Defining Culture

Students will define culture and examine how it affects them.

Quote for Thought: Reality is a product of language and culture; that's what I learned.
—Richard Wiley, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Korea


  • Students will be able to further describe how their culture has shaped them.
  • Students will be able to define the concept of culture.
  • Students will be able to explain some of the attributes of culture.


  • Paper and pencils


  1. If students have not done Lesson 2, ask them to take Worksheet #2 home and fill it out for this lesson.
  2. Have students form small groups and compare their homework responses to Worksheet #2. After the groups compare their responses, ask:
    • Were your responses to the questions exactly alike?
    • What differences did you find among responses?
    • How can you explain the differences?
  1. Explain to students that their responses to the worksheet questions were partially shaped by the culture in which they were raised. Make the point that if these questions were given to students from another culture, their answers would be different because they have grown up in a different culture. Perhaps they have already found significant differences among their small groups.
  2. Write the enduring understanding for this lesson on the board: Everyone has a culture. It shapes how we see the world, ourselves, and others. Ask students now to address these questions:
    • What is culture?
    • How does it shape the way we see the world, ourselves, and others?
  1. Write the word "culture" in bold capital letters across the board. Ask students as a class to come up with a definition. They may find it easier to list aspects of culture—different elements that are true of culture—than to come up with a full definition. Such a list might include:
    • Culture has to do with values and beliefs.
    • Culture involves customs and traditions.
    • Culture is collective, shared by a group.
    • Everyone has a culture.
    • Culture is learned.
    • Culture influences and shapes behavior.
    • Culture is transmitted from generation to generation.
    • Culture is often unconscious; people are sometimes not aware of how their behaviors and attitudes have been shaped by their culture.
    • People in all cultures have common needs.
  1. Then provide the following definition:
    • Culture is a system of beliefs, values, and assumptions about life that guide behavior and are shared by a group of people. It includes customs, language, and material artifacts. These are transmitted from generation to generation, rarely with explicit instructions.
  1. Use the following questions to focus discussion on the role culture plays in forming our behaviors and beliefs:
    • How do you think you learned your culture?
    • How do you think your culture has shaped you? How has it influenced your values, preferences, and beliefs?
    • Despite the differences in culture in our class, what are some things that everyone in our class has in common?
    • How does culture shape the way we see ourselves, others, and the world?

Frameworks and standards

Enduring understandings

  • Everyone has a culture. It shapes how we see the world, ourselves, and others.

Essential questions

  • How does culture shape the way we see ourselves, others, and the world?
  • How does my culture shape me?


If you have a multicultural class or have international exchange students in your school, help your class develop a project to foster better understanding and communication among the students. Have students research the customs and culture of the groups that are represented in your classroom or school. Invite the students to plan ways to help students from other cultures feel more welcome.

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