Tea Time

PBS Premiere: July 27, 2015Check the broadcast schedule »

Lesson Plan: Tea Time as Ritual

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In this lesson, students look at tea time rituals either from around the world or in their lives. They explore the cultural and historic origins of these traditions, along with their social value and impact.

Ritual is often associated with powerful and impersonal institutions, but for five Chilean women, ritual centers on a monthly gathering that has sustained them through 60 years of personal and societal change. Tea Time is a charming and poignant look at how a seemingly mundane routine of tea and pastries has helped the well-heeled participants commemorate life's joys and cope with infidelity, illness and death. A celebration of the small things that help us endure, Tea Time, filmed over five years, illuminates a beautiful paradox: As familiar worlds slip away, friendships grow ever stronger and more profound.

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By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Determine the value and impact of traditions/rituals
  • Compare and contrast a range of cultural/personal traditions with tea time rituals
  • Describe similarities across a range of traditions and rituals



Social Studies
Language Arts


  • Film clips from Tea Time and equipment on which to show them
  • Stopwatch or other timing device
  • Chart paper and markers


Generate a collection of materials that discuss various tea time rituals from around the world. Begin with some of the websites listed in the resources section of this lesson plan.


One 50-minute class period, with a second 50-minute session if students complete presentations for homework that they then share with the class.


Video clips provided with this lesson are from Tea Time

Clip 1: "Bringing Friends Together" (Length: 3:10 min.)

The clip starts at 1:17 with Teresa saying, "With my friends we get together for tea once a month," and with an old class photo on the screen. It ends at 4:27 with Teresa saying, "...even if they get mad, because they're my lifelong friends."

Clip 2: "Chi, Chi, Chi" (Length: 2:10 min.)

The clip starts at 29:35 with the women watching a soccer match and chanting, "Chi, chi, chi! Le, le, le!" It ends at 31:45 with the women celebrating a goal scored by the Chilean team.

Clip 3: "About Husbands" (Length: 3:50 min.)

The clip starts at 25:16 with Alicia saying, "Dear, the future is built on the past." It ends at 29:06 with Ximena saying: "One little thing. I wanted to propose, if you like, that our next tea to be funnier."

Clip 4: "Outings" (Length: 00:25 min.)

The clip starts at 41:01 with Angelica saying, "I have change here; I pay you." It ends at 41:26 with Alicia saying, "It includes tea or coffee, cereal, toasts, pancakes, pastries and homemade bread."

Clip 5: "The Lessening" (Length: 00:55 min.)

The clip starts at 33:09 with Alicia saying, "Girls, let's pray." It ends at 34:04 with Alicia saying, "We used to be eight, nine."

Clip 6: "Getting Older" (Length: 3:49 min.)

The clip starts at 37:01 with Ines saying, "I was about to ask something to Ximena, but I lost the thread." It ends at 40:50 with Angelica saying, "So, write this down so you don't forget it later on."

Clip 7: "The Inevitability of Death" (Length: 3:15 min.)

The clip starts at 45:40 with Ximena saying, "I want to read the thought of the day." It ends at 48:55 with the women saying, "Amen."

Clip 8: "A Woman's Place" (Length: 2:26 min.)

The clip starts at 6:51 with Alicia saying: "I want to read you something." It ends at 9:17 with Alicia saying, "The truth is, we were raised to be married."


1. Match students into pairs. Tell students to think about traditions in their lives--family, religious, community traditions and the like. Tell them they have about three minutes to share their stories. After three minutes, call time, and have students switch partners and repeat the sharing. Continue this process for a few more minutes

2. Invite volunteers to share briefly the types of traditions they learned about from their peers, and to describe what they seem to have in common. Record themes on chart paper; themes might include friendship, food, tea, coffee, dance and religion. The list should be as broad as possible.

3. Point out any beverage-related (coffee, tea or other drinks) traditions students shared, with tea being the first choice. Ask students to describe/discuss tea-related traditions with which they are familiar. Students might mentions things like a tea party or high or afternoon tea; they might talk about certain cultures and their relationship to tea.

4. Highlight aspects of student knowledge--tea as part of a social interaction; tea as a cultural element; tea symbolizing a time to eat special food and so on.

5. Post the following questions on chart paper or whiteboard:

  1. What is the purpose of tea time in the film?
  2. Why is this monthly gathering important to the participating women?
  3. How would you describe the relationships among the women?
  4. In what ways do the meetings support and empower the women? (For example, the meetings offer friendship and companionship; they like being with other people from the same generation; it provides an opportunity for social interaction, especially as they age, and to discuss their lives with men.)
  5. Are there downsides to these sessions? Explain.

