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Multicultural Activities for the Speech Communication Classroom

Marlene C. Cohen
Prince George's Community College

Susan L. Richardson
Prince George's Community College

The sample Multicultural Activities exercises shown here are content examples for the Speech 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.



Get-Acquainted Exercises
  • Four Adjectives to Describe Me
  • Name Exercise
  • Maps of the World
  • The Global Village
  • Cultural Dimensions of a Changing United States
  • East-West Assumptions
  • Influence of Family's Past on Self-Perception
  • Ethics
Listening Verbal Language
  • Proverbs We Grew Up With
  • The Many Languages That Make Up Standard American English
  • The Black and White of Standard American English
  • Language Choices
Nonverbal Communication
The Theory of Interpersonal Communication
  • The Culture Iceberg
  • Ethnocentrism Scale
  • What They Think About Us
Interpersonal Skills
  • What's My Dominant Conflict Style?
  • Many American Approaches to Conflict and Assertiveness
  • Design for Action

The Theory of Groups
  • The Pros and Cons of Group Membership
  • Secrets and Lies: Analyzing a Family Group
Participating in Groups
  • Problem-Solving Agenda
  • Decision Making Using Criteria Generation

Planning the Message Developing the Message
  • Perceptions Versus Realities
Structuring the Message
  • Organizing the Speech: The Speech of Red Jacket
  • Speech Mapping
Informative Speaking
  • Informative Speech Topics with Cultural Emphasis
  • Informative Sample Speech Outline: The Jewish-Arab Conflict
Persuasive Speaking
  • Credibility in a Multicultural Society
  • Selling to Male and Female Audiences
Presenting the Message
  • Impromptu Speech Topics with Cultural Emphasis
  • Cultural Considerations for Speech Delivery
  • Speaker Observation

Annotated Bibliography of Selected Multicultural Materials

Ethnic and Cultural Resources

From the Authors

Exercise Notes

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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 the workplace already consists of people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. To be successful in the workplace and in personal relationships, it is essential to communicate effectively with a wide variety of people.

More than most classes, your speech communication 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 classmates 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 and respect for diversity, you will also be practicing many communication skills that can 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.

To do so effectively, two parameters are essential. One is the establishment of ground rules that lead to reducing personal fears and providing a supportive, respectful, and comfortable climate for those who have pain, anger, or strongly held views to express. In the first week the class should participate in establishing ground rules by which all agree to abide. They might include the following:
  1. No dumping or blaming.
  2. Respect others' rights to express their views or choose not to express them.
  3. Be open to listening.
  4. There is no hierarchy of pain; it is counterproductive to weigh who has suffered most.
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The terms on the next page should help you with the multicultural approach you will be taking in this class.


Co-cultures cultures that exist within the same country. In the United States, people belong to "domestic co-cultures [that] may share a common religion, economic status, ethnic background, age, gender, sexual preference, and race." 1 Previously social scientists used the word subculture to describe those who, while living in the mainstream culture, were members of other cultures. The term subculture is no longer used in speech communication research because it implies that the non-mainstream group is inferior in some way.

Each individual is a member of many co-cultures. Additionally, some individuals within the same co-culture identify more strongly with that group than others do.

Culture the learned product of group experience,2 including artifacts, concepts such as 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 ingroup ways of doing things as natural and thus 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
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These materials have two goals: (1) to broaden the content of your speech class to reflect the diverse cultural backgrounds of your class and your society, and (2) to help you succeed in speech communication class by offering experiences that address a variety of learning styles.

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

Each activity is designed to be as simple and as adaptable as possible. Most of the activities depend upon some knowledge of the concepts being demonstrated. It is essential that you read the chapters before you do class exercises.

We have included assessment tools in this book. They range from self-evaluations to outside-of-class observations of others. Use these assignments to evaluate your own communication behaviors and those of other speakers and listeners.

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

Marlene C. Cohen
Susan L. Richardson

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  • To practice perceiving the ethical considerations of communication situations.

  • To introduce you to the instructor's standards for classroom ethics.

  • To analyze the role that culture plays in evaluating ethical behavior.
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1. Organize into small groups and read through the case assigned to you (Case One, Case Two, or Case Three below). Each situation asks you to come to an agreement about which action/s you feel is/are appropriate. What constitutes cheating, lying, and taking credit for shared group work differs among cultural groups.

2. Have a spokesperson from your group report your decisions to the class. Discuss your choices and the reasons for them. How might your cultural background have influenced your decisions about your case?


Read the three situations. Your group is to try to come to agreement about the appropriate action to be taken by a college student in each situation.

Situation one: You put off doing your speech until the last minute. A student who completed speech class the semester before offers to sell you the speech she researched and gave the previous semester (earning a grade of A). What will you do?

Situation two: A student gives in class an anti-gay speech that claims that gay men typically molest young boys. After the speech, what will you do?

Situation three: You work with five other students preparing and organizing your in-class, researched group discussion. The professor erroneously believes that one particular student did the agenda and most of the research, and praises only that student. In reality you did most of the work. What will you do? (Assume that no one else in the group speaks up.)


