Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.
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.
Holidays in American Culture
- Is there a patriotic sentiment in the American culture that is reflected through some holidays? Discuss specific holidays and their importance for Americans.
- Is Thanksgiving highly important in the American culture? Discuss the reasons and give examples of Thanksgiving traditions to support your answer.
- Do you think family get-togethers play a role in specific holidays that are part of the American culture?
- Explain how Halloween plays a big part of the American culture.
- Do you see young Americans following traditional holidays with enthusiasm? Give examples that illustrate your answers.
- What is the approach Americans take toward work? Is this different from the way people approach work in other countries around the world?
- What aspects of the US make it unique as a country? Give examples.
- Is shopping a large part of the American lifestyle or is it only an impression people have of American culture? Give specific examples.
- What are some ideas people have about how Americans relate to friends or family? Talk about those ideas and discuss whether they are fair or not from what you have seen/experienced.
- What social values characterize American culture?
- What is your idea of a typical American person?
- Is technology really important in the personal lives of Americans?
- How are Americans unique in the way they relate to others? What differences do you see with other cultures?
- Is gender equality a reality in American culture?
- What social problems does American culture face nowadays?
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