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Approaching tolerance in the English class

July 24, 2018 by cymaster

"Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human." - Declaration of Principles on Tolerance

November 16th is the International Day for Tolerance, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996. Tolerance, just like other values, might feel hard to teach and grasp in the classroom, and still, there is a lot we can do to initiate discussions, share valuable information and encourage our students to discuss their ideas, examine questions from different points of views, and appreciate and respect other people. The tolerance seems to be based upon the simple idea of dialogue and understanding, and by starting to teach our students how they can discuss important issues and show them where they can learn about them is a good starting point. Also, taking a small step at a time, starting by tolerance in the classroom, school and their environment can become a successful starting point for bigger steps and tolerance on a more universal level as they are growing up.

Resources to include the topic of tolerance in your lessons

We recommend approaching the idea through stories, films, advertisements, talks and songs as these forms provide a cultural and historical context with reference points your students can relate to, always selecting the most age and level-appropriate texts for your students. With higher-level teen and young adult students you can also organise debates and ask them to write an essay after watching a film, reading a story or being in a class debate.

For the teacher

Before you start with activities, discussions and reading stories, we recommend that you read about the basic ideas behind the Day of Tolerance. Here are some useful websites:

Discussion points and activities

There are several simple activities you can do to plant the idea of understanding and respect in your students' thinking mind. The first and second activities can work well with teenage classes.

1 Stereotypes

Ask your students to collect stereotypical ideas of people in their environment. Start by simple stereotypes even younger teens will understand. Discuss if these stereotypes are fair and ask your students to if they can justify that not all stereotypes are right.

2 Making comparisons

We are all similar and different at the same time. Ask your students to work in pairs and find similarities and differences things between themselves and their partners. Than you can expand this idea and talk about similarities and differences between two schools in your area, then move on to similarities and differences between two cities in your country and so on.

Download our Me and You Worksheet, adapted from one published in Teaching Young Learners to Think, by Herbert Puchta and Marion Williams © Helbling Languages.


3 In the news

Ask your students to think of recent news items that showed examples of tolerance and intolerance. What happened? What can we learn from the situations?

4 Reflect on talks

Visit the TED website and search for talks on tolerance. Read the description of the talks, then choose and watch one. An inspiring talk about cultural differences and stereotypes is 'The danger of a single story' by novelist Chimamanda Adichie.

5 Cultural awareness

One of the premises of our culture course World Around, by Maria Cleary, is "understanding culture is essential for effective communication and co-operation and is the basis for overcoming prejudice and discrimination and promoting tolerance and peace". Read our Black History comic spread, illustrated by Roberto Battestini, with you class and discuss the issues raised.

World Around spread_photo

6 A different point of view

Ask your advanced-level students to rewrite some stories they know from the perspective of a character they do not particularly like in a novel or film. It might sound like a challenging idea, but it does not have to be a long writing assignment. They can summarise the story in one page. The character they choose should be someone they simply dislike, but not necessarily the villain or an evil character.

7 Songs

Your students are usually more familiar with contemporary songs than we are so we can ask them to collect songs about tolerance, understanding, respect, cultural differences and acceptance.

8 Write a story or draw a picture

You can simply invite your students to create a piece of writing or an artwork on the topic of tolerance.

Book recommendations

Stories are the most functional and still indirect way of introducing important ideas. 

Young Readers

  • Can I Play? written by Rick Sampedro, illustrated by Valentina Mai
  • The Beach written by Rick Sampedro, illustrated by
  • The Kite written by Rick Sampedro, illustrated by Stefano Misesti
  • Skater Boy written by Maria Cleary, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini
  • The Selfish Giant written by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Cecilia Tamburini


Original stories for teens

Young Adult Novels

Visit the the Helbling website about Young Adult Novels, or browse the anthology 101 Young Adult Novels written by Christian Holzmann. Search the following keywords for a collection of titles and more:

  • Abuse
  • Bullying
  • Exploitation
  • Immigration
  • Outsiders
  • Racism

Which stories have worked for you? Can you add books to our lists?