Having a basic knowledge of the world is something no one should be
denied and it’s a sad reflection that there are so many people, even in
the developed world, who are not literate in this respect.
I teach in China, where geographical understanding can be limited. It’s a lot better than it used to be, but still many people struggle to point to places on a map and geography is still not given much emphasis in school curricula and skipped over in many places. Again, where geography is taught, it is often not covered in a very abstract or thorough way.
There are of course historical and cultural reasons for much of this situation, and although such a critique may seem judgemental, it is simply a fact. And for right or wrong, whether for colonial, marxist, religious, or geographical reasons, many nations have developed differing global outlooks.
The point is that in the 21st century it’s imperative that teachers
encourage people to see the world internationally. We share the planet
and there is only one, so we’d better get familiar with it as a whole.
Knowing something as basic as the layout of the world, the continents,
and countries within, is not a peripheral issue in ELT or in education
generally. It is central to who we are and how we see others.
If teachers can be an influence for cosmopolitanism, this engenders respect for other cultures. Knowledge and understanding makes us less binary and less judgemental. While at the same time, the engagement, delight, and inspiration to be gained from taking a global perspective is invaluable to learners.
To this end, I have three simple activities.
This task gets students articulating beliefs and while some of these may be a bit crass, betraying certain values, that’s not an issue in an ELT setting. In a way, that’s the point; the binary context makes it easy for even low level students to give an answer and at the same time provides scope for more nuanced discussion. There is so much presupposition in the answers that they just beg to be looked at and expanded on.
We know it’s not accurate to pigeon-hole nations and appeal to stereotypes and it’s not intellectually healthy to do so. But for communicative purposes this becomes an exercise in reasoning and the discussion part is where the intellectual and linguistic value lies.
As I wrote in the last post, we are straightjacketed by the language we use. And thus it is in the dialogue and the dialectic where you get people challenging others’ assumptions, and their own, from a less-rigid, post-structuralist perspective.
So when you feel the answers need to be challenged and argued, then
put that to the class. To paraphrase Claude Levi-Strauss, rather than
teachers trying to provide the right answers, we ought to be
asking the right questions.
Humanity belongs in cities. They are the foundation for civilisation, progress, and the exchange of ideas. Cities are the natural destination for the human race. It’s important therefore to have a familiarity, if not affinity, with the world’s major population centres and to postulate on what makes a good one.
Asia: Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok,
Delhi, Mumbai, Dubai, Sydney
Europe: London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Milan, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Moscow, Istanbul
N. America: New York, Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Mexico City
S. America: Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires, Havana
Africa: Cairo, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Casablanca, Nairobi
Total: around 35
In other words: culture, institutions, amenities & resources.
This is a game for practising transactional language as well as numbers, weights & measures. Split the class into 6 teams. Each has the following commodities.
Go through the vocabulary and then let the trading begin.
For example, Africa must choose what they would like to buy. They decide on shoes from Europe. The Europeans make them an offer of say 25 pairs for $425. The Africans decide whether to accept the offer or ask for a cheaper price / different quantity.
Teams should keep a record of their trades. After several rounds of deal-making, see who has what and who has come out with the most money, and value for money. If any of the teams begin to be left out because they wasted their resources early on, you can offer them a loan at fifty percent interest.