. Of course, this also means that your ESL students may say things that sound off or even a bit offensive. However, it is best to keep in mind that our ESL students are still in the process of learning the language, no matter how advanced they are.

Consequently, ESL students can say things that sound wrong or perhaps funny about American culture. Besides the language proficiency limitation, our ESL students may not have all the elements to fairly judge many aspects of American culture. For all of this, let's keep in mind that our main goal is to get students communicating in English. Beyond this goal, our ESL students may surprise us because they are real thinkers from outside the 'box' that American culture is. A great way to lead our students' discussion is to explain their views of American culture by contrasting them with their own culture, as they will probably use it as a reference anyway. Let's look at a few questions.

Different Culture Topics

Below, we have a few questions that relate to the politics and government aspects of American culture. There are a couple of questions that would only work if your ESL students are in the USA. Other questions are great if you're teaching ESL overseas.

  • What is your view on the fact that US politics evolve around two main political parties? (Note this question allows ESL students to talk a lot about the two-party system because they are likely to come from countries with several political parties.)
  • What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of voting being voluntary in the US?
  • As you get to use public goods and services, what is your impression of the work the US government does to provide those goods and services to people? Feel free to compare goods and services provisions to those in your country.
  • What is the view that foreign news provides to their audiences about politics and government in the USA?
  • Does your country of origin have any commercial, diplomatic, etc. relations with the USA? Talk about them.

Food Habits of American Culture

  • How is food in the US different from what you used to eat in your own country?
  • What new dishes have you tried in the US that have made an impression on you? Tell about those dishes.
  • What is the idea you have about typical American food?
  • Do people in your home country consume foods imported from the US? Tell us about those foods.
  • What products in a typical American supermarket do you see as part of the identity of the US? Talk about why they are part of the American identity.

Arts in American Culture

  • Does American music have a big influence in other countries around the world? Talk about your country of origin.
  • Is there enough support for the arts in the US? Discuss your answers by providing some examples.
  • What kind of topics do you think American artists consider if they want to show American culture through their art?
  • What famous artists are renowned beyond US borders? Think about music, painting, sculpture, etc.
  • Does the US movie industry have an international presence? Talk about such presence.

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