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Asian and Other Cultures


Two class periods



World History

Josie Levine, middle school ESL teacher, New York City.


Students will understand the following:

1. Asian cultures celebrate many festivals.

2. Other cultures celebrate festivals similar to and different from Asian festivals.


For this lesson, you will need:

Chalkboard, overhead transparency setup, or computer and computer-projection device
For older students, access to printed reference sources about festivals

1. To demonstrate the importance of festivals not only in Asian cultures but in all cultures, announce that everyone in the class will have a chance to conduct, contribute to, and write up a cross-cultural survey of festivals celebrated by people in the class, the school, or the larger community. (You may need to include the whole school or the larger community if your class is culturally homogeneous.) Begin by eliciting from students the reasons that any cultural festivals exist. What purposes do cultural festivals serve? Here are a few purposes:

- To give thanks to supernatural or mortal beings (e.g., Thanksgiving, harvest festivals)

- To ask for help or good fortune from supernatural or mortal beings (planting festivals, fund-raising bashes)

- To celebrate the “best” in a category (e.g., film festivals and jazz festivals)

- To celebrate personal milestones or life-cycle events (birthdays, rites of passage)

- To keep traditions alive out of respect for ancestors and future generations (festivals built around religious holidays)

2. Using the preceding list, other lessons you have conducted, and the personal experience of class (or school or community) members as background, students should (a) list on a chart the names of specific Asian festivals and (b) for each festival, fill in chart columns that have the following column heads (and other heads that you may add):

- Purpose of the festival

- Main event(s) of the festival

- Guests or positions of honor at the festival

- Music and dance associated with the festival

- Colors associated with the festival

- Foods associated with the festival

- Offerings or sacrifices associated with the festival

- Time of year of the festival; length of the festival

3. Now, based on the ethnic makeup of your class, school, or larger community, add to the chart the names of festivals of other nationalities and religions. For each festival, invite the students in your class to volunteer the information to fill in the columns, or guide your students in creating an oral or written survey of people in the school or community who can provide the information for the columns.

4. Whenever possible, ask students to bring to class artifacts or symbols used in the cultural festivals—for example, special clothing, food samples, and ritual objects.

5. Once the survey is complete, lead the class through the writing process to produce a communal essay comparing and contrasting Asian festivals and festivals from other lands or groups of people. Begin by listing prewriting thoughts that occur to students as they review the raw data.

6. Then group the prewriting notes into two categories: (1) ways in which festivals from other cultural groups are like Asian festivals; (2) ways in which festivals from other cultural groups are different from Asian festivals.

7. Ask for volunteers to compose the essay orally—sentence by sentence—as you take their dictation and write on the board, an overhead transparency, or a computer connected to a visual-projection device. Coach students to generate a thesis statement and topic sentences as necessary.

8. On the following day, return to the communal first draft by asking students to make revising, editing, and proofreading corrections or changes.

9. Ask for suggestions on where to publish the final essay about festivals—perhaps in the school paper, on the class or school Web site, or in some other format so that students' friends and parents can read it.


Adaptations for Older Students:

Instead of guiding the class through the research phase and the writing process for a compare-contrast essay on cultural festivals, tell students to organize themselves into small groups and figure out for themselves how to conduct surveys, where to find reliable printed information about cultural festivals, and how to produce group essays by writing, revising, editing, and proofreading collaboratively.

1. Discuss some of the reasons people celebrate events that took place many years ago.
2. Describe the typical Chinese dragon used in ceremonies. What significance does the dragon have in Chinese culture?
3. Discuss the types of occupations and skills involved in constructing a float.
4. Discuss how the Gion Matsuri is similar to or different from parades held where you live.
5. Discuss with your classmates some of the things you are thankful for. Describe some of the ways in which people show their thanks for what they have received? To whom can thanks be shown?
6. Planet Earth is becoming more and more connected each day. As a result, standards have been adopted by countries worldwide to increase compatibility. For example, the currently accepted calendrical system of 12 months with 28 to 31 days per month is used by the vast majority of countries. Discuss why a society would choose to use a lunar calendar to celebrate holidays rather than basing these holidays on the standard calendar.
7. What does the statement, "You are what you eat" really mean? Just as ancient tribes of Central America built entire cultures around maize (corn), other cultures have harvested foods which help to define them. Examine the different uses for rice in Indian society. What are some staple foods which you might consider to be most descriptive of your own culture?

Evaluate individual students on their contributions to the communal essay:
- Three points:constructive prewriting thoughts that focus on the topic of the essay; thesis statement that clearly states the essay's main idea; a topic sentence that clearly states the main idea of each paragraph; thorough revising, editing, and proofreading

- Two points:moderately useful prewriting thoughts; moderately clear thesis statement and topic sentences; incomplete revising, editing, and proofreading

- One point:unfocused prewriting thoughts; unclear thesis statement and topic sentences; incomplete revising, editing, and proofreading

Personal Commemoration (for Hong Kong segment)

Have your students plan a personal celebration (e.g., for a birthday, getting a driver's license, doing well on a test) and design a miniature float to represent the event. You can ask each student to tell what materials he or she will use, where he or she will locate the materials, and what the float will look like (and why).

Create a Stamp or Quilt (for Japan segment)

Have each student devise a commemorative stamp or quilt in honor of Gion Matsuri. Ask each student what symbols and colors he or she will include on the stamp or quilt—and why.

