A cultural exchange activity can open up the world to students, giving them a chance for new experiences and to meet other students from different backgrounds. With technology, virtual exchanges are an excellent way for students to experience other cultures right from their classrooms.
This is exactly what Zeila Restrepo did with her kindergarten dual language immersion class at Isenberg Elementary in Salisbury, North Carolina. Zeila is a first-term Ambassador Teacher with Participate Learning, and she is originally from Medellín, Colombia.
Using North Carolina state standards, Zeila organized a cultural exchange activity for her students, in which they practiced speaking skills in Spanish while virtually meeting kindergarten students in Colombia. Read more about Zeila’s project and the power of cultural exchange below.
Prepare students to succeed with practice and context
Zeila set her students up for success by preparing them to meet their new Colombian friends and have conversations in Spanish. After the second quarter of the school year, she could see their writing and listening skills improving. Zeila knew they were ready to practice their speaking skills so they could grow in their confidence.
She asked her principal if she could connect to a classroom in Colombia where students wanted to practice their English. With the enthusiasm of her principal and the approval of the school in Colombia, Zeila was ready to prepare her students for this experience.
For several weeks, students practiced having short conversations with high-frequency words. She also explained the activity to parents and sent students home with sentences to practice with their families.
She gave students context for the activity by showing them Medellín, the city in Colombia where the students they would be meeting live. Three-dimensional tours of the city center gave students a little taste of what life is like there and helped them visualize a place that felt far away.
With their new speaking skills and context about their Colombian friends, students were ready to participate in the cultural exchange activity.
Have both structure and flexibility during the activity
Once the Zoom meeting was set up, students took turns having conversations in both Spanish and English. Students learned about one another, practicing greetings and sharing elements of their cultures, such as things they are proud of and what sports and foods they like. The students from Isenberg Elementary brought things to show their Colombian friends, like a Boy Scout medal and a teddy bear. The Colombian children wore traditional clothing to show their American friends. The kids all sang songs and nursery rhymes that the other students recognized.
Zeila let the students use their language skills freely during the activity to build their confidence. She said they were very engaged and excited about what they learned about the Colombian students.
Reflect after the activity to extend learning
Zeila was intentional about asking students questions to reflect on their learning after the activity. Students were able to articulate what they perceived from the video meeting, what elements of Colombian culture they saw, and what they had in common with the other students.
Putting what they learned from the activity into words helped students process how they felt about meeting Colombian friends and the commonalities they all had. When Zeila asked a student what the experience was like for her, the student said, “At first, I was nervous to talk to kids in Colombia, but I know we are the same now.”
To extend the cultural exchange activity, Zeila’s kindergarteners are exchanging letters with the Colombian students they met, practicing their writing skills.
Tips for successful cultural exchange activities
Zeila said the support of her principal and her school was key to a successful cultural exchange project. The excitement of both the students and their families to learn Spanish contributed to a positive, supportive environment.
She also notes that it’s important to know if children are ready to produce orally in the target language and to help them feel confident in their skills. “The curriculum used in Participate Learning’s dual language immersion programs helps the students develop communication skills efficiently,” Zeila said.
She is hoping to provide students with another cultural exchange activity with students in Brazil and to continue giving them the opportunity to be global citizens.
“They learned that we are different, but we are all humans,” Zeila said. “They learned the deeper message of accepting others.”
For resources on setting up your own virtual cultural exchange project, see this toolkit for teachers. Have you done a similar activity with your students? We’d love to hear about it! Share your story on social media using #UnitingOurWorld and tag Participate Learning.