Defining Culture: Moving Beyond Foods, Clothes, and Art

Defining Culture: Moving Beyond Foods, Clothes, and Art

David Fuentes

Target Level: Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8

Subject Area: Social Studies

Section One: Identifying All Standards And Objectives


Students will be able to recognize cultural attributes beyond typical definitions including how people dress, what they eat, and the holidays they celebrate. Students will understand culture as something that is complex, non-static, and evolving. Students will encounter a definition of culture closer to the way the term is used by anthropologists to represent the totality of learned human behavior. Students will also be able to define how subcultures emerge within cultural groups.

PA State Standards:

Subject: Geography (outdated)

Area 7.3: The Human Characteristics of Places and Regions:

Grade/Course 7.3.6: Grade 6

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

  • Ethnicity of people at the county and state levels (e. g., customs, celebrations, languages, religions)
  • Spatial arrangement of cultures creates distinctive landscapes (e. g., cultural regions based on languages, customs, religion, building styles as in the Pennsylvania German region)

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


Good morning, boys and girls! Today we are going to discuss a very important idea that many of you have probably heard of but may not understand fully. We are going to define and learn about the word: culture. Place a cut out of the word in the center of a chalk or whiteboard. Probing questions: Does anyone know what the word culture means? How do we represent our own culture(s)? Elicit student responses about their ideas of what culture means. Write down ideas on whiteboard piece or paper to be revisited later. If students seem to have difficulty, probe them further about how they live their lives. It is fine if at this point the responses focus mainly on holidays, foods, customs, and traditions. It is also fine if students have some inaccurate ways to describe other people and their cultures. Pictures can be used to demonstrate how people live their lives. Allow students to make as as many characterizations/ interpretations of the pictures freely. This phase will allow students to state their background knowledge and will offer a sense of direction for the lesson to follow.

Formative Assessment

There will be a T chart used as a formative assessment. See steps below for further description of the chart. Students will be asked to define the word culture and list the features of their own lives that match the definition. Students will also be given the opportunity to list attributes in their lives that are important to them that were not listed in the left column of the T chart. The result will be a list of features that signify how students live their lives that fall outside the definition of culture. This can be used to demonstrate the constraints or limits of culture as a means to fully understand who people are.

Summative Assessment

Student will write a report describing the different kinds of cultural attributes that can be used to define their lives. They will be asked to refer to ideas from both sides of their T chart, representing a more holistic definition of the term. It may be that students have more difficulty using the concepts that refer to a typical definition of culture and may find it more meaningful to use the items from the right side of the T chart. This can be used to reinforce the idea that discussing culture is limited to certain areas of our lives that may not be the most salient when describing our own lives.

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

Introduction (Hook)

The hook takes place following the pre-assessment, where students have begun to define culture and think about how it applies to their own lives. Who are you? Who am I? Pause, allow for delay. These are difficult questions to answer, aren’t they? One way to begin to answer these tough questions would be to use culture to describe some of the things that make up who we are. Now that we’ve learned a bit about culture, we are going to try to use what we’ve learned to answer these questions about ourselves. I think we will find that culture can be used to describe who we are only when we expand its definition to include things that describe how we live our lives day to day.

Sequence of Instruction (Step 1, Step 2)

Following the introductory discussion, students will be broken into small groups or pairs and will be given access to resources to further their formation of what culture refers to. Students can use the web or a dictionary to help define the word. Students will also be asked to apply the definition to their own lives. A typical book definition defines culture as the literature, music, art, and foods that are eaten in particular areas of the world. Ask students to apply that definition to their own lives. Students can begin with a T chart, listing the features that best match the definition in their own lives. These features could be recorded on the left side of the T chart under the heading culture in the center of the T. Then, students will be asked to write or list features that are important to their lives that did not fit into the definition of culture. Ideally, many things are important to the students that either do not fit into the left side of the T chart or that seem to be common across any group of people, i.e. the importance of family.

Next, allow students to share the results of the T chart with the class. All the while, record responses on a chalk or whiteboard to be used later to compare with the initial definition.

The result will be two sets of definitions. The first, the initial book and student definition provided in the pre-assessment. The second a list of features hat the students placed in the right side of the T chart. Ask students to describe the differences between the two sides and to characterize the items on the right side as best they can.

Closure/Wrap up

Students will then be asked to write a report describing who they are using the expanded definition of culture.

Students will share their reports with peers or the entire class.

Discussion will follow pointing out the various features students used to describe themselves. The take away point for students rests in the notion that the typical book definition of culture needs to be expanded in order to best describe themselves. This notion should then be used to allow students to think about how limited definitions of culture may be when describing who people are.


As students move from one task to the next, the teacher will be moving around the room speaking and checking in with students asking probing questions to move their thoughts along. At each phase, the teacher can be assessing the students’ learning by checking in on the recorded definitions (chalk or whiteboard), referencing the T chart, and promoting discussion and asking questions based on student reports.

Materials (Teacher and Student)

  • Webster’s dictionary
  • Internet access
  • Illustrations or pictures that capture people from a variety of ‘cultures’.
  • Web sources:
    • Palomar College – What is Culture?


  1. Example T Chart

Differentiated Instruction (Planning, Teaching and/or Assessment)

A good technique for accounting for varied levels will be with the groupings and pairings that are used during the lesson. For students who may need more assistance with a particular task, there should be groupings that address those concerns. A student who is shy may be grouped with one who is not. Also, groupings should be as diverse as possible to allow for peer collaboration and learning. If two students are neighbors, they should be grouped with someone who lives across town, when possible.

Adjusting the conversation based on the maturity of the class, talk about the challenges to Bachiko of having to move to a new place. Ask them about what they think of moving and what sorts of challenges moving brings—compare moving to another place in the country where you currently live to moving to a new country.

Use of Technology (Where appropriate)

  • Palomar College – What is Culture?

Section Four: Lesson Analysis

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