Looking to liven up grade 6-12 social studies instruction or add a multicultural element to your class? Want to celebrate diversity by discussing holidays around the world, and not just in December?
Expand students' world views by helping them understand religions with which they might be less familiar. Offering kids a global take on religion lets them appreciate the perspectives of the many faith groups within, and outside of, the United States. In this way, kids develop the diversity skills they will need to succeed in the 21st century.
Click on the names of the religions in the table below to access mini-articles that provide more information on the religion, as well as the corresponding holiday that falls within a particular month. Faiths in the table include: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism and Baha'i.
The mini-articles offer a basic rundown of beliefs and practices, information about two holidays observed in the faith, and links to enrichment resources such as photographic images and relevant phrases in various languages.
Inside a mosque (Islamic house of worship)
in Damascus, Syria
Each month of the school year, try opening discussion on one or more religious observances that might be new to your students. The selection of faiths here is certainly not exhaustive; you will want to encourage students to identify and explore additional religious traditions not on the list.
Below the table, you'll find (1) general tips for discussing diverse religions in the classroom, (2) introductory information for students, and (3) discussion points and activities you can use to cover each religion.
|Tomb Sweeping Day||Taoism|
|Dragon Boat Festival||Taoism|
NOTE: The indicated timing is approximate for many of the holidays. Many observances are timed to lunar cycles that change from year to year. In addition, some observances begin in the month indicated but carry over to a subsequent month. If you prefer to teach about a holiday on its actual start date, you will need to research the specific date on a year-to-year basis.
Discussing Diverse Religions in the Classroom
Religion can be a complex and even contentious issue and therefore needs to be approached carefully in the classroom. The good news is that clear guidelines offer appropriate practices for public-school educators.
The Teaching About Religion site offers a helpful list of "do’s and don’ts" as well as concrete examples of what appropriate classroom instruction on world religions looks like. In general, educators will want to present a secular discussion that neither endorses nor denigrates any one religion. They will also want to make sure that the experience is comfortable for students of any faith, as well as those who do not have a religious affiliation.
As such, teachers will want to make sure they avoid:
Likewise, any outside speaker the educator may engage should be comfortable abiding by these guidelines.
Introductory Information for Students
What is a religion?
Begin by asking students to define the term "religion." Record students' responses on chart paper, or have them share their ideas verbally with the class. Alternately or additionally, you may wish to have students record their answers in a personal journal.
Compare their ideas to sociologist Emil Durkheim's classical definition:
"[Religion is] a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden--beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community."
The United Religions Initiative also offers a thorough definition of religion that's geared toward younger students.
Remember that students may tend to provide definitions that reflect the scope of their personal beliefs. Through discussion, ensure that you arrive at a definition that's inclusive enough to cover monotheistic, polytheistic and nontheistic religions.
If students have written their initial definition as a journal entry, after teaching about world religions, have them go back and determine whether they want to revise or expand their definitions.
What do we know about world religions?
Introduce the names of nine world religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism and Baha'i.
Ask students: Are any of these familiar? Have students use a journal or KWL chart to indicate what they know about these religions.
Try administering a pre-quiz to assess prior knowledge. One quiz might involve putting the nine faiths in order of their number of adherents worldwide. The correct answer, as indicated on adherents.com, is:
Another quiz might involve matching a key concept or term with its corresponding religion. Here's an example (the term is followed by the answer in parentheses):
Have students identify particular faiths that are least familiar to them. What do they want to learn about them? Ask them to record answers in their journals or in the 'W" column of a KWL chart.
Discussion Points and Activities
Before you begin, remind students of any "ground rules" that will apply to discussions. Assure them that no one will have to share personal information or beliefs, and that discussion should explore each faith without positive or negative judgment.
Start by giving an overview of the distribution of religions worldwide. The site adherents.com rank-orders faiths in terms of the number of worldwide adherents for each. To put things in visual perspective, you may wish to present this screenshot of the site's world-religions pie chart:
How does the above global distribution of religions compare to that within the United States? To answer that question, try sharing the following screenshot from cia.gov:
Ask students: Do these pie charts show what you would have predicted? What was surprising? What was something new that you learned? How does the U.S. differ from the rest of the world? How is it similar?
Students may notice that Christianity is the largest faith both in the United States (79%) and worldwide (33%). And while the U.S. is more diverse than most countries in terms of the number of faiths it represents, in America the non-Christian faiths are present in much smaller percentages than they are elsewhere around the globe. For example, less than 1% of Americans are Muslims, compared to 21% worldwide. For more in-depth information on religions in America, see this Pew Forum report.
Next, present the information on each religion using the nine mini articles (links to these articles also appear in the "Religious Observances" table above):
For each religion, cover the following:
To extend the lesson, try one of the following: