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?


Hi-- In light of this thread/conversation, I am once again going to suggest that folks download Helen Fox's amazing book,  " Listening to the World: Cultural Issues in Academic Writing"-- it has been enormously enlightening to me even after 50 years of teaching..... it was published in 1994 and is available to download by googling it on google scholar.


I was impressed with the way the DIE method helped put assumptions into perspective and gave concrete dialog and processes to rise above the first appearance assumptions which are made on a daily basis. My students have been very accepting of others, but this year I had an incident between a Chinese student and a Spanish speaking student. We were discussing the daily food pyramid and I asked it they would change any of the percentages of intakes. The Spanish speaking student said she would change the protein and put more beans and meat. The Chinese student told her she didn't need more because she was fat. This caused quite the chatter in Spanish! I didn't realize what had been said until after class when Bricia told me she didn't know whether to laugh or cry. We discussed it was a culture clash and decided to laugh. Throughout the year the good rapport increased between the two cultures as baby showers were given and culture differences were displayed as fun events. I can see how the DIE method would have worked with this problem if we were to openly describe what had happened, interpret why the Chinese student thought she could say this, and then evaluate the outcome and how this could be accepted as a learning experience.

The Funds of Knowledge was a new concept to me. I always try to use the background experiences of each student to build on, but this put this concept into words which will help me be more effective.

My husband and I had an experience with first impression assumptions when we walked into an indoor swap meet and discovered it was a Mexican shop. I was surprised how uncomfortable I felt when my everyday work  is with multi-cultural people. We wandered through and the Mexican people looked just as surprised to see us (my perspective of course). After learning the DIE method, I would like go back and have something to eat and tryout my Spanish I am learning.

Judy, I appreciated your response. I haven't had any culture clashes with my students mainly because most are Asian, and have similar cultures. More recently, we have been geting students from other parts of the world, such as Europe and Micronesia, Vietnam, etc. I would like to study this DIE method. It would encourage cultural acceptance as well as enrich everyone's general life experience. Thank you for sharing.

This addresses the very important principles of Unity in Diversity and The Oneness of Humanity...we must recognize that we are all members of one human family and that we come to understand this principle more deeply as we explore our diversity!! This exploration helps us to have compassion and respect for our human family.


The comment that the server at McDonald's would likely rather be dead than serving is a horrible example of tone-deafness on the part of the presenter.  Class and labor are surely part of both big C and little C culture; assuming that the server would rather be dead disappears the person's agency, intentions and any particular truth that he or she might hold.  I was struck and horrified by the comment.  In its own way it perfectly illustrates how not to be aware of others' lived realities.  Culture is, as we see, more than language, food, fairs, beads or bannock..  Making a living is a huge part of the whole machine.

Every person has his/her own native culture which, as we live and grow, changes, develops and continues to do so.  Depending upon our experiences, our challenges and our contacts, we change.  As a teacher, I encourage my students to share their native cultures and to be sensitive to what others share.  ELL learners are vulnerable, and trust must be created within each group.  

I have students share their backgrounds, where they are from, primary language spoken, foods, holidays, etc.  In learning about others and their history, it teaches others how we are alike and at the same time different.  They find some commonalities and respect each other's differences.  

Amy-- in addition to asking about the three F's (food, fashion, fun), why don't you ask your students how the education system they come from works-- what is valued in the way students demonstrate learning? What is the grading system?   What things are graded/evaluated and how?    How do teachers keep order in the classroom? How do students interact--if at all-- with the teacher? Do students rise and greet the teacher when he/she comes in?   Are students allowed to ask questions?  Are students ever asked to think about what they read or write in the classroom or is it only memorized?   Can/do students help each other? In what ways?  What happens if a student does not do work or is late?  What happens when  student doesn't understand something the teacher has presented?   What happens to students who perpetually do not understand or lag behind??  

All these factors hugely influence how our students experience and function in our culturally different classrooms-- to the point where some cannot function or choose to leave.   

