Preparing Your Students for Cultura

Your students may not have participated in an intercultural exchange before. The following activities are designed to introduce them to the notion of cross-cultural understanding. We suggest that you and your partner teacher spend a week with your classes on these activities, though they need not be done in order, nor do they all need to be done.


Barnga is a card game designed to simulate cultural clashes. Students are divided into teams and assume that they are playing with the same set of rules, but gradually discover that each team has received different instructions from other teams. We strongly recommend this activity, as it accurately illustrates what often happens when one encounters a foreign culture. To find out more about Barnga and to purchase it, visit Intercultural Press. [ISBN: 1931930309]

Newspaper articles

This activity is designed to help your students recognize how foreign cultures are viewed and portrayed in the media. Find an article in your local press that talks about another country, a different culture, or a subgroup within a culture. Have your students read it and make comments about the way the other culture is portrayed and the clash of values it illustrates.

Hypotheses and assumptions

One of the main activities students will perform with Cultura is to make hypotheses about what they observe, before asking their exchange partners for clarification. This activity will make students aware of what happens when a particular phenomenon is observed from different perspectives.

Present your students with facts about their partners' country or culture that you have found in newspaper or magazine articles. Ask them to come up with as many explanations as possible that could account for these facts, stating the most plausible explanation first.

When students are finished, ask them to share their most plausible explanation with the others. Elicit a general class discussion.  Students may vote for the most plausible explanation. Afterwards, give students the real answer as well as the source of the information. Tell them that these facts, although recorded in the press, may not necessarily be correct. Their being printed does not make them the truth. Tell your students that Cultura will enable them to ask their exchange partners questions to clarify some facts, with the caveat that the answers they receive may not always be correct either.This activity should be done in the target language, if possible.

In a French/American exchange, for instance, students would have to find a plausible explanation as to why "the French are the greatest consumers of medicine in the world." Possible explanations could be that they are the sickest or the most stressed out people in the world; French doctors prefer prescribing drugs over other treatments, such as psychiatry; medical care and drugs are free. The last hypothese is correct. Most prescribed drugs are free or very cheap.

Looking at the underlying message

Find a short text about your own students' culture, written by an author from your partner's culture. For example, if your class is in the United States and your exchange partner's class is in Mexico, find a text written in Spanish by a Mexican author about Americans.

Have your students read the text. Make sure they understand its structure and vocabulary, clarifying words and phrases if necessary. Ask your students to do a critical analysis: What does the text say? What does the subtext say? What is implied?

Elicit a discussion about what your students have observed. Students may remark on the author's use of stereotypes, clichés, over-generalizations, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, irony, or use of a judgmental tone. Students could also observe how the text or subtext reveals the author's own values.

In a French/American exchange, for instance, American students could comment the following text by a French author, Alain Bosquet, in his book "Les Américains sont-ils adultes?" (Are Americans adults?): "Ailleurs [que chez lui], c'est entendu, il [l'Américain] est mal à l'aise, et peureux de commettre mille erreurs: il lui est difficile, en voyage, d'apprendre les formules de politesse, de serrer la main au moindre bonjour et au moindre bonsoir, de distinguer le vin rosé du Beaujolais, de ne pas faire sonner ses dollars en désespoir de cause. Oui, l'Américain s'exporte mal." What does the text say? Americans do not know how to behave when they are in a foreigh country.  What does the subtext say? It tells what matters to the French people: importance of  manners, of shaking hands, keeping separate what is separate, the doorman and the first cousin, the rosé wine and Beaujolais; money is frowned upon. The author is judgmental, uses clichés and over generalizes.

Transposing a story from one culture to another

Find a short text about your own students' culture, written by an author from a different culture. Distribute the text and have some students read it aloud. Clarify any vocabulary or structure questions. Give students some background information about the text. Ask the students to try and elucidate the passage: What does it mean? What is going on? As a follow-up class activity, have students share their interpretation of this text. Have they had similar experiences?

In a French/American exchange, students can read, for instance, an excerpt of a book in French by André Makine, a Russian author, entitled Le testament français. In the passage below, from chapter 3, the author, who understood French perfectly, relates what he imagined when his French grandmother, who was living in Russia, would tell him about Neuilly-sur-Seine, where she was born:

Neuilly-sur Seine était composée d’une douzaine de maisons en rondins. de vraies isbas avec des toits recouverts de minces lattes argentées par les intempéries d’hiver, avec des fenêtres dans des cadres en bois joliment ciseles, des haies sur lesquelle séchait le linge. Les jeunes femmes portaient une palanche… [.....] car notre grand-mère nous avait bien dit, un jour en parlant de sa ville natale: – Oh! Neuilly, a l’époque, c’était un simple village… Elle l’avait dit en français mais nous ne connaissions que les villages russes. Et le village en Russie est nécessairement un chapelet d’isbas [.....] La confusion fut tenace malgré les eclaircissements que les récits de Charlotte apporteraient par la suite. Au nom de “Neuilly”, c’est le village avec ses maisons en bois, son troupeau et son coq qui surgissait tout de suite. [......]