How to Build Culturally Responsive Lessons for Teaching Adult English Language Learners

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Estimated reading time: 18 minutes

Discover effective strategies and insights for creating culturally responsive lessons to teach adult English language learners.

  • Explore the importance of cultural sensitivity and learn how to incorporate diverse cultural backgrounds into your teaching approach.
  • Empower your students with an inclusive learning environment that values their identities and fosters their language acquisition journey.

When instructing adult learners of varying cultural backgrounds in English, it is imperative to go beyond fundamental language education.

Cultural sensitivity is pivotal in establishing a nurturing and comprehensive learning atmosphere that recognizes and respects each student’s experiences and viewpoints.

Building culturally responsive lessons is crucial to appreciate the significance of cultural sensitivity in English language education for adults.

This blog post discusses teaching strategies and practical methods for effectively integrating culturally responsive content into lessons for adult English language learners.

Table of Contents

Background

As an educator with over two decades of experience in teaching, I thought I had seen it all until I began teaching adult English language learners in China four years ago.

My experience taught me that teaching adults from diverse cultural backgrounds comes with unique challenges and rewards. I learned as I went, picking up cultural nuances and adapting my teaching practices to meet the needs of my students.

Looking back, I wish I had known certain things before starting this journey.

I have written this article based on my experiences to inspire and help other educators teaching adult English language learners to be more culturally responsive, create a positive and inclusive learning environment, and support their student’s academic and personal success.

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Cultural Sensitivity

Cultural sensitivity is crucial when teaching adult English language learners because it acknowledges and respects the cultural diversity of the students.

Understanding, appreciating, and interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds holds valuable lessons, especially for adult English language learners.

Setting the tone for culturally responsive teaching is essential because it helps create an environment where students feel valued and respected. This tone helps students learn and grow without feeling excluded or marginalized.

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culturally responsive teaching is an approach that recognizes and honors the cultural backgrounds, experiences, and identities of students in the learning environment.

This approach goes beyond cultural sensitivity by actively incorporating students’ cultural assets and perspectives into teaching and learning.

The value of culturally responsive teaching lies in its ability to enhance student engagement, motivation, and academic achievement. By incorporating culturally relevant content, instructional strategies, and assessment methods, educators create an inclusive and empowering learning experience.

Culturally responsive teaching validates students’ identities, fosters a sense of belonging, and helps bridge the cultural gap between students and educators. It promotes equity, social justice, and cultural understanding, preparing students to thrive in a diverse and interconnected world.

Through culturally responsive teaching, educators effectively address the unique needs of their students, support their overall development, and cultivate a positive and enriching educational experience.

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Why You Need to Build Culturally Responsive Lessons

Here are some reasons why building culturally responsive lessons is essential in teaching adult English language learners:

Culturally responsive lessons promote a positive and inclusive learning environment.

Teachers who are culturally sensitive and build culturally responsive lessons are better equipped to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all their students.

These teachers consistently:

  • use culturally relevant materials and activities aligned with their students’ experiences
  • foster a sense of belonging
  • are mindful of stereotypes and biases that could be deemed offensive or hurtful to specific cultures

Culturally responsive lessons help build trust and rapport with students.

Teachers who show an interest in and respect for their students’ cultures build trust and rapport with them.

This trust leads to:

  • better communication
  • more engaged students
  • a positive learning experience
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Culturally responsive lessons improve student motivation and engagement.

Teachers who use culturally relevant materials and activities help students see the relevance of what they’re learning to their lives and experiences.

Building these connections through culturally responsive lessons increases motivation and engagement, which helps students learn more effectively.

Culturally responsive lessons help students develop intercultural competence.

Intercultural competence is communicating effectively and appropriately with people from different cultural backgrounds.

Teachers who are culturally sensitive and responsive, help students develop intercultural competence by:

  • exposing them to other cultures
  • encouraging them to interact with people from different backgrounds
  • teaching them how to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries

Understanding Cultural Differences

When it comes to teaching adult English language learners in a culturally responsive way, it’s essential to have a deep appreciation for and respect for cultural differences.

This includes recognizing and acknowledging cultural norms, values, beliefs, and communication styles.

Educators promote mutual respect and understanding among culturally diverse students by acknowledging and understanding their differences, thus creating a more inclusive and welcoming learning environment.

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Establishing the Groundwork for Culturally Responsive Lessons for Adult English Language Learners

Developing culturally responsive lessons for adult English language learners requires practical and thoughtful strategies.