It can be one of the most fascinating conversations of all if you have students of several cultures answering these questions.....and you may realize that you have many worlds going on in the heads of students sitting in your one classroom....

Robin Lovrien  


Learning about other cultures has always been fascinating.  I wouldn’t necessarily say I had assumptions but have learned about different cultures with an open-mind as each culture has their own way of doing things.

The DIE stages give me more structure in the way I go about learning about other cultures. 

Perhaps my interpretation of what I see is maybe most challenging as when you first look at pictures you don’t want to assume.  So it is also important to read not just look at a picture and automatically make an assumption so as not to offend anyone with an inaccurate statement. 

This perspective will be a framework to use in an Adult Education class as it will help provide structure when being introduced to a new culture. 

In having students share about their culture at the beginning of classes, having them follow a more prescribed model such as DIE will help them in using a more structured format to share their information.  What I like about a particular activity in the Funds of Knowledge area was actually going out making home visits.  As a previous teacher for early childhood Head Start students, we always made two home visits which helped build a stronger rapport and firsthand, was able to see or get an idea of children's home life of which I would benefit from of the Adult Education students.

For me, culture has always been the most fascinating topic in working with people from other countries as an ESL teacher. I, too, have associated the word with food, festivals, and beyond that too, with native dress, religion, dance and music. These are only a small part of culture, however. To be culturally competent teachers, we need to stretch our minds beyond the traditional picture we have of the word "culture." 

I found the section in Cultural Hybridity most intriguing. I enjoyed reading about fusion, such as that of the hijab and the fashionista. Something that hit me is Harmful Practices. As teachers we tend to want to have our students share their culture with other class members. I know that I have done it, particularly as an icebreaker during a first class activity. However, now, in going through this course, it has made me think that we should not go into using activities about their countries/cultures too deeply. 

I enjoyed the dialogue demonstration of the DIE Model. It is human nature to not be comfortable with something that is strange to us, but if we look at it differently and open our minds to the unknown, we will move away from rash judgments of something and learn to be more broad-minded about it. We don't have to embrace it but at least learn to understand it better. My favorite part of this course was Funds of Knowledge. I loved the "Hobbit" video and how the teacher visited the three different houses and environments to better understand where the student came from. By looking at the whole picture and identifying the strengths of these communities and families, we as teachers can formulate lessons and activities that are meaningful to our students.

Now, if only the technical glitches here on LINCS could be worked out, taking these courses would be far more enjoyable! I want to finish this course but cannot due to the error on Page 12 of the DIE Model. There is supposed to be a graphic there but since it isn't there, the site will not let me click "next" and this is very frustrating. I have sent two messages through the "Contact Us" page. This is what's holding me up from finishing, but it isn't the first time! I have had issues in past courses here too.

Hi Barbara and Brenda.

This course (and especially that page) uses the Flash Player plugin, and it sounds like you may have that plugin turned off in your web browser.

If you follow the instructions at (if you use Chrome) or (for Safari) to turn Flash on, and then visit the course again, you should be able to jump right back to the page where you left off, and you should see the missing graphic from page 12 of the DIE Model.

If you have any other questions at all, please feel free to reach out to our tech support team (that's me, most of the time, but sometimes one of my coworkers will answer) at any time — the best way is via the Contact Form, but you can also always send an email to Either way, we'll get back to you right away and be happy to help. 

Going thru the DIE has helped me gain a new understanding of culture in the ELL classroom.  We are to suspend judgement about experiences that we don't fully understand.  We try to use our own cultural background to understand the culture of students and sometimes we don't understand.

