Use this lesson plan to gauge students’ individual tendencies and prompt rich discussion on how cultural tendencies in societies are reflected in the ways that people describe themselves.
15-20 minutes depending on discussion
I Am…Worksheet (1 per student), writing utensil
Applicable Content Areas:
This activity is intended to be self-reflective and can be conducted in a variety of content areas, especially those that have a strong focus on learning through self-reflection.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
- Define and explain the difference between Individualism and Collectivism.
- Define and explain the difference between Task vs. Relationship orientations.
- Identify their personal and cultural tendencies on both continuums.
- Describe how this knowledge will be useful in future interactions with others, both academically and professionally.
Distribute the I Am worksheet to each student.
1. Give students 5 minutes to individually complete the sentences on the worksheet with 1-2 words each. Encourage them to fill in as many as they can is the allotted time and assure them that there are no wrong answers.
NOTE: The worksheet instructions are intentionally vague as this activity works best when students’ responses are authentic and not primed with examples beforehand.
2. After time is up, ask students to rank their answers in order how important they are to their identity and the way they view themselves (#1 is the most important; #10 is the least important).
3. Then, after students have ranked their responses, explain to students that this activity is designed to help them identify the extent to which they are more individualistic vs. collectivist, and that the worksheet directions were purposefully vague so as not influence their natural responses.
4. Next, share that Individualism vs. Collectivism describes how different cultures view the individual in relation to the group.
- In Individualist cultures, members tend to make decisions independently and be most concerned about themselves and close family members. Uniqueness and personal achievements are highly valued. There is a string focus on independence and the rights and concerns of each person. These societies are also known as ‘Me’ cultures. Behaviors associated with this alignment may include working independently and often competitively, and making choices based on what you personally need, want, like, and dislike, putting your personal needs above others’.
- In Collectivistic cultures, group ties are strong, and the family unit includes extended family (aunts and uncles, cousins, etc.). Harmony of the group is highly valued, and members see their identity in relationship to others. These societies are also known as ‘We’ cultures. Behaviors associated with this alignment may include collaborating and working as a team, making choices based on what the whole group needs, wants, likes, or dislikes— even if that might not be your personal preference.
NOTE: Time and equipment permitting, you may also show a short YouTube video outlining the difference between these two concepts. Accessible HERE.
5. Based on these definitions ask students where they think the U.S. most likely falls and why. Allow for some brief discussion and then reveal that the U.S. (and English-speaking countries) are generally more Individualistic. While many Asian, middle Eastern, and Latin American cultures tend to be aligned more with Collectivism.
6. That said, it is important to note that these are generalizations, and it is possible for individual tendencies to diverge from their country’s orientation. It is also important to remember that many cultures appreciate both individualistic and collectivistic behaviors in different circumstances. While a person or culture may align more closely with one orientation over the other, context often plays a role in whether their behavior follows this trend or not.
7. Share with students that their responses on the worksheet offer a unique window to whether they are likely to be more Individualistic or Collectivist. Then, move on to debrief the activity using prompts below.
Discussion/Follow-up: The goal of this lesson is to help students self-identify their tendency to align with Individualism or Collectivism, or somewhere in the middle. Consider using these questions to help students reflect on their responses:
> How many of your worksheet responses are personal characteristics/interests (i.e., smart, outgoing, motivated, punctual, an artist, a sport fan… etc.)?
> How many of your worksheet responses reflect interpersonal characteristics? (i.e., on the soccer team, a son/daughter, a friend, country or US state affiliation, race, religion… etc.)?
NOTE: If students are struggling to differentiate between their responses it could help to look at them from the closely related perspective of Task vs. Relationship orientation:
- In task-oriented cultures, the primary means of achieving one’s goals at school or in the workplace is through skillfully managing tasks and time. A successful person is one who gets the job done efficiently. This orientation typically overlaps with being individualistic. Responses like I am motivated, driven, punctual, and skilled at… would be classified in this category.
- In relationship-oriented cultures, goals are accomplished via relationships. The group to which a person belongs is a crucial part of that person’s identity and a successful person is one who is loyal and puts the group first. This orientation typically overlaps with being collectivist. Responses like I am an employee, a sister/brother, and a team player would be classified in this category.
> Are there any identifiable patterns to your responses? What do these patterns say about your identity?
> Based on the definitions provided and your responses on the worksheet, would you say you are more:
- Individualistic or Collectivist? Somewhere in between? Explain.
- Task or Relationship oriented? Somewhere in between? Explain.
> Describe how your life and experiences may have influenced the way that you identify and view yourself.
> How can this knowledge be useful to you in your future academic or professional interaction with others?
> How could you be more accommodating/inclusive of someone with a different alignment/orientation than your own?
This lesson can easily be replicated virtually by assigning the worksheet in advance of an asynchronous session. Depending on how you plan to connect this activity to your course content, you may wish to share the definitions with students before they complete the worksheet. However, it is recommended that you do not provide many examples of what each orientation could look like in practice as this could impact students’ responses and not illicit authentic responses on this topic.
Content Area Extensions:
World Language: This activity can easily be done with novice learners in the target language and is easily tied to the ACTFL Standards for interpersonal, presentational, and intercultural communication. Consider doing this activity once in English and again in the target language and comparing how their responses differ. Are they different due to language ability, or perhaps due to the level to which they understand and internalize each culture? You may also complete this activity at different points in the year to track both linguistic and personal growth.
For target languages that have more than one verb associated with the phrase “I am…” (i.e., SOY vs. ESTOY), it is recommended that you use the verb intended for more permanent and fixed characteristics as these would be more representative of students’ identities. [Here is a similar (more advanced) video to compare individualistic and collectivistic cultures in Spanish.]
Language Arts: After students have processed the activity and understand the behaviors of both types of culture, have them write a persuasive essay to convince people to move from one to the other. This could also be done in the form of a debate in class.
Social Studies: Have students consider what country/cultures they are studying (or have studied) throughout the year and provide evidence as to if they are more representative of an individualistic or collectivistic culture. Students can either provide evidence from what you have studied in class and/or do independent research to learn more about that country and then share in small groups or in a whole class discussion/debate.
Science: Pose a scientific situation that would span multiple countries across the world (i.e., poverty, global warming…etc.). Have students consider how individualistic vs. collectivistic cultures might approach that situation. Or, if an assignment requires students to propose or formulate a solution to a problem, students could be challenged to consider if they are approaching the solution as an individualistic thinker or a collectivistic thinker, how the solution might be received by the other type of thinkers, and how they could make changes or revisions to their proposal to be more inclusive of both perspectives.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are a great place to find materials that support global challenges that tie to the sciences. Materials can be found in multiple languages in case you have English Learners.
Family and Consumer Sciences: In their area of study (Consumer Economics, Child Development, Clothing and Textiles…etc.), have students consider the implications of doing business with or interacting with people from a different orientation and what potential culture clashes could arise. You may also consider having students make a list of things that they might need to be mindful of to best understand and accommodate individuals from an orientation that is different from their own. Another option would be for students to consider how they might need to change their behavior, and what specifically they would need to do differently if they went to work in a specific industry in another culture.
P.E. & Wellness: Have students interview someone from another culture and ask how they are graded in PE classes and celebrated after a “win” in a sports game. Then, have students reflect on how it might feel to celebrate in the same way as their interviewee shared. What does the similarity or difference in these answers say/reflect about the cultural orientations of the two people involved? Explain.
Mathematics: Have students research/calculate the statistics on the most popular sports or activities in different countries. Then have them compare the rules and behaviors from each sport to the countries’ general alignment as either an individualistic or collectivist culture. Is there a correlation? Is their causation? Explain.