The advice lesson: advising on cultural norms

Intercultural competence


If you are lucky enough to teach an international class of students then you’re in an ideal position to practice some practical and functional language while encouraging students to exchange information with each other.  What I’m referring to is the topic of cultural norms, manners and other advice that people should be aware of when visiting abroad.

Since student’s come from a variety of backgrounds they can advise another international student about the cultural norms of their country if they were to visit.  This provides fantastic practice for information exchange where students are at the center of learning from each other as well as some functional language with giving advice. It’s probably ideal for upper-intermediate students or higher but depending on the language you choose, strong B1 students can do this. For functional language lesson ideas I’ve created the probability and likelihood lesson, the verb forms lesson idea as well as the conditionals lesson(student friendly) which are meant for classes you want to practice language in and get students speaking and using the language immediately.

Speaking and/or Warm-up

Students can be put into small groups/pairs with those who come from the same country (if possible).  Then ask them to make a list of cultural advice they would give to someone visiting their country but be prepared to provide examples and specific context otherwise students may struggle with ideas. So here are some:

Praise vs. Criticism – This is great but not obvious to students. In English speaking countries we are used to praise, raised by our parents with praise and grow up feeling uncomfortable if we have to criticize someone, whereas in other countries criticism is widely used to motivate kids to learn and study and bosses and supervisors routinely criticise employees to get them to work harder so if you proved this example they can discuss this more.

Table manners  – how to behave when seated at the table, in a restaurant or as a guest in someone’s home

For a lesson idea just on food which you can incorporate manners into check out the food revolution lesson idea.

Politeness to strangers – opening doors, giving up your seat

Greeting older people/strangers – countries have different cultural norms regarding how to address elderly people or anyone performing a service like in a restaurant or government office

How to behave when you’re a guest at someone’s house, or when you are the host

Gifts – when are they appropriate, what should they be and when should we open them

What are the rules for tipping?

 Language practice and speaking

Here’s my video episode on this topic regarding the usefulness of the language. Below you’ll find the exercises you can use in your class.

When students have created their lists they can be paired with someone from a different country and here you introduce the functional language for giving advice:

You should/shouldn’t…..

I recommend/ It’s recommended that….

It’s very important that you…..

Always remember to…..

You might like to…

The important thing is to…

Of course elicit what students know first onto the board and then add the additional language you want them to use and then let the magic happen.  🙂

Here is some language that you can incorporate when discussing manners and politeness:

regarded/ viewed/ perceived as the correct thing to do.

Is considered to be….

(dis)respectful/ discourteous /  (in)offensive / 

frowned upon

There’s more on this worksheet from Oxford word skills which you could use as a lesson in itself but that would really be only appropriate for a lesson with one to three people.  Otherwise it’s better to just take what you find most appropriate and use it for the advice stuff.

How to express politeness and manners in English
How to talk about manners and express politeness

Afterwards, switch the pairs or ask one or two people for feedback on what they learned from their partner.

The bonus here, is that you practice giving advice, and at the same time students are improving their intercultural competence by learning from their peers about other countries and their cultural norms.  Students will feel a real connection with each other, will have had an opportunity to practice giving advice as well as some additional vocabulary related to manners and politeness. This requires almost no materials and some board work which is an added bonus.

Like this lesson idea? There are many more and plenty to come. If you don’t want to miss these or my videos and blog posts on teaching tips just submit your email for my monthly newsletter. Or click on the links here to check out more.

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