I found this session so informative. I also found that I am on the right path to becoming a good ESL teacher, because I have always taken the time to get to know my students and have shown them I care. The strategies in this session will assist me in learning more, interpreting, and evaluating my students' stories in a non-judgmental way. I am very excited to bring these new strategies into my classroom :)


I went to the Eid Around the World website and applied the DIE Inquiry Strategy to my assumptions about Eid and about Muslims around the world. I was surprised to find that Eid is celebrated all over the world. Of course, there are Muslims everywhere, but I was still surprised to see some of the photos of Eid being celebrated in countries where the Muslim population is not as large as in others. I noticed my own culturally-biased assumptions that Muslims come from a certain part of the world and look and dress a certain way. My interpretation of my assumption could be that in the US, Muslims are usually portrayed in a narrow way. As an ESL instructor, I teach students from all over the world, and yet I still can make the false assumption that a person is or isn't Muslim by the way they are dressed or their country of origin. I'm interested in how I might challenge myself going forward to question these assumptions. And once I can notice the assumptions I'm making about culture or religion, what other assumptions am I making? What else can I learn from a new perspective?


I learned many new things in this course, and I'm wondering how I could use the Funds of Knowlege inquiry in my classroom. I have a diverse population of emergent readers. I would love to visit each of their homes and get to know where they live, who they live with, what life in their home countries was like, how they get to school, what they eat, who is still in their native country or who is in the US, what it took to get here (many are refugees), what their biggest challenges are many questions! So I'm wondering how teachers do this with their students. It would take a lot of time and planning to make that many home visits. Also, how would the student and family feel about having the teacher in their home? Would the student feel obligated to cook? For refugee families living in very sparse communities, would they feel embarrassed or ashamed of their living situation? I don't know. If the home visits wouldn't be feasible, students could take photos of things and people at home which are important to them, and share in the classroom. The teacher could use this for a community-building activity as well as lots of rich language learning. 

Hi Kelly, Thanks for sharing your reflections on the LINCS ELLU culture course. You note that you appreciated the DIE (Description, Interpretation, Evaluation) model for the way it supports one to examine hidden assumptions. I agree that unearthing and thinking about our personal assumptions is something we teachers can engage in regularly to deepen our own understanding.

You are embracing the concept of "funds of knowledge," which emphasizes that every learner comes to us with a life time of experience and skills. Planning ways to discover learners' abilities and interests is a worthwhile goal. There are learners in our classroom with many talents, e.g., people who make things from wood, people who are expert cooks, people who can fix almost anything, people who sew or knit, people who can sing and play music, storytellers and poets, people who grow flowers and vegetables, etc 

I've used a "Find Someone" activity to uncover people's abilities. After teaching the vocabulary for various skills and talents, learners ask their classmates questions about their skills and talents. When they find people who say "yes, I can," that person writes his/her name on the handout.

For example: Can you cook? Can you sew? Can you fix a motorcycle? Can you make things from wood? Can you sing? Can you fish?, Can you grow vegetables?, etc.

If the students are not yet writing, you can use photos for the various skills, so a student with a photo of someone cooking would ask individual classmates, "Can you cook?" After asking several classmates their question, students can then trade their photos with one another and practice asking about different skills. The trading of photos can be done several times.

It's valuable to debrief the "Find Someone" activity as a whole class by asking questions about the skills: Who can sew? Rima can sew. Who can make things from wood? Ernesto and Roberto can make things from wood. Who can sing? Thuy can sing., etc. Through this activity, students are not only practicing English, they (and their teacher!) are getting to know one another. Expanding our understanding of learners' talents, skills, and interests as a class helps to create a meaningful learning community.

There are many ways to build on the knowledge gained from this activity. The teacher can invite students to bring in things they have sewn or things they have made from wood. Students can sing or play music for the class. They can share favorite recipes. What are some ways you can imagine building on this knowledge for additional language lessons?

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts about this ELLU course, Kelly.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition


I think the DIE stages help you stop to realize characteristics about other cultures. The stages walk you through a process to find new information about cultures you are not familiar with. This process can be taught too students in class so they can better understand each other and their opinions about things. 