Here are some examples:

Be aware of different cultural norms and values.

Being aware of different cultural norms and values is crucial when creating culturally responsive lessons.

In Chinese culture, a particular norm is to prioritize respect for seniority and hierarchy. This is evident in various social situations, such as waiting for the most senior person in the room to speak first, allowing them to sit down first, and letting them take their food or drink before others.

These practices signify deference and show reverence for age and authority. It is an essential aspect of Chinese social etiquette influencing interactions and dynamics within a group.

As an educator teaching in China, I learned the significance of this cultural norm through immersion in the local culture.

Understanding and respecting these norms fosters a positive and harmonious learning environment, where students feel valued and cultural differences are embraced.

By incorporating this awareness into your lessons, you ensure students from Chinese backgrounds feel seen and respected, promoting a culturally responsive approach to teaching.

Understand how culture influences communication.

Different cultures have varying communication styles. Some cultures prioritize indirect communication, while others prefer directness. It is essential for teachers to recognize and comprehend these differences to adjust their teaching methods and communication techniques to cater to their students’ requirements effectively.

For example, in Chinese culture, direct communication is often perceived as impolite, emphasizing building and maintaining harmonious relationships.

Navigating conversations tactfully and respectfully is essential, particularly in interactions with individuals with senior positions or higher social status.

In many instances, it is expected to defer to the most senior person and allow them to lead the conversation in a hierarchical manner.

Directly expressing opinions or contradicting others, especially without an established long-standing relationship, is seen as disruptive or confrontational.

This cultural norm highlights the significance of maintaining social harmony and preserving face for the individuals involved.

By recognizing and respecting these cultural nuances, teachers can adapt their communication styles and strategies accordingly when interacting with Chinese students.

Emphasizing relationship-building, using indirect language, and demonstrating respect for hierarchy contribute to a more culturally responsive and effective teaching approach.

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Avoid stereotypes and biases.

It’s important for teachers to avoid stereotyping or making assumptions about their students based on their cultural backgrounds.

Instead, teachers should approach each student as an individual with their unique experiences and perspectives.

Use culturally relevant materials and examples.

By using materials and examples relevant to their students’ cultural backgrounds, teachers help students see the relevance of what they’re learning to their own lives and experiences.

This can increase student motivation and engagement and help create a more inclusive learning environment.

Encourage students to share their experiences and perspectives.

Encouraging students to share their experiences and perspectives helps create a more inclusive and welcoming learning environment. It can also help students from different cultural backgrounds learn from each other and better understand each other’s cultures.

Understanding and respecting cultural differences is essential to creating a positive and inclusive learning environment for adult ESL learners.

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Strategies to Build Culturally Responsive Lessons for Adult English Language Learners

To promote cultural sensitivity in teaching adult English language learners, it’s essential to incorporate cultural diversity into lesson plans.

This includes:

  • using materials reflecting students’ cultural backgrounds
  • incorporating cultural celebrations and traditions into lessons
  • encouraging students to share their cultural experiences and perspectives

By doing so, educators create a more engaging and relevant learning experience for students while promoting cultural understanding and respect.

Here are some examples of how to achieve culturally responsive lessons for adult English language learners:

Use culturally relevant materials.

Including materials reflecting students’ cultural backgrounds help students see the relevance of their learning to their own lives and experiences.

This consists of using literature, music, art, and other materials from different cultures.

For example, a teacher could use a poem by a famous poet from the student’s home country as a reading assignment.

Poetry holds a special place in Chinese culture, and the celebration of poetry dates back centuries.

Particularly, the poetry from the Song Dynasty is widely admired and cherished. The Song Dynasty, known as a time of social and economic prosperity, witnessed an outpouring of artistic and literary achievements.

The poems from this era are known for their elegance, beauty, and emotional depth. They often explore themes of love, nature, and the human experience.

By incorporating poetry from the Song Dynasty or other renowned Chinese poets into English language lessons, teachers provide a glimpse into the rich literary traditions of Chinese culture.

Students can connect with these endearing poems, appreciating their profound expressions of emotions and cultural significance.

Using culturally relevant materials like poetry allows students to see the relevance of their own cultural heritage and fosters a deeper engagement and connection with the language they are learning.

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Incorporate cultural celebrations and traditions into lessons.

Incorporating cultural celebrations and traditions into lessons help students learn about different cultures and appreciate their diversity.

