For Educators

Religion, Culture, and Diversity – Procedures For Teachers

PrepPreparing for the lesson
StepsConducting the lesson
ExtensionAdditional Activities


Media Components

Computer Resources:

  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM.
    Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.
  • RealPlayer
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0 or higher. Download the free Adobe Acrobat reader here:

Bookmarked sites and video resources:

Before teaching this lesson, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, create a word-processing document with all of the Web sites listed as hyperlinks and email to each student (or type out the URL’s and print), or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as, so that students can access the information on these sites. Make sure that your computer has necessary media players, like RealPlayer, to show streaming clips (if applicable).

Preview all of the sites and videos before presenting them to your class.


These transcripts frame the controversy between those who favor federal funding for religious social service providers and those who oppose it:

Other Web sites:

  • An Introduction to the Study of World Religions
    An introduction to six major religious traditions from the EMuseum at the University of Minnesota. Includes histories and basic beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Animism.
  • Your Guide to the Religions of the World
    An introduction to six major religious traditions of the world from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). Includes histories and basic beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Sikhism.


Teachers will need the following supplies:

  • Board and/or chart paper
  • Ideally, a screen on which to project the Web-based video clips
  • Handouts of Web resources if computers are not available in the classroom

Students will need the following supplies:

  • Computers with the capacities indicated above
  • Notebook or journal
  • Pens/pencils


Introductory Activity 1: Religion in everyday life

  1. To begin, write on the board or on chart paper the word “Religion.” Ask students to think of everything they notice in everyday life that is connected with religion. Examples would include churches, synagogues, and mosques; religious shows on TV and radio; saying grace at meals; references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and in public addresses (e.g., politicians ending speeches with ‘God bless’); prayers at athletic events; and the motto ‘In God We Trust’ on the monetary system.When you have a reasonably substantial list, ask what all these things tell us about the United States. Responses might include diversity of religions, choice of religion, predominance of Christianity, injection of religion into politics.

Introductory Activity 2: Agree or disagree

  1. This is a “vote with your feet” activity. At opposite ends of the room post two signs: one that says AGREE and one that says DISAGREE.Ask students to gather between the two signs, facing you. Tell them you will read a series of statements and that they should position themselves according to their point of view. If they strongly agree, they will stand close to the AGREE sign; If they strongly disagree, they will stand close to the DISAGREE sign; and if they are somewhere in the middle, they will find a place on the continuum between the two signs that represents their opinion.NOTE: Explain to the students that this exercise should be done silently and they will be given the opportunity to discuss the exercise afterwards. Also explain that the students should note the cumulative results of each statement not focus on any one individual’s decision.
  2. Read the following statements. As the group shifts, comment in a general way on what you see: e.g., “The group is really spread out on that one,” or “I see clumping at either extreme.”Statements:
    • In the United States and Canada, there are a lot of different religions.
    • People often have conflicts about religion.
    • Religious institutions do a lot of good things for society.
    • In the U.S., some religions are favored over others.
    • In the U.S., people who are Christians are in the majority.
    • It is important to keep religion separate from government. (Note: younger students may not understand what this means, so be prepared to explain and offer an example).
    • People who do not belong to a mainstream religion are looked down on in our society.
    • Most people in the U.S. don’t know much about religions other than their own.
    • People of different religions can be friends.
    • Many people are uncomfortable talking about religion.
    • Some religions are right and some are wrong.
  3. When you have finished, ask students to take their seats, then invite comments and discussion about the activity. Ask about both the process (e.g., what it was like to choose where you would stand) and the content (i.e., what this exercise makes us think about).NOTE: As mentioned above the concluding discussion should focus on the cumulative results not on “who” took what side.

