Using the Local Culture in Your Curriculum

by Sharon Haag1



  • Meets needs of hands-on, concrete, visual learners (and younger children)
  • Builds keen observation skills, and higher level thinking skills (comparing, contrasting, predicting, understanding cause/effect, understanding role of history in developing values, distinguishing between biblical and cultural values, etc.)
  • Teaches use of “primary” resources when doing research
  • Motivates learning when studying something “real” and immediately useful in the setting
  • Deepens understanding of concepts when experience/compare/contrast — can better understand the abstract or less-experienced, when compared w/concrete or experienced
  • Helps adaptation to and appreciation of local situation
  • Develops relationships with local people (shows respect, appreciation)
  • Builds communication skills (language, understanding)
  • Builds cross-cultural adaptation skills – knowing what to look for in cultures, understanding how things are different (not necessarily better/worse, or right/wrong) in different places – appreciating different ways of doing things, learning to act respectfully in different settings
  • Helps young people sort out own identity and better adapt to passport country when focus on and talk about differences between their experiences and those of passport country peers
  • Makes young people more able to communicate with people from passport country when able to articulate how/why there are differences in their own values and opinions
  • Prepares for effective cross-cultural ministries and/or international employment opportunities in future


1. Take advantage of local events

Take advantage of local events, daily life, resources, interests… and make them part of your curriculum.

2. Integrate local opportunities

Integrate local opportunities with whatever regular curriculum topics are being addressed.

3. Do focused studies on the local country and culture

See outlines of typical topics/concepts to investigate: curriculum lists, encyclopedia subtopics, textbook concepts.

The Process2

1. Decide on Topic/Area of Study

  • What is of interest? What is useful?
  • What do we already know about __? What questions do we have about ___?
  • How could the content be organized?
  • Who will be responsible for researching which parts?
  • What kind of product/presentation might be most appropriate?
  • What criteria will be used for evaluation?
  • Who might be the audience?

2. Gather/Identify Resources

What kinds of resources are available? (experiential, people, print, audio-visual, etc.)

3. Research

  • What type of research methodology is most appropriate given types of resources available and type of presentation desired? (observing, interviewing, hands-on learning, reading, etc.)
  • List questions to be answered
  • Gather and record information learned, list resources used

4. Organize and Prepare Information for Sharing

  • Categorize, make outline
  • Prepare presentation elements: notes for oral report, demonstration, display, drawings, models, diagrams, posters, dramatic presentation, poem, song/rap, written report, booklet, scrapbook **Keep intended “audience” in mind

5. Report

Present information in agreed-upon formats

6. Evaluate (according to predetermined criteria)

  • Get feedback from audience (particularly what they liked about presentation)
  • Do self-evaluation – what were satisfied with, what would do differently next time

7. Apply

Extend knowledge; use to serve/influence others positively

Recommended Resource:

Blueprints: A Guide for 16 Independent Study Projects (grades 4-8) by Diane Draze

Also see: The Tomb of Jancu.

Permission is granted to copy, but not for commercial purposes.

  1. Sharon Haag grew up as a third culture kid (TCK) along the northern border of Mexico. She received her K-8 teaching degree through Biola University and an MS in school counseling and School Psychologist’s credential through Cal State Long Beach. She joined SIL in 1974 and taught TCKs in southern Mexico, piloted the Field Education System (FES – a support program for homeschooling families) in Guatemala, and was an itinerant teacher in Cameroon. She later worked from the United States supporting homeschooling families overseas and doing educational evaluations and consultation. She is now retired.
  2. This is a summary of the concepts discussed in depth in the book by Draze mentioned at the end of this article.