You work for the More Suds Soap Company. This company has a line of cleaning products that it sells all over the world. One particular soap is a top-selling laundry soap. This product was "improved" so that the company could market it as a better cleaner.

The company changed the packaging and has marketed the product heavily. Customers are staying loyal and are buying the new product. After the product is on the market for a short time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovers that the new ingredients added to the soap to improve it interact with the other chemicals in the soap. This makes it a pollutant, difficult if not impossible to break down in the water treatment process.

The EPA requires the soap company to withdraw its new product and stop the use of the new additives.

The company has agreed to cooperate with haste in withdrawing the product, provided it is allowed to handle the public relations of this decision without the EPA's publicizing its report on the polluting nature of the product.

Suppose your group is meeting to set the course for handling the public statement of the company. You have a variety of choices, including pulling the product and telling the American public the truth, pulling the product and selling it overseas to recoup some of your losses, changing the product back to its original form and telling no one, or inventing some other reason for the change in products. There are other possible choices as well.

Select the approach you think is best. Then decide what the public message will be, how it will best be communicated, and whom you will appoint as spokesperson.


A speaker for an international AIDS research foundation decides to purposefully exaggerate the statistics on one's chances of getting AIDS. He or she is speaking at a huge fundraiser for international AIDS research.

The speaker believes in the greater good. An audience that is more fearful will donate more for research and more people will be helped.

Do you think the speaker is making the right choice in this situation?
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First Memory of Being Different

  • To strengthen empathetic listening skills.
  • To build class cohesiveness by increasing empathy for fellow students' early experiences.
  • To increase awareness of cultural differences.
  • To increase awareness of the universality of feeling different or outside the mainstream.
Pair up with a student in class you do not know well. Try to pair up with a student who differs in age, gender, race, or ethnicity from you.

Describe to your partner your earliest memory of feeling different from others, somehow excluded. Examples of such an experience might be a memory of being told you could not join a club, or told you could no longer play with certain children, or you were a Christian unsure of how to behave at a Jewish celebration you attended.

3. When you are the listener, practice the following empathetic listening skills:
a. Engage in the interaction with your partner.

b. View the other as an equal. Work to remove psychological and physical barriers to effective listening.

c. Try not to interrupt.

d. Try not to find fault with the speaker's story. Work to avoid being evaluative or judgmental. The focus is to be on this individual's pain, not justification of the pain owned by any particular group. There should be no hierarchy of pain. It is not productive to compare who had it worse. It is productive to realize that even the rich man, the blue-eyed blond woman, and the popular teenager have felt excluded. No one wins when there is exclusion and bigotry.

e. Reflect back to the speaker your sense of his/her feelings. For example, "You sounded really angry that you couldn't play with the kid next door."

f. Accept corrections to your impressions from the speaker.

g. Be willing to discuss similarities and differences between your life experiences and the speaker's life experience.

h. Communicate your empathy nonverbally. Keep eye contact; lean forward toward the speaker; show interest through facial expression.

i. After one speaker has finished, change roles. The listener should then describe his/her first memory of being different.
4. Discuss new awarenesses you gained from the exercise as well as feelings you had in common with your partner.

5. After sufficient sharing time (15-20 minutes), share your observations with the whole class. Discuss the experience of giving and receiving empathetic listening; discuss your experiences if you choose to share them.

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Nonverbal Cultural Rules

  • To practice sharing with one another cultural nonverbal rules.
  • To explore your own nonverbal rules.
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1. List the nonverbal rules you believe a newcomer should know when entering a new culture. Choose one of the following scenarios; then organize into groups according to the scenario you choose:
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 California 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.

d. A Japanese-American is taking a job in Spanish-speaking downtown Miami.

e. Create your own scenario.
2. Consider the following categories of behaviors that might matter:
eye contact
3. List your rules in writing; then share them with the class.

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Interview with Someone of Another Culture

  • To develop your skills in conducting an interview with a stranger.
  • To participate in interpersonal conversations about cultures between American students from different cultures and international students.
  • To find the human face behind stereotypes you may have of groups you do not know or do not know well.
  • To improve your understanding of different perspectives of the United States and the world by analyzing similarities and differences in attitudes and values between you and your interview partner.
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1. Your instructor will arrange a class period during which students of different cultures may interview each other in dyads. If possible, your instructor may match up speech communication classes of American students with classes of international students.

2. Read the Paper Assignment section. Plan ahead for your interviewer role, writing down opening questions and topics you want to include.

3. In your class, interview each other in a dyad for one class period. Try to make your interview situation comfortable and informal, perhaps located outside the classroom, outdoors if possible. Take notes. Exchange telephone numbers to handle further questions that may arise. See Exercise Notes for this exercise at the back of the book.

Analysis of Interview with Someone of Another Culture

1. Conduct an informal interview with a person from a culture different from your own. If both of you are fulfilling an interview assignment, be sure to allow time for both of you to ask questions. Take notes during the interview. Share introductions; then do the following:

Ask the other person how Americans and people of other cultures in his/her experience behave differently. Consider nonverbal styles of greeting, socializing, handling business, eating, and so on.

