Do Our Students Realize They Live in the World?

Globalization is our current reality. Most successful companies have established themselves internationally. Foreign policy is becoming as much of a concern as domestic policy. The environment, global warming, and lack of resources are international problems requiring international brainstorming and problem-solving.

International Student Projects


Social media, such as Twitter, makes us more globally aware. However, are we preparing our students to effectively problem solve, collaborate, and communicate with their peers abroad? My experience has shown me that several students still live in a microcosm where they carry misconceptions and assumptions about people living in other countries. The problem is that when these students enter their career fields they will have to collaborate with others from various cultures and backgrounds. When this communication takes place our students will carry those assumptions and misconceptions into the conversation either verbally or non-verbally and create barriers to effective problem-solving of global issues.

I have worked on over 20 different global teams for over 20 various international projects within the last two years. A majority of these experiences were frustrating and argument often ensued or projects suffered due to the lack of skills members had in working on global teams. These are a few problems I saw:

  • Unwillingness to be flexible
  • Cultural insensitivity
  • Cultural misunderstanding
  • Lack of communication of deadlines, project details, roles, duties, etc.
  • Time zone differences
  • Unwillingness to compromise
  • Mutual misunderstanding of cultural customs in negotiation and communication (nonverbal and verbal)
  • Mishandling of conflict
  • Inexperience in communicating with English language learners- remember that most English speakers in the world are not from the United states, but from China and India. Therefore, English speakers will have accents or may have learned British English. Students need experience in communicating with non-native English speakers.


Many people have told me I am great at organizing global projects. My extensive experience and research in this field is what has helped me plan projects quickly and effectively. When the process is done effectively then the outcomes are magnificent. I believe collaboration is key to all successful projects. Yes, I may have a fantastic idea, but unless I get help from you then the project may not reach its potential greatness.

In the same respect, students need to learn various skills so when the time comes they will be able to collaborate effectively! The easiest way for students to learn this is through involvement in global projects offered by the classroom.

How to Prepare Kids for Global Collaboration

  1. Integrate cultural projects- Have students research poetry from around the world or investigate their own roots.
  2. Create Culturally Responsive Curriculums– This type of curriculum celebrates and responds to various cultural issues through student-centered instruction.
    • For example, have English language learners give presentations about their culture
    • Have students collaborate on solving global issues such as poverty, unequal access to education, war, and racism
    • The teacher acts as a facilitator
  3. Use literature from various authors and genders- For my high school ESL class, we used the Brief Bedford Reader which featured stories from various authors, such as Maya Angelou, Sherman Alexie, Amy Tan, and Gore Vidal. How diverse are your students’ reading lists?
  4. Host cultural festivals- I created an International Society with another teacher in the school with over 70 students involved. We had over 100 members of the community attend our International Thanksgiving supper which featured over 30 ethnic dishes.
    • Have students research their backgrounds or other cultures and make food and give presentations. You can even receive donations from local grocery stores.
  5. Connect with a school in another country- Go the extra step and have students problem-solve issues! Some useful collaboration tools and links to help you with this process:
  6. Go on virtual field trips- Create your own virtual tours on Google Earth. Use already established tours on Google Earth, Webquests, TeenGrid and so forth to learn about places around the world.
  7. Get your students connected through social media such as Twitter!


Use one of these ideas to teach your students to collaborate on global teams!

You may want to subscribe to receive regular updates, leave a quick comment of how one of these tools helped you, tweet this, or share this series with your Personal Learning Network (PLN) through your RSS reader or Delicious account.

Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell),, and on her blog,, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at


  1. Great post, Shelly. I will be encouraging global collaboration for my students at some point this year. I don’t know, yet, what form it will take or what the goals will be. I do firmly believe in collaborative learning, not only within the classroom or school, but also without.

    I recall reading Larry Ferlazzo’s blog recently about The Best Ways To Find Other Classes For Joint Online Projects. (I hope your comments take HTML.)