Write a Skit (for Philippines segment)

For this activity, ask each student to write a skit in which he or she is given a gift or an honor. Ask your students to consider the following questions as they complete the assignment: How would you show your thanks? Would you express your thanks differently if the giver were very much older or younger than you? How different would your act of thanks be if you lived in another culture?

Cities and Legends (for India segment)

According to Indian legend, the area of Kerala was created when Lord Vishnu slew all the evil kings of the region. He threw the axe he had used into the sea, and where the handles of his blade landed, the land of Kerala was created. Have students research the legends of how another city—for example, Rome—came to be. You can also ask them how their home city was created or founded. Ask them to find out if there are any tourism sites that will teach them about the city's founding.

Peoples of the World. Asians and Pacific Islanders

Joyce Moss and George Wilson, Gale Research, 1993

This massive work from one of the world's authoritative reference works publishers gives excellent explanations, with maps and illustrations, of the more than three dozen distinct sociocultural groups that compose modern Asia.
"Hong Kong" The Far East and Australasia: 1997

Europa Publications, 1996

The Europa "Regional Surveys of the World" are library mainstays for up-to-date coverage of the political and social arenas of individual countries.
Hong Kong: Cities on the Rise [videorecording]

Ed Cushman, Pacific Video Services, 1992

This 22-minute video tour of Hong Kong features Nick Melillo as host and addresses the question of the ramifications of Hong Kong's forthcoming reversion to Chinese rule.
An Introduction to Japanese Society

Yoshio Sugimoto, Cambridge University Press, 1997

Japanese popular culture, family and everyday life, educational system, and workplace environments are covered in separate chapters to provide a close-up view of Japan's national character and social customs.
Japanese Lessons: A Year in a Japanese School Through the Eyes of an American Anthropologist and Her Children

Gail R. Benjamin, New York University Press, 1997

The interpretation of Americans in a Japanese elementary school allows a comparison of Japanese and American educational systems in this engaging, autobiographical work.
The Philippines: Pacific Crossroads

Margaret Sullivan, Dillon Press, 1993

This "Discovering Our Heritage" series volume augments explanations of the Filipino tropical islands geography and history with coverage of Filipino folklore and family life.

Lily Rose R. Rope, Times Editions PTE Limited, 1991

This "Cultures of the World" series volume offers a good overview of Filipino geography, history, and social customs, with numerous color photos.

Geoffrey C. Ward, National Geographic, May 1997

In a detailed retrospective of its 50 years of independence from Britain, this feature article covers extensively the unique amalgamation of the ancient, the old, and the new that compose contemporary India.

What Can We Learn About India From A Ten Rupee Pound Note?

Takes India's legal tender and turns it into a source for a thorough lesson on understanding the culture of the subcontinent of India


The information given here is a conglomeration of images, histories and sounds. Students will see how information was gathered in the last century via photos, lithography or wood engravings.

The Philippines At The Crossroads

A scholarly treatise that presents the economic and political reforms that have affected the country in the last decades.



Hong Kong

You do not need a slide projector to view the slides of this island country that has been so much a part of the news of l997.

Symmetry In Threshold Design In Southern India

This site is a math activity based on patterns of threshold designs in backyards in India. These intricate patterns are very important during festival times.



Familiar with all the world; at home anywhere.


When you think of Hong Kong, you think of one of the most exotic, cosmopolitan, port cities.


Thickly inhabited.


One of the smallest islands, it is also one of the most populous.


Anything that protects.


They have an umbrella there to shield her from the sun.


Pertaining to the soul.


The Gion Matsuri gets its name from the Gion district, a neighborhood that is the spiritual center of the festival.


A medieval weapon comprising a blade and a long shaft.


The emperor decreed that 66 halberds be erected.


Traditions inherited from one's parents or ancestors.


Gion Matsuri is a celebration of history and heritage.


Center of intellectual, commercial, or other activity.


Metropolitan Manila is the economic and political hub of the Philippines.


Essentially different or varied.


The people and cultures of the Philippines are diverse, probably because of the outside influence imposed by over 300 years of Spanish colonialization and the 37 years of American occupation.


Longed for; desired enviously.


Representing various saints, these women compete for the coveted title of Reina Elena.


Being an innate or essential part.


For 10,000 residents, the area is the perfect setting for the elaborate house decorating intrinsic to the festival.


To be derived; to come from.


According to legend, Lord Vishnu descended from the heavens to slay the evil kings.


Put into exile; drive away.


He was so beloved by his people that the gods became jealous and banished him to the nether world.


An area or place considered stagnant or backward.


The backwaters of India are truly considered another world.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:


Understands the relationship between music and history and culture.

Knows how basic elements of music are used in music from various cultures of the world.

Grade Level:

6-8; 9-12

Subject Area:



Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions.


Knows the ways in which culture influences the perception of places and regions (e.g., religion and other belief systems; language and tradition; perceptions of "beautiful" or "valuable").

Grade Level:


Subject Area:


Understands family life now and in the past, and family life in various places long ago.

Knows the ways that families long ago expressed and transmitted their beliefs and values through oral tradition, literature, songs, art, religion, community celebrations, mementos, food, and language (e.g., celebration of national holidays, religious observances, and ethnic and national traditions; visual arts and crafts; hymns, proverbs, and songs).

Grade Level:

6-8; 9-12

Subject Area:



Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics.


Knows ways in which communities reflect the cultural background of their inhabitants.

Grade Level:

6-8; 9-12

Subject Area:

the arts

Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.

Knows that the visual arts have both a history and a specific relationship to various cultures.


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