For example, The Qing Ming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Festival, is a significant traditional Chinese celebration that typically falls in early April.

During this time, families visit the gravesites of their ancestors to pay respects, clean the tombstones, and offer food, flowers, and incense. It is a time of remembrance, reflection, and honoring ancestors.

The festival includes various rituals and activities, including sweeping the tombs, making offerings, flying kites, and enjoying outdoor activities.

In Mexico, the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a vibrant and colorful celebration that takes place from October 31st to November 2nd. It is a time to honor and remember deceased loved ones.

Families create elaborate altars adorned with photographs, candles, flowers, and their loved ones’ favorite food and drinks.

The belief is that during this time, the spirits of the departed return to Earth to be reunited with their families. The atmosphere is festive, with parades, music, dancing, and elaborate face paintings resembling skulls.

Comparing Cultural Celebrations

While both the Qing Ming Festival and Dia de los Muertos involve commemorating the deceased, they differ in cultural practices and symbolism.

The Qing Ming Festival in China focuses on ancestral veneration, with rituals centered around cleaning and maintaining gravesites as a sign of filial piety.

On the other hand, Dia de los Muertos in Mexico celebrates the continuity of life and embraces death as a natural part of the human experience, combining indigenous beliefs with Catholic influences.

Both festivals showcase the importance of honoring and remembering ancestors, emphasizing the cultural values of respect, remembrance, and connection to one’s heritage.

By incorporating these cultural celebrations and traditions into lessons, educators deepen students’ understanding and appreciation of different cultures and promote intercultural competence.

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Encourage students to share their own cultural experiences and perspectives.

Creating an inclusive and welcoming learning environment is achieved by encouraging students to share their unique cultural experiences and perspectives.

Teachers can facilitate this by providing opportunities for students to share stories, traditions, and customs from their own cultures.

These opportunities can be presented through class discussions, group projects, or presentations.

Address cultural differences in communication styles.

Communication styles may vary across different cultures, resulting in misunderstandings and miscommunications.

To overcome these differences, teachers can facilitate open discussions and assist students in developing effective communication skills that transcend cultural barriers.

For example, a teacher could have a lesson on cultural differences in nonverbal communication, including communication styles like:

In Chinese culture and language, “Hello. How are you” in the present tense is polite.

In Chinese, the question “Hello. How are you?” is typically expressed in the present tense.

  • This reflects the cultural value of focusing on the current moment and immediate interaction.
  • It may be considered polite to inquire about the person’s well-being in the present moment.

In Canadian culture, we would only say this to people we know because asking how ‘are’ you seems too direct.

We would rather say, “Hi. How have you been.”

In Canadian English, the phrase “Hello. How are you?” is often reserved for acquaintances or individuals you already have a relationship with.

The use of the present tense verb “are” is seen as more direct or personal.

Instead, Canadians often opt for a more casual and less intrusive greeting like “Hi. How have you been?” which implies a longer time frame and offers a more indirect approach.

These statements highlight the different verb tenses and cultural nuances surrounding greetings in Chinese and Canadian cultures.

The Chinese language emphasizes the present tense, reflecting the importance of immediate interactions, while Canadian English favors a more indirect and casual approach to greeting others.

Understanding these cultural and linguistic differences allows individuals to adapt their communication styles to navigate cross-cultural interactions more effectively.

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Collaborate with students to create culturally relevant assignments.

Collaboration between teachers and students leads to the creation of culturally relevant and engaging assignments.

Such assignments involve projects incorporating students’ cultural backgrounds or allowing them to choose topics related to their own cultures.

This approach enhances students’ interest in learning and fosters greater cultural understanding and respect.

Incorporating cultural diversity into lesson plans is critical to promoting cultural sensitivity in teaching adult English language learners.

Set the Tone for Culturally Responsive Lessons

In addition to incorporating cultural diversity into lesson plans, educators must encourage open communication and respect among students.

This includes:

  • setting ground rules for respectful communication
  • addressing any instances of cultural insensitivity or bias
  • creating a safe space for students to share their thoughts and experiences

By fostering a culture of respect and understanding, educators create a positive and inclusive learning environment for all students.

Here are some examples of teaching strategies to set the tone for culturally responsive lessons:

Set ground rules for respectful communication.

Teachers establish clear ground rules for respectful communication at the beginning of the course.

These rules include expectations for active listening, open-mindedness, and respectful language.

