Engaging in games played around the world, students will learn about other cultures.
Invitation to Learn
- America Words
- In America
Games People Play
People, by Peter Spier; ISBN 038513181X
Whoever You Are, by Mem Fox; ISBN 0152007873
The Colors of Us, by Karen Katz; ISBN 978-0805071634
Count on Your Fingers African Style, by Claudia Zaslavsky; ISBN 0863162509
This Is The Way We Eat our Lunch: A Book About Children Around the World; by Edith Baer;
Count Your Way Through Africa, by James Haskins; ISBN 0876143478
Background for Teachers
The different and varied cultures represented in each classroom
provide an opportunity for students to learn about others and
themselves. Targeting specific cultures represented in individual
classrooms validates student's backgrounds and gives them a chance
to understand and appreciate one another. When teaching about
cultures it is important to be sensitive and not to stereotype. Let the
diversity of your class guide your decisions and discussions. It is
important to integrate discussion about appreciating, valuing, and
respecting differences of cultures. It would be wisest to teach this
lesson sometime after the first few months of school. Students will be
more responsive to learning about other cultures if they are secure in
who they are individually. The beginning of the year you could start
out by doing lots of writing and sharing activities that focus on what
each student as an individual likes and dislikes, what kind of families
they come from, what they look like and other things that make them
This activity focuses on the people, traditions and specifically
the games unique to different countries.
Intended Learning Outcomes
5. Demonstrate responsible emotional and cognitive behaviors.
Invitation to Learn
Invite your students to look at the cover of the book People.
Discuss and brainstorm with the class why there are so many people
on the cover of this book. Ask what they think this book might
be about. Read the book aloud to the class, ensuring that they
can all see the pictures (Note: this could also be done as a power-
point presentation with the pictures scanned in so that they are more
accessible to the students).
- Discuss the book People, by Peter Spier that was read during
the introduction. Brainstorm with students what they noticed
about the pictures. Were the people all the same? Were there
things that you had never seen before? Let students know that
now you are going to look at the book again and write some
things down to help us remember what we read and saw.
- Have students recall with you what they noticed in the book.
On an overhead, or chart paper (you can make a poster of the
America Words) list and categorize some of the characteristics
the book talked about (e.g. physical features, clothes, what
we do to "play," our homes, pets and holidays, food, religion,
where we work, how we communicate/languages). Give
students a chance to come and share the pen to write as you
fill in the graphic organizer (by allowing the students to help
you write they will be more engaged in the activity) and think
of words that can go with each category to describe life in
America (e.g. by clothes you could write shirts and pants, etc.).
As you go through this list children will most likely want to
continue to explore the book and see how what we do differs
from other countries. Let them! Explain to students that just
like people all over the world are different, each one of us is
different and yet, in ways we are the same. Just like we read in
the book People, sometimes when people come to visit America
from other countries they think that they way we do things
are interesting, just like we think that the things that they do,
where they live, or what they eat might be interesting.
- Refer to the list that was made during the America Words
interactive writing activity and have students identify something
under each category that they want to write more about, or
that they think that someone reading a book about America for
the first time would want to know. Have a few students share
what they think is something important to them about living in
America (e.g. a student might say, "I think it is important that
in America we have national monuments or parks)."
- Explain that if we were to go to a different country (e.g. Japan)
there might be some traditions we recognize. For example,
in Japan most children go to school. However, we wouldn't
know or understand everything about their culture, like their
money, language, favorite foods and even what games they like
to play at school. Similarly, when people come to America from
different countries, they have a lot to learn about our culture.
So, we are going to create a book to teach visitors about our
culture. (If there is someone in the class who has a friend or
someone they know who has a unique cultural heritage, or
possibly even someone in the class you could have that person
be your target audience).
- All students will start by finishing the open-ended sentence on
the In America template: In America __________________. This
could be followed by a number of varied responses. Encourage
students to be creative and think of something unique and
meaningful to them (e.g. In America there are mountains where
I live. In America I play jump rope with my friends at recess.
In America we have pets like dogs and cats that live in our
houses and backyards. In America we go to school with boys
- Children can add an illustration that matches the sentence(s)
that they completed.