Hi Melanie, It's good to hear that you value the DIE (Description, Interpretation, Evaluation) model, an element in the LINCS ELLU culture course. This process can help us teachers to uncover our hidden assumptions. I agree that this is a process could also be taught to learners in the right context. Let us know if you create a lesson to do so.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

  1. What strategies, activities, or methods have you used as a culturally competent teacher? What have you observed in other teachers? I have brought in readings about the history and culture of home countries for students in my classroom. We have had paired discussion so that students of different cultures can share their experiences as children and encouraged them to find similarities in culture as well as differences. My students have shared recipes as paired reading and sharing. I've observed teachers encouraging their students to to have paired conversation about family traditions.
  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? I discovered that I had absorbed some very simplistic myths about cultures. The DIE inquiry strategy has made me question my assumptions and search for resources that are appropriate to use for activities, reading and discussion about cultures in class. I think I can use the DIE strategies to moderate assumptions and cultural dilemmas that arise in class.
  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  C
    • Star Wars by George Lucas  C
    • a McDonald’s® menu     c
    • Jeremy Lin     C
    • a Groupon voucher   c
    • Madonna    Cc    Debtable because she is an icon in Pop music but not just in America.
    • Betsy Ross’ flag  CCC
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald  C
    • iPods®  c
    • baseball   C
    • The Great Depression    C
    • a bus ticket    c
    • a Coke® can    Cc  Debatable because Coke is an American brand but the cans and tastes keep changing.
    • The White House   C
    • Facebook   c
  4. 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?I l love culture. This course had given me strategies and helped me to question my assumptions. I think I would like to have my students make a list of things about their cultures that they would like to present and discuss. I think I would like them to be able to do verbal/visual presentations about elements of culture they view as important.

I found the information here very valuable as a classroom teacher that has a mixed population of students. There were good ideas and gave me plenty to think about as far as the way student behavior may be driven by the culture they come from. I have tried to use my knowledge of cultural diversity to make my lessons relevant to all the learners in my class. I will use what I have learned here to further that.

Big C

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Star Wars by George Lucas
  • Jeremy Lin


  • Betsy Ross' flag
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • baseball
  • The Great Depression
  • The White House


Little c


  • a McDonald's® menu
  • a Groupon voucher
  • Madonna
  • iPods®
  • baseball


  • a bus ticket
  • a Coke® can
  • Facebook


  • Beloved by Toni Morrison C
  • Star Wars by George Lucas c
  • a McDonald's® menu c
  • Jeremy Lin C
  • a Groupon voucher c
  • Madonna c
  • Betsy Ross' flag C
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald C
  • iPods® c
  • baseball c
  • The Great Depression C
  • a bus ticket c
  • a Coke® can c
  • The White House C
  • Facebook c

Big C= Beloved by Toni Morrison, Star Wars By George Lucas, Madonna, Betsy Ross' flag, Baseball,  The Great Gatsby y F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Depression, The White House, 

Little C= A McDonalds's menu, Jeremy Lin, Groupon Voucher, IPods, bus ticket, Coke, Facebook

Could be both IPods, Facebook, since these are integrated in our daily lives. 

Big C Culture: Beloved by Toni Morrison, Madonna, Betsy Ross' flag, The Great Gatsby, ​Ipods, baseball, The Great Depression, a Coke can. Little C: Star Wars, McDonald's menu, Jeremy Lin, Groupon voucher, a bus ticket, The White House, Facebook.






I read the website about EID because I have a lot of Muslim students. I was not aware that during Eid, Muslims wear new clothes and give each other gifts. I thought it was a period of time when they fast during the day and eat a large meal at sundown. Now I feel a bit more confident having an in-depth discussion with Muslim students about this holiday.

I enjoyed reading about the DIE strategy and how one can use questions to get people thinking about things that are unfamiliar and possibly scary to them about others' cultures. I also like the TED Talk about a Single Story and how important it is not to make blanket statements about people from certain countries or areas of the world.

Culturally competent teachers must constantly remind themselves of the cultures that are present within the classroom.  The teacher must have a desire to seek information to learn as much as possible about cultures represented in the ELL classroom, a willingness to create an environment that is warm, inviting and allows students to take risks and share their cultural identities and build a community rapport and respect for all members in the class.  I strive to do this every semester that I teach. 