    I would also recommend checking out the Flat Classrooms Ning and How to Go Global in Your Classroom from edutopia.

    Thanks again for a great post. You have taught me so much in the short time we have known each other.

    • Bill,

      Thank you for adding these great websites to the discussion! I think if we even manage the part about reading research, articles, or stories from various authors around the world, then this will make a difference.

  2. Hi Shelly,

    What an interesting post! I believe English is useful to foster the knowledge of different cultures, different customs and traditions as it’s a language widely used all around the world. As teachers of English we have the responsibility of making our students read about a wide range of topics.
    Nowadays, access to travelling and to the Internet, international sports competitions make things easier. Students’ exchange programmes also make it possible for students to get in touch with people from different nationalities.
    I think we should encourage tolerance and respect towards everybody and it can also be possible by learning a foreign language.

    • Marisa,

      You brought up a great point about student exchange programs. These are one of the best ways for students to learn first hand about another culture. This will also help them learn about the assimilation process and learning a new language!

      Thank you for sharing!

  3. Shelly,

    Thank you for sharing such a great post. All the tools you suggested are wonderful for broadening students’ perspectives – and also us as teachers!
    The world is indeed becoming a smaller place – and through many of your suggestions let us hope we break down the invisible barriers that sadly still belong in some thought patterns.
    Shonah 🙂

    • Shonah,

      I think English language teachers who have traveled abroad like Karenne, you, me, and others realize what a difference it makes knowing about the world. My adult students who take my courses consistently tell me they need English skills to understand their clients and partners abroad. I always ask the question if most are native speakers and the answer is usually, “No.” Experience really will help students prepare for this reality.

  4. Great post and great suggestions Shelly, you are also an amazing global collaborator! Thank you so much for sharing all these fab tools which enable teachers to work together on projects like these.


  5. Hi Trouble,

    I definately agree with everything you said! It is extremely important that we allow our students access to this to become global citizens, it is also very easy to set up just by talking to another teacher/class on skype! I have tried to encourage our teachers in school to do this but it is like things like twitter I am getting lots of resisitance but I will keep plodding away and try and open their eyes to this. I blogged about this a while ago:

    Let me know what you think?

  6. Shelly,

    You have touched on a topic close to my heart. As a teacher in a neighborhood school w/ a population that is anything but culturally diverse, I fear that my students will grow to adulthood without ever knowing anyone who looks different from them, or who speaks another language.

    I blogged about it a while back:

    Keep up the great work! Your efforts have no doubt made a difference in the lives of many people!

    • Mary Beth,

      Thank you for sharing this link. I feel very passionate about this as well. Unfortunately, where you are born does make some more privileged. However, I really wish children around the world would learn to empathize with others and try to be more culturally sensitive. I have seen too many say things that are just too unbelievable and I think the school system does not enforce this enough. The only way to solve global issues and the economic crisis is for us to work together. However, students are never really taught this.

  7. Shelly

    It’s no surprise that it was your blog, and your generous sharing of your PLN that gave a kick start to a joint project on understanding different cultures between a group of my students from the UAE and Matt Farber’s 6th graders in New Jersey. I am at the stage of recruiting students and setting up the classroom for the project. The aim is to raise cultural awareness and mutual understanding.
    I’m very excitedly looking forward to finding out how the 6th graders from NJ will cooperate with a group of boys from the Gulf. I see many of the ideas, techniques and tools involved in this project.
    I agree that cooperation between nations and cultures is only imaginable if we understand cultural values and differences; and not when we try to impose our own . We’ve seen so many examples of the devastating effects of intolerance, fear-mongering; or (on the other extreme) senseless, uncritical submission to a foreign (alien?) culture; that it would be great to see a new generation that can engage with their fellow humans on equal terms.
    Me the idealist.
    But it’s clear from your post and the comments, that I’m not the only one.
    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903) (One of the great quote @jmarinus, a friend and colleague, used to describe whet we are trying to do.)