Instruct the students to read the questions, explaining that they will watch film clips from a documentary called Tea Time that delves into the value and role of tea time, and as they do, they will find answers to the questions. After viewing the following clips, have students respond to the questions.

6. Provide some background on the Chilean afternoon teatime tradition (which actually has a specific name, "las once").

7. Ask students to describe whether any of the elements of the film's tea time--or the Chilean tea time in general--are present in the traditions (all) they named earlier. For example: friends coming together regularly, types of food served and eaten. Discuss with students whether these elements might also be common across tea-related rituals around the world. Tell students they will have an opportunity to explore this further for homework.


8. Present students with two options:

  • OPTION A: Each student researches tea time rituals in a country of their choice. They will briefly present the country's tea rituals, making sure to include particulars such as time of day, types of foods eaten, type of tea, who participates, how often it happens, the origin of this tradition and where it takes place. They can share this with the class, adding visual presentations if desired. Ask the class to note similarities and differences among the different presented traditions, making connections to the elements presented in the film's tea time gathering.
  • OPTION B: Each student creates a visual presentation of either tea time traditions of their cultural heritage, or any ritual that is customary within their cultural heritage. Where possible, they should make connections to the common elements presented in the film's monthly tea time gathering: social interaction, types of foods, settings and so on. Students present their traditions to the class, which then identifies similarities and differences among the various rituals.

If time permits, students can even plan and host the various tea time rituals they researched so that the class can learn about and experience them in real life.


1. A Woman's Place

In the film, several of the women share stories of their younger lives with husbands who were less than faithful or supportive, pointing perhaps to a Chilean history of issues with women's status. Show Clips 3: "About Husbands" (Length: 3:50) and 8: "A Woman's Place" (Length: 2:26). Ask students to delve into the past and present roles and rights of women in Chile. What has and has not changed? Several sites to propel student research:

2. Socialization and Aging

In the film, tea time provides aging friends the opportunity to get together, talk and share experiences. This regular gathering serves as a support and socialization system for the elderly women. Show Clips 1: "Bringing Friends Together" (Length: 3:10) and 4: "Outings" (Length: 00:25). Assign students to explore the impact of social interaction among the elderly, looking at its benefits and identifying ways they might enhance socialization opportunities for older adults in their community. The following sites can be used to jump-start student thinking:


Tea Time

You can find links to additional resources on the film's websites: http://en.teatimethemovie.com/ and www.pbs.org/pov/teatime/. The POV site includes a general discussion guide with additional activity ideas.

POV: Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films

http://www.pbs.org/pov/blog/povdocs/2015/11/media-literacy/This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.

About Food: "Turkish Tea and Coffee Culture"


BuzzFeed: "This is What a Cup of Tea Looks Like in 22 Different Countries"


The Daily Tea


Four Seasons Magazine: "6 Ways to Drink Tea Around the World"


Historic UK: "Afternoon Tea"


Japan: The Official Guide: "Tea Ceremony"


Learn-About-Tea.com: "Tea Resources"


The New York Times: "In Northern Germany, a Robust Tea Culture"


The New York Times: "Tea Culture Blossoms in New York"


Tea Association of Canada: "Tea Traditions Fact Sheet"


Tea Association of the U.S.A.: "A Tea By Any Other Name..."


The Telegraph: "Tea Traditions Around the World: In Pics"


World Tea News: "The Values of Tea: A Gift for Mankind"



Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects

  • SL.6.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.7.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • SL.6.2 Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text or issue under study.
  • SL.7.2 Analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how the ideas clarify a topic, text or issue under study.
  • SL.8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • SL.9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
  • SL.11-12.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.
  • RI.11-12.3 Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas or events interact and develop over the course of the text.
  • RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.


Michele Israel owns Educational Writing & Consulting (www.micheleisrael.com), where she works with large and small educational, nonprofit and media organizations to bolster products and programs. Her rich career spans more than 25 years of successful experience developing educational materials and resources, designing and facilitating training, generating communication materials and grant proposals and assisting in organizational and program development. Her long list of clients includes Tiffany & Co., Frost Valley YMCA, Teaching Tolerance, the Public Broadcasting Service, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, WETA Public Television, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly and the Harm Reduction Coalition.