Gaining Cultural Familiarity: Understanding Differences and Similarities

Gaining Cultural Familiarity: Understanding Differences and Similarities

David Fuentes

Target Level: Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5, Grade 6

Subject Area: Language Arts (English), Social Studies

Section One: Identifying All Standards And Objectives


Students will be able to recognize differences and similarities between their own lives and the lives of other children living in a different country. Students will also be able to value the differences that may seem strange to them by allowing themselves to walk in the shoes of other children, and to think about similarities as well as differences.

PA State Standards

Subject: Geography (outdated):

Area 7.3: The Human Characteristics of Places and Regions

Grade/Course 7.3.3 Grade 3

Standard B.: Identify the human characteristics of places and regions by their cultural characteristics.

  • Components of culture (e. g., language, belief systems and customs, social organizations, foods, ethnicity)
  • Ethnicity of people in the local community (e. g., customs, celebrations, languages, religions)

Section Two: Identifying Method(S) Of Assessment And Point Of Use Throughout Lesson


Prior to the lesson, students will be asked to brainstorm a list of things they know about the country of interest. During this time, the teacher may allow for less than desired responses to come from the group or groups of students. The teacher will focus on eliciting as many responses as possible. Does anyone know where Argentina is located? What language is spoken in Argentina? What kinds of foods do people eat? Etc. There are no wrong answers during this assessment, only points of departure from which later discussion will revisit. The teacher and students can work collaboratively on recording the responses provided. This phase is intended to allow students to explore their prior knowledge and to promote the teachers’ understanding of what the students know, don’t know, and should learn.

Formative Assessment

Based mainly on the preassessment, this section allows the teacher to plan what the students will learn based on what they know and what they don’t. After having preassessed students, the teacher will have a better idea for the scope of lesson, how much is to be covered, and where to begin. Often, this section can address many of the misconceptions that students had and brought with them into the inquiry. Also, the teacher can introduce longer inquiry type questions that can be used to assess the success of the lesson and student learning. What is like to be a 4th grader living in Argentina? What kinds of activities, sports and music do the children like? Etc.

Summative Assessment

The culminating experience is the letter correspondence between your student and his/her new friend. There can also be follow-up discussions where it can be beneficial to discuss students’ take away points from the experience. What is it like to live in another country? How are your new friends different and similar from you? What have you learned and how do you feel about the experience?

Section Three: Identifying The Learning Activities/Instructional Strategies And Details As To How The Lesson Will Be Carried Out

Introduction (Hook)

Good afternoon, boys and girls! Today, we are going to make some new friends. I have arranged for us to meet some children who live in a different country. We are going to become Pen Pals with some boys and girls who are the same age as us but who live in a different country. Before we begin, I had thought it would be nice if we could learn a bit about them prior to forming our new friendships. I figure it will make it much easier and more fun if we know a little bit about our new friends and they know a bit about us, too. Over the next couple of days we are going to focus on learning about our new friends and telling them a bit about ourselves. In the end, we will each make new friends and learn more about the lives of children of a similar age who live hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles away from us. I think we will learn that we have a great deal in common with our new friends. We may also learn about some of the differences that we have, too. Remember that the goal is to make friends, to be respectful, and to learn about children in a different country.

Sequence of Instruction (Step 1, Step 2)

Step one: Learning about others; learning about ourselves. To begin, we are going to discuss what we want to communicate to our new friends and what we want to learn about them. Then, we will begin writing our introductory letters to our new friends. Keep in mind that our goal is to learn about others and to learn about how others are different and similar from us.

Engage student thinking: Do you think that our friends will be similar or different from us? Why? Allow for discussion, pose questions when feasible. Before moving onto the next step, try to allow students to introduce ideas about who they are and what they want to communicate and introduce the idea that the things they do contribute to their culture. Offer a definition of culture based on the students’ responses: the unique way that people from different parts of the world represent their experiences and ways of living.

What do you want your new pal to know about you? What do you want to know about your new pal?

Where do you live? What kind of region do you live in (urban, suburban, rural)? What kinds of foods do you like to eat? What do you do for fun in your spare time? What is like at your school? Who do you live with? What is your favorite sport? Game? Music? What is your typical day like, from beginning to end?

Step two: Following the discussion, students can work in pairs or individually, writing their responses to the introductory questions. During this time, there may be pictures, books, and internet resources used to offer a picture of who their friends are and how they live. This may lead to presumptions or curiosity that can facilitate the writing process. Students can write their letter.

The dual nature of thinking about themselves, and thinking about others who they may presume to be quite different from themselves, will allow students to begin to think about how their views may or may be accurate and will allow them down the round in later steps to recognize the differences and similarities between them self and their new friend.

Step Three: Letters are sent.

Closure/Wrap up

See transition for time in between letter sent and received.

The goal of the lesson is to allow for and promote respect for different cultures. It is also to allow and promote students to confront the perception that difference is the best way to characterize children who live in a different country. While differences are sure to surface, many similarities may as well. Understanding that culture is to be valued and respected is a great objective for the lesson. However, understanding that people across the globe have many similarities may allow students to view cultural similarities as well as differences. Allowing students to experience these similarities may also elicit a feeling of empathy towards others. The closing discussion should be centered on student perceptions of who their new pals are, how they live, and the differences and similarities between their pals lives and their own.


Letters sent; letters received. If this step is done electronically, responses can be quick. If not, it may take several days to get the responses. During the time between, the students can continue to research the country of interest, focusing on what it is like to be a child their age in that country. Various internet resources can be used during this phase. The goal is not to have students arrive at conclusion about their pal and the country, but to raise more questions that could be used for further communication.

Materials (Teacher and Student)

Differentiated Instruction (Planning, Teaching and/or Assessment)

It would be possible for students to communicate with other students from different countries. If there were students in your class who had a special connection to a particular country, then it may be beneficial to allow them to pursue a pal from that country. If there are students who may need additional attention during the lesson, expert-novice pairs may help. By grouping a stronger student with a student who needs improvement in one area or more, may help to promote the success of all children.

Use of Technology (Where appropriate)

Many opportunities exist in the lesson to utilize technology. The pal communication can be electronic. Resources about the country should be encountered during the students’ inquiries into the country of study. As students are writing, there can be images and information about the country displayed.

Section Four: Lesson Analysis

  • What went well?
  • Planning Reflection
  • Teaching Reflection
  • Student & Evidence
  • Improvements