- After completion students can read their pages to the class.
- Pages can be compiled into a class book and kept in the
classroom library or displayed.
- After completion of class book, pick a country or place that you
know a lot about (or have a students' parent or someone else
that could help you to get information about a country) and
repeat the process by discussing the culture of that country and
making a class book.
Games People Play
- Read the poem about games that people play: Friends Around
- Give each child a copy of the poem. Have students underline
with you some of the names of different countries that are
found in the poem. If you have a map or a globe, this would be
a great time to locate those countries that are in the poem.
- Make a list of games that the students in your class like to play.
Make a list of games that are included in the poem. After the
lists are made have students look at it and see if there are any
games listed that are on both sides. Point out that some games
are played in other countries, but they are just called by a
- Talk about numbers and how every child, no matter where
they live, has to learn to count and know their numbers. Some
numbers are written differently, and/or said differently. Just
like we play games, and have rhymes to learn our numbers, so
do children in other countries. Explain that they are going to
learn and then be able to play some games from other countries.
Instruct them to watch for things that might be the same or
different about the games that they learn, and games that they
are already familiar with. Teach children some of the number
Number Games From Around the World
Skills practiced: counting, making sets
From the Mbundu tribe in Angola, West Africa, this number
game is played by children as soon as they are old enough to count.
The game is noncompetitive and encourages cooperation among the
children. The numbers one, two, three, four, and five are called out in
the Mbundu language as mosi, vali, tatu, swala, and talu. The children
in East Africa, would use the language of Swahili to call the numbers
as moja (MO-jah), mbili (mm-BEE-lee) tatu (TAH-too), nne (NN-nay),
and tano (TAH-no.)
It is best to play this game with the whole class. One student is
designated as the Caller.
- One player is chosen to be the Caller. The remaining children
gather in a circle.
- The Caller shouts out a number between one and five, then the
players group themselves accordingly. For example, if the Caller
calls out mbili (two), the players then scramble into groups of
- If there are leftover players, they form their own group and
shout their number to the Caller.
- Play continues with the Caller calling out different numbers for
three more games, then a new Caller is chosen.
- For more of a challenge, play this game in several different
languages to represent each culture in your classroom.
Odd Or Even: Greece
Skill practiced: one to one correspondence, even and odd
From ancient Greece, the idea for this game is simple: correctly
guess whether a player holds an odd or even number of beans in their
Each player needs one partner.
Each player needs 5 or 6 dried beans.
The object of the game is to guess correctly whether a player holds
an odd or even number of beans.
- The first players hide several beans in their closed hands. They
ask their opponents, odd or even?
- The opponents make their guess and the other players must
open their hands to show the beans.
- If the opponent's guesses are right, they win one bean. If their
guess is wrong, they must give up a bean. Now it is their turn to
hide their beans and the other player's turn to guess.
- Play continues until a player is out of beans. (Note: When there
are several pairs of children, the players can change partners
after each game. At the end of a specified time (ten minutes, for
example) everyone stops and counts their beans. They player
who has the most beans is the winner.)
- To check their answers, encourage the students to try to pair up
the beans which are held in their hands. If each bean does not
have another bean to form a pair, then the set is odd.
Jan Ken Po: Japan
Skill practiced: probability, cooperation
Known as Paper, Rock, Scissors, in the United States, Jan Ken Po
has been played in Japan for centuries. Many times it has been used
to settle disputes or to decide who goes first. The outcome is almost
always accepted without question!
Each player needs at least one partner.
The object of the game is to win the match with a superior hand.
The combinations and the winners are shown below:
- Paper & Rock = Paper wins (paper covers rock)
- Scissors & Paper = Scissors wins (scissors cuts paper)
- Rock & Scissors = Rock wins (rock crushes scissors)
- Players sit facing each other and begin by chanting Jan, Ken Po!
They pump their hands up and down on the first two syllables,
then on Po! They make a sign for one of the following: Rock is
a closed fist, paper is a flat hand, and scissors is a 'v' with the
index and middle fingers.