Learning Activities:

Activity 1: Religion, Culture, and Controversy

  1. Explain that they will watch a video segment from RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, which gives an overview of religious practice in the U.S. Before students view the video, pre-teach the following vocabulary words:
    • Secular
    • Atheist
    • Agnostic
    • denomination
    • evangelism
    • proselytize
  2. Show the entire video and tell the students to pay close attention to the story of a controversial Muslim cemetery and how, through compromise, it came to be built. Distribute Student Organizer 1. Read over it with students and direct them to attend to the points listed and take notes as they watch the video.
  3. After showing the segment, ask students to take a few minutes to free-write any additional thoughts and reactions. Then discuss with the class the issues raised in the segment.
  4. Proceed similarly with the following RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY Web page that chronicles the racial, religious, economic, and cultural tensions that arise when a small town in Maine attracts large numbers of Somali refugees. Since this Web page has no video, print and hand out the transcript so students can read the transcript aloud, with students who are able reading the parts of the different speakers.
  5. After the reading ask students to take a minute to free-write any thoughts and reactions. Conduct a discussion using the following questions as a guide:
    • Somalis differ from traditional inhabitants of Lewiston in skin color and religion. How do you think these differences affect their acceptance in the community?
    • Why do you think the Somali residents “stick together”? Is there anything wrong with that?
    • Some Lewiston residents say that Somalis get preferential treatment in housing and cash benefits. Yet these are shown to be rumors. How and why do you think rumors like this start?
  6. Students also may enjoy seeing the following RELIGION AND ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY Web page, which includes video and explores the broad interest in spirituality, within and apart from organized religion.

Activity 2: Discussion (advanced level)

  1. As our culture becomes more diverse in terms of religion, attitudes about religious practices, absolute truths, and the nature of tolerance shift and are reshaped. Student Organizer 2 has two quotations from a RELIGION AND ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY transcript that can serve as a springboard for discussion for older/more advanced students. Break the students into small groups and ask them to follow the guidelines for discussion on the organizer.

Activity 3: Learning More

Most of us know very little about religions outside our own. This activity provides an opportunity for students to sample information about a variety of religious and spiritual traditions by viewing the RELIGION AND ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY series, “Belief and Practice”. Each of the segments listed below features a religious practice that is vividly shown and described.

  1. Begin by talking with your students about what is meant by belief and by practice. Then, have students investigate different beliefs and practices. Students can use Student Organizer 3 to guide their viewing research and record what they learned and what more they would like to know. They can follow up with further research. Two additional Web sites are listed to get them started.

    Other Web sites:

    • An Introduction to the Study of World Religions
      An introduction to six major religious traditions from the EMuseum at the University of Minnesota. Includes histories and basic beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Animism.
    • Your Guide to the Religions of the World
      An introduction to six major religious traditions of the world from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). Includes histories and basic beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Sikhism.
  2. To conclude ask the students to share some of their notes from the student organizer on what they learned and what more they would like to know. Ask them what surprised them the most about learning about the various types of beliefs and practices.

Activity 4: Interviewing Family Members and Other Adults

  1. Students can interview parents and grandparents, or other adults, to learn about their own or others’ religious backgrounds and traditions, and also to get a sense of generational differences in religious practices and beliefs. Help students plan their interviews, keeping in mind that there may be students who do not have family members they can interview. You may wish to line up willing interview subjects among school staff ahead of time so that such students will not have to struggle to find someone.
  2. Student Organizer 4 will help students plan their interviews. Go over the questions on the handout and work with students to develop others they would like to add. Student Organizer 5, Tips for Interviewing, also may be helpful.NOTE: This activity could be done in conjunction with Grandparents’ Day.

Culminating Activity: Art Project

  1. Instruct students to select a theme about religious, cultural, and spiritual diversity that they want to express artistically. Examples of themes could be their family diversity, the diversity of their neighborhood, the diversity within any one religion, and the diversity they saw represented in the Belief and Practice segments.
  2. Once they have selected a theme explain that they can choose to create a poster, collage, a three-dimensional presentation, incorporating drawing, painting, photos, and real-life objects. This can be an in-class or homework assignment.
  3. Explain that the students should be prepared to present a 2-3 minute presentation on their artwork explaining the theme they chose and the decisions they made in creating their artwork. Finished art works can then be displayed in the classroom.
  4. After each students has presented ask the class if their views of, or feelings towards, religious, cultural and spiritual diversity have changed. You can have them write their thoughts down or open the question up for discussion. If students have revised previous opinions, be sure they explain what they think influenced the change.

Extension Activities:

  • Instruct the students to interview someone about their religious, cultural and spiritual diversity. Use the Student Organizer, Interviewing Resources, from the Religion and Ethics Newsweekly Web site to help students conduct their interviews.
  • Plan another lesson using the Religion and Ethics Newsweekly lesson plan “Traditions and Transformations” which allows students to learn about Jewish culture from a variety of perspectives.