Online Course: The Role of Culture in the Education of Adult English Language Learners

Use this discussion thread to post your response to the question below from the ELL-U online course, The Role of Culture in the Education of Adult English Language Learners. Please share your comments to any of the questions below, or post general comments or your feedback on the course.

  1. What strategies, activities, or methods have you used as a culturally competent teacher? What have you observed in other teachers?
  2. What did you discover about your own assumptions? How has going through the DIE stages helped you see new perspectives? What challenges did you experience and how did you overcome them? Were any of the stages more difficult than others? How can you use the DIE inquiry strategy to address cultural assumptions and cultural dilemmas that arise in classrooms with adult ELLs?
  3. Share your thoughts around which items shown below would be designated “big C” and “little c”. Which items might be debatable as to their designation? Why?
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Star Wars by George Lucas
  • a McDonald’s® menu
  • Jeremy Lin
  • a Groupon voucher
  • Madonna
  • Betsy Ross’ flag
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • iPods®
  • baseball
  • The Great Depression
  • a bus ticket
  • a Coke® can
  • The White House
  • Facebook
  1. Culture plays a critical role in teaching and learning. How has the content in this course helped you better understand your own cultural investments, perspectives, and values? What are some strategies you will use to facilitate a culturally inclusive learning environment and facilitating (cross) cultural understanding among all members of the class?


This course has reminded me that I am not an expert on someone else's culture regardless of how much research I have done.  I need to ask each student about their experiences in their own culture.  I hope to avoid making assumptions or generalizing to the entire population.

When I meet with a student to tutor them, I will ask about their experiences in the classroom and if they experienced anything that felt uncomfortable to them.  I will inquire about whether or not they felt like a part of the class or if they felt left out or stigmatized in any way.

I agree! I love learning about different cultures and peoples, but I too can fall into the pit of overgeneralizing. And I get mad when Americans do that to me!

I really liked your idea to ask about students' experiences in the classroom in order to facilitate good community.

Personally, what I learned in this course is that acculturation happens in differing (and not all positive) ways. This course broadened the way that I look at my students and has encouraged me to continue getting to know my students better and better. I can form a classroom culture that helps students learn to the best of their ability. I know where some of my students work, and it encourages me to go to their places of business in order to know how they will need to use English in their daily lives. Another strategy I would like to use is to continue to respect and encourage differing opinions and "ways of doing life" in my classroom. General American principles of culture and ways of living should be discussed. I have students who have been in the United States for a long time as well as some newcomers. I think classroom discussion will help these students reflect on how they have adjusted which will simultaneously give newer students examples and options for how they can go about acculturating to their new community.


Nicole Bowman

As an immigrant, I know of not making any assumption about other cultures. I also like to observe the differences between people of many countries from the same continent. I have many encounters with other people’s assumptions. Many Americans do not recognize the differences between people of many Asian countries. They think that everyone come from China. I was annoyed at first, but I figured that if I teach them the differences then they would not make this mistake with others.


Now arming with the DIE inquiry strategy, I will be able to guide them to their own discovery of differences between people of different countries of the same continent. I will teach the DIE strategy to my students so their inquiries will not offense their classmates.


Being also an immigrant, I agree with your comment about not making any assumptions about the ohters' culture. I encountered the same problem about not differentiating people of the same continent, but with  Latin America, and not only in the USA. I lived in Europe for most of my adult life and came across many people who put Africans, Asians and Latin Americans in the same 'continent' pot. It is people like you and me, that are able to clarify that to them and enlighten them about the differences. The best place to start is in the classroom and amongst our teacher fellows. They will then be able to pass it on to their students and these to other people.



In light of the TEDtalk in this section as well as the idea of the stereotypes of investigating just the foods, festivals, etc. of cultures, I reflected on the ESL class I visited and then facilitated last week.
We were discussing foods and favorite restaurants of the ESL students, all hailing from Central or South America, because we were headed out to the community garden later in the day to harvest our vegetables. The students kept mentioning how many foreign foods they loved, like Mediterranean, Japanese, sushi, Thai, and so on. Very few of them mentioned their home food, though they mentioned they liked trying foods from other Spanish speaking countries. Italian restaurants were the most popular! They are all first generation immigrants who are seeking citizenship, but it would not be useful to ask about their home food. Though they may have grown up with the tradition, they seem to want to branch out, making them more like Americans than they realize (at least, most people I know seem to have Americanized food from a different culture every day because they can get it in take out). I think the home country food or traditions question could most frustrate an second generation immigrant, who may have been brought here as a baby and grown up completely separated from their home country, because it could feel like I was forcing a culture upon them that they never knew.
This section really made me realize that though I try to avoid cultural bias, it has permeated my thinking anyway and I was a bit disappointed in myself. Admitting it is the first step to getting better though, right?! I can't wait to become a better, more culturally competent citizen and teacher.


