InstructorsStudentsReviewersAuthorsBooksellers Contact Us
Communication Resource Center for Instructors
Fundamentals of Communication Resource Center
Multicultural Activities for the Group Communication Classroom

Marlene C. Cohen
Prince George's Community College

Susan L. Richardson
Prince George's Community College

Tony D. Hawkins
Prince George's Community College

The sample Multicultural Activities exercises shown here are content examples for the Group Communication classroom. Instructor Notes as well as instruction on how to use this material are at the end of the examples. Please note that full references are not included and page numbers refer to actual text pages and may not be applicable here. To see the workbook in its entirety, please go to our catalog to order a copy or call our Faculty Services Center at (800) 733-1717. To view an example now, please click on an underlined item in the Table of Contents.


    Achieving Success in the Group Communication Class
    The Culture Iceberg
    East-West Assumptions
    The Pros and Cons of Group Membership
    Oppressed Group Perspective
    A New Look at Juju
    Proverbs We Grew Up With
    Impression Formation
    Caucus Exercise
    Epas and Sopas
    Four Adjectives to Describe Me
    Analyzing a Family Group
    Self-Disclosure in Groups
    What They Think About Us
    Ethnocentrism Scale
    The Gender Game
    The Death Row Case
    Nonverbal Cultural Rules
    Fires in the Mirror: Two Groups' Perceptions
    Nonverbal Communication Within Urban Gangs
    Group Discussion Topics
    Decision-Making Using Criteria Generation
    Nominal Group Technique (NGT)
    RISK: A Case Study
    Interrupting Prejudicial Remarks
    What's My Dominant Conflict Style?
    African American Approaches to Conflict and Assertiveness
    What Actions Make a Leader?
    Comparing Japanese and U.S. Meetings
    The Dynamics of British and U.S. Legislative Sessions
    Design for Action
    Group Self-Evaluation
    Analysis of My Group
    Wrap-Up Group Exercise




Back to top

We began the project of creating multicultural exercises for introductory speech communication classes because we felt that the intercultural dimensions of communication are too important to be left as elective study. Our society is becoming more diverse, and today's workplace includes people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. To be successful in the workplace and in personal relationships, it is essential that you be able to communicate effectively with a wide variety of people.

More than most classes, your group discussion class is a good place for you to become more aware of multicultural issues. You will learn how to adapt to your listeners. You will become more aware of yourself as a communicator and become more aware of the ways in which you are similar to and different from other members of your group in values, attitudes, language use, and nonverbal communication.

We hope your class will be a comfortable place to address the vital topics of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc., in our society. Along with developing an understanding of and respect for diversity, you will also be practicing many communication skills that should improve your ability to be flexible in your communication. Hopefully, you will build a repertoire of ways of responding and develop sensitivity to making the appropriate communication choices at the appropriate times.

The terms below should help you with the multicultural approach you will be taking in this class.

Back to top


Co-cultures—Cultures that exist within the same country. In the United States, people belong to co-cultures composed of various religious, economic, ethnic, age, gender, sexual preference, and racial groups.1

Culture—The learned product of group experience,2 including artifacts, values and belief systems, and behaviors.3

Diversity—"Differences among people or peoples reflected in a variety of forms, such as race, culture, perspective, talent, interest, age, or religion."4

Ethnocentrism—"The tendency to interpret and evaluate others' behavior using our own standards." This leads to viewing the in-group ways of doing things as natural and, consequently, superior to other groups' ways.5

Intercultural communication—Any communication situation in which the message to be understood "is produced by a member of one culture for consumption by a member of another culture."6

Back to top


Oppressed Group Perspective
  • To increase awareness of the feelings that are aroused when people attack others for being different or not fitting in.
  • To increase your ability to use appropriate language to discuss differences in nonjudgmental ways that open further discussion.
Back to top

  1. Name one group to which you belong that gets picked on by others. Possible examples: student athletes, computer enthusiasts, white males, tall African Americans who choose not to play athletics, fantasy-game players, legal immigrants, Mormons, people who don't wear watches, vegetarians, recovering alcoholics, or atheists/unaffiliateds.
  2. Divide into groups of four or five.
  3. Share with the group the negative feedback from others about that group identity that you find troublesome. For example, people may ridicule or try to change the vegetarians or atheists.
  4. Within your group, list some guidelines for responding to these areas of difference with words that show curiosity rather than negative judgment.
  5. As a whole class, share the best ideas of the groups and formulate a class list of effective types of feedback when discussing areas of difference.

INSTRUCTOR: See Instructor Notes for this exercise at the back of the book.

