Woman holding a beaded globe showing Africa

International Teacher Brings South Africa into First-Grade Classroom

Posted on by Samantha Harris
Cross-Cultural Activity

International teachers serve as windows into parts of the world that many students would never otherwise experience.

Lisa Berry, a first-grade teacher from South Africa, shared her homeland with her students at E. Melvin Honeycutt Elementary School in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Drawing upon her classroom’s exploration of cultural diversity, she brought South Africa to life for her students via a pair of learning activities.

Thanks to her careful planning and design, these unforgettable experiences enhanced her instruction while engaging and exciting her students.

Artistic Expression in South Africa

This past December, Lisa found inspiration for these dynamic cross-cultural experiences in her regular classwork. Guided by North Carolina’s statewide standards, she had introduced her students to an exploration of how the artistic expressions of diverse people and cultures contribute to communities around the world.

So, for her first cross-cultural activity, Lisa found a starting point in a question: “How do art and music enrich communities?” She considered elements of South African art and music to share and how to present them in a way that would engage her students.

She decided to bring in art pieces from her home country. These included toys made from recycled parts, such as a wire bicycle and a push-along car made from a tin can.

Wire bicycle made by students

Next, Lisa created a PowerPoint presentation to showcase works of art, music, and dance through pictures and short videos. She planned for students to show evidence of their learning through the creation of their own South African-inspired artwork.

On the day of the activity, she greeted her students in English, Afrikaans, and Zulu. This piqued her students’ interest and set the tone for the lesson. Today, they would be traveling to South Africa for an exploration of art and music!

Before taking off, Lisa laid the foundation of her lesson by reviewing the question about art and music, and their power to enrich communities.

After pointing out South Africa on a world map, she began her presentation. A slideshow of arts and crafts started things off, accompanied by a short video depicting beadwork items.

“Several students commented on how colorful it was and identified the patterns and animals they recognized,” she said.

EPI Teacher Lisa Berry

Lisa explained how South Africans use a variety of new and recycled materials to express themselves. They use their creations to beautify their surroundings as well as sell them at craft markets. She added that many indigenous African people make and dye their own cloth, carve furniture and kitchen items, make pottery, and weave baskets. These creative skills are passed down from generation to generation.

The upcycled toys generated much interest from her first-graders. 

“The students were fascinated by the uniqueness of each item and the creativity that went into making them!” she noted.

Next, Lisa touched on the role of music and dance in South African communities.

South Africa is a multicultural nation made up of many different communities. In fact, the national anthem is made up of five of the 11 official languages in South Africa! After explaining this, Lisa played students a clip of South African children singing the anthem.

Then, it was time for students to get up and dance! She played South African music and encouraged her students to express how it made them feel through movement.

Students loved the opportunity to try out “Gumboot Dancing,” a South African dance performed by dancers wearing Wellington boots.

Gumboot dance performance in South Africa

After the mini dance party, Lisa calmed her students down with African lullabies. She taught them a rhyme with an English, Afrikaans, and Zulu verse.

Students then had the opportunity to share their observations, ask questions, and compare and contrast what they had learned with their own experiences.

Now, it was time to create. Students worked independently on their own works of art, coloring in a South African flag and creating beaded necklaces and bracelets that reflected colors and patterns used in South Africa. 

“They enjoyed this hands-on part of the activity and were excited to take them home!” Lisa observed.

Student artwork

Bringing It All Together

After learning about another culture, students may feel like people from a different country are very different. It seemed as such when Lisa told the students that they would be exchanging letters with students in South Africa for a second activity. Their initial response was apprehensive at best.

To their surprise, they found that they had much more in common than they thought.

After exchanging letters, one student declared, “My pen pal also loves to play soccer. I wish we could play soccer together!”

Another student shared, “My pen pal’s favorite food is also pizza, and their favorite subject is also art!”

In finding these similarities, Lisa’s students went from apprehensive to curious to excited. Lisa reflects that the participants learned that “they share more similarities than differences despite their different schools, nationalities, and cultural background and learned that they can form friendships and collaborate with students they’ve never met.”

Not only has Lisa demonstrated a perfect way to integrate cross-cultural activities into her curriculum, she has illustrated the importance of both experiences. Her first activity educated students about the beautiful differences we hold in each of our cultures. Her second activity, meanwhile, showed that although we possess many differences, we all share a similar human experience.


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