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Rice University

The Role of Culture in Teaching English Learners

Rice University via Coursera


Culture and language are inextricably linked. As teachers, we are often faced with the challenge of teaching both language and elements of culture to our English learners. When these students join our classes, they come equipped with knowledge about their own culture, which may or may not have the same norms and values as the new one they find themselves in. It is not our job, as teachers, to prove that one culture is better than another. Instead, it’s our goal to understand how culture influences one’s identity, affirm our students’ identities in the classroom, and use best practices to teach intercultural communicative competence and promote acceptance and respect for those who are different from us. This course is designed for early career teachers (0-3 years of experience) to learn about the foundations of culture and the key role that culture plays in teaching English learners. You will also learn about the connection between language and culture and how to appropriately incorporate cultural topics into instruction. We will discuss how culture is an asset in the classroom and ways to celebrate diversity with students. Throughout this course, you will watch instructional videos and interviews with experienced teachers of English learners. You will read scholarly articles, participate in discussion boards, and complete assignments that will encourage you to think about your practices as a culturally responsive educator. Finally, you will complete this course with a treasure trove of practical tips for integrating culture into your classroom. By the end of this course, teachers will be better prepared to serve the English learners in their classrooms. They will be able to evaluate curriculum for cultural responsiveness, identify best practices for teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence, reflect on their own cultural background and how that may influence expectations for students, and create a lesson plan to teach cultural knowledge.


  • What Is Culture?
    • In Module 1, you will learn about the complex construct of culture and the various factors that influence it. We'll explore the concepts of personal, social, cultural, and linguistic identities and how we can affirm our students' identities in the classroom. You will be able to distinguish between the processes of enculturation and acculturation in order to better understand your English learners' perspectives of learning a new culture. We wrap up the module by reflecting on your own cultural background and the ways in which your life experiences and influences relate to your current points of view.
  • Getting Comfortable with Culture in the Classroom
    • Module 2 is all about becoming comfortable with culture, for both teachers and students. We'll become aware of possible implicit biases and power dynamics between teacher and students that may impact learning in the classroom. We'll introduce the concept of culture shock and discuss ways to help newcomer English learners adjust to their new learning environment. You will discover how asset-based pedagogy models, including Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT), can foster academic success for English learners. We wrap up the module by evaluating curriculum for elements of culturally responsive teaching.
  • Culture and Communication
    • In module 3, we will learn about the fundamental connection between culture and communication. You'll discover how culture affects language use and how language and thought are windows into cultural points of view. We introduce the crucial construct of intercultural communicative competence (ICC) and best practices to teach and assess it. You'll define a speech community and gain an understanding of the many speech communities your English learners have to navigate on a daily basis. We wrap up the module by evaluating a lesson for elements of ICC.
  • Incorporating Culture in the Classroom
    • The final module in the course aims to provide more practical tips for incorporating culture into the classroom across grade levels and subject areas. You will hear from experts about the various ways in which they have implemented culturally responsive teaching in math, STEM, art, and history. We'll review some traditional classroom activities for teaching about culture. You will gain insight into the best methods for and challenges of assessing cultural knowledge and ICC. We'll also highlight awareness of cultural biases in assessment and how to avoid them. The module wraps up with a lesson planning assignment in which you'll be asked to incorporate activities to teach ICC, cultural content knowledge, or implement culturally responsive teaching methods.

Taught by

Alice Llanos and Rachel Kraut, Ph.D.


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