DIE stages allow teachers/students to follow steps that help create an understanding and respect for all cultures.  I have jumped to certain conclusions or thought that I was being culturally sensitive, when in fact, I was not.  However, the stages are a built-in way of assisting with this.  They essentially slow a person down and cause reflection before judgement.

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison - Little c but could arguably fall into a big C category depending on how long the book circulates and remains a topic of reading/discussion.
  • Star Wars by George Lucas- Big C
  • a McDonald’s® menu  Big C
  • Jeremy Lin Little c
  • a Groupon voucher  Little c- I believe that Groupon vouchers will cease to exist at some point 
  • Madonna  This could be both- this superstar changed music and sold so many albums, she may continue to be relevant in the far future
  • Betsy Ross’ flag- Big c- she created the United States flag
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Big C- topic/book remain a classic
  • iPods®- Little c- these are already outdated
  • baseball-  Big C- most popular American sport
  • The Great Depression- Big C- a historical time
  • a bus ticket- Little c- buses are not used by the majority of people
  • a Coke® can- Big C- this beverage has withstood the test of time
  • The White House- Big C- this houses the U.S. president and is well-known around the world
  • Facebook- Little c- will be phased out when another social media site takes over

I will definitely consider the DIE stages to help guide my lesson plans and the way that I run my class.  I felt that I was culturally sensitive and very aware but this class opened my eyes up to viewing cultural awareness and how to create it.  I will make the DIE stages easier for my lower level English speakers and encourage them to use the stages as well.  



I learned so very valuable strategies to implement in the classroom. First and foremost, I was a little worried and scared about how to implement cultural diversity in my classroom. However, after taking this course, I feel more comfortable. I will make sure that I educate myself about the culture and research activities to incorporate in the classroom. I look forward to using these strategies in my classroom with a ELL.

Big C culture -comprised of "great writers, philosophers, artists, historical works of art, monumental achievements"

Beloved - Toni Morrison

Star Wars - George Lucas

Betsy Ross's flag

The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald

The Great Depression 


The White House


Little c "pop culture, social customs, etiquette" 

a McDonald's menu

a Groupon voucher

a bus ticket



Jeremy Lin

Coke can

Even after using the criteria given to distinguish between big Culture and little culture, I still find myself debating over some of these items, which seem to fit both categories. For example, Coke is an American icon, and I have heard some people use it as a general reference to any soft drink. Baseball is another activity that is deeply embedded in American culture.  I think being aware of the impact of all cultural aspects, whether enduring or fad is important in becoming a culturally competent teacher. 


This class has been extremely helpful in my efforts to become a culturally competent teacher.   I now have a better understanding of how and why culture is so integral to the process of teaching and learning another language.   In future ESL classes that I teach, I will spend much more time at the beginning of the class getting to know the students and actively inquiring about their experiences in their country of origin. 


In my classes, we read short stories about immigrants who have made the United States home and their experiences with assimilation.  Students are encouraged to compare their personal experiences with the main character, and these discussions have been a great way to learn about the values and cultural expectations students bring with them to this country. 


I think the DIE model is a valuable approach to understanding another culture and models a culturally-sensitive approach.  This is a technique I would like to share with students as a way to allow them to investigate unfamiliar cultural practices and make connections to their own lives.


What strategies, activities, or methods have you used as a culturally competent teacher? What have you observed in other teachers? 