You bring up a very good point about not assuming that the first or second generation immigrants want to only talk about and eat food from their home countries.  You know what they say about assumptions!

I think, though, that some immigrants may want talk about their home country food. For example, when visiting programs in Maine, where many of the refugee/immigrants are from Somalia, or Eritrea, or Ethiopa, often via Kenya, I observed that they do like to talk about eating and cooking the Halal food from their cultures. Traditionally, in classes with beginning-level students, talking about their foods and doing exercises where they practice vocabulary and structures around cooking and eating (Take two cups  of rice and put in three cups of  boiling water for 30 minutes.... etc.) has given the students the language they need and has allowed them to share their culture with other students and with the teacher. This is also a venue to learn about American measurement system, etc. Finally, it often results in wonderful shared meals. I still dream about the spring rolls, noodles, larb, satays, and soups I had when teaching Southeast Asians in the 70s and 80s.

Again, though, Margaret,  your point about not assuming anything is right on target. And your self reflection is advisable for all of us!

Thoughts from others out there? This is a wonderful thread that goes on months (years?) after Dorjan Chaney began it!

Miriam Burt

SME, Adult ELL CoP



I have students from a variety of countries and cultures in my classroom. I continuously strive to not simply teach American culture, but also to have them share their cultural traditions and ways of life. I want them to know that I'm eager to learn from them as well. Fellow classmates are also interested to learn about other cultures, and it's important for students to know that my classroom is welcoming of all cultures and that we can all learn from each other!

Star Wars, Jeremy Lin, Madonna, Betsy Ross's flag, The Great Gatsby, and the Great Depression are part of Big C culture. Everyday cultural influences like a McDonald's menu, a Groupon voucher, a Coke can, a bus ticket, and Facebook are part of Little c culture. Some on the list could be either/or since they are part of daily life, yet also have Big C elements involved. It is not always clearly distinguishable. The two forms of culture, Big C and Little c, have an effect on each other, and therefore, on us.

The DIE model and Funds of Knowledge are excellent guides for learning from and better appreciating our students, their backgrounds, histories, experiences, and prior knowledge. The DIE stages help me to take a step back to better interpret and evaluate and in turn learn from and apply what I've learned about another culture and their ways of living. I think the Interpretation stage is the most difficult of the three. It seems simple to describe a situation and share feelings about it. However, interpreting the experience can be more complicated.

I think the DIE model is very beneficial to the adult ELL classroom. It can help us to take time to better understand each other and more greatly appreciate different views and cultural practices. It is also important to choose your words wisely, so as not to offend or cause someone else to be on the defensive. Word choice is very important and critical when discussing cultural differences.

This course has helped to further encourage me to invest time in getting to know each student personally so I can more deeply know their "Funds of Knowledge" and in turn expand on what they know to help them grow in their English language learning. I want to know their specific reasons for wanting to learn English and how I can help them to succeed and reach their own goals. I want to take time with each individual so I may learn more about their background, experiences, desires, and plans for their future. I'm also glad to now know more about how to handle conversations with others who may not be sensitive to cultural differences, and to better be able to help them come to appreciate all the wonderful rich cultures we are privileged to come into contact with and learn about! I'm eager to help my students grow in not only their knowledge of English, but also a greater knowledge and appreciation for each others' cultures and ways of life!

The topic of culture has always fascinated me.  This course has helped understand how integrating different cultures in the classroom can aid the students in learning the language.  When I was in Mexico, learning about their culture, food and songs helped me to learn the language.  Integrating the threads of different cultures and the threads of learning a language can help us weave a strong fabric of understanding the language.

Probably the most useful concept I learned in this course was to refrain from assuming that students from the same culture share similar cultural experiences.  In the past, I may have engaged in discussion assuming similar practices.  Now, I know better to center the discussion more on individual practices and only then discover and note commonality.

