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January 2001 - Issue No. #41 (p. 10-15)

Special Feature: Teaching About World Religions

Why Teach World Religions?

Part of becoming a global citizen in our multicultural world means learning about the religious beliefs of our fellow passengers on Spaceship Earth. The language class can be an exciting place for studying this important topic and, through this study, for promoting better international relations.

Linguistic proficiency, after all, has no inherent relation with intercultural under-standing. It doesn't matter how good your English skills (or your intentions), if you alienate a potentially-friendly Moslem by persistently offering him alcohol because you're ignorant of Islamic taboos.

As part of this special feature, you will find:

Teaching about world religions in the foreign language class can help students to:
  • gain a basic knowledge and understanding of the world's major religions, their history, believers, beliefs, forms of worship, rituals, taboos and celebrations.
  • develop the respect, empathy and tolerance needed in our pluralistic world.
  • overcome ignorance and common religi-ous stereotypes (eg Islamic = terrorist).
  • reflect on their own and others' beliefs about the "big questions" religions deal with (life, death, morals, duty to others...)
  • acquire the language and concepts needed to understand current events and communicate effectively with others.

Sample Topics and Activities

The theme of world religions opens up a wide variety of exciting topics and activities for language and global learning:
  • student research leading to written and/or oral reports on particular world religions.
  • the study of religious leaders (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad...) and their lives.
  • the study of stories from the great world religions (the Ramayana, Zen koans...).
  • the study of great figures from different world religions (Gandhi, Mother Teresa..).
  • talks by guest speakers from different religions (a local Christian, Jew, atheist...).
  • the study of movies on religious themes (The 10 Commandments, Little Buddha..).
  • student homework (in pairs) to interview members of different religions (eg Moslem students on the college campus).
  • classroom study and experience of religi-ous festivals (Ramadan, Easter, Diwali...).
  • official class visits (or student field trips assigned as homework) to a local church, mosque, synagogue or temple.
  • lessons to teach critical thinking about religion, superstition, psychology & cults

A Word of Caution

When teaching world religions, it's important to dispel suspicions and to emphasize your global education objectives.
  • clarify your aims to your students. Tell them: "This class/week/unit we're going to study about world religions. This will help you become world citizens, deepen your international understanding and improve your foreign language skills!"
  • prevent misunderstandings by explaining this to your colleagues and director. It's all too easy for people to hear "Ms. X is teaching religion in her English class" and conclude that you're a missionary forcing your religion onto your students.

A World Religions Lesson Plan

In the following pages, we offer a set of classroom activities on world religions with a lesson plan (below). Students start with a vocabulary game and work in groups to fill in a chart with information on Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. They next read capsule profiles of these five religions, reinforce their knowledge through oral comprehension questions and finish up with a 3-part world religion quiz.


A Sample Lesson Plan
  1. Put students in pairs or groups and pass out the World Religions chart (Handout 1). Explain the 5 religions and the 9 columns on the chart. Give students 5-10 minutes to work together to fill in the answer for as many squares as possible. Let them use their dictionaries, if you like.

  2. While students are working, draw the chart on the blackboard. Check the answers by calling on individual students and asking them to "Choose a square. Any square." Have them announce their square "The holy book for Islam" with their answer "The Koran", then write this in the appropriate blackboard square. Give students praise for correct answers!

  3. Once students run out of answers, there will be many blank squares still on the board. Pass out handout #2 (pages 12-13) and give students 10-15 minutes to "read for information" by skimming the religion profiles and filling in the blanks on their charts. Check when ready.

  4. Next, put students in pairs for oral practice. Have them ask and answer the questions (Handout 2, upper left) about these five religions.

  5. Finish the class with the Religion Quiz (Handout 2) and then explain the answers (page 14).



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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
E-mail: Work Tel/Fax: 0857-31-5650