The Internet TESL Journal

Bringing Culture into the Classroom

Chad Fryer
hutson [at]
Nagoya University, Japan
Lily Wong
Nagoya International School, Japan

For those currently teaching an EFL discussion or cultural studies course, the following unit is one way to engage university or adult students in a meaningful exchange which explores cultural values. While many textbooks do deal with culture and cultural values, supplementing these texts can create a richer experience. One way to do this is to invite international students to the classroom to participate in a forum. Inviting these speakers allows for a truer voicing of cultural values that does not solely rely on textbook and teacher interpretations. In addition, all participants have the opportunity to learn how cultural values are affected by factors such as religion, nationality, socio-economic status, and personality. As Brown (1994) suggests everyone must recognize, understand, and respect groups and cultures as unique before coming to the conclusion that people are all the same underneath.


A key element of this mini-unit is to make use of a valuable resource which is often readily available but not utilized by EFL educators. From our experience in Canada and Japan, students who are studying an additional or foreign language are especially open to sharing their values and time. Therefore, teachers can begin by contacting local universities in their countries that have special exchange or language programs for international students. Surprisingly, many international students comment that they have few opportunities to meet and interact with adults or university students of the host country. Thus, there is an opportunity to enrich classroom discussion and foster international contacts amongst these two groups of learners.

In 1996, the Japanese government provided scholarships to over 8,000 graduate students from around the world to undertake studies at national and prefectural universities (Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture, 1997). The two intake periods are April and October with approximately 60% of these students undergoing an initial six months of language training at the larger national universities. While most students are nonnative-English speakers, they possess advanced English skills. The best time to gain their participation is during the second month of their language studies as they are more eager to participate at the beginning of their program and their limited Japanese skills will ensure communication in English. These students can be recruited through the International Student Center of the closest national university.

We have implemented this mini-unit on cultural values in various teaching contexts. It was initially implemented in an intensive summer English language program in Vancouver, Canada with a class of 16 French Canadians. In that instance, international students and local English speaking students from a nearby college were invited into the classroom. In Japan, we have used this mini-unit in a class of eight adults in a language school and in a university EFL course of 30 students. While the mini-unit and forum added to the discussion and student learning process in all the contexts, we found the forum to be especially helpful in the large university classroom where the students have limited interaction time with the teacher and no meaningful exposure to international students.

Mini-Unit Plan

We present four 90 minute lessons that describe the sequence of activities for conducting a student-led forum on cultural values. We developed these lessons to match our particular teaching style and context. Thus, we encourage educators to adapt the lessons to meet the special needs of their classroom. The unit as described is appropriate for intermediate or higher English speaking students while certain modification may also allow high beginners to participate.

Lesson 1: Introduction

Lesson 2: Preparation

Lesson 3: Forum

Lesson 4: Follow-up


We have found this unit to be successful as all participants listen, question, and discuss the different cultural values expressed. In the past, the forum has consisted of individuals from a variety of countries such as Sudan, Poland, Brazil, Mexico, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, and Canada. The diversity of cultural values have enriched our discussions and helped prevent some of the unintended negative side-effects that can occur when interpreting and speaking for others (Hooks, 1994). Overall, the interest and excitement generated from this unit often exceeded teacher and student expectations making it well worth the effort.


Chad Fryer may be contacted at: Nagoya University, School of Education, Furo-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya, 464-01. Tel: (052) 736-3082; Fax: (052)736-3802; Email: hutson [at]

Lily Wong may be contacted at: Nagoya International School, 2686 Minamihara, Nakashidami, Moriyama-ku, Nagoya, 463. Tel: (052) 736-2025; Fax: (052)736-3883.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IV, No. 3, March 1998