- Whoever wins three times in a row becomes the leader. All
players try to beat the leader. Whoever beats the leader three
times in a row becomes the new leader.
Going To Boston: United States
Skill practiced: counting, addition, comparing more than and less
Dice games exist all over the world in many different cultures. Dice
have been designed in many different styles: the two-sided dice used by
the Native Americans, the four-sided dice used by the Egyptians, and
the pyramid-shaped dice of other cultures. Going To Boston, history
tells us, started in the United States on a train ride to Boston. It uses
six-sided dice. (If you don't have six sided dice a four sided dice can
Each group consists of two or more players. Using three dice and a
cup to shake and spill the dice, and a set of Unifix cubes or paper and
pencil for keeping score.
The object of the game is to score the highest total after five rolls.
- Players take turns throwing one die to determine the order of
play. The person with the highest number goes first. The first
player puts all three dice into the dice cup, gives it a shake and
spills out the dice.
- The player saves the die showing the highest number and places
the two remaining dice back into the cup.
- For the young learner, direct the player to snap together Unifix
Cubes into a train to equal the number showing on the saved
- The player then shakes and spills the remaining dice in the cup,
saving the die showing the highest number. Direct them to add
this number of Unifix Cubes to their original train.
- Once this player has finished shaking, spilling, and snapping, it
is the next player's turn.
- When the partner is finished, tell the pair to compare their
Unifix trains. The player with the highest score after three rolls
wins. Tell them to compare their trains: who has more and by
how many (students can identify their trains as more than and
less than if they cannot count)?
- Make up verses and sing the song: I am from _________ (name
of country) I ___________ (something that is done in that
country) sung to the tune of I am the Music Man.
- Advanced Learners could research another country and make
their own book (all about book) for that culture. They could
be required to find three examples of things that the children or
persons within that culture would like or do.
- Have students find a shape with their bodies that shows
something about who they are. What kind of poses and shapes
would people from another country have?
- Learners with special needs could work with a buddy or work
with the teacher during games. Using a Venn diagram you
could compare and contrast games we play and games that
children in other countries play.
- Have students journal about what they learned about numbers
by playing the number games. Ask them to write about which
number game they thought was easiest, hardest, or most
- Where do our names come from? Send a note home with
students to research where their name comes from (country of
origin). They can come back and share with the class where
their name is from, and how they got it. You could also use a
map and put the students pictures showing where their country
of origin is located.
- Send home the games that were played in class for students to
teach their parents and play at home.
- Discuss different family cultures, and have them complete a
"family culture page" where they would fill out a paper: In our
family we __________________. This will spark discussion
about how families, not just cultures are different from one
- Before beginning the activities, have students write what they
know about games from different countries. Following the
teaching, have students write again and see if they are able to
express, in words, what they know now. A KWL chart could be
used to do this as a whole class.
- For the In America book, assess based on whether or not
children were able to generate a sentence that made sense and
included something about the culture of America.
- If games are played over a span of days, or in the same day in
centers or another type of rotation you could have a checklist of
the games and have students make sure they have played each
game and then journal about their favorite game and why.
Cornett, C.E. (3rd ed.). (2007). Creating Meaning Through Literature and the Arts: An
Integration Resource for Classroom Teachers. New Jersey: Pearson Education.
This book outlines the growing trend toward arts integration in
the curriculum. With an emphasis on differentiation and integrating
multiple disciplines into classroom instruction this book provides
hands on ideas for each of the different art disciplines. Content across
five art disciplines is included -- literature, visual arts, drama, dance
Livingston, N., Kurkjian, C. (2005). Circles and celebrations: Learning about other cultures
through literature. The Reading Teacher. 58(5) 696-703.
This research article outlines how we can appropriately develop
cultural awareness through literature in our classrooms. It discusses
how teachers can utilize literature, not just for what the text says,
but also to explore the artwork and underlying themes. It proposes
that there are two types of culture. One of them is culture as we
traditionally see it -- music, fine arts, and philosophy and the other is
culture including social issues and beliefs of people. The article shows
that both types of culture are important to discuss and that through
literature this can easily be accomplished.