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?


I think using the Funds of Knowledge inquiry and the DIE model  are awesome ways to facilitate a culturally inclusive learning environment and facilitating (cross) cultural understanding among all members of the class as well as the teacher. Having identified strengths among individuals and families through sharing will open further discussions and interactions for all to learn about cultures.

Hi Ronita, Thanks for sharing your additional thoughts about the ELLU Role of Culture online course. Finding ways to discover the skills and abilities, i.e., the funds of knowledge, that learners already possess is so valuable. We can invite learners to share their expertise with the class and build on those skills and abilities to further their language development.

You suggested showing a video to walk through the DIE process with a class. This seems like a great idea. Let us know how it goes!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

I believe it is crucial to get to know your students' cultural backgrounds. If I don't learn about their cultures then I may very well be setting them up for failure as each one may have different learning styles, communication methods and class participation. I often find I am the student and learn just as much from my student's cultures and backgrounds. I present a workshop titled "Stereotype Awareness" in my other job and feel it is a very important step in overcoming conflict and perspectives for students as well as other instructors.

Hi Candy, I agree with the point you are making that we learn so much from the adults in our classrooms. This ELLU course underscores the importance of cultural competence for all of us who do this rewarding work.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

.After exploring the CARECEN website, I  have a learned a bit more about the Latino population.

I noticed that there is a substantial Latino population in Washington DC, people from Central American countries working hard to gain U.S. Citizenship, which included photos of those smiling with their certificates. Additionally, a network of programs set up to assist with legal issues, housing, language and citizenship. 

I believe the media plays a large role in reinforcing negative views and stereotyping on this population. Instead of picturing those trying to sneak into the US,committing crimes and having everything from housing to medical care handed freely, one must research and seek out  true information. In reality, history books studied and used throughout one's education can give a false sense of who particular groups of  people really are.

DIE is an excellent way to work with students from all different backgrounds. Always research one's culture before making assumptions.

This information caused me to reflect on my own experiences in teaching non-native speakers of English.  I understand the importance of this fifth skill, and I can see that having an understanding about bias and a personal lack of exposure to diverse cultures could put students at a disadvantage in the classroom.  It is essential for instructors to know their students and their backgrounds, to establish a respectful atmosphere where they can share their culture as it relates to language, and to do research to broaden one's base of knowledge.

I think it is crucial to ensure students feel safe in sharing their culture and for the instructor to design learning plans where that happens freely.  Integrating the fifth skill then becomes a part of the fabric of learning.

I think the "big C" items were: baseball, The Great Depression, a bus ticket, The White House, Facebook, and a McDonald's menu; the "little C" items were all the other items listed.  I can see there will be lots of different answers and they can be debated successfully.


I assumed after more than 30 years in the field of adult education, that I knew "best practices" for helping English Language Learners assimilate into U.S. culture.  After completing this module, my eyes were opened to new protocols for building effective learning plans that take students' culture and life experiences into consideration.    Going through the DIE stages helped me more effectively look at  students' perspectives.  Adult learners  bring diverse and wide-ranging skills, talents, and knowledge with them to the classroom.  Instructors have an obligation to get to know as much as they can about each student in order to cultivate mutual respect and determine strengths that will make connections with language.  Using the DIE protocol can uncover cultural bias and perhaps faulty assumptions about a student's strengths.  It is a method of examining an instructional approach, and a tool for ensuring that learning plans take into consideration linkages that students may use to connect learning.

I think it is important to set the stage for a culturally supportive classroom when working with a new cohort of students.  The students need to know about the teacher, so introducing myself to the class, sharing interests, hobbies, favorite kind of music, favorite food, etc. could be used as a model for having the students get to know each other. I would allow time for student introductions--letting them work in pairs or small groups to learn more about each other, following my model, and having the pairs/small groups rotate over a set period of time.  I would let them introduce each other to the class, while I discreetly take notes on what I learn about each student.  Every learning plan would incorporate linkages to what students have shared about themselves.  For instance, if a student had been an auto mechanic in his native country, math lessons could relate to tire pressure, fluid volumes, cargo space, etc.  Writing practice could be designed to incorporate knowledge students have shared about themselves, as well.  Using writing prompts and small group exchange with the teacher monitoring and providing feedback could give students time to learn more about their various cultures.  I also like the use of videos with leading questions to prompt discussion--this would be a great opportunity to practice language and exchange ideas with cultural foundations.


What strategies, activities, or methods have you used as a culturally competent teacher? 

I have promoted a culturally inclusive environment in my classroom through activities such as students bringing and sharing food from their native countries at class parties, having students work and dialogue in multi-cultural groups, and encouraging students to share about their native languages and customs during class discussions.  

What would you like to learn to do to effectively address the role of culture in your classroom?

I would like to continue learning about cultures around the world from and with my students.  I especially want to understand the role and meaning of non-verbal cues and body language in various cultures.

I would classify classic novels like "The Great Gatsby" and "Beloved", Betsy Ross's flag, the Great Depression Era, and the White House as significant parts of history, and therefore "big C" culture.  More trendy or popular items on the list like Facebook, iPods, a Groupon voucher, and Jeremy Lin clearly go in the "little c" culture.  Star Wars and Madonna are both examples of pop culture that have long-time followings not only in America, but elsewhere around the world.  McDonald's, a coke can, and baseball are all very "American" and have long been popular as a part of daily life, but also throughout history.   

  •  Beloved by Toni Morrison   “C”
  • Star Wars by George Lucas ?
  • 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”


Does any one agree?  Some of the items, I am not sure about.  They are Stars Wars,  and baseball.   Some people  obsessed with Star Wars. They attend events, buy products and   they watch all of the Star Wars movies.  There is a whole culture of people who enjoy Star Wars and as well as other things. 

 I have gone to several baseballs games.  There is a culture within the baseball game.  People are wearing baseball hats,  using certain vocabulary words , baseball mittens are held ( just in case a ball come their way),  peanuts are eaten and the famous song “Take me out to the ballgame” is sung. 

Culturally Competent Teachers that I have observed are respected and well-liked by their students.  Students are accepting of each other and their differences.  The CC Teacher makes students feel valued from every culture and finds ways to highlight them all.

Hello Winna, I agree that respect is at the heart of cultural competence. Thank you for your comments!

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP