Teaching The Enduring Understandings About Culture in Primary Social Studies, pp. 5 of 7

In choosing the interviewees, ensure that they have experiences that will help you to uncover the important understandings about culture with your students. For example, two colleagues from different ethnic groups can talk about how they celebrate similar festivals. They can also be asked to share stories about their daily lives as well as their values and beliefs growing up in Singapore. These two focus of the interview provide opportunities for you to discuss different understandings about culture. From the content of the interview, the interviewees and the teacher can lead students to the understanding that customs and traditions change over time and that there are similarities and differences between cultures. For example, many of us are experiencing changes in how we celebrate traditional festivals and changes in our lifestyles, relationships and values due to technological affordances and the reduction in family size. The interview session allows children to uncover reasons for different practices with the active facilitation of knowledgeable adults. 

Suggested Learning Activity: What’s in a name?

Key understandings about culture that can be taught using this strategy:

  • There are differences between cultures but cultures also share similarities.
  • Cultures are dynamic and change over time. It may change in response to advances in technology and challenges in the physical environment and it may change to accommodate different ideas, values and beliefs.

In this activity, we use names to uncover understandings about culture. Ask children to find out the meaning behind their names. Several days before the activity, inform parents about what you will be doing so parents are ready to talk to their children about the meanings behind their children’s names. In some families, children may be named by their grandparents or names follow particular family traditions. Informing parents beforehand gives parents a chance to prepare their explanations. This also creates an opportunity for children to interact meaningfully with their family members and ask questions about their family traditions.

In class, invite several students to share the meanings behind their names. Ask them to write their names in their mother tongue script on the whiteboard. Invite the rest of the class to learn to write these names too. This way, children learn to appreciate the writing of another language. (Follow the same procedure if the students’ mother tongue language is written in the Roman alphabet). You may wish to take the opportunity to teach some features and vocabulary of the language and talk about language as part of culture. Encourage children to pronounce their classmates’ names properly. Here again, you would choose names that allow you to initiate a discussion to illustrate the key understandings related to culture. During the course of the activity, students will find that there are many similarities across different cultures. They may also find that names can be influenced by pop culture and the changing times. Many of us know people named after popular pop stars or characters from television dramas, movies or novels. You may also have noticed that parents of different generations may favour particular names. All parents, regardless of ethnicity or cultural background, hope their children will be safe, happy and healthy and names embody positive values and characteristics families hope to see in their young. Students can be led to understand that different cultures value similar traits and all have similar hopes that their children will have bright futures.

For the next stage of the activity, get the students into groups. Ensure that there is a good mix of students from different ethnic groups, if possible. In this segment, students who did not get to share the meanings of their names with the whole class will do so in their small groups.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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