Curriculum Planning

5 Ways to Increase Elementary Students’ Knowledge of Other Countries

Awareness and appreciation of different cultural perspectives ensures that students have an open mind when considering global issues.

May 17, 2024
Sandra Dionisi / The iSpot

In any state standards, it’s almost ubiquitous these days to include the preparation of students for a global society. Unfortunately, courses on global education aren’t offered in traditional certification programs, nor are they often a part of professional development at most school sites. 

Nonetheless, if you wish to infuse global education into your curriculum, I have excellent news. You can begin your path to creating globally minded kids as early as your next lesson, and you won’t have to cut anything out of your day to do so. In fact, global education isn’t something else on your plate. It’s an understanding embedded in your curriculum, and neither you nor your students need to be globetrotters to become more globally competent. Here are five easy ways that any curriculum can be “globafied.” 

1. Share the Four Global Competencies With Students 

In your next lesson, consider the Asia Society’s widely used four domains of global education. Consider that in any lesson you teach, students are nearly always doing one or more of the following: They explore their world, they communicate ideas, they recognize perspectives, and they take action. What you want to do is simply provide them with access to do this globally. Here’s an easy example of what it looks like:

Example: You are teaching one of the core algorithms for mathematics: subtraction, multiplication, or even division. In your lesson summary, share a video about how similar problems are solved in other countries. Give students a few minutes to pause and try them out. Then, let them discuss in table groups what they think of the strategies and how they differ from or are similar to their favorite. To help the students get a broader sense of their world, name the strategies after the countries that they are from. Better, show students on a map where the strategies are from, or connect to a forum like Global Scholars and arrange a Zoom with students in that country to share their solutions to the same problem.

2. Provide Incentives for Inquiry

Consider the number of times a day that you offer kids, especially early finishers, a little bonus or a little challenge. In our world of constant internet access, doesn’t it seem that the following example could be infused in nearly any subject?

Example: Global education is perfect when I teach a unit of earth science, weather, plate tectonics, or volcanoes. When my students are constructing a project or completing a presentation, many finish early, and others need some motivation in their groups. I make these students International Ambassadors of Weather or perhaps of Volcanism. Then, I provide a link to a related topic and have them jot notes comparing the various global versions of their scientific phenomena. On the right side of the page, they record what they find as details. On the left, they can create a main idea—a global discovery to add to the group’s presentation in some way.

3. Give More Access

One of the best resources you can use right away is to infuse the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) into your teaching. Fully 193 of the world’s countries are part of the UN. All these nations recognize the need for things your kids will definitely care about. The knowledge that the world’s future challenges are not ours alone reminds modern learners that they are part of a global planet. This collective is looking for solutions to issues like climate change, pollution, and clean access to water.

Example: When I use a nonfiction article about an engaging topic in class, such as “Bullying in Schools,” global education comes naturally. I ask students to consider one of the UN SDGs that matches the context of the piece. To help them better see the global context of the article, I provide them with a link or resource of some kind regarding how other nations are tackling a similar issue. I then give this as a center rotation, or as a seatwork assignment. When we return to the article, I solicit responses from students about what the article’s takeaway is both locally and from a more global perspective.

4. Offer Options 

In the new era of differentiation, let’s not forget that differentiation happens for motivation and authentic inquiry as much as to give access to students with varying needs. 

Example: During your next essay-writing assignment, how about giving that anime lover an opportunity to research how Japanese artwork has influenced cultures like ours around the world? Or what about an option in your Revolutionary War unit for students to explore other revolutions around the world?

Offering choices within an assignment makes for more than engagement. With a simple option, you can help them explore other cultures in a way they already appreciate.

5. Use Student Experience and Cultural Assets

Utilizing and affirming your students’ cultural and experimental assets is what global education is all about. Allowing your students to share what many of them already bring to the class isn’t just good teaching, it’s also culturally responsive teaching.

It’s important to tap into students’ interests on a daily, and lesson-by-lesson, basis. Whatever topic you’re teaching, simply provide students with an option to share from their representative culture to the discussion. 

Example: Try this simple question during your lesson as a teachable moment. “Does anyone know how this might _____ outside the United States or in your family here in the United States?” Giving students a chance to share a cultural component that is a part of their experiences opens up a dialogue that is often overlooked in many classrooms. Providing chances for students to share their global and cultural experiences begins to normalize the view that we are, after all, a global society in and out of the class. 

When in Doubt, Think ‘Glocally’

Perhaps you‘ve heard of the term “glocal.” It means to think global and act local. Remember that this term can apply to any lesson you teach in which a local area of concern is addressed. When you embed any of the above strategies into your lessons, it won’t be just you thinking that way—your kids will be too.

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  • Curriculum Planning
  • Critical Thinking
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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