Creating a Global Classroom: 5 Ways for Students to Embrace CulturalDiversity

As technology advances, our world gets smaller and smaller. Back in the dark ages, we used to be able to learn about other cultures only through books or maybe TV shows. Now, anything we want to know is just a click away. But even with all that information available to us, we still are culturally ignorant when it comes to places outside the United States, and even sometimes within our own U.S. borders.
One of my favorite videos on internet is Love Has No Labels, Diversity & Inclusion from the Ad Council. You may have seen it- if not, take a peek. It would be a lovely way to begin a talk about understanding cultural diversity.

To me, creating a global classroom means giving students the opportunity to understand others that come from different cultural backgrounds.  Through understanding we find acceptance.  Here are 5 easy ways to get started building a global classroom, by immersing them in culture.
Tracing our trails. The world is a giant melting pot and the United States was built on that premise.  My grandmother's family came from Czechoslovakia, when she was a little girl.  They traveled to South Dakota by covered wagon.  My grandfather's parents were friends of the Czar and left Russia during that turbulent time.  My other grandfather changed the spelling of their last name to Americanize it when Germany was out of favor with the world.  As for me, like most everyone else, I'm my own melting pot- mostly Scandinavian, but in checking my DNA, trace parts of me follow the early trade routes from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean. I find that fascinating! 

Every family has a story. Bring those stories to life by having your students interview their oldest relatives. Record or share these tales. Use the map to show where families began and how they ended up where they did.

Celebrating our traditions.  Beyond DNA links, we are influenced by our cultural heritage. Birthdays, religious holidays, special occasions- every family has their traditions and special ways of celebrating them. Yet traditions don't have to be just celebrations. They also include family dynamics.  Some cultures have extended family living under one roof.  Others are scattered far and wide. Learning about the different celebrations and traditions helps in understanding our diversity. It's about perspective.

Understanding cultural differences through the arts - Immersion! Music, art, dance and literature are easy to incorporate. Every few days, have students settle in with music from different countries.  Display art and find online videos of dance in that country or region. Offer poetry and literature, as well as non-fiction from different cultures. Although it means some front-end work on your part in gathering examples, what a great way to immerse students to various cultures through the arts.

Bread, Bread Bread Around the World
Breaking bread. Did you know that most every culture in the world has some variation of bread.  Investigate the different types of bread around the world.  Have students make the various kinds and bring them to share with the class for a bread tasting event. If they have a bread their family makes, they should bring that. Then celebrate with a bread-tasting afternoon (or morning) tea.  Again, with a map, include a picture and recipe of the bread, connected to where it originates.

But don't stop there. Keeping it simple, have students look at school lunches around the world. Some students may want to delve deeper into the world of international cuisine. The internet has a vast collection of recipes from around the world.  Google is your friend!

Visiting classrooms around the world. Simply have students google classrooms around the world.  Here are a few I found: Kenya to Kabul: 15 Classrooms Around the World from TakePart; Where Children Learn- Inside Classrooms Around the World from NBC; Quiet at the Back: Classrooms Around the World- in pictures from The Guardian.

Print the pictures and add them to the map.  Students can compare/contrast their school with one of the others they found.  If they could talk to these kids, what would they ask them? What would they share about their schools?  In this Edutopia post, Lisa Mims talks about how her 5th graders connected with students around the world through a pen-pal program.  Some schools are able to Skype with their pen pals.

The grand finale: host a Multi-Cultural Celebration. The end of the calendar year (November, December) is a great time to plan a multi-cultural celebration because so many cultures have traditional celebrations now. It works just as well as a year-end celebration.  It's easy to do when students have already been looking at different aspects of culture. Make it a special event.

  • Bring ethnic dishes to sample. One recipe would be enough if each person brought something. 
  • Dress in traditional costumes, used in celebrations or special events.
  • Invite people from different ethnic backgrounds to come share their stories.
  • Have students share their big "aha's" from everything they've done.
  •  INVITE PARENTS! Students reflect their parents understandings or misunderstandings about different cultures.  As students share what they've learned, it opens a dialogue that can benefit everyone.
If you do not have a lot of diversity in your school community, have students "adopt" a different culture and represent it in each of the areas. These ideas are great to help students recognize the similarities and differences of their classmates or with others around the world.  As your year progresses, continue to make connections to students around the world.

If you're interested in finding out more about your ethnicity, you can order your own DNA kit and trace your roots on National Geographic has a genographic project that is equally fascinating stuff!

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