  • Use students’ native language (Spanish) only when appropriate – usually to explain a cultural concept in English, or when learning particularly difficult, new vocabulary that will be revisited frequently (I never do this if I have other language-speakers in the classroom, such as Amaharic, French, or Mandarin)
  • Ask about students’ own cultural practices, in English, that are pertinent to the current theme of the class, such as the foods they eat to celebrate certain holidays, how crimes are reported in their home countries, what may be considered polite/impolite, important historical events and figures
  • Understanding that they may not have been exposed to certain cultural practices (something as simple as using the turn signal while driving), I go at lengths to explain these when they pop up in class, always ready to provide an image to accompany the practice and the reasoning behind it
  • Likewise, having students reflect on their own cultural practices and traditions, and explaining them to class (when appropriate) can help bridge language and culture

Thanks for sharing these practices, Walter. As you note, drawing upon the first language as support is helpful. One way I do this in a multilingual class is to ask students how they say a word in their language. This both honors the languages learners bring to the classroom and serves as a quick assessment to ensure everyone understands the new word. Of course, bilingual dictionaries as well as pictures are also helpful.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

I really enjoyed this course because it brought to the forefront the importance of understanding the cultural background of everyone in the classroom.  By understanding the culture of our students, we are then better able to tap into their learning abilities. 

I am from Ireland and have been a student in the classroom.  I understand how difficult it can be to understand what the presenter may be talking about.  An example of this is, prior to learning the game of baseball through my children, I had no idea what the baseball reference were when they were brought up in the classroom. I have to continue to make a conscious effort to be sure that the students know and understand the terminology used during instruction.

Also, taking this class and watching the videos reiterated the importance of not making assumptions about one's cultural habits.  Because I'm from Ireland, many people believe that one of our staple foods is corned beef and cabbage-I had never tasted coned beef until my first St. Patrick's Day in America!

At the beginning and during my teaching, I try to assimilate my culture with the culture of the students in my classroom...and find that we have more similarities than differences.

Hi Marie, You stated that we and the students we serve "have more similarities than differences." Regardless of background and experiences, I have found this to be true. I'm glad to hear the ELLU online course on The Role of Culture was valuable to you.

I come from Irish heritage myself. While I have never lived in Ireland, I have dual citizenship in the US and Ireland. Interestingly, when growing up here in the US, corned beef and cabbage was regularly served in our household. Funny!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Susan and others,

In a list of myths about St. Patrick's day that someone sent me recently I learned that St. Patrick didn't chase the snakes out of Ireland because there never were snakes there, and that even the interpretation that the snakes were a reference to pagans was unlikely. In that list of myths was one about corned beef and cabbage being from Ireland. Apparently Irish immigrants in New York City met Eastern European immigrants there who introduced them to corned beef that they then substituted for the bacon in the traditional Irish bacon and cabbage meal. I haven't thoroughly fact-checked this yet,  although the Wikipedia "Bacon and Cabbage" article's account was similar. 

In any case, corned beef and cabbage is certainly the meal of choice to celebrate St. Patrick's Day! This year, one of my band members cooked up some great colcannon to go with the corned beef and cabbage. I'm in a folk band that plays traditional Irish music, and one of our lead singers, Diane Taraz,  sings a "love song to the the potato."  You can hear it on her YouTube channel here: colcannon

David J. Rosen

I try to assimilate culture into my Adult ESL classrooms each day by having students, if they want, to share about their foods, holidays, languages, dress, etc. as it pertains to the day's lesson.  We do partner activities sharing answers to writing exercises asking each other questions.

Hi Donna, The ELLU course on the Role of Culture in teaching English shows us how the things we can readily observe are only one aspect of culture. I think the course does a brilliant job of helping all of us teachers dig deeply into the ways culture influences our own thinking as well as the learning of those we serve. I highly recommend this course to all ESL teachers.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


In describing the three stages of DIE, my description observations of the refugees of Burma include oppression, hope, intriguing ways of life and the will to survive in the U.S.  My interpretation of the Karen Organization of MN is to enhance the quality of life for the Karen and other refugees from Burma in MN.  My emotions include relief, perseverance and the determination to continue with the survival of life in the best way possible.