Back to top


Proverbs We Grew Up With

  • To increase your awareness of the role family messages play in your life and in your perception of yourself.
  • To recognize ways in which different individuals have different perceptions and expectations, based upon familiar family language.
  • To apply these findings to your small group.
Back to top

  1. Bring to class a list of family proverbs. They are likely to describe should/should not behavioral rules or be statements about the nature of the world.
  2. Share and compare your list in your small group.
  3. Analyze the implications of selected proverbs from the list on the following page.
  4. Here are some examples of contrasting rules. Discuss the implications when colleagues follow opposing rules.
    a) "Honesty is the best policy" versus
    "A white lie is better than hurting someone's feelings."

    b) "If you're thinking something, you may as well say it" versus
    "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all."

    c) "Never put off until tomorrow that which you can do today" versus
    "There is a proper time for everything."

    Consider the rule "Treat others as you would wish to be treated." Discuss the limitations of this rule in a culturally diverse society, where others may not wish what we would.

    Discuss the Japanese proverb "The tallest nail gets hit the hardest." U.S. American students often assume that it means that those who are great must face the attacks of others, yet persevere. In fact, it means that one should strive to fit in, not to call attention to oneself. One deserves to be punished for acting better than others. Contrast that value with U.S. American values of independence, and the image of the lone cowboy hero.
  5. Consider the implications for your small group of the proverbs you have discussed.
    a) What similarities did you find? What implications might they have for how your group works together?

    b) What differences did you find? What implications might they have for how your group works together?
  6. Generate as many proverbs about working in groups as you can. For example:
    Two heads are better than one.
    Too many cooks spoil the broth.
    a) Discuss whether these sayings are generally true or false about working in small groups.
    b) Do members of your group differ in their opinions of these proverbs? What implications might those differences have for your group work?

INSTRUCTOR: See Instructor Notes for this exercise at the back of the book.

Back to top

React to the implications of the following. What does each proverb tell you about the values of those who pass on this advice? How might hearing this advice influence your beliefs and behavior?

We are all related (all peoples and creatures of the world).—Lakota Indian blessing

What an old man can see sitting, a young man cannot see standing.—Cameroon

When the elephants fight, the grass is trampled.—African

Young bird does not know the storm.—Jamaican

With money in your pocket, you are wise and you are handsome and you sing well too.—East-European Jewish

A national language is the soul of the nation.—Malaysian

You can catch more flies with molasses than with vinegar.—African American

He's all hat and no cattle.—North Dakota ranchers

Never forget where you came from.

Eat more than you can; you may not eat tomorrow.
Back to top


Nonverbal Cultural Rules
  • To practice teaching one another cultural nonverbal rules.
  • To explore your own nonverbal rules.
Back to top

  1. Following an introductory lesson on nonverbal communication, list nonverbal rules a newcomer could benefit from knowing when entering a new culture. Choose one of the following scenarios for your group task:

    a) A Thai student is moving to a large urban area. (Select a city close to your own area.)

    b) An African American student from a large city in the East is going to an almost totally white college in Missouri.

    c) A white U.S. American is moving from Omaha, Nebraska, to San Antonio, Texas.
  2. Consider the following categories of behaviors that might matter:

    eye contact
  3. List your rules in writing, then share them with the class.

INSTRUCTOR: See Instructor Notes for this exercise at the back of the book.

Back to top

RUNNING MEETINGS The Dynamics of British and U.S. Legislative Sessions

  • To analyze British and U.S. political sessions.
  • To view diverse speakers.
  • To compare British and U.S. communication in legislative sessions.
Back to top

  1. Watch a segment of "British Politics: Question Time" on C-SPAN. Check your local community cable provider for C-SPAN and C-SPAN 2 and for the correct dates and times in your area.
  2. Watch a segment of the daily U.S. Senate or House of Representatives hearings or full sessions.
  3. Upon completion of your viewing, work in your small groups to answer the following questions:

    a) Describe how the British House of Commons runs its sessions.

    b) Describe the dynamics of group behavior observed during "Question Time."

    c) What rules are established to ensure proper behavior and decorum in each system?

    d) Discuss the differences between British parliamentary and U.S. legislative rules. How do these differences affect the group discussion?

  4. Share your comments with the rest of the class.

INSTRUCTOR: See Instructor Notes for this exercise at the back of the book.

Back to top


Analysis of My Group
  • To reflect on the dynamics of your class group, with particular attention to multicultural aspects of the group dynamics.
  • To reflect on your own participation in this particular group.
Back to top

  1. Read carefully the list of questions you will be answering before you begin.
  2. Answer each question in writing honestly and illustrate your observations about your group with specific examples from your group experience. Discuss both positive and negative behaviors that occurred, providing clear, appropriate examples. Answer each question, applying group theoretical concepts appropriately and providing a specific example.