Teachers create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students by setting these expectations.

Address any instances of cultural insensitivity or bias.

When a teacher observes any instance of cultural insensitivity or bias, it’s essential to address it immediately.

This can be done by discussing the issue with the student(s) involved and providing constructive feedback on improving their behavior.

Teachers can also use these instances as teaching opportunities to help students understand the importance of cultural sensitivity and respect.

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Create a safe space for students to share their thoughts and experiences.

It’s essential for students to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences in the classroom.

Teachers can create a safe space for students by being open and non-judgmental, modeling respectful behavior, and creating opportunities for students to share their perspectives.

This can include class discussions, group projects, or individual presentations.

Encourage active listening and open-mindedness.

Encouraging active listening and open-mindedness helps students understand and appreciate different perspectives.

Teachers can model active listening by paying attention to what students say and responding thoughtfully.

They can also encourage open-mindedness by challenging students to consider different perspectives and think critically about their assumptions and biases.

Promote empathy and understanding.

Promoting empathy and understanding helps students develop a deeper appreciation for cultural diversity.

Teachers can use activities and assignments that help students see things from different perspectives, such as role-playing exercises or cultural simulations.

They can also encourage students to reflect on their own experiences and how they relate to the experiences of others.

Educators foster open communication and respect among students by using these teaching strategies. This creates a positive and inclusive learning environment promoting cultural sensitivity and understanding.

Providing resources and support for language learners.

As an educator of adult English language learners, it’s crucial to provide resources and support to help students overcome language barriers and succeed in their studies.

This includes offering additional language practice outside of class, providing access to language learning software or apps, and connecting students with language exchange partners or tutors.

Additionally, educators can support students struggling with cultural adjustment or homesickness, such as connecting them with community resources or offering counseling services.

Educators help their students academically and personally thrive by providing these resources and support.

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Professional Development for Culturally Responsive Teaching

Cultural sensitivity and responsive teaching is not a one-time lesson or training but a continuous learning and growth process.

As an educator of adult English language learners, it’s crucial to regularly educate oneself on different cultures, customs, and traditions to better understand and support students from diverse backgrounds.

This includes attending cultural events, reading books or articles about other cultures, and seeking professional development opportunities focused on cultural sensitivity.

Educators create a more inclusive and welcoming learning environment for all students by continuously educating themselves.

Here are a few examples of professional development activities:

Attend cultural events.

Attending cultural events allows teachers to learn more about different cultures, customs, and traditions.

Teachers can participate in cultural festivals, food fairs, and other events in their community to understand their students’ cultural backgrounds better.

Read books or articles about other cultures.

One effective way for teachers to gain a deeper understanding of their students’ cultural backgrounds is by reading books or articles about different cultures.

This helps them incorporate cultural themes and perspectives into their lesson plans, making the learning experience more inclusive and valuable for all students.

For example, a teacher could assign a book about a particular culture and have students discuss their thoughts and views on the book in class.

Participate in professional development opportunities focused on cultural sensitivity.

Teachers enhance their cultural sensitivity and foster an inclusive learning environment through professional development opportunities.

Such opportunities may include workshops, conferences, and webinars covering various topics like diversity, cultural awareness, and inclusion.

Engage in discussions with colleagues and students.

Encouraging open discussions with colleagues and students is a great way for teachers to gain insight into different cultural backgrounds and perspectives.

By creating an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences, teachers can work collaboratively with colleagues to identify best practices for promoting cultural sensitivity and inclusivity.

Seek feedback from students.

Educators can seek feedback from students to enhance their cultural sensitivity and improve classroom experiences.

By asking for their opinions on lesson plans, teaching styles, and classroom environments, teachers create a positive and inclusive learning space for all.

Additionally, continuous education on cultural sensitivity helps adult English language learners feel valued, respected, and supported throughout their language-learning journey, fostering a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

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Summary

In conclusion, culturally responsive teaching strategies and lessons are critical for educators of adult English language learners.

Teachers create a positive and inclusive learning environment by understanding and respecting cultural differences, incorporating cultural diversity into lesson plans, encouraging open communication and respect, providing resources and support for language learners, and continuously educating themselves on cultural sensitivity.

Culturally responsive teaching practices promote mutual respect and understanding among students from diverse backgrounds and improve student engagement and success.

As educators, we strive for cultural sensitivity and inclusivity in our teaching practices to help our students thrive academically and personally.

Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time,

Suzanne

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