Without the additional information offered on this website about the Karen organization including history and culture, education, arts and culture perspective, I would have formulated narrow perspectives about this population, if I should encounter someone in MN.  Going through the DIE stages has helped me to broaden my perspectives, to not make judgments so quickly and to learn as much about different populations and why they have come to the U.S.  The challenges I experiences going through the DIE process included opening my mind to experience and see second hand about the traumas and hardships certain populations have overcome.  I was never aware that so many refugees from Burma come to MN for good jobs, access high-quality education unlike their own, and to strive to connect with a strong community.  They have achieved this with the Karen Organization.  The interpretation phase of DIE is the hardest for myself, in coming to terms with what I have learned and what to make of it.  I can use the DIE inquiry strategy to take the time, especially in the first two class meetings with my students, to learn as much as I can about their backgrounds.  I can use surveys, questioning techniques and collaboration amongst students using different and engaging communication activities.  


The list in this activity presents some questions as to how much one item is more of a Big C or a Little C culture.  I would place Toni Morrison, Jeremy Lin (who is that?), Madonna, FS Fitzgerald, The White House, the Great Depression, iPod, and Facebook in the Big C category.  These are people, places, and events that have a lot of exposure across the world. There is less nuance to this list.  Star Wars, might also be a Big C in that many American movies are watched on the big screen in other countries, but then some of the jokes or nuances that are presented in the movie might be Little C.  When I was first visiting Finland in the early 1980's I was watching a TV show called "Taxi" in a bar.  I noticed that even though there were subtitles in Finnish, that no one was laughing.  I figured that the humor was not as relatable to Finns as it is to Americans. I could see this as the case in terms of Star Wars. All of the other examples seem more Little C. Ordering in McDonalds has its pitfalls for any ESOL student due to how we deal with fast food, which is more common now in European countries but still not to the extent it is in America. A groupon voucher, baseball, getting a bus ticket, and understanding the local cultural difference between Pepsi and Coke are all Little C examples.  One might think that the Betsy Ross Flag might be either but given the significance of the stars and stripes and colors, I think that most ESOL students in America would be much the same as an American in a foreign country in that I doubt most Americans understand the nuances and cultural significance of another country's flag.

I visited the Eid site as I have an interest in the Muslim world and how we Americans tend to make huge generalities about Islam and its teaching.  I was impressed by the vastness of the Muslim world.  It never occurred to me that there would be Muslim's in China or that they would even be celebrating in such masses.  I didn't understand some of the significance associated with one picture of some leaders gathered together so I am assuming that was a special event in honor of the holiday.  I am not a christian or any specific religion so I don't feel I have any particular prejudices but I can see that I have a lot to learn.

I feel like I have already been doing some of what was covered in the course.  I have Korean students and there is definitely some cultural differences that I have observed.  One difference is how students relate to each other based on their level of education.  One student is 75 and has no formal education.  She tends to be ostracized by the others with college degrees.  I think that I can bring her experiences growing up in occupied Korea, WWII, and the Korean War into the classroom through some activities, yet to be developed, that would allow her to share her experiences and knowledge in a safe way that might allow the others to relate to her on a higher level.  I can also see how I have not really explored extensively what the strengths and funds of knowledge the students have to offer that could enrich the classroom experience and provide opportunities for richer discussions.  

1. As a Strategy I usually would ask people to share about their hometown or country of origin and yes, compare some things that are really opposite or really similar to this country. Some activities I have prepared are presentations, song singing and I also ask them about their names and the meanings of them because it gives us a good idea on how people are perceived by their names outside USA. That one I like a lot. Methods... I have not used a particular method on this subject. Culture in my country is very diverse and strong, so, it´s only natural for people to reflect on it. So, maybe that´s why I haven´t used a method, I must confess I don´t know any either. If I am understanding the question correctly, it means Methods of teaching culture.

I have observed in other teachers that they go for the 1st tendence. I have been required to dance folkloric music, do presentations on typicall food, show and tell pictures of my land.

2. I used to use more the 5fs approach and I found that I used to think what the lesson says, not considering those who are "in the middle" of 2 cultures.

I have a new perspective on people who have to adapt to a new culture and at the same time keep hold of their inheritance. I feel empathy now which I didn´t before. I have not overcome my challenges yet because I have not put into action what I have just learnt. 

