Tips for Teaching American Culture to ESL Students

Tips for Teaching American Culture to ESL Students

Stacy Zeiger
by Stacy Zeiger 49,127 views

While the United States is not the only place English is spoken, it contains a culture that many English language learners find intriguing. Students may be exposed to American companies, such as McDonald's, KFC, or Walmart in their own countries or they may spend time watching American TV shows online. These glimpses of the United States can spark an interest in students' minds and make them want to learn more about American culture. If your students are interested in learning more about American culture, use some of these ideas.

Movies and Televison

While not all movies and television shows offer an accurate portrayal of everyday Americans, there is some truth to them. Introduce students to older sitcomes, such as Full House. Ask them to point out any core values or characteristics they notice as they watch the shows. How do the Americans in the show feel about their homes? Their families? Their belongings? Their careers? Their education? Are there any similarities to their own culture? Major differences? Watch a variety of different shows and see if there are any attitudes or actions that appear throughout.


Americans are known for taking dishes from other cultures and putting their own spin on them. For example, American Chinese food is very different from the food eaten by those who live in China, and Italian food is often much heavier and greasier than what someone would find in Italy. Aside from the differences in international cuisines, American dishes also differ in portion sizes. Compare what a typical American dinner would look like to a typical dinner in your students' country. Look at what Americans eat for breakfast versus what your students eat for breakfast.

Holidays and Customs

Americans celebrate many holidays throughout the year. Two of the biggest holidays that are not traditionally celebrated in other countries are Independence Day and Thanksgiving. Watch a video of an Independence Day celebration or plan a Thanksgiving feast. Ask students to consider why the holidays are so important to Americans and determine if there are any similar holidays in their own cultures. You can also look at holidays that are typically celebrated throughout the world, such as Christmas. Do other countries focus on giving presents and decorating for Christmas as much as Americans?

Sports and Hobbies

How do many Americans spend their free time and how does that compare to how people in the countries where your students live spend their time? Look at the sports Americans watch on TV or participate in versus the sports that are most popular where students live. For example, American football is much different from football in the rest of the world. What does the amount of money spent on these sports say about American values?


American values are often at the core of many political campaigns. Watch old campaign commercials or read recent speeches given by American politicians. Ask students to describe the kinds of values mentioned in the speeches. Do the speeches of the President of the United States sound similar to the speeches of the leader of their country? How do they differ?

Many aspects of U.S. Culture are different from what you might find in the rest of the world. However, as students study American culture, they may begin to find that some aspects of American culture are similar to their own.

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