Exploring Community History and Cultural Influence

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Objectives: 

  • Students will be able to define culture and recognize that some differences among people stem from culture and that some stem from personal traits and preferences.

Materials: A culture handout for each student.

Procedure:

1. Write the following statements on the board.

  • No one is exactly like me. 
  • I have many things in common with the members of my family and community. 
  • Every person in the world needs some of the same things I need.

2. Ask students to share ideas that support these statements.

3. Point out that people in various groups often look at people in other groups as "different."

4. Ask students to describe some of these differences. Why may people in one group behave differently from people in another?

5. Explain that many differences are related to culture -- ways of living and beliefs that are handed down from one generation to the next. Working from the list on the board, explain that all people share basic needs (food, shelter, etc.), that each of us learns a set of behaviors and beliefs from the people we grow up with (the kinds of houses we build and foods we eat), and that each individual has unique talents and preferences (I'm good at math; I don't like chocolate). When we talk about the behaviors and beliefs that a group of people have in common, we are talking about culture.

6. Ask students to complete the handout in order to help them identify aspects of their own cultures. Explain that each student should answer each question with one sentence or phrase. Then students should rank each item as to how important they feel it is to their culture.

7. After students have completed the handouts, ask them to share their answers in small groups. Ask the groups to compare and contrast various aspects of their individual cultures.

8. In some schools, students may share many cultural traits. Some students may not identify with a particular ethnic or foreign culture. Ask students if they think there is one American culture. Discuss characteristics of your region (immigration patterns, geographic location, etc.) that might explain the similarities and differences among student responses to the handout.

Debriefing: Use the following questions to focus discussion on the role culture plays in forming our behaviors and beliefs.

1. How does it feel to know you are part of a cultural group that shares many ideas and beliefs?

2. What happened when you compared your worksheets? How many different cultures are represented in the class?

3. What did you learn from this activity?

* How does culture help explain why other people sometimes seem "different"?
* What are some things you do that you learned from your culture?
* What factors besides culture also influence our behavior? (Possible answer: Some behaviors are related to individual preferences and personality traits.)

4. What can you do to learn about and understand other cultures?

5. If you were a member of another culture, how might you be different from the way you are now?

6. How can we use what we learned in this lesson to improve our community?

This activity was adapted with permission from the Peace Corps publication Looking at Ourselves and Others.

Extension Activity: 

* Have students explore their community's history to trace the influence of various cultures. Who were the original inhabitants of the area? Over the years, what other cultural groups have come to the area? What are some of the features of your community that represent these groups (e.g., architecture, place names, types of restaurants, religious organizations)?
* Ask students to imagine a community that allowed no resident to display or practice any element of cultural identity. Have students write short stories describing a typical day in such a community. When students have completed their stories, ask volunteers to read their compositions. Are the fictitious communities desirable or interesting places to be? Would it be possible or desirable to create such a community in reality?