Working through the "Eid" powerpoint, I observed (description) the centrality of prayer as part of the celebration as well as celebrating community by visiting with friends and family and sharing food.  I realized (interpretation) that components of the Eid celebration were similar to celebrating Christian holidays.  For example, in the powerpoint, a gentleman visits a grave as part of observing the holiday.  This is a practice I had participated in with my own family as part of the holiday season.  I could then conclude (evaluation) that Moslems and Christians share similar practices as part of celebrating religious holidays.



I think that Betsy Ross’s flag, The Great Gatsby, baseball, the Great Depression and the White House are all Big C .  Star Wars, McDonalds Madonna and Coke are iconic and it could be argued that this could put them into the Big C category.  Beloved, Groupon, Jeremy Lin would fall into little c because they are popular but lack either staying power or recognition across all demographic groups.  iPods, bus tickets and Facebook are not limited to one culture.

Having lived in another country, I understand how difficult and exhausting it can be just to get through the day struggling with the language and not quite understanding "how things are done."  I try to use this experience in my classroom and give my students the opportunity to ask questions and make comments on the things they see in their lives.  I encourage them to share with the class how things are different in their countries.  

When I was student teaching, I observed another teacher do a lesson on "culture".  She compared culture to an iceberg - the tip is easy to see and understand, but underneath there is a much bigger part that is much more difficult to learn.  She showed a clip from a movie of a barn-raising in an Amish community - on mute - and just asked the students to observe what was happening and what they thought about it.  For homework, she asked the students to bring in something that represented their country's culture.  She used her key chain as an example of American culture - how important our cars are to us.

For this exercise, I looked at Cambodia Town’s website.  I assumed that Cambodia Town was interested in preserving its culture and providing a haven for Cambodians to escape from American culture but going through the DIE process made me see that they while they are interested in preserving their own culture they are also interested in helping their community members integrate into the community at large as well as sharing their culture with others. 


The welcoming of the Mark Twain library shows how they are interested in drawing everyone to their community.  I notice the Cambodia Town signs and the ceremony around them.  I learned that this community has recently been officially designated and raised funds for these new signs.  They have great pride in their community and want people to be able to find their “town” and share in their culture.


After learning about the DIE strategy, I realize that I often observe, form an opinion and move on.  Going forward personally and in my classroom I will observe more closely and ask myself more questions about the situation and how I feel about it.  The “Evaluate” section is very important – just because something is different then my experience doesn’t mean it’s weird or wrong.  Ask questions – people want to be understood and recognized, not just written-off.

Because I have travelled around the world and visited many countries I feel like I have an awareness of being an outsider and the struggles of living in a different world.  But after going through this course, I realize that there are lots of ways I can do thing better.  I really enjoyed the “Single Story” TEDtalk.  Single story is such an easy trap to fall into and being aware of it will help me to ask more questions and seek more information.  Even though I’ve visited a country doesn’t mean I know all about it.

In my future classes, I will utilize my student’s funds of knowledge.  I make an effort to learn about my students, where they are from, their families, their hobbies and past experiences… but now I will dig deeper and use this info in my lessons to help build relevance and comfort.

I have always encouraged acculturation with my students (but I didn’t know what it was called) and will continue to do so.  We all have much to learn from each other and there is no reason why the newcomer has to give up everything.  As I create my next syllabus I am going to give special attention to the cultural aspects of language and situations.

I have realized that I actively contemplate culture before I teach any civics lesson to my beginning level ESL adult students. I use things from mainstream American culture and we compare/contrast it to the students' culture, which is predominately Hispanic. I use a Venn diagram, reading passages, real items or a video to teach the concept. Often times it leads to a lively discussion.

Hi Susan, It is good to feel affirmed in our practices. You are supporting learners to consider the differences and similarities between their culture and the culture of their new homeland. In the process, you are learning a great deal about the students' background, too. Perhaps even more important, as stated in the ELLU culture course The Role of Culture, is becoming more aware of aspects of our own culture. There is far more below the surface that we are often unaware of. The immigrants we work with can help us to examine our own culture in greater depth.

