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Teaching Global Unity Through
Proverbs, Metaphors, and Storytelling

by Vivan Chu
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The following are some communicative activities from the teachers’ resource book, Teaching Global Unity through Proverbs, Metaphors, and Storytelling:

Warm-up activity:

Give a brief introduction of the function of proverbs, by exploring some proverbs about proverbs.

  • A proverb is to speech what salt is to food. ( Ethiopia)
  • The proverbs of a nation furnish the index to its spirit, and the results of its civilization. ( Josiah Gilbert Holland)
  • A proverb is the horse of conversation: when the conversation lags, a proverb will revive it. ( Yoruba)
  • Proverbs are powerhouses of language: they contain threads of common meaning that weave the fabric of humanity. ( Vivian Chu)

You could also create a lexical focus by blanking out some nouns and/or verbs, and ask learners to come up with words that would work to complete the proverb. The proverbs may retain their original meaning, or take on an entirely different meaning.

Mixer activity:

Give out pairs of international proverbs that contain similar meaning – one proverb per learner. Each learner will interpret the meaning of their own proverb, walk around the classroom and share the meaning of their proverb with others, and find the person who has a proverb with similar meaning to their own. This activity may also be used to pair learners for subsequent activities.

Some pairs of international proverbs:

In multitude there is strength. ( Nigeria)
United we stand, divided we fall. ( U.S.)

There is great force hidden in a sweet command. ( England)
Gentle words open iron gates. ( Bulgaria)

A stitch in time saves nine. ( Holland)
Unless you fill up the crack, you will have to build a new wall. ( Ewe, W. Africa)

Tell not all you know, nor judge all you see, if you would live in peace. ( Spain)
To live in peace, one must be blind, deaf, and mute. ( Turkey)

Draw attention to how proverbs from different countries contain similar messages and values. Ask students to discuss the values expressed, and share some proverbs from their own cultures that express similar values.

Interactive theme-based tasks:

Proverbs may be used as catalysts for diving into content-based lessons on various topics or thematic units. Choose proverbs that reflect the topics or themes of your lesson. On the theme of global issues, the following proverbs may be used to introduce a number of topics, followed by extension activities .

Some proverbs on global issues:

Peace

Convert great quarrels into small ones, and small ones into nothing. ( China)

War

He that preaches war is the devil’s chaplain.
(England)

Racism

Woe to him who gives a preference to one neighbor over another. ( Ireland)

Poverty

The poorest man in the world is he who has nothing but money. ( Sanskrit)

Justice/Injustice

If a man steals gold, he is put in prison. If he steals land, he is made king. ( Japan)

For lower level learners, put the topics and proverbs on separate cards and have learners work in pairs to match them. For higher level learners, put the beginning of each proverb and the end of each proverb on separate cards. Learners will join the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ of the proverbs and could do the following: identify the topics, discuss the meaning of the proverbs, express agreement or disagreement, paraphrase the proverbs, and share proverbs from their own culture that express similar meaning.

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