Teaching Different Cultures

BookBox is a great way to expose children to different cultures, which creates a deeper sense of awareness, empathy, and tolerance for those who are different from us. Their stories with same language subtitles are a wonderful way to teach children about different cultures and simultaneously improve their reading level.

Stories can be about anything. They are often used in classrooms around the world to teach language and subjects like geography and history. What kinds of stories does a teacher choose? Should she/he select tales from unfamiliar surroundings? What are the benefits of cross-cultural storytelling in a language class? These are some questions that teachers often find difficult to answer, and many of them are skeptical of the benefits of cross-cultural stories.

“I rarely narrate North Indian stories to my students because they cannot understand that culture,” commented a teacher during one of my storytelling workshops in the South Indian state of Kerala, a few years ago.

A teacher from Delhi I recently met complained that stories where dishes like ‘avial’ (mixed vegetable curry), ‘meen kodambu’ (a type of fish curry) and ‘sambar’ figured were not relevant for her class.  “My students do not like South Indian food, so why to waste time narrating these tales?” she bluntly asked.

Do stories from other cultures demotivate our students or do they, in fact, instill in them a sense of curiosity about people and places that are very different from their own? Listening and telling stories from other cultures help develop and promote better understanding, respect, appreciation and a more positive outlook towards people from different lands, races and religions and even one’s own! In brief, these kinds of stories help us:

• Explore our multi-cultural roots

• Undergo different types of cultural experiences and gain insights into different traditions and values

• Develop empathy towards unfamiliar people, places or situations

• Get to know about the differences and similarities of various cultures and be introduced to new ideas that were previously unknown to us.

Given that these are the benefits of cross-cultural storytelling let me share with you some ways on how to make storytelling sessions more relevant and interesting. For stories from different cultures to have their maximum effect on the listeners, the narrator must keep a few factors in mind. Lack of knowledge of the story background, strong reactions to cultural practices and convictions, use of gory or violent details in the narration, inappropriate behavior, and intolerance of other’s beliefs or convictions make the story unappealing to the children, and it loses its efficacy. How to choose stories in a sensitive manner is a question often asked by teachers, and one needs to give serious thought to it.

Culture-sensitiveness is an important aspect of storytelling. It is, therefore, crucial for teacher-storytellers to develop this ability to be able to bond with children of different backgrounds and enable them to understand better different cultures. It will not only make storytelling sessions more interesting and informative but will also help teachers and students gain a better understanding of communities around the world.

How are you teaching culture?

Thank you for reading,


Nabanita Deshmukh CharacterNabanita Deshmukh is a writer of children’s stories and rhymes. She conducts workshops for teachers and students on storytelling and other interactive modes of teaching. She can be contacted at deshmukh.nitu@gmail.com.

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