College of Education & Human Services

Lesson 2: Cultural Differences: Dont' Assume...Observe...Ask...
and Ask Again Later

Differences and Similarities Among Cultural Groups2boys

When populations of ELLs arrive in a new district, it is tempting to make assumptions about different cultural groups based on geography, previous experience, hearsay, or even direct conversations with students, parents or advocates. Remember, ELLs are more different as individuals than they are alike as a group. This same mantra can be applied to any student.

Think about the cultural/family similarities and individual differences you may have with your own brothers or sisters.

Quickly list 10 ways you are similar and different from your siblings or best friend of your same cultural group. Now list 10 ways you are similar and different from someone of your same cultural group who lives in Chicago, IL…or Plano, Texas…or…Los Angeles, CA…etc. This is an impossible task because there are too many variables and individual differences among people. Yet, educators often assume that all the ELL students from a similar background learn in the same way, enjoy the same things, eat the same food, and face the same challenges.

This is not to say that educators should not research their students’ home countries and cultures. Just remember that your students are individuals with differing needs and background experiences.

All web links in new page 

For further information on different countries and cultures:

NOTE:  To view video you will need QuickTime.




Click HERE to view a video example of accessing resources.


Understanding the Impact of Religion

Once again, not all students from a specific country may be of the same religion and not all members of a religious group may have the exact same beliefs.

Information and links to World Religion from the BBC:




Click HERE to view a video discussing the impact of religion.



Understanding the Impact of Diet
Ask parents if there any specific dietary needs and assist the students at meals. For example, food that contains pork could be marked with a sticker on the menu. Students should also be able to refrain from having restricted foods on their plates as this may violatetheir religious beliefs.

Click HERE to view a video discussing the impact of diet.

Understanding the Role of Women in Their Society and Education
Worldwide more than 115 million children are not in school. Some ELL students come from countries where literacy for women especially is not valued and girls do not have the same educational opportunities as boys. This is important to note for the followingreasons:
  • Boys may initially feel uncomfortable with US women teachers.

  • Families may not feel that attendance or academic achievement for girls is important.

  • Brothers and sisters may not have similar educational attainment in their first language.

Greg Mortensen’s mission to bring literacy to girls in Pakistan and rural communities:




Click HERE to view a video discussing the role of women.