Thank you for sharing a bit about your experience with the ELLU Role of Culture online course. I think every ESL teacher could benefit from this course. Even we ESL teachers, who are typically an especially sensitive bunch, sometimes make assumptions about culture that need to be examined.

Since many in our community may not be familiar with this free ELLU course, which is available here, we would welcome hearing more from you, Susan, as well as other members who have completed this course. What valuable insights about culture have you taken away? What practices will you (or have you) implement(ed) as a result? What questions, if any, remain for you?

Cheers, Susan

Moderator, AELL

My thoughts on culture(s) in the classroom are varied.  On the one hand, I am genuinely interested in learning about other cultures (likewise for students) but on the other hand, the topic can be fraught with tension and confrontations, especially when religious beliefs enter into the equation.  In general, cultural discussions have centered around food, holidays, cultural events (such as birthdays, weddings, etc.) and a simple thing such as saying "Bless you" or the equivalent thereof.  I am careful to allow every student to participate in the discussions, and I'm also cognizant of attaching a criteria for discussions that include mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance if the discussion heads into potentially confrontational territory.  In general, students really seem to enjoy learning about others in their classroom.  I hope to learn some ways of navigating this incredibly interesting yet potentially divisive topic.

Here are a couple of ways I've used to share cultures in classrooms focusing on information gathering.

1.  Have students pair up and talk to each other and answer questions about where they're from, what's important to them about their homeland, etc., and then have the students introduce their partner to the class and invite the class to ask questions. You might provide a list of questions and allow students time to write answers. This provides opportunities for oral language transmission, writing, listening and speaking. Students are focused on gathering the information rather than making judgments about it. A chart on a wall can be made for students to write the information and this can form the basis of Find Someone Who games, building  classroom interconnectedness.

2.  Another way to share information is to assign students to research a religion that is not their own and present their findings. I did this even with high beginners, and I provided them with a grid that required very simple information to be filled in. For instance: Name of religion, How many members, How many gods/Names of gods, Symbol, Special Day.  Then students went up to the poster and filled in the information and spoke briefly about the religion they researched. I provided short descriptions of religions I found on the website. Then they made a pie graph to show the populations of each religion.

3.  Along the lines of the Danger of a Single Story, student may be invited to write a narrative about they came to this country, or an experience they had here that is important to them.  These might be published as a booklet to provide shared experiences, and relevant reading material for other lessons or future classes.



I readily admit I had to Google Jeremy Lin to discover who this person is, but that just shows my ignorance of basketball.  As for the other items on the list, all but the groupon voucher and the bus ticket I categorized as a high C.  Busses are not what I consider to be distinctly American, as they are also associated with most other countries as well; the same goes for Facebook.  I hate to think of a McDonald's menu as being a high C, but it does scream American culture, poor as that example may be. 

I visited the Karen Organization of Minnesota, which is an organization that strives to assist the Burmese immigrants who have immigrated to a new life in Minnesota.  I also have some Burmese students here in Louisiana, and must admit that I know very little about life in Burma.  The photographs presented on the website show people of varying ages involved in many different activities.  My assumptions about the Burmese were that they are a poor, agricultural community that lives in regions often inundated with monsoons.  The pictures, however, show people playing electric guitars, wearing brightly colored patterns in some cases and formal attire in others, not at all like the stereotyped peasants I expected to see.  As I read about the immigrants, I learned that most of them had lived in remote regions between Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand, and that they suffered persecution from other ethnic groups in the region.  (That was another of my assumptions...because Burma seems so small, I envisioned one culturally homogenous people.)  Obviously, the photographs of these people showed what appeared to be a generation comfortable with technology as juxtaposed by photographs with their elders, who did not seem to embrace technology in the same way.  (Sound familiar?)  There were traditional patterns used in garments (or at least, that is also my assumption) and others who bore no resemblance to traditional manners of dressing. 

Perhaps when the fall semester begins, I will have some learning to do when my Burmese students return.

This course has helped me better understand my own cultural investments and perspectives.  I truly enjoyed the video, "The Danger of the Single Story."  It is astounding to me  that all of us are guilty of forming stereotypes that limit the capability of others to be recognized as equal human beings.  I do not believe, however, we are truly bound by those stereotypes, but they are impossible to escape.  The danger is not only in the "single story," but in the refusal to expand that story.  I will explore the "Foundations of Knowledge" to elicit information about students backgrounds, interests, etc. and encourage them to share/interview/question their classmates to foster a learning environment that is inclusive for all.  The exploration of the big and little Cs should be fun, but I don't think it important that students be able to identify one c from the other, only to engage in a cultural dialogue should suffice.  I like the example of the disposable coffee cup given in the lesson.  That is an easily accessible and relevant starting point for a cultural discussion.   