I can use the DIE inquiry strategy to address cultural assumptions and cultural dilemmas like another activity in classroom, in fact that´s what we do. Only, there are some dilemmas that are not easy to talk about, nor in classroom neither at home. 

Activity: Some of the items shown below I can´t designate either as “big C” or “little c” because I don´t know what they reffer to, I´m not familiar with them. Those are:

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Jeremy Lin
  • a Groupon voucher
  • Betsy Ross’ flag

The items that I consider might be debatable as to their designation are: 

  • a McDonald’s® menu 
  • iPods® 
  • a Coke® can 

Because all of this are merchandizing objects so I do not consider them indispensable to life nor meaningful although they are part of pop culture and teen talk.

This items I think to be big C and Little c are:

  • Star Wars by George Lucas Big C George Lucas as a writer and filmmaker
  • Madonna Big C, sadly
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Big C
  • baseball Little C sports... mmm...  
  • The Great Depression Big C known and affected us all
  • a bus ticket Little c  indispensable to daily life (if you don´t own a car)
  • The White House Big C it´s already an icon
  • Facebook Big C specially outside USA

Because all of this mean something culturally to lots of people.

3. I loved the content in this course they´ve helped me to better understand some perspectives, and values in my teaching of culture. Like what do I consider indispensable and why?

4. I will use your videos, if possible, I´ve found them very good, clear and open eye useful to facilitate a culturally inclusive learning environment and facilitating (cross) cultural understanding among all members in my class.

Hi Dorcas, It's good to hear how much you valued the ELLU course on the role of culture in teaching ESL. Culture is such an essential topic for all of us. I agree with you that the videos in this course are wonderful. I'm glad to hear you plan to use them.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP




I chose Little Haiti Cultural Center

  • What did you discover about your own assumptions?

I assumed in Haiti no English was spoken

I though all culture was only related to hawaian dances and such

I never considered the possibility of a small business course as parte of the venue

I hadn´t anticipate the houses styles as almost French-type, I had this picture in my mind of shacks actually

I was especting more flower necklaces, I must confess, to my own shame...

  • How has going through the DIE stages helped you see new perspectives?

D. I saw many colorful pictures but they were combined with top technology assets and also very comfortable furniture. The use of color in Furniture I found very interesting. Also the pictures style were very professional to my eye.

I. I think I felt surprised – in a good way – to find that mixture between ancient culture and technology. It made me think of my own country, we separate them often. It´s like they are not related. But maybe you can have both.

E. I think I felt surprised because of my own country management of ancient culture and technology. I mean, you don´t have to leave in a schak to express your native culture.

  • What challenges did you experience and how did you overcome them? Were any of the stages more difficult than others?

I did not see many people in the pictures, it made me uneasy. We don´t like the automatizing Europe and EUA is going through, I link culture to actual people. To see empty dance classroom or community classrooms made me feel suspicious of the program itself. I overcame that feeling reasoning that it might not mean that people are not involved but something else and kept browsing, after a while I found a picture with a person in it, but by then I already did not have that feeling.

The interpretation I guess.

  • How can you use the DIE inquiry strategy to address cultural assumptions and cultural dilemmas that arise in classrooms with adult ELLs?

I will have them practice the stages as a talking exercise and discuss findings later. Because, even though I don´t have a classroom that is multicultural right now, there are always some “issues” that are difficult to handle among the group.

I think I already answered this briefly, before but, new things I learnt were:

  • DIE
  • Funds of knowledge
  • Approaches to culture
  • Culture as a fifth skill (Which I totally agree, just never heard of in an academic setting before)
  • Cultural hybridity, assimilation and acculturation

All of them VERY helpful. not only to better understand my own cultural perspectives but also to approach clasroom with a wider perspective.

I plan to use DIE strategy a lot in classroom as an excuse to begin discuss this important part of our life that is culture but in the context of learning about someones else´culture.