Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.
Culture is Broad
The advantage of having ESL students in a classroom is that they come from diverse cultures. The first step in teaching British culture is to give your students a simple definition of 'culture,' such as, 'culture is the set of aspects that characterize a country or region.' Then, you can give your students examples of aspects that characterize your culture. For instance, if you are in the U.S., some good examples of American culture is jazz music in New Orleans, the separation of powers in government, art by Georgia O'Keeffe. This way, your students understand that music, government, art, food, and so forth are part of culture. Then, your students can share some examples that illustrate their culture. With this introduction, you can move on to aspects of British culture.
Relevant Aspects of British Culture
While British culture is extremely rich in many aspects, the following are perhaps the most relevant for ESL students just beginning to learn about it.
It is common for ESL students to be curious about how British English is different from American English. A good approach to illustrate the difference is to first give your students a few examples of specifics in British pronunciation, such as how the British generally drop the 'r' at the end of words like 'water.' This, of course, works great if you can make the two pronunciations yourself. You could also give examples of how the British prefer to use different words for certain things. For example, the British say 'petrol' instead of 'gas,' 'flat' for 'apartment,' and 'plaster' for 'bandage.'
Another good approach is to address the different accents in England. You could begin by telling students about received pronunciation (RP), which is the British English the queen speaks and that we also hear in British news. You could show a short clip from the internet in which the queen speaks or in which a BBC reporter talks. Do not forget to point at the fact there are hundreds of different accents; find clips online that show cockney, Yorkshire, brummie, and other accents.
Note: Do not forget to tell your students that there is no need to stress out if they cannot understand all British accents, as even native speakers have difficulty at times. Your students could try and imitate some accents or word pronunciations as an activity. Alternatively, you might have students research words the British use that are different from their equivalents in the U.S.
A huge part of England's identity has to do with its government: Parliamentary with a prime minister, while the monarchy still plays a role in state affairs. Information about the British government can easily be found on the official U.K. government website. Teach this information using simple terms and broad concepts that make it easier for students to grasp, such as by explaining what the prime minister does and why the queen is important.
A strong project idea is to have students find pictures of the representatives of government on the internet and make posters featuring these representatives to display outside the class.
And don't forget to tell students about the famous quote, 'Keep Calm and Carry On,' which the British government came up with during Word War II in order to keep the spirits of the people up. Once your students learn a bit of the history behind this quote, ask them if they have seen other versions on T-shirts, posters, etc. It is very likely they have. You can then create a project based on this quote, asking students to come up with their own version of 'Keep Calm and....' The class could vote on the best quote after all students present.
Finally, if your group is mature enough, they could read some 'gossip' about the royal family and discuss it. Tabloid news about the royal family can easily be found online.
When it comes to food, it is good for ESL students to know that 'fish and chips' is certainly not the only thing the British eat--this is largely a stereotype. When it comes to teaching about British gastronomy, a great approach is to let students discover and research British cuisine themselves. Then, students can present to the class about one item each. Help guide your students by providing them each with a gastronomy dish or beverage. Then, their job is to tell the class what the dish or beverage is made from (ingredients) and how to prepare it, if appropriate. For instance, you could include 'fish and chips,' 'pork pie,' 'Yorkshire pudding,' and 'afternoon tea.'
England's holidays are a great source of projects for ESL students. Begin by pointing out the fact that many holidays Americans celebrate have their origin in British culture (thanks largely to colonization). You could assign groups of three to research how the British celebrate a given holiday. One group could present on Christmas, another group on Easter, another group on Halloween, another on the Queen's Official Birthday, and so forth. Encourage students to present a bit on the history of each holiday, the traditional foods, and associated customs.
To engage students in learning about British music, first introduce them to the Beatles--after all, the Beatles are such an iconic music group around the world. After briefly teaching about the group's story and how they became so famous, use their songs to carry out activities, such as fill-in-the-blanks-as-you-listen activities, sing-alongs, and exercises in which students make lists of new vocab words from the lyrics.
ESL students will be very excited to virtually tour London on their own. Give each student a London tourist attraction to explore using internet resources, and have each student present a picture of it while they talk to the class about the attraction. Include Big Ben, the Buckingham Palace, the Coca-Cola London Eye, and so forth.
Teach student about British culture by covering topics like language (accents, vocabulary, pronunciation), government (the queen, the prime minister), gastronomy (fish and chips, puddings), holidays (the Queen's Official Birthday, Halloween), music (the Beatles), and London landmarks (Big Ben, Buckingham Palace).
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