Mark, Thank you for your comments and thoughtful reflections here in response to the LINCS ELLU online course on the Role of Culture (available through LINCS Learning Portal). I agree with you that while we all carry assumptions about others, we do not have to be bound by stereotypes as long as we are careful to continually examine our assumptions. "The Danger of a Single Story" (a TED talk by Chimamanda Nigozi Adichie which is featured in the online course) reminds us in a powerful way of the need to reserve judgment about others and not make assumptions about where people come from and who they are. We definitely need to, as you suggest, continually expand the story by remaining respectfully curious and open-minded.

It would be wonderful if you would continue to share with us how you are applying what you have learned in this course in your classroom. For instance, what might you learn from the adults who come to your class -- not only about them and their culture but also about our culture? I've always thought we have the best job in the world since we have the wonderful opportunity to interact with amazing people from all around the world. 

Cheers, Susan

Moderator, AELL CoP

  1. What strategies, activities, or methods have you used as a culturally competent teacher? What have you observed in other teachers?
  2. I try to tap into the funds of knowledge as a teacher.  I believe that this is one of the most important aspects of being a culturally competent teacher because you know your students, you show them that you care about them as people, and you have a baseline for what and where to scaffold. 
  3. What did you discover about your own assumptions? How has going through the DIE stages helped you see new perspectives? What challenges did you experience and how did you overcome them? Were any of the stages more difficult than others? How can you use the DIE inquiry strategy to address cultural assumptions and cultural dilemmas that arise in classrooms with adult ELLs?  I think that the DIE method is beneficial if the teacher is directing in, but it a difficult method to adapt to outside of a guided practice because of our own biases and prejudices.  If practiced enough, though, I think it would help me as a teacher and my students to be able to think rightly about cultural differences. 
  4. Share your thoughts around which items shown below would be designated “big C” and “little c”. Which items might be debatable as to their designation? Why? I think that the White House, The Great Depression, and a Coke can are "big C", but the rest are negotiable as "little C.".  
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Star Wars by George Lucas
  • a McDonald’s® menu
  • Jeremy Lin
  • a Groupon voucher
  • Madonna
  • Betsy Ross’ flag
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • iPods®
  • baseball
  • The Great Depression
  • a bus ticket
  • a Coke® can
  • The White House
  • Facebook
  1. Culture plays a critical role in teaching and learning. How has the content in this course helped you better understand your own cultural investments, perspectives, and values? What are some strategies you will use to facilitate a culturally inclusive learning environment and facilitating (cross) cultural understanding among all members of the class?  In my classroom, I will have more cultural lesson times where students are able to discuss and share about who they are.  Creating an environment where they feel safe to do so is of utmost importance.  I will also use funds of knowledge to become a better teacher, person, and friend for my students in order to understand who they are as best as I can. 

Hi Elizabeth, Thank you for posting your reflection on the ELLU Role of Culture online course. The concept of "funds of knowledge" is particularly valuable for our work with adult English learners. As you note, it is important to recognize that adults bring a wealth of knowledge and experiences into our classrooms, and we need to work on ways to build English skills by drawing upon those strengths.

The Big C, little c exercise is an interesting one. Seems to me, many things on the list could be debated as one or the other. I'm curious why you decided that a Coke® can fits the Big C label.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Adult English Language Learners CoP

The course exercise in DIE inquiry strategy brought up a relevant example of my personal cultural assumptions.

My impression of the US Cambodian community was shaped by one lovely, heartwarming night in San Francisco in 1982.

My cousin Jana, while working in a Cambodian refugee camp, became friends with a teenager who had been rescued from a crowded rickety boat in the ocean. Along with thousands of other refugees, she had fled ongoing violence and political instability in their country. Without the benefit of parents to guide her, she made that dangerous journey alone, but was eventually reunited with relatives in San Francisco.

