Getting into kids’ culture

Last night’s late session in ELTchat was about the importance of teaching culture (you can find the transcript here if you missed it) and, as ever, the chat was insightful, thought-provoking and fast!

When I first came to Turkey to teach adults (seems so long ago now!), it quickly became apparent that culture, cultural differences and cultural perceptions would play a significant part in my classes. Comparing and contrasting life in Turkey with other countries was always a great source for discussion and I loved learning about the diverse nature of this country from the students as they told me about their hometowns, local culture and customs.

However, this all changed when I started to teach kids. Maybe it was partly because I’d been here for a couple of years by that point but I found that primary school learners were not so keen on telling me about their country or hometowns or learning about mine. The ‘culture’ I came across with young learners was all a product of globalisation as the kids were keenest of all to tell me about their favourite pop stars, TV shows, computer games and football players, mainly international too. Take for example my recent favourites lesson: when asking about favourite pop stars, not one Turkish star was mentioned and it was the same for TV shows and films.

One piece of Hannah Montana merchandise that might be worth getting!
Image by zen

And so I find ‘western’ culture now dominates my lessons as discussion inevitably turns to Hannah Montana, Ben 10, WWE Smackdown and the latest DS games, all of which I am now (unfortunately) a kind of expert on. (Well, to be honest, I don’t mind the video games part so much as I am something of an addict myself and new classes are always surprised and delighted to learn I play Wii games with my son!) I guess it all comes back to adapting to and incorporating our students’ culture. In the past, that meant learning about all sorts of aspects of Turkish life. These days, it means keeping up with pop culture for kids! I firmly believe that this is a key to establishing positive connections with our classes. There’s no point in talking about something they have no interest in or are unable to relate to.

Plus, every so often, the globalised well-marketed ‘culture’ that my kids subscribe to throws up a surprise. In one class when I was asking about their favourite music I was surprised by their answers: Metallica, Queen, Aerosmith, Van Halen… (bear in mind they are only 10 years old!) How did they discover such behemoths of classic rock? Guitar Hero of course!

And to finish, a Final Rip-off as I steal an idea from a recent post on Richard Whiteside’s blog and include a Monty Python video: “One of these days, you’ll realise there’s more to life than culture!” A classic role reversal.


  1. Hi Dave,

    I loved Richard's idea - am a big fan of Monty Python, I regularly silly-walk ;-) As far as culture goes, what you came to realize with your young learners I believe has been noticed by teachers (and parents) all over the world. My daughter is the same age as your students and she's also a Hannah Montana fan (to tell you the truth, she's outgrown Hannah now. She's into much worse... Lady Gaga (!!!), iCarly and Katy Perry ).

    My conclusion here is that if on one hand you will find very similar students anywhere you end up teaching in the world on the other hand you will find very similar students anywhere you end up teaching in the world... you think I made a typing mistake and repeated by accident? No, completely intentional.

    See, I think this has a positive and a negative side to it. Positive because we are better prepared, we have an idea of what 10-year-olds are like (Of course there are exceptions and peculiarities, but in general!) wherever they are from. And negative because they're losing their own cultural values and becoming a homogeneous mass. And I find this disturbing and distressing.

    Great post! And BTW... my students get a kick of the fact I enjoy video games too. Am the queen of guitar hero and Wii Resort ;-) Geez...I am a total geek! ;-)

  2. Everyone is a Monty Python fan whether they admit or not!

    Some of my kids are into Lady Gaga & co as well now. It's interesting that the teenage pop stars are loved by little kids and the aged 20+ pop stars are loved by kids aged 10-14!

    It's cool that you are into Wii games as well - not just because they are fun but because it means you are also interested in what your kids are doing. Unfortunately, I find kids are often unsupervised in these activities and sometimes come into contact with inappropriate content, especially if their parents don't know English that well. Sometimes, I find kids playing games like Grand Theft Auto on their PSPs, which is obvioulsy not good and I try to give my opinion that those games are not good for them.

    That reminds me of a funny incident a couple of years ago. A girl came up to me in break to say she had learned a new song in English and wanted to sing it. I told her to go ahead but was shocked when she started to recite the lyrics to 'Candy Shop' by 50 Cent! I just stopped her before she got to one of the raunchier parts! She was unaware of course, as were her parents, but it goes to show that it's always good to keep an eye on exaclty which parts of this globally marketed culture kids are dipping into!


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