  1. When you first entered the group, what were your initial impressions of each member? Discuss each person individually. Did you stereotype anyone? What were those stereotypes?
  2. Give two examples of group norms from your particular group. Did the background of each member play a role in the importance of any of these norms? If so, explain.
  3. How did the group treat a member who failed to conform to its norms? Give an example of how the group handled the situation.
  4. Describe group traditions that your group established.
  5. What, if any, gender differences in nonverbal communication did you observe in your interactions?
  6. What, if any, gender differences in language usage did you observe in your group interactions?
  7. Who emerged as the leader/s of your group? Select a theory of leadership to describe their leadership approaches. Was there anything about the individuals' backgrounds that contributed to their leadership approaches?
  8. Think of a situation where you have been the leader of a group. What is your preferred leadership style? What aspects of your background or the way in which you see yourself contribute to your own approach to leadership?
  9. What were some important values held by individual group members? How did individual values affect the group's decision-making?
  10. Select a conflict that occurred in your group. What was done to resolve it? Was the group successful or unsuccessful? Why? Was there anything about the background of individual members that would affect their approaches to conflict? What else could the group have done to resolve it?
Back to top

Wrap-Up Group Exercise

  • To express and to receive genuine compliments.
  • To experience closure following the completion of group discussion assignments.
  • To explore the diversity within your group in a safe and supportive manner.
Back to top

  1. Organize into your recent group discussion work group.
  2. Arrange the members' chairs in a circle.
  3. Remove one chair and place it in the circle's center. One person should sit in the center chair.
  4. Each student takes a turn giving a genuine expression of a compliment to the person in the center. Complete the phrase, "I am glad that you were a member of this group because . . ."
  5. Once everyone has given his or her compliment, the next student sits in the center chair.
  6. Do this until everyone has had a turn in the center.
  7. After you have completed exchanging compliments, work on your own to write responses to the following items:

    a) Were there any members of the group that worried you prior to completing the group assignment?

    b) Did you have any preconceived notions about a person's behavior that were based on cultural stereotypes? Were the notions accurate? If not, how were you wrong? How did you correct the errors?

    c) Did you have difficulty creating a compliment for each person? Why or why not?

    d) Describe the feeling you experienced when you accepted a compliment.
Back to top



We began the project of creating multicultural exercises for introductory speech communication classes because we believed that the intercultural dimensions of communication are too important to be left as elective study. As faculty, we know how tough it is to find the time to learn about multiculturalism and then to implement it into our classes. That is why we wrote this book. Our original product was designed for use by the speech communication faculty of our college; it has been edited and expanded to create speech communication activity manuals in a variety of communication areas.

More than most disciplines, speech communication is a good home for the teaching of multicultural issues. The group discussion classroom is a place where the need to know and to adapt to one's listeners makes understanding multicultural perspectives essential. Awareness of oneself as a communicator in a group naturally should include the ways in which one is similar to and different from classmates in values, attitudes, and verbal and nonverbal communication approaches, including ideas of when to speak and to whom.

Consequently, we argue for inclusion of multicultural perspectives throughout the course, not as an add-on. We strongly believe that the group discussion classroom can provide the safe haven students need to address the vital yet intimidating topics of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc., in our society.

Rather than avoid such topics or face them only in tense moments that flare and then disappear, the instructor can establish a multicultural dimension that makes cultural issues integral to the course.

To do this effectively, two parameters are essential. One is the establishment of ground rules that lead to a reduction in personal fears and provide a supportive, respectful, and comfortable climate for those who have pain, anger, or strongly held views to express. During the first week, the class should participate in the establishment of ground rules by which all agree to abide. These might include the following:
  1. No dumping or blaming.
  2. Respect others' rights to their views.
  3. Be open to listening.
  4. There is no hierarchy of pain; it is counterproductive to weigh who has suffered most.
It is also essential that the instructor be an effective model of the acceptance and respect we ask from the students. Entering into multicultural issues creates some level of fear in the instructor as well. The instructor must be willing to say, "I don't know" and "I never thought of it that way," giving up ownership of classroom expertise in ways that demonstrate genuine curiosity, openness, and respect for all views. We cannot encourage openness and then shut it down when it gets too close to home. We need to explore ourselves and to be aware of our own hot buttons. We are entitled to express our views too, but we need to demonstrate acceptance of alternatives.

A wonderful advantage of a classroom situation is that we can postpone discussion until reading and contemplation of that reading have taken place. If an opinion expressed seems unfounded, the class can accept the challenge to find the facts to weigh that opinion.

Our own experiences tell us that the more often difficult issues of cultural experience are raised, the more the instructor's comfort level grows. Simultaneously, more unengaged students become engaged, finding that their perspectives are vital to class learning. Adrienne Rich has asked, "What happens when someone with the authority of a teacher describes our society, and you are not in it?" (Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1993), p. 16.) At its core, good multicultural teaching is good teaching.