A few months later, Jana and I were invited to spend an evening with that teenager and her extended family. There were many people living in the small apartment, all gainfully employed in a variety of jobs. Their clothes were old but neat and clean.  The furnishings were sparse. Our hosts made an amazing dinner of traditional Cambodian food and welcomed us with warmth and gracious hospitality.

Humbled by their generosity, I thought a great deal about what it cost them to put on that delicious and plentiful dinner for us. I was embarrassed by my own relative wealth and have thought of that family often over the years.

So, for this exercise, I chose the Cambodia Town website to explore. The site talks about the official highway sign installation for Cambodia Town district in Long Beach, CA; the Cambodian Film Festival; The Cambodian Arts and Cultural Exhibition; the diplomatic trips back to Cambodia; and much more.

This level of community well-being, art, culture, and political adeptness presented an extreme opposite impression to my first contact with the vulnerable refugee family 33 years prior. My sense then of a tenacious and hard-working community seems to be borne out in these examples of Cambodia Town’s success. However, it exploded and expanded that one distinct memory of disenfranchised refugees that was frozen in my head.

I am reminded of the “funds of knowledge” section we studied, and how it’s important to realize that our students had (and still have in spite of the language barrier) rich lives, experiences, intelligence, abilities, and personal qualities to enrich and share with the rest of us.

Learning about the different cultures represented in my classroom and using the DIE Inquiry Strategy will help me recognize and deal with cultural misunderstandings in class.

Jane, Thank you for this anecdote and your thoughtful reflection. As you've illustrated here, even those of us who work with immigrants and refugees on a regular basis and are generally culturally sensitive can have some of our assumptions challenged. It's important to recognize that and to continually examine our assumptions.

I had the good fortune to visit Cambodia a few years ago, and I can tell you I was astounded by my experience in so many ways. The people are kind and generous for sure. Plus, getting to visit Angkor Wat was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. Any encounter I have with Cambodians who have immigrated to the US always conjures images from my visit to their former home.

We certainly look forward to hearing your voice in our AELL community on the topic of culture and more!

Warmly, Susan

Moderator, Adult English Language Learners CoP

Hello Everyone,

I recently took The Role of Culture online class as my first experience with the Learning Portal and overall I thought the course was well-designed and informative. As a MALP practitioner, I especially appreciated seeing that model incorporated in the class. However, after some reflection, I decided to share my concerns about a video segment that I found questionable, if not at odds with, culturally responsive teaching. I tried to go back into the course to identify the speaker, but was unable to. However, the video was divided into five segments and featured a social worker's view of attachment theory as being one framework for viewing ELLs.

The speaker described what he called a Culture of Poverty, with "dependency" being one of the characteristics that was detrimental. He described working in an environment where immigrants were invited to obtain backpacks filled with school supplies at the beginning of the school year. When one woman approached him, he asked her why she hadn't put away a little money so that she could purchase the items herself.  "After all, señora," he said, smiling, "You knew that September was coming, didn't you?" And then he told her he'd give her the backpack but she would have to buy the supplies herself. He later went on to say that because he was Mexican, as were most of the people he dealt with, he "could talk to them straight, and they appreciate that."

In my view, this does not fit within the framework of Culturally Relevant Teaching, to put it mildly. Judging "dependency" in a negative way fails to take into account that many cultures in the world thrive on interdependency. It seems to me that the social worker failed to take into account the bias of the dominant white American culture he represented, and that he was applying to a person who had their own cultural values, their own funds of knowledge, and the right to receive a free bag of school supplies, without criticism or judgment.

In contrast to this video, I just finished reading "Fire in the Ashes," by Jonathan Kozol, who reported the successes and failures of second-generation immigrants, many of whom have succeed because of their interconnectedness and interdependency. For instance, one family member took a year off from college to parent a sibling and save money, while their sister moved from her dorm to an apartment with them for more savings. In this way, three siblings ultimately graduated from college.

Culturally Responsive Teaching  (and the MALP model) trains us to identify characteristics of other cultures and to respect values, beliefs and ways of being that are different from our own. In order for ELLs to thrive in a new culture, we learn to facilitate their transition to different ways of thinking and being, without criticism or the kind of ridicule I saw in this video segment.

I wonder if anyone else has comments about this segment?

