Vive la Différence. Ideas on Celebrating Diversity in the Classroom.

These days, schools are more diverse than ever and all over the world teachers work with children from more than one cultural and linguistic background. There are different ways to help pupils feel accepted and part of the community. In this guest post, Marusya Hristova shares her ideas to celebrate diversity in the classroom.

Summer is in full swing and lots of festivals are being organised everywhere in England. From the Sweeps Festival in Rochester to the Multicultural Festival here in beautiful Folkestone. I love attending festivals because they bring cultures together and I tend to learn a lot not only about the British customs but also they make me contemplate on my own roots and outlook on life.

Multicultural Festival, Folkestone, 2017
Multicultural Festival, Folkestone, 2017. Credit: English with Russie

However, what makes a “fiesta” special is when you participate in it. Olé! Last weekend I was invited to go to Oxford and take part in a project called WAVING HELLO. The organisers, the musicians from the Oxford Concert Party, wanted to celebrate diversity and recognise the importance of trade and travel in the history of Western art. Thus, a flotilla of almost two thousand tiny paper boats was set to “sail” across Bonn Square in the university city and raised public awareness of cultural variety and social problems. I felt blessed to be there because I met some wonderful individuals who are eager to help disabled people, refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers.

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“Waving Hello”, Oxford, 2017
“Waving Hello”, Oxford, 2017. Credit: English with Russie

While attending this event, I realised how important our work of EAL teachers is to bring people from all walks of life together and celebrate cultural diversity.

Here are a few tips on talking culture in the classroom:

  • My younger students love the episodes of “Little Human Planet” so I eagerly prepare video lessons planned around this BBC series. You can find some episodes on YouTube. Highly recommended!
  • Let’s colour and learn about indigenous cultures. Have you heard about Princess Vanae? Vanae is a 6-year-old girl who loves exploring cultures. She and her mum create colouring books which help children find out about cultural diversity. Check their website here.
  • Create a presentation on unusual customs. There are lots of websites which provide this information. One of the websites that I have used is The Royal Carribean blog.
  • Create a quiz “What do you know about other cultures”. The students can design the quizzes in groups and then swap them around to test their classmates.
  • Write an article about other people’s traditions. The students need to do some research and choose the most appropriate piece of information to write the report. You could give them some guidance, such as find out why the festival is celebrated, how and when it started, what influence it has on the local people, etc.
  • Create reading activities based on folklore from other countries. I often use the story “Frank and Russie’s Little Big adventures” that I write with one of my students. This is a fictional story, which describes a student and his English teacher’s adventures around the world. It is suitable for A2/B1 students. You can find the first three chapters here.
  • Record a “What’s on guide”. June is packed with festivals so why don’t you ask your pupils to find out about the most exciting events taking place in Oxford, for example, and once you’ve checked the script, they can record their audio guides.
  • Explore a Culture Museum and then write a review about it. I recently went to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and I have to admit that not even for a second did I think about the differences in culture. On the contrary, what drew my attention was the striking similarity between artefacts, which come from far flung continents.
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Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. Credit: English with Russie
  • Teach your students about compassion and generosity by showing them videos about inspiring youngsters from other countries. Have you come across the video about the little Australian boy who saws teddy bears for children with cancer? If not, here’s a link to the video.
  • Another great source of inspiring videos is Omeleto. You can find the videos here.
  • Design an online encyclopaedia of culture. I would recommend using Adobe Spark. Split the class into groups and each one could create an encyclopaedia on a certain topic, such as Festivals, Music, Food, etc.
  • Week of Culture. Designate a week when each class could choose a country and prepare a performance which features a popular custom there.
Dickens Festival, Rochester, 2016
Dickens Festival, Rochester, 2016. Credit: English with Russie

Finally, I would like to add that I consider such activities extremely valuable not only because we get to know other cultures but we also learn about ourselves and our heritage. Most importantly, however, it is a way to teach our pupils to stay connected and remember that they were born to add something, to add value to this world.

Marusya foto

Marusya Hristova is an English teacher from Bulgaria, living in England. She is into her 18th year of teaching English on a professional level and she loves it. Currently she is teaching online and designs a free monthly e-zine “Inspirational English” for passionate teachers who want to bring positivity into the classroom. You can find more information about her work and the e-zine at English with Russie.

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