    • Tamas,

      That is really cool you are starting a global project! I will anticipate your blog posts! Thank you for the George Bernard Shaw quote. I studied his plays in a drama class.

      You bring up so many great points about raising “a generation that that can engage with their fellow humans on equal terms.” This is so important, because I truly believe that wars begin and last due to the lack of this type of education. I am an idealist and a realist. I realize by not preparing my students now and teaching them these skills then I have just added to a generation ignorant about the world. These children if they are not equipped will follow their predecessors and begin wars and continue to ignore the devastation on the environment. Instead, I would like to see a generation that empathizes and collaborates to solve issues like the economic crisis and environmental crisis.
      So let’s continue our idealism I say and try to get more educators to raise a more collaborative and empathetic generation.

  8. great post once again dear.

    just want to add – our ning has been our access and homebase to experiencing the world.

    most of what you write about above has been filtered through our site..

    the coolest thing is that the kids are the ones owning it. forming groups within our class, across disciplines, within the community and across the globe.

    as it should be.

    • Monika,
      Thank you for sharing the student ning! It is really remarkable to see your students adding to each of the discussions and thinking about their future. I like that they are free to discuss and choose what to do for projects and using great presentation tools like Prezi!

  9. Dear Shelly,
    thank you for the great post (and including my Glogster project in it, too :-).

    Ever since I organized my first student exchange back in 1998 with a school from Switzerland, I have firmly believed that collaboration is the key to greater mutual understanding, respect and tolerance of differences.

    The Internet, e-mail and twitter especially, have brought such exchanges and various projects within everybody’s reach, but in no way does this mean that teachers today are more willing to take part than they were before the Age of the Internet. It certainly is because of the many obstacles that you mention in your post , but I would also add that many teachers are often unwilling to devote lots of time and energy to their students.

    Whoever has collaborated with a school from another country knows how demanding and time-consuming it can be. But those of us who were determined to overcome the obstacles, also know how rewarding and fulfilling such projects are.

    • Arjana,

      It is a pleasure to share your wonderful project, especially if others become interested and join! I think you are right that many teachers feel they work a regular 8 hour job, but for me teaching has never been about the pay, hours, or vacation time. I think we need more passionate teachers who realize that educators are the ones who impact the next generation almost as much as parents and peers. I do agree, though, that it takes a lot of dedication and hard work to collaborate, but the students make so much progress that intrinsically it pays!

  10. Hey Shelly,
    A great post. I read with delight as I feel that where I work we actually do foster a culturally diverse and culturally aware student body. Our students are from a wide range of cultures – Caucasian Australians, Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander Australians, European immigrants, and Chinese, Japanese and Korean students. We’re in a regional area and many of our Australian students are from outback properties and when they come in contact with other students from other cultures they really do learn so much about themselves and life.

    Something we don’t as a school do is integrate much technology (web 2.0) or collaborate with many schools internationally (unless it’s a sporting tour). I’m going to use the suggestions you’ve listed in here to work on getting my colleagues more interested and eager to embark on these new learning opportunities.


  11. Hey Shelly,
    Thank you for sharing this great post which again shows that crosscultural misunderstanding have detrimental concequences and that we as teachers can do a lot to redress the problem.

  12. Great post! I teach in a diverse and underprivileged district and the students are largely unaware of the vast and culturally diverse world that surrounds their little town. Traveling is often not an option for them, and with limited technological resources, they are often taught through books, which is merely the tip of the iceberg.

    It is quite a task to illustrate to 3rd graders that there is indeed a large world outside of the town that they live in, and it’s even tricker creating a picture of the diversity that comprises our nation and world.

    I hope that by teaching tolerance and broadening their minds that they will be conscious and accepting of the unique individuals that they will inevitably meet as they grow and mature into adults.

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