Again, I'd like to reiterate that this was just a small part of the overall course, which I found valuable.


nan frydland


Hi all,

Nan and I discovered that these videos weren't part of the culture course after all.  As the developer of this course, it was a relief because I couldn't recall anything about the culture of poverty in the course.

I second Nan's recommendations to read about the Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm as well as Kozol's book.



Some activities I plan to incorporate to encourage cultural understanding:

1)Class discussions that allow the students to compare more general topics, such as national holidays, transportation, etc.

2)Written stories about more personal cultural likes and dislikes that the students want to share.

3)Show-and-tells using pictures or items that will encourage dialogue.


I never knew these terms existed and it seems as if what I think is a BIG C is someone's little c.  For me, the BIG Cs would be:  Betsy Ross' flag, The Great Gatsby, the Great Depression and the White House.  The remainders would be little c's...for me.   In a few years, some of my little c's ( like baseball and Madonna) maybe someone's BIG Cs.

I chose the Karen Organization of Minnesota website.


DESCRIPTION: This website if VERY informative.  It has many menu options covering many different aspects of the organization.

INTERPRETATION:  What I interpreted is that this organization is very professional and above the bar, meaning, they have done their work and there is so much information on this website.  I did not realize, and not so sure I would not living in Minnesota, how many Burmese refugees there are in Minnesota and what this organization has to offer them.

EVALUATION:  I am completely clueless about this culture and how popular of a population there must be of Burmese refugees for them to have this huge, informative, website.  I feel horrible for not even thinking that this exists and how important the Burmese culture must be in the Minnesota.  Ugh!!!  My world is a lot smaller than I thought!!

Yes, I am completing this course today!  3 posts in a few hours!!!  I enjoyed this course. Even though as I was going through it, I kept thinking about a lot of this is common sense.  Yet, when I reflect on my ESL classroom, I realize I have some work to do.  I only have a short period of time with my students each day but I need to start incorporating more culture into the classroom since there are more than 2 or 3 cultures in the room at once.  I need to try to find time to incorporate the suggestions from this course so my students are more knowledgeable of not only themselves, but of others. 

Hello Kathy, Thank you for your thoughtful posts related to your learning in the ELLU online course on the Role of Culture in Teaching Adult ESL. There is always a lot more to learn about the role of culture in our work, isn't there?! I personally consider this course to be essential for all adult ESL teachers. Even experienced adult ESL teachers are offered much to consider in this course.

For those who may not be aware, the self-paced ELLU online courses are free and available through the LINCS online portal.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

I do enjoy bringing together each of my students backgrounds and current lives.  I try to incorporate our local culture as well and how to use the English we learning our everyday lives.  One way I address little "c" culture in the classroom is by using idioms of the English language.  We practice our writing using the idioms and it gives me and the entire class a way to get to learn about the everyday lives we lead and each persons culture they have created for them and their families here in the U.S.  I do have to frequently remind myself to not fall into the mind set of stereotypes of certain cultures.  I do spend a good bit of time at the beginning of each class getting to know all of my students and what each one "brings to the table."

In our classroom I try to make it like our own community and we do a lot of bonding and get to know you activities to learn about each persons beliefs, goals, and life styles.  I also do a lot of sharing about my own experiences being a transplant to the area, in order to encourage students to discuss how there cultures have changed throughout their lives and they have created new cultures for their families.

after studying this training module, I was able to see that I am off to a good start by getting to know my students and there everyday lives and make connections with them and between their fellow students.  I try to bring in their daily cultures into as many lessons as I can to make the lessons applicable.  These lessons have also given me direction to help my students understand other cultures through the steps of DIE.  I was also reminded to not jump to conclusions and follow stereotypes of cultures.

Hi Jennifer, It's clear you are taking away a lot from the ELLU online course on the role of culture. Getting to know the learners in our class and creating activities so they can get acquainted with one another is essential to creating a supportive learning environment. Drawing upon adult learners backgrounds in a variety of ways, as you point out, enriches our own learning, too.

I've often said that all adult ESL teachers can benefit from the Role of Culture ELLU online course since culture is so central to the work we do each day. The course deals with the issue of culture in fresh and thought-provoking ways. Anyone who has not yet taken this ELLU course ought to check it out.  In fact, all the ELLU online courses are worthwhile. Since the courses are self-paced, they are quite flexible. I think it would be beneficial to take the course with a group and plan to meet with others for either a face-to-face or online discussion to talk about the content of the course and how to apply what was learned in practice.

