Culture Box with ESL Students

As the summer semester is getting started, a great way to get to know your students is by making culture boxes. A culture box is a collection of small items that represent various aspects of your life. They are very easy to put together and quite fun to share.

I usually bring in an example to share with students to model what I want them to do. I ask everyone to sit in a circle on the floor of the classroom. I work with university students, so it might be odd for them to sit on the floor, but I think it helps focus them, and it also creates the feeling of a safe space.

In the past, I’ve used a shoe box, or even something more elaborate like a wooden box from Japan, to bring in my personal items. I empty the contents on the floor in the center of the circle, so students can easily see all the objects and hopefully become curious about a few specific things.

Then, one by one, I pick up each object and explain what it is and how it relates to my life. For example, I brought in an ‘evil eye’ keychain, and I tell my students that I received it as a gift from my Greek grandmother. To me, this keychain represents my relationship with my grandmother and my Greek family heritage. I might elaborate more if students seem very curious, but then move on to another object.

To me, this is a particularly great exercise to do with students because it provides a visual reference to something from their past, and they must make connections between objects they have with them and their lives back in their home countries. From my experience, some students may complain that they don’t have many objects with them to show. In that case, I tell them they have to get creative, but they can usually find something to use & relate.

One pitfall I’ve run into is some students will want to bring in several photographs or an entire photo album. I tell them one or two photos is okay, but I don’t want to look through an entire album. I want them to choose at least 5 different small objects, so they have to think outside the box just a little.

Another option that I’ve considered, but never tried, is using ThingLink. After they’ve shared their Culture Boxes in class, they could go home and take a photo of the objects and annotate the photograph with links to help others go deeper in their understanding of the objects.

I annotated my photo using ThingLink just to see how the experience was, and I really enjoyed searching for websites and videos to attach to the objects. It was a fairly straightforward process, and overall pretty fun, so if it’s something I enjoy doing, it’s my hope my students will enjoy doing it too.

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