Unit Plan: Teaching Cultural Features of a Language

This post is from a course that I took. I had to make blog posts for the course and I decided to move the posts over here when the course finished.

Here is my idea for how to teach a cultural feature of Japanese using some of the resources I chose.

Teaching Cultural Awareness Through the Issue of Whaling

Target Language: Japanese

Level: Stage 5 Extension (Japanese Continuers or Japanese Extension)

Length: This unit is expected to last about 7 lessons (e.g. 5 x 50 minute periods) in approximately the following formation.

Lesson 1 – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3a
Lesson 2 – Part 3b, 3c, 3d
Lesson 3 – Part 4, Part 5
Lesson 4 – Part 5 (continued)
Lesson 5 – Part 6
Lesson 6 – Part 7
Lesson 7 – Part 8

The grammar point for this unit is ~と思います (I think…). Students will learn how to express their opinions using this structure.

The cultural feature that I am focusing on in this unit is expressing an opinion. In Japan, it is important to express your opinions softly, pay attention to your audience and the context of your conversation, and to try to maintain harmony with your interlocutors.

Part 1: Provocation (Orientation)

I will use this photograph of a menu (in Japanese) as a provocation.

I will ask the students to try to translate some of the words on the menu using their dictionaries (kanji dictionaries and regular dictionaries, online and hard copy). Eventually, some of the students will realize that the character 鯨 means whale.

(If students struggle to find the character in their dictionaries, we will do review work on dictionary use here.)

I will then show students a video (in English) that briefly explains the controversy about whaling from both sides.


Part 2: Reflect on Current Opinions (Orientation)

I will ask students to reflect on their opinions about whaling (the hunting and killing of whales for food). I will ask them to write a short paragraph (in English) about their stance on whaling. (Some students may have no particular opinion about it, so I will ask them to write about what they think they know about whaling.)

Part 3: Deepening Understanding (Presentation)

RELEVANT OUTCOME: Moving Between Cultures
5.MBC.4 Evaluates expressions and representations of the culture of Japanese-speaking communities in a range of texts.

a. Through Visual Stimuli
We will then discuss (in English) the menu and the different ways that whale is being served in the restaurant where the menu is from.

I will show them pictures like this to help them visualize what it would be like to eat whale meat.

b. Through Reading (in English) and Discussion

RELEVANT OUTCOME: Using Language: Reading and Responding
5.UL.5: Selects, summarizes and evaluates information and ideas in written texts and responds appropriately in a range of text types

I will use this English article to open up discussion on Japan’s insistence on its right to continue whaling.

c. Through Reading (in Japanese) and Discussion

Students will be given a text in Japanese about whaling to try to decipher (with help from me and some dictionaries). Page 5 of the following pamphlet has an explanation of how whales eat 5 times as many fish as human do, and are therefore considered in competition with humans for food.

d. Through Reading an Opposing Viewpoint (in English) and Discussion

The following is a speech that was given by a Japanese junior high school student about whales and dolphins. I will include a reference to this speech to show that we must not make generalizations and assume that all Japanese people are in favour of whaling.

Part 4: Vocabulary Enrichment (Presentation)

RELEVANT OUTCOME: Using Language: Speaking
5.UL.7 Uses Japanese with flexibility by incorporating new structures and features for effective communication

I will have the students work in groups to use the above articles and their own imaginations to come up with at least 5 words that they would need to have a short conversation about whaling with a Japanese person. They can come up with the words in English and then use their dictionaries to translate the words into Japanese or they can choose words that they learned from the Japanese article. They will make a collective vocabulary list that they will be able to use as a reference during the capping project (part 7).

Part 5: Explicit Teaching of Culture (Presentation)

RELEVANT OUTCOME: Making Linguistic Connections
5.MLC.4 Analyses ways in which the structures and features of spoken and written Japanese can be manipulated for particular effect

We will then have lessons about expressing opinions in Japanese. We will cover both the grammatical point of how to use ~と思います (I think…) and the cultural aspects of preserving harmony in conversations.

These articles compare how opinions are expressed in English and Japanese.

Page 24 of this booklet (page 26 of the PDF) talks about some of the cultural features involved in expressing opinions in Japanese.

Part 6: Playing with Culture (Application)

RELEVANT OUTCOME: Moving Between Cultures
5.MBC.3 Evaluates the importance of being able to move between cultures

I would like students to play with the idea of using aizuchi (back-channel feedback, listening sounds) and body language to preserve harmony with someone who is saying things that they disagree with.

First, I will teach students some aizuchi words and sounds like そうですか (soo desu ka — is that right?) and へーーー (heeeee — used to express a variety of emotions including surprise and disbelieve.)

This video is directed at Japanese learners of English, but it explains the difference between aizuchi in English and Japanese. I will use it to explain what aizuchi sounds like in Japanese and how there can be some cross-cultural misunderstandings with the use of aizuchi in different cultures.

I will then put students in pairs and give them topics to discuss. In Round 1, the student who is leading the conversation (Student A) will be given the topic and expected to express an opinion on it (in English). The listener (Student B) will then respond with (Japanese) aizuchi and body language in a way that preserves harmony with their interlocuter. The students will then switch roles. In Round 2, Student A will be given a controversial topic and be asked to express an opinion about the topic that they think the listener will probably want to disagree with (e.g. saying that they support the death penalty because there are too many people anyway, so it’s better to kill some of them). Student B will then respond with Japanese aizuchi and body language in a way that preserves harmony with their interlocuter, despite the fact that the listener does not agree with what is being said.

Part 7: Capping Project (Application)

RELEVANT OUTCOME: Using Language: Writing
5.UL.8 Presents a point of view using accurate grammar and experimenting with linguistic structures and features in a range of text types

Students will then be asked to develop a (simple but) culturally sensitive argument for or against whaling. (They can choose which side to argue.) They will be encouraged to use a “third place” mentality (“a position between the two cultures from which one can interact comfortably with people from the other culture while maintaining one’s own identity” — ALPLA 2010, Getting Started with Intercultural Language Learning) while elaborating their position. Their argument will be presented as a one-paragraph “position statement” with an introduction, one or two short points of argument, and a conclusion. Students will also be required to try to express either one of their points of argument or their conclusion orally in a Japanese sentence that will be presented to the class.

I will use the following resource as a teacher reference to remind me of the kinds of arguments that are often given in whaling debates. I am interested to see if the students come up with any/all of them.

Part 8: Reflection (Enhancement)

In the end, I will ask students to look back at the opinion they had of whaling at the beginning of this unit (from Part 2) and see if they have changed their thinking in any way since then.

Here are my responses to feedback that I received on this unit plan.

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