Teaching Global Unity Through
Proverbs, Metaphors, and Storytelling
by Vivan Chu

ESL teachers working with learners from the international community have tremendous opportunities to foster understanding and harmony between people of different cultures, while simultaneously facilitating language acquisition. When teachers envision language learners from abroad as co-creators in the peace process, a greater goal of helping people communicate in a common language can be to work towards global unity.

The vision is both simple and profound:

  • ESL/EFL educators can foster global understanding and unity while facilitating language acquisition.

  • Language learners from the international community can become individual co-creators in the peace process.

  • Educators and learners can move towards the vision of global unity, through exploration of three paths: Proverbs, Metaphors, and Storytelling.

Through the path of PROVERBS, learners may:

  • Explore universal themes and common values across cultures.

  • Increase consciousness of the universality of human experience.

  • Examine global issues in light of the wisdom of the world.

  • Develop depth of thought on the interconnectedness of all life.

  • Discover the link between language, cultural values, cognition and behavior.

In the language of METAPHORS, learners may:

  • Recognize how metaphors can express boundless connections between unalike entities and ideas.

  • Explore how symbolic language can express transcendent meaning.

  • Appreciate the common ways in which people perceive and make meaning of their world.

  • Harness the power of metaphors as a tool to communicate complex concepts or convey meaning concisely.

Along the path of STORYTELLING, stories can:

Provide opportunity to share personal experiences, explore depth of meaning, and access creativity.

  • Engage our attention, bringing us into connection with each other and ideas.

  • Provide contextual information that helps us make sense of another’s experience and ways of making meaning.

  • Communicate messages indirectly, maintain and create harmony.

  • Involve us in deep listening and empathy.

Proverbs from around the world contain universal themes and often convey similar values. They offer common ground for people from different cultures to express their shared humanity and wisdom. In the language of metaphors, the interweaving of images and words can create transcendent meaning from entities and ideas that are totally unalike. There are numerous possibilities for guided discovery of the similar ways in which people from different cultural backgrounds perceive and make meaning from their world metaphorically. Storytelling is a powerful multi-dimensional communication process that enables individuals to speak from the heart, share values, explore depth and meaning, and access creativity. All three paths are workable for learners at various levels of English language ability, and can be used to focus on supporting peace, unity, and harmony between communities and in the world.


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:


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


He that preaches war is the devil’s chaplain.


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


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


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.


Extension Activities:

Discovering Intuitive Connections in Metaphors
Form small “intercultural groups.” Explore words that have metaphorical meaning for different cultures, and have learners brainstorm ideas related to the words.

Examples : earth, sun, moon, star, comet, mountain, labyrinth, heart, rainbow, hourglass, rose, tree, dove, unicorn, dragon, butterfly, door, window.

Writing Haiku Poems
Introduce the structure of Haiku poems – 17 syllables in three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Show a few samples, and guide learners into creating some Haiku poems using the language generated from the metaphorical words in the previous activity.

Collaborative Story Telling
Pairs of learners are given four proverbs. They chose one and create a story that illustrates the essence of the proverb, and tell the story collaboratively. Others are shown the four proverbs and they will guess the correct proverb the story is based on. For lower level learners, offer ‘story props’ which give a setting for a story, a number of characters, and some nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to be used in the story.

Create a Unified World

Organize learners into four teams. Each team will create one of the four countries in a unified world. Each country will be embodied with a metaphorical symbol and conceptualized with proverbs that express values on:

  • Government

  • Education

  • Environmental Policy

  • Social Responsibility

  • Justice System

  • Human Rights

Cut a large poster into a circle, section it into four pieces, and cut out the pieces.

Each team will:

  • Work on creating one of the four countries in a unified world.

  • Choose a name for their country and draw a metaphor that symbolizes the values of its people.

  • Collaborate and draft their country’s constitution based on the wisdom contained in proverbs on the above subject areas.

  • Illustrate some geographical features in their country.

  • Convey some customs and describe some national holidays.

  • Present their country, and discuss foreseeable conflicts and clashing values.

  • Negotiate changes that may be needed to each country’s constitution, customs, and values so that the unified world can co-exist and evolve peacefully.

  • Join the four countries back into a circle.

This article is based on workshops given for the Global Issues SIG Track at the 38 th International Annual IATEFL Conference in Liverpool, 2004, and at The A.S. Hornby Educational Trust Latin American Regional School, “ELT and Citizenship,” in Bogota, Colombia, June 21 – July 2, 2004. The language activities are from the teachers’ resource book, Teaching Global Unity through Proverbs, Metaphors, and Storytelling by Vivian Chu, http://www.globalunityed.com.


De Ley, Gerd (1998) International Dictionary of Proverbs. Hippocrene Books, Inc.

Gleanson, Norma (1995) Proverbs from Around the World. Carol Publishing Group.

LeBaron, Michelle (2002) Bridging Troubled Waters. Jossey-Bass.

Pickering, David (1997) Dictionary of Proverbs. Wellington House.

Rosenzweig, Paul (1965) The Book of Proverbs. Philosophical Library Inc.


Vivian Chu (B.A. English, RSA CELTA), teaches English to international students and immigrants in Vancouver, Canada. She is also a TESOL Instructor and curriculum developer, with interests in peace education, intercultural communication, and teacher development. Email: globalun@telus.net

To the original article

Back to the articles index

Tips & Newsletter Sign up —  Current Tip —  Past Tips 
Train with us — Online Development Courses — Lesson Plan Index 
Phonology —  English-To-Go Lesson  Articles Books
 Links —  Contact — Advertising — Web Hosting — Front page

Copyright 2000-2014© Developing Teachers.com