Some groups have used the ELLU courses in this way, and I know the teachers found the professional development experience to be valuable.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

I am new to ESL.  I have been teaching for only a couple of months.  However, these have been the best months of my teaching career.  I love what I do and I love my students.  Most of my students are from Latin America.  I have students from over 10 different countries.  What I have learned is that just because a student speaks Spanish doesn't mean that they all share the same culture.  Cultures vary from country to country.  My students are teaching me so much about teaching ESL.   Each class, I ask them what they need and spend a lot of time listening to their answers.  I spend hours preparing and researching how I can best meet their needs.  I let their needs determine what I teach.

Hi Reine, I'm glad you found the ELLU course on the Role of Culture to be helpful. It seems that by teaching adult ESL you have found your niche. The rewards of working with adult immigrants and refugees are indeed priceless, and we learn as much or more than the adults we serve.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

I learn from my students everyday because I listen a lot.  I ask a probing question and then let them talk.  When one student is having difficulty expressing a thought, another student will jump in and help by speaking to them in Spanish and then the student is able to rephrase what they were trying to say.  My students learn best through interaction and discussion with one another.  I have watched them grow in their knowledge of the "English Culture."   All of what I have learned so far from this course makes so much sense to me.  I see it played out in my classroom every day.  During our conversations, it is not unusual for tears to be shed.  Most of them are tears of relief and joy by both my students and I.   I go beyond just teaching language, I always look for ways to help my students in any way I can.  They come to my house for dinner and activities.  They know that they are part of my family.   Many have told me that I am more than just a teacher and friend to them.  I belong to their family.   When I reached this stage in my teaching, I saw how brave my students became in trying new things and reading aloud.  It was ok to make mistakes because when you are family, mistakes don't matter, only love and acceptance.  How blessed I am!

In my last post, I included a lot of refection about what I learned from the course.  I can truly say that this has been one of the best online courses I have ever taken.  It has inspired me to continue my work as an ESL teacher.  I guess I stumbled into the realm of culture due to my lack of knowledge of what an ESL teacher does.  Since I had no preconceived notions, I entered with an open mind and one goal, helping my students be successful in the American culture.

I would see Coke, Beloved, Ross' flag, baseball, and the White House as big C because they are withstanding the test of time and are easily recognizable to people across the world. In the case of Coke and baseball, those have spread across the world and are now part of other cultures. Groupon and Jeremy Lin would be small c because we don't know yet if they will have lasting influence. I'm not sure about these: Star Wars, Madonna, Great Gatsby, ipods, and Facebook. Will they be remembered or identified with American culture 50-100 years from now?

This course was very interesting and helpful to me because I enjoy learning about different cultures and I want all of my students to feel accepted and appreciated no matter their background. In this past semester, a large chunk of my class has been dedicated to integrating many of my ESL students into American culture. We did several activities and lessons centered around pop culture, US history and also U.S. government. Whenever I do this I always like to compare the similarities and differences between everyone's cultures. We always have discussions and I always have them do different ice breakers and skits. 

Hello Charlyndria, It's good to hear that you are taking away a lot from the ELLU course on culture. Engaging students in conversations and other language activities around cultural similarities and differences is always a great learning experience for everyone, including the teacher.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Adult English Language Learners CoP

I learned that Eid is a Muslim celebration that honestly has a lot of parallels to Easter, the conclusive festival to Lent (the act of giving something away, or even fasting, for 40 days).

I heard that the act of cleanliness is a more involved/respected practice than usual (bathing, wearing clean white clothes, perfume).

I think the fact that I immediately compare to my own religion, Catholicism, suggests that Eid is a religious holiday that may be more celebrated than Easter (which has transformed into a commercial celebration with bunnies and chocolate and eggs).

Reading about what kind of food people prepare and eat was an enjoyable experience. This may have helped me break the "observation " part with my cultural differences.

I think what I will do in my class to be culturally inclusive would be to have individual discussions on holidays. For example, in the U.S., most commercial holidays have deeply religious meanings. St. Patrick's day and St. Valentine's day are Catholic holidays for saints, but they have become so commercialized. Having students talk about their own native holidays, then discussing how contemporary traditions differ from the original practices, would be a very interesting idea.