One of the greatest benefits of being online is the global connectivity it brings—connection to other people, other places, other perspectives, and, of course, other languages. Language teachers have been long aware of the connection between language learning and cultural ties, and are often very creative in bringing culture into the classroom and creating experiences for students outside of it, as well.
A current tool that TESOL educators might find intriguing for these purposes is Google Cultural Institute, which has brought Google’s unique technology to the world’s art galleries and museums. Once you’re on the Institute’s page, you can browse more than 6 million items that range from works of art, photographs, personal items from historical figures, and videos from multiple time periods. It is likely the only site on the Internet where you can be linked to a tour of the Bolshoi Ballet, a photo of Anne Frank’s diary, and graffiti from Buenos Aires street artists from the same home page! It is divided into three main sections: the Art Project, Historic Moments, and World Wonders, but because there is so much information available, I suggest taking the tour or watching the short video that Google provides to get started.
As I happily browsed collections, I brainstormed some ways in which I would use this site with TESOL educators. With an emphasis on bringing teachers’ backgrounds and life experiences into the teacher education classroom, I thought that an interesting project would be for TESOL educators to create their own gallery of images (one of the cool features of the institute) by choosing artifacts that represent their heritage, learning experience, and life experiences, and then sharing with their colleagues. This would give teacher educators great insight into the rich funds of knowledge that their teacher education students bring with them.
A similar activity could be conducted with English learners themselves, particularly at the beginning of a course or semester to help them get to know each other better, and to work on presentation skills as they explain their artifact choices in front of the class or to small groups.
In addition, the artifacts found on Google Cultural Institute would serve as excellent writing prompts for English learners, as teachers could post a photo or video and then ask a related question that students must write about—even something as simple as, “What do you think is happening in this picture?” or “Write five action verbs that are occurring in this video.” English teachers who also teach social studies content or current events will appreciate the primary source material that is available, and if you are using a textbook or reading passage about a historical event or geographic location, you can use the artifacts to build schemata for your students before, during, and after reading.
Just as one can easily get lost in a large museum, it is easy to lose yourself browsing all of the artifacts in the Google Cultural Institute. I’d love to hear additional ideas for using it in your classrooms!