The Internet TESL Journal

A Task-Based Cultural Activity for EFL Students: The Dragon Boat Festival and Rice Dumplings

Chiung-Chu Huang and Bo-Ting Wang
hwangcc(at) and
Feng Chia University (Taichung, Taiwan)
This article introduces a task-based cultural activity for university students in an open atmosphere outside the English classroom. It aims to motivate students to understand their own culture while learning English through tasks and language games.


Proponents of Communicative Language Teaching advocate the use of authentic materials in task-based communicative activities and recommend that learners be given opportunities to put their language skills to practice in real life situations (Richards & Rogers, 2001). However, Taiwanese students rarely have as many opportunities to use English as students from other Asian regions such as Hong Kong and Singapore, where English is one of the official languages. Therefore, it is important to create an English-speaking environment for our students to use English. One way to achieve this goal is to host communicative activities such as language games, cooking classes and parties outside regular school hours and encourage students to participate. In this short article we outline the approach and procedure that we employed in designing a special activity corresponding to the Dragon Boat Festival–wrapping rice dumplings.

There are two major reasons why we chose wrapping rice dumplings as our activity.  First, through task-based activities we can motivate students to use English to communicate in the real world (Larsen-Freeman, 2000).  A task-based communicative activity involves students accomplishing the task with the target language (Richards and Rogers, 2001), and the focus is not only on the product, but also on the process of learning.  Students are expected to acquire new vocabulary words and practice listening and speaking skills throughout the task.

Second, it is important to achieve cross-cultural understanding—awareness of students’ own culture along with that of the target language (Tomalin & Stempleski, 1993).  Mckay (2003) recommends introducing local culture in teaching materials rather than overloading students with Western culture.  Kilickaya (2004) suggests using authentic materials and cultural content in foreign language teaching. With this goal of cultural instruction in mind, we attempted to raise our students’ cultural awareness and inspire them to introduce this special festival to their foreign friends.


We divided 50 students into five groups, with each group seated around a table on which all the cooking materials, ingredients and utensils were placed.  Following the basic methods and principles of task-based teaching (Ellis, 2003) and adding the cultural elements, we designed the procedure for our activity as follows:


  1. First, we introduced the history of the Dragon Boat Festival, through which students could understand the origin and the meaning of wrapping rice dumplings. This introduction gave the whole activity more significance than an ordinary cooking class.
  2. Next, using PowerPoint, we showed pictures of the ingredients, materials and utensils along with the English names of all items. The use of visual images can increase students’ memory and comprehension of new words and promote learning interest.
  3. Because many of the words were new to students, we asked them to repeat each word. Moreover, in order to check the students learning progress, we would pick up the authentic materials on the table (see Appendix A for ingredients, seasonings, and wrapping materials) to ask students, “What is this?”  If we found students had problems pronouncing certain vocabulary words, we repeated them. This visual presentation of authentic materials could reinforce the learning of new vocabulary words.


  1. First, we showed the cooking steps of the rice dumplings using PowerPoint. Next, we demonstrated cooking in front of the students.
  2. Students followed our instructions and wrapped rice dumplings step by step.
  3. We walked to each group and answered students’ questions regarding how to wrap the rice dumplings properly.


While waiting for the rice dumplings to be boiled, which took about 30 minutes, we had students play two language games, which not only allowed them to have some fun but also reviewed what they had just learned.  The winners of games were awarded with an extra rice dumpling. The games are as follows:

Language Game One

Each student received a paper printed with a list of words (see Figure 1). We then showed 16 pictures on PowerPoint, which included the new vocabulary words taught in the pre-task phase. Students tried to match the correct words with the correct pictures. After the 16 pictures had been shown, papers were graded.

Language Game One

You will see the following pictures in the PowerPoint presentation. From the list of words—A to P, find the correct answer to match each picture.

A. wok       B. recipe             C. boiling pot          D. soy sauce           E. peanuts     F. dried radish      G. sticky rice       H. black pepper   I. mushroom   J. chicken cube      K. dragon boat        L. bamboo leaves        M. string      N. dried shrimp    O. stove               P. red onion

1.  B 2. 3. 4.
5. 6. 7. 8.
9. 10. 11. 12.
13. 14. 15. 16
(Figure 1)

Language Game Two

Each student received a paper (see Figure 2). In this activity, we described certain objects in English and students were asked to identify the objects. For example, one description was: “This food may give you pimples if you eat it too often.” Our students might not know what “pimples” mean, so we would use body language (e.g. squeezing pimples) to get the meaning across. The students then tried to choose the correct answer (peanut) from the list A-P and write the correct letter (E) on the line.

 Language Game Two

What is it?
After you hear the teacher's description, try to figure out what is described and write down the letter on the line.

A. wok       B. recipe             C. boiling pot           D. soy sauce         E. peanut     F. dried radish        G. sticky rice        H. black pepper I. mushroom   J. chicken cube      K. dragon boat         L. bamboo leaves      M. string      N. dried shrimp    O. stove                P. red onion

1. __________ 2. ___________ 3. _____________ 4. _______________
5. __________ 6. ___________ 7. _____________ 8. _______________
(Figure 2)


The input of photos and pictures using PowerPoint, and most important of all, the use of authentic cooking materials, ingredients and utensils enhanced the students’ acquisition of new vocabulary words as manifested in the language games.  Moreover, students actively interacted in English with both teachers and partners throughout the whole cooking process. Wrapping rice dumplings stood out as a unique task involving Chinese culture, thus giving students an opportunity to explore their own cultural legacy.

The number of students who elected to participate proved that the activity was overwhelmingly attractive as very few students had ever made rice dumplings before.  The highlight of the activity was when students were ready to taste the product of the task, the rice dumplings. We were also thrilled to see students “reap the harvest” with great satisfaction.

The process of wrapping rice dumplings involves a significant amount of time-consuming preparatory work, which might be daunting to teachers who do not have much time to shop, prepare cooking ingredients, and clean up the “aftermath.”  However, with good planning as well as the assistance of staff and several student volunteers, we were able to manage the activity and accomplish the challenging task.  


There are several things that could be done to improve this cultural activity in the future.  For example, instead of using pictures or photos, we could use YouTube to select video clips of the rice dumpling cooking process and dragon boat races (see Appendix B) to make the pre-task more vivid and interesting.  In addition, to further understand students’ needs and opinions, we could administer a questionnaire in the post-task stage. The success of this activity also encourages us to explore other possibilities for introducing Taiwanese culture (e. g. aboriginal tribes in Taiwan and their culture) to our students. In summary, combining culture with a task-based teaching approach adds a new dimension of achievement and understanding for both students and teachers.


Appendix A 



Wrapping Materials

Glutinous/sticky rice


Dried mushroom

Raw peanuts

Dried radish

Fried red onion

Dried shrimp


Sweet & spicy sauce


Black pepper

Cooking oil

Chicken cube

Bamboo leaves


Appendix B: Useful Websites

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 6, June 2008