Exploring Culture: A Problem-Based Unit

Prepared by Kenji Hakuta with assistance from Michele Bousquet

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Students come to school from backgrounds representing diverse cultures. That is certainly an uncontroversial statement. But various guidelines and policies about teacher preparation contain statements regarding knowledge about the student's home culture as well as "culturally appropriate English" into account. (Click here to browse a web page on teacher preparation and certification for ELL students, put together by Stanford students George Bunch and Ken Romeo). The issue becomes quickly complicated once we need to start thinking about what exactly we mean by "culture", and how to train educators and the community to be culturally knowledgeable and sensitive. This exercise is intended to familiarize you with the beginnings of the analysis of culture.

Broadly speaking, people have defined culture in ways such as:

Our own bias is that culture is most definitively not a list of things, such as foods, clothes, dances, and folktales. Rather, culture is itself defined by multiple perspectives of its insiders and outsiders and the various ways in which social business is conducted. Language and literacy is also an integral part of cultural definition.

The assignment of this problem-based unit is to construct a web page that contains critical information about a specific cultural group. We encourage you to be creative in the contents of your webpage. The ultimate goal is to produce a page that would be useful to teachers in better understanding their students. However, the following issues should be addressed:

Some Quotes about Culture

For starters, we point you to a number of randomly selected pages we have found on the web that offer succinct, juicy, and sometimes confusing quotes about culture:

Practical Guides to Defining Culture

While it is important for you as teachers to be able to reflect upon and articulate your thoughts about culture at a theoretical level, what is of utmost importance on a practical level is how to transform these abstract concepts into meaningful uses of culture in your classrooms. Below you will find links to several documents designed to guide you through the transition.

Specific Cultural Profiles

Below are links to web pages that provide cultural profiles of particular countries or racial/ethnic groups. These sites are intended to serve as information resources for the creation of your own web sites, as well as for discovering additional information about the cultural backgrounds of the students you teach.

Language Profiles

There are a number of sites that offer information about languages. The best list we found comes from the home page of the Ethnologue, which is a reference volume produced by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (they study linguistics with the main purpose of translating the Bible, but the group has had broad impact on the field of linguistics). Their home page is: http://www.ethnologue.com/

The Ethnologue has a great list of links of interest, which we have pasted below:

Links of Interest (from the Summer Institute of Linguistics)

SIL has published materials on only a fraction of all the world's languages. See the SIL Bibliography and the SIL Publications Catalog. The area pages in the Ethnologue have a section of links to external (non-SIL) resources related to countries and languages. Here are some of the primary resources:*


Area-specific resources


Other sites of interest

Language coding and standards

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This page was last updated April 2002