Describe situations in which each of you has felt misunderstood by other people.

Ask the other person to describe situations in which people who were not of his/her culture behaved in ways he/she couldn't understand at the time (or now).

If one person has not lived very long in the United States, discuss some of the following:
What were that person's reasons for coming here?
What were the most surprising things he/she experienced once in the United States?
What were some difficult challenges in adjusting to life in the United States?
What questions does he/she want to ask you about your culture? Try to offer your view of the answer; of course, not all people of your culture would see it the same way.

2. Immediately after the interview, review your notes and clarify them. Write down both what you heard and your own impressions during the interview.
a. Write the interviewee's name, country, region, and ethnic group, and your general impressions.

b. Describe significant differences or similarities in the use of language or nonverbal communication between the two of you. Use terms and concepts of language or nonverbal communication as used in communication class. Use the term, define it, and then describe examples you observed in the interview.

c. Analyze ways in which you and your partner have similar or different perceptions of the world (world view). Why do you think you have these similarities or differences?

d. What is your reaction to this exercise? What else did you learn that you did not indicate in this assignment?
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What Does My Audience Believe?

  • To acquaint you with some of your classroom audience's attitudes.
  • To help you analyze this information on audience attitudes in order to select a speech topic and decide on an approach to presenting it.
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1. Divide the classroom in half with tape or a line dividing the chalkboard in half.

2. Designate one side of the room the agree side and the other side of the room the disagree side.

3. Everyone stand. Read the statements listed in point 6 one at a time (you may add others as well). In response, all class members should vote with their feet. You must either agree or disagree with a statement. Walk to one side of the room as a public statement of belief.

4. Keep track of the overall class votes. You may want to put the voting topics on the board and tally votes each time. Thus if the class takes a stand on Many students have experienced discrimination, you count how many agreed and how many disagreed with the statement.

5. At the completion of the exercise, some useful discussion questions would be as follows:

Looking at the results of all of our votes, what generalizations could be made about this audience? What implications are there for topic selection and audience adaptation?

6. Examples of belief statements are as follows:

Abortion is wrong.

Many whites experience reverse discrimination.

Anyone in the United States can make it if he or she works hard.

People with disabilities should be mainstreamed into all aspects of American life.

The death penalty is wrong.

The African-American male is endangered.

Same-sex unions (marriages) should be allowed.

Free speech should be allowed on college campuses.

AIDS is a worldwide health problem.

Health care should be available to all Americans.

College freshmen are poorly prepared for college success.

The United States is obligated to support our new immigrants.

The value placed on human life has diminished.

Women have made great strides in breaking the glass ceiling.

The United States has an obligation to attend to the health and educational needs of illegal immigrants.

Democracy is the best form of government.

Men have difficulty expressing their feelings.

Interracial adoptions are good for everyone.

Rap music denigrates women.

Feel free to choose from this list and add others of your own.

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Speaker Observation

  • To strengthen your ability to analyze the effects of different presentational styles on different audiences.
  • To increase your awareness of cultural influences on public speaking delivery.
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1. Observe a speaker outside class. Select a speaker and setting unlike those to which you are most accustomed. Identify a speaker culturally different from yourself, and a setting that is unfamiliar to you. You could try, for instance, attending a service of a different religion, or a meeting of a group whose members are culturally different from you.

2. Seek advance permission to attend if it is not a public event. You need to observe the rules of the occasion as well. Do men and women sit separately? Should their clothing be modest? Should shoes be removed before entering?

3. Write the "Speaker Observation" paper. Read the paper assignment thoroughly before the speech so you will know what to pay close attention to. You should take notes at the speech; you may wish to tape it if you have permission to do so.


Give the following information at the top of your paper:
  1. Your name, name of speaker observed, and specific occasion
    Date, time, and location of speech
    Title or main purpose of speech
  2. Analyze the speech according to the following six speech categories. Use the subtopic continuums to assist your writing, discussing those that apply. Where along the continuum would you place the speaker, compared to other speakers you have seen? Discuss other subtopics appropriate to what you observed.

  1. Speaker Attitudes
    Emotional to detached
    Proud to indifferent
    Using humor and wit to not using humor and wit
    Personal flair and flamboyance to restrained formal style
  2. Voice and Articulation
    Fluent to choppy
    Loud to soft
    Rhythmic to nonrhythmic
    Dynamic to restrained
  3. Bodily Postures and Action
    Broad movement to limited movement
    Many gestures to few gestures
    Much eye contact to limited eye contact
  4. Language
    Flowery to unadorned language
    Highly verbal to concise language
    Aggressive to deferential language
    Rhythmic to nonrhythmic language
    Descriptions that are direct and explicit to descriptions that are indirect and implicit
  5. Content
    Many examples and stories to few examples and stories
    Many facts to few facts
    Much use of Western logic to limited use of Western logic
    Objective description of the topic to subjective description of the topic
    Talking about self to not talking about self
    Aggressively persuasive to accommodating
  6. Organization
    Linear to nonlinear organization
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