At my high school we have a comparative culture course. Originally it was called Comparative Culture and then later the name was changed to Culture & Thought. Content has varied from year to year, and here are some of the noteworthy topics.
There are several general topics: Japanese culture, foreign culture, foreign language, cross-cultural relations, and how people think (which is often cultural). The course has always been a mixture of workshops, guest speakers, hands-on experiences, presentations, and writing. If you’re scheduling something similar in the future, I hope you find some good ideas here.
Tea Ceremony. Our school has a tea club, and the coaches of the club are wonderful old ladies who are willing to teach classes of students, too. The university has two tea rooms, and learning and doing the tea ceremony in a proper location is a memorable experience. Afterwards, ask the students to write a report (PDF, ODT) on the topic.
Flower Arrangement. Our school also has a flower arrangement club. If students take a class with the coach three times, they can get a beginning level flower arrangement certificate, which is quite neat. Also, flower arrangement class is a great time to have a photo contest.
Karate. I did karate for five years in Akita, and my coworker Mr. Shirota is also a black belt. We used to do two-hour workshops, where students would learn a little about the history of karate and then practice a simple kata. Here is an information sheet (PDF, ODT).
Showa Museum. The museum is dedicated to life of the average person in Japan during and after World War II. The war is a huge topic for students who study or live abroad, and a visit to this museum is well worth the time. It is located in central Tokyo. You can easily visit JICA in the morning, have lunch there (if you reserve a room), walk by the Yasukuni Shrine, and visit the Showa Museum in the afternoon.
World War II. Two social studies teachers at our school, Mr. Osaka and Ms. Matsuoka, can give great lectures on the war. There was a weapons factory near the school back then, and with some research one can go on a short field trip to places hit during bombings.
Hiroshima. Every year we took our 10th grade International Course on a field trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima. Kyoto has the temples, and Hiroshima has the war history. Starting from Tokyo, it’s possible to do the two cities over a long three days. Four days would be better.
Tourist Presentation. If you’re taking a trip somewhere, you probably want to have students make some of the plans themselves, and if they already have plans, why not make them do a presentation where they pretend to be a travel agent trying to convince tourists to visit the area? Here are the rules (PDF, ODT) and an example.
World Holidays. Make groups. Each group chooses one holiday or festival from somewhere in the world. They show a short video (from YouTube, for example), and give a short speech explaining what the holiday is. A simple variant of this is to give presentations about customs instead of holidays.
Honduras & Vietnam & Hungary & Qatar. In college I studied abroad in Hungary, and in graduate school I lived in Qatar. Mr. Fujita worked in Honduras, and Ms. Tanaka worked in Vietnam. At any large school, you will find teachers with international backgrounds, and if the schedule allows, invite them in your class for an hour or two.
Exchange Student Presentations. We try to host exchange students each year, and when you host exchange students, it is absolutely worth asking them to give two presentations: one on their home life, and another on their native language. Exchange students are not professional teachers, but usually they develop a close bond with their classmates, so issues of clarity and time management are not a big problem.
ALTs. We have had a handful of great ALTs over the past few years, and when given creative freedom, they can create great things. Example topics: notions of beauty around the world, university in AU vs NZ vs PH, culture shock, poverty, and the perfect classroom.
TUFS. The Tokyo University of Foreign Studies has a student group called くらふと, and they visit elementary, junior, and senior high schools and do workshops. You can request various topics. The student group has a wide variety of students, both Japanese and international, and some of them study very obscure languages. Several times we asked them to focus on challenges and goals of study abroad, and once they did a workshop on the global aspects of cell phone manufacturing, from rare metals in Africa to assembly factories in Taiwan.
Guest Speakers. Ms. Watanabe knows a woman who works for Doctors Without Borders, and this woman occasionally has the time to visit the school and talk to the students. My mom’s old high school classmate teaches at Tokyo Science University, and he has given several workshops on developing skills useful for university and working life. One year we asked some people from the U.S. Embassy to give a presentation on women in the workplace. Another year we invited a man from JICA (ODA) to give a talk about the SDGs. Also, Kimiko’s husband Nave has given great presentations on Israel and animal rights over the last three years.
Study Abroad Training. This is a series of slideshows, each of which could be used as part or all of a lesson. The materials are designed for students who might study abroad, either in high school or university, or live or work abroad at some point in their lives.
Board Games. Explaining things in any language is surprisingly difficult. One way to feel this is to put students in pairs, assign each pair an obscure board game, give them time to prepare, and ask them to teach the game to two other pairs. This is a delicate activity but works well with a motivated group. Here is the description and an evaluation sheet (PDF, ODT).
Participation Rubric. The class is largely participation-based. Twice a year, my students evaluate their own participation using this rubric (PDF, ODT). I include this as a portion of their grades.
Video Journal. In an effort to improve students’ speaking skills and get them to think about themselves, we did a series of video journals. Attached is the rule sheet (PDF, ODT) we used, but you can easily modify the topics and details. Students might want to make fancy videos, which is acceptable but not required. Teachers should occasionally remind students to keep it simple. This should be a fun light-weight series. Some topics are quite personal, so if you are going to show students’ videos to the class, either tell students this in advance, or let them choose among several submissions.
Diversity and Discrimination. Learning about foreign cultures is important, but it’s also important to recognize diversity in our own. I often touch on discrimination, and if students are serious enough, it’s a great thing to study in detail.