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Lesson 1

Essential Questions

What is culture?
Why is it important to understand culture?


Culture is the learned behavior of people, which includes their belief systems, and languages, their social relationships, their institutions and organizations, and their material goods - food, clothing, buildings, tools, and machines.

Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics

An anthropologist and a geographer discussing culture might use the same word, but not with the same meaning. The anthropologist would be interested in belief sets, social interactions and hierarchies, customs, language, etc.

Geographers are interested in the observable differences these things make in places. Even little geographers can be asked to keep their eyes peeled for different types of dress, architecture, ways of doing and speaking. They are asked to note how groups of people in the same physical region may build quite different settlements or neighborhoods because of their culture. These observable differences in the landscape are mapped, and then can become the basis for establishing regions. The other aspect of culture that geographers look at is this: culture affects the way we perceive a place. Perception is very important because people act on what they think they know.

Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Gathering Information:Think-Pair-Share and Graphic Organizers

Conversational descriptions, explanations, and examples are very useful to students when first learning a term. An effective approach to beginning instruction in academic terms is for the teacher to start a conversation about it, explain it, and give examples of it.

Culture is what you learn as you grow up. Culture includes what you know about how to speak and act toward others. Your culture celebrates certain holidays and not others, teaches you certain things and not others. For example, you might celebrate the 4th of July, but in other places, it’s just another day in the month. Parts of a culture include what you eat, wear, what kind of place you live – the houses and neighborhoods.

Have students think independently: What comes to mind when you hear the word culture? Have them make a simple web graphic organizer with culture in the center of the web.

Students should complete the web organizer and then pair with another student to share responses. Have students add, modify, or delete from their graphic organizer after discussion with a partner. Then this pair should group with another pair to agree upon a generalization about culture, a common description for which the group can agree.

Give students this description of culture and have them compare it to the generalization from each group. Have students compile the similarities and differences in a T-chart.

Printable Student View

Definition of Culture: Culture is the learned behavior of people, which includes their belief systems, and languages, their social relationships, their institutions and organizations, and their material goods - food, clothing, buildings, tools, and machines.


Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment
  • Did you add, delete, or modify from your own graphic organizer after hearing what others said? Explain why or why not.
  • How would you describe culture now?

Strategy 2

Extending and Refining: Cubing

Use cubing to lead students to think critically about the topic under study. A teacher can use the strategy with the whole class, as small group work, and/or on a one-on-one basis. Cubing requires students to think about a concept in new ways.

This strategy allows students to explore a concept from six different points of view. The name "cubing" comes from the fact that cubes have six sides and students explore a topic from the following six perspectives:

Describe it: How would you describe culture? Describe key characteristics or or attributes like size, shape, and colors.

Compare it: What is culture similar to? Different from?

Associate it: What does culture make you think of? How does culture connect to other topics/issues/subjects?

Analyze it: How is culture made or of what is it composed? How would you break culture down into smaller parts?

Apply it: How does understanding culture help you understand other people’s point of view?

Argue against it: Take a stand and list reasons for why culture is not important.

Differentiation Tip:
Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment
  • How would you describe your culture to someone who might not know anything about it?
The teacher should look for characteristics such as organized sports, public school, Boy or Girl Scouts, types of food or clothing, size and shape of buildings.

Strategy 3

Extending and Refining: Reciprocal Teaching

The goal of reciprocal teaching is to summarize, question, clarify, and predict while reading content material – alternating between active guidance of the teacher and the students. In some ways the teacher and students take turns becoming the “teacher.” For instance, after reading a passage quietly, one student is asked to summarize. Then other students may add to the discussion with the teacher providing guidance and input. As discussion takes place students are expected to begin questioning, predicting, and clarifying when a student leader calls for it.

Thinking out loud is an important part of this reading strategy because it allows students to receive immediate feedback from the teacher and other students. It is important for students to understand the expectations of summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. Teachers may want to post a list of prompts addressing each of the four. Questions or prompts may include:

A variation of reciprocal teaching includes breaking the students down into groups of four and assigning each student one of the four categories. As they read each page or chapter, the students will participate in their role and then have a group discussion. After the discussion, the students switch roles and then begin the process again with the next page or chapter.

Have students use a reciprocal teaching strategy with one of the two stories of cultural differences by Peace Corps voluteers below. Have two students each read one article, then pair together to describe to each other the characteristics of the cultures in the Peace Corps volunteers' story.

Have students use a T-chart to compare the similarities and differences of Mongolian and Bulgarian cultures to the one in which they live.

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Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment
  • What culture might children growing up in these areas learn as they grow up?
  • Think of a question that you might ask of these children to learn more about their culture.

Strategy 4

Application: Think–Pair-Square

Tell students you are going to show them photographs that help to explain the concept of culture. Display the photographs in this Powerpoint slideshow or the National Geographic® images in the table below.

Ask students to individually respond to these questions to develop relationships between the photographs. Students should then pair with a classmate to develop and discuss the responses. Finally, have the pair join another pair of students to compare and contrast the two sets of answers. From the two sets, the group decides on a compromise and reports to the class.

Printable Student View
Slideshow questions
  • What do all these pictures seem to have in common?
  • In what places do the people in these pictures live?
  • In what time period do you think they live?
  • What kind of clothing do you observe these people wearing? Why do you think they wear this type of clothing?
  • In what kind of homes do you think these people live?
  • Can you tell who is in charge? What relationships between people do you see in the picture?
  • What kinds of foods do you think they eat?
  • What kinds of transportation do you think they use?

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment
  • Why is it important to understand someone’s culture when you meet them?