Exploring Cultural diversity in language classroom

A Festival based theme for a lesson.

We often deliver typical ‘festival lessons’ during our teaching. Festivals can provide great themes for learners and help to bring in a great deal of diversity in lessons in terms of vocabulary, colloquial language, storytelling, interesting reading material; folktales, epics, food, colour and a lot more. Many standard course books include festivals and themes that are pretty western and euro-centric with Christmas and Halloween appearing more than others.

However, as a teacher, I feel introducing local festivals and cultural celebrations beyond one’s geographical boundaries can open up a gamut of activities and scope for integrated skills lessons, making them wholesome. Bringing lesser known festivals and cultures into the classroom will not only be a novelty but also add curiosity and widen their knowledge and lexicon.

I remember doing a lesson (as a visiting teacher) on one of the famous festivals of India ‘Diwali’ for young learners in Leeds. As a warmer, I introduced some of my family pictures lighting lamps, of home decorations, sweets and fireworks. Personalising the introduction helped in eliciting a plethora of questions such as; where? (place), what? (the earthen lamps and idols of gods and goddess), why? (decoration and fireworks) when? (time and month) and so on. This made it easy for me to tell them which part of the world I came from and set the momentum. Given below is a skeleton of the lesson.

  • To begin with I only used pictures/videos to arouse their interest and elicit vocabulary. Consider this: Earthen lamp, festival, lights, crackers, Hindu, India, Rangoli, patterns, gods, goddess, Rama, gifts, New year, victory , evil, darkness, etc.
  • Match the pictures with the right word/expression and meaning – done as pair/ group work
  • Played a short video on the festival and celebration, which helped learners internalise and notice vocabulary in use and their pronunciation. The video also helped in understanding the folk tale and legends associated with the festival and to stay focussed.
  • As a group activity, students write (reconstruct) how it is celebrated using the vocabulary/phrases introduced earlier in the lesson.
  • Students share their work, (this can vary) put on the walls across the classroom, or read out or simply swap their sheets and so on.

There can be many manifestations of the lesson whicb can include listening, reading, writing and speaking tasks. For example, for a higher level, the video can be used to answer gist, specific information questions, underline or identify words/vocab having similar meanings and so on. Also written texts can be used for comprehension and reading lessons. The students were later asked to compare it with their festival and celebrations. Some of the newly acquired vocabulary and expressions came in handy. For example, some learners talked about the Christmas decorations, lights, presents and gifts, and how they light up candles in place of earthen lamps, Jesus as god and so on.

Exploring multi-cultural themes and celebrations can be very engaging and promote learning of vocabulary and its use. It is a great way to introduce phrases and collocations. In my case, there was a lot of incidental learning as the video evoked various questions out of curiosity. I was amazed at the ability of the young ones to form questions. As an extrapolation it offered good scope to explore Wh- question forms.



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