What constitutes this "good teaching" in a multicultural classroom? Good teaching is part philosophy, part methodology.

Through multicultural activities, we are asking students to bring personal information into the classroom. Faculty need to be highly sensitive to protecting the egos of all students who share their perspectives in class, as well as to protecting the right of students not to share.

Because students have differing abilities and personalities, the use of a variety of teaching techniques is recommended. Some students may be introverted, and they can be encouraged to participate through the use of writing activities geared to helping them organize their thoughts before speaking.

There are many excellent group techniques that help students participate and think critically (see William H. Bergquist and Steven R. Phillips, in Classroom Communication, (eds. Rose Ann Neff and Maryellen Weimer (Madison, WI: Magna Publications, Inc., 1989), p. 19) for an excellent review of thirteen communication structures to involve students, ranging from a panel discussion to debates and role playing). Some students need to be actively engaged in their learning. Group activities encourage this.

In lecture-discussion classroom situations, we need to allow students time to think, to interpret their experiences in light of questions asked by the teacher, and to complete their thoughts. By increasing the amount of "wait time" to three seconds or more, we can increase the variety and the number of student responses. The quality of the answers should improve as well.

Students have different learning styles, and the traditional lecture method may not be as effective in reaching students who prefer to learn through visual or kinesthetic channels. Techniques such as the use of media, collaborative exercises, and field trips are recommended.

The type of questions asked by the teacher is also important. If the questions test only the recall/memory of the students, we are not sharpening their critical-thinking skills.More questions should ask students to interpret, apply, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate information and ideas. (Benjamin Bloom's cognitive domain levels are described in Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. B. S. Bloom, M. D. Engelhart, E. J. Furst, W. H. Hill, & E. R. Krathwohl eds. (New York: David McKay, 1956).)

None of these ideas are new, but in the multicultural classroom we need to encourage students to contribute to their own learning.

Finally, we feel it is essential that multicultural study be more than appreciating differences across cultures. That is a vital step, but not a final step. If we end a course feeling separated into multiple groups, we hardly improve the level of communication in our society.

The instructor needs to guide students toward an ending-point perspective that values communication across cultures as an avenue to staying connected with fellow human beings. We have found students in despair when they have stopped at the stage in which differences seem to make connection impossible. Out of hard work to understand and respect differences comes appreciation and a sense of personal connectedness. We have created exercises in which students will demonstrate common feelings of isolation, of pain, and of feeling accomplished, effective, and empowered to succeed in communication.

Back to top


The goals of these materials are twofold: (1) to broaden the content of the classes to reflect the diverse cultural backgrounds of our students and our society, and (2) to foster the use of diverse teaching practices that fit a variety of learning styles and student experiences.

Each activity is self-contained. Each one can be used in a variety of ways to stimulate discussion, to provide an activity or role play opportunity, to provide information on multicultural issues, or to offer thoughtful topics for student speaking or writing.

Each activity is designed to be as simple and as adaptable as possible. You can develop them further to fit your own class needs. Time is sometimes at a premium, but it is important to allow adequate time for the class to process, draw conclusions, and resolve conflicts that develop from activities used.

Most of the activities depend on some knowledge of the concepts being demonstrated. It is essential that students be urged to read relevant class readings before doing the exercises. Once the expectation of in-class activity dependent on reading is built, motivation to read chapters should increase.

We have included a section of assessment activities. They range from self-evaluations to outside-of-class observations of others. You can modify these assignments to meet your own classroom assessment needs and fit them in where you feel they are most appropriate.


The original activity manual would not have been possible without the support of Prince George's Community College and Title III, United States Department of Education. We are grateful for that opportunity. We also thank Michael Kidwell for his computer expertise, and him and Elliott Oppenheim, Meaghan Doyle, Brendan Doyle, and Alexander Kidwell for their patience.

Marlene C. Cohen
Susie Richardson
Tony Hawkins

Back to top

1Larry A. Samovar and Richard E. Porter, Intercultural Communication: A Reader, 7th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1994), p. 125.

2National MultiCultural Institute, Developing Diversity Training For the Workplace: A Trainer's Guide (Washington, D.C.: National MultiCultural Institute, 1993).

3Richard E. Porter and Larry A. Samovar, An Introduction to Intercultural Communication, in Intercultural Communication: A Reader, 7th ed., Larry A. Samovar and Richard E. Porter eds. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1994), p. 11.

4National MultiCultural Institute.

5William B. Gudykunst, Bridging Differences: Effective Intergroup Communication, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 1994), p. 78.

6Porter and Samovar, Intercultural Communication: A Reader, p. 19

Back to Top

Site Map I Partners I Press Releases I Company Home I Contact Us
Copyright Houghton Mifflin Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms and Conditions of Use, Privacy Statement, and Trademark Information