‘My bad!!’ Cultural Faux Pas and the Lens Metaphor

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  • Create Date June 23, 2023
  • Last Updated June 23, 2023

‘My bad!!’ Cultural Faux Pas and the Lens Metaphor

Created by Heleena Dahan

Brief Description

This activity is tailored for students of Diplomacy and International Communication studies. However, it can be adapted for any level of the ESL classroom.

  • Students will be divided into pairs and presented with roles (laminated texts) with a cultural dilemma or conflict. 
  • Each student will be from a different culture and must find a way to resolve the conflict they are in while seeing the other through their cultural lens.
  • Students will resolve the conflict by implementing active listening strategies and by reasoning through the ladder of inference.
  • The pairs will present their role play in class, resolve the conflict, and be evaluated by their peers and the facilitator.


Learning Objectives

  • Students will learn the importance of cultural etiquette of different countries by looking through a cultural lens. 
  • They will learn to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior in different cultures and societies. 
  • Students will learn how to resolve conflicts by using the ladder of inference to assess where their cultural etiquette clashes.
  • Students will incorporate and practice active listening techniques in resolving the conflict.
  • Students will learn how to use the analytical communication tool, the Ladder of Inference. They will learn how to map out how people reach conclusions and analyze the reasoning process, go back and determine whether important information was missing and could possibly change the gaps in understanding the parties.


Lead-in / Preparation / Prerequisite Knowledge


  • Lead in preparation of active listening dialogue and technique.
  • Familiarity with the cultural lens metaphor 
  • Familiarity with the ladder of inference 
  • Familiarity with the iceberg metaphor


Estimated Class-Time Required


Two forty-five minute lessons, preferably concurrent


Description of Activities


This activity should span two 45-minute lessons.


Introduction: ( 2-5 minutes)

  • Whole class, the teacher/facilitator asks students to think of a time or an event in which they made a cultural faux pas. The teacher / facilitator can give a personal anecdote as an example (modeling).

Body:                (5-10 minutes) 

  • Have a handful of students share their examples with the class. The facilitator will ask the student to highlight what the faux pas or the missing cultural information was in retrospect.

                           (15-20 minutes)

  • Introduce the concept of the Ladder of Inference by projecting the illustration on a big screen and give a handout of it to each student. One of the examples elicited from the students may be used as an example to illustrate and map out by going through every rung of the ladder where the students missed vital cultural information

Activity       (10 -15 minutes)

  • Put students into pairs, each with a pre-prepared laminated card, with a cultural faux pas on it. Each student is assigned a role from a different culture; their goal is to recognize the faux pas and simulate a conversation in which they resolve the situation by mapping it out on the ladder of inference handout.

Conclusion  (20-25 minutes)

  • Reconvene the whole class, and have each pair reenact the role-play and how they resolve the conflict.

Debrief        (10 minutes) 

  • teacher sums up the assignment and asks for insights and feedback
  • Teachers can wrap up the lessons by showing a humorous clip about cultural mishaps 


Key Vocabulary / Phrases


Data Pool

Data Selection, Reasoning and interpretation




Self-reflection rubric 

Learner Self-Assessment Grid – Modes of Communication

  • I can understand extended speech even when it is not clearly structured and when relationships are only implied and not signaled explicitly. 
  • I can understand television programs and films without too much effort.
  • I can understand extended speech and lectures and follow even complex lines of argument provided the topic is reasonably familiar.
  • I can understand most TV news and current affairs programs. I can understand the majority of films in standard dialect. 
  • I can understand long and complex factual and literary texts, appreciating distinctions of style. 
  • I can understand specialized articles and longer technical instructions, even when they do not relate to my field.
  • I can read articles and reports concerned with contemporary problems in which the writers adopt particular stances or viewpoints. 
  • I can understand contemporary literary prose.
Spoken Interaction 
  • I can express myself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. 
  • I can use language flexibly and effectively for social and professional purposes. 
  • I can formulate ideas and opinions with precision and relate my contribution skillfully to those of other speakers.
  • I can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible. 
  • I can take an active part in discussions in familiar contexts, accounting for and sustaining my views. 
Written and Online Interaction 
  • I can understand the intentions and implications of other contributions on complex, abstract issues and can express myself with clarity and precision, adapting my language and register flexibly and effectively. 
  • I can deal effectively with communication problems and cultural issues that arise by clarifying and exemplifying.
  • I can interact with several people, linking my contributions to theirs and handling misunderstandings or disagreements, provided the others avoid complex language, allow me time, and are generally cooperative. 
  • I can highlight the significance of facts, events, and experiences, justify ideas and support collaboration. 
Spoken Production
  • I can present clear, detailed descriptions of complex subjects integrating subthemes, developing particular points and rounding off with an appropriate conclusion.
  • I can present clear, detailed descriptions of a wide range of subjects related to my field of interest. 
  • I can explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
Written Production
  • I can express myself in clear, well-structured text, expressing points of view at some length. 
  • I can write detailed expositions of complex subjects in an essay or a report, underlining what I consider to be the salient issues. 
  • I can write different kinds of texts in a style appropriate to the reader in mind.
  • I can write clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects related to my interests. 
  • I can write an essay or report, passing on information or giving reasons in support of or against a particular point of view. 
Mediating a Text
  • I can convey clearly and fluently in well-structured language the significant ideas in long, complex texts, whether or not they relate to my own fields of interest, provided that I can occasionally check particular technical concepts.
  • I can convey detailed information and arguments reliably, e.g. the significant point(s) contained in complex but well-structured texts within my fields of academic and personal interest.
Mediating a Text
  • I can acknowledge different perspectives in guiding a group, asking a series of open questions that build on different contributions in order to stimulate logical reasoning, reporting on what others have said, summarising, elaborating and weighing up multiple points of view, and tactfully helping steer the discussion towards a conclusion.
  • I can encourage participation and pose questions that invite reactions from other group members’ perspectives or ask people to expand on their thinking and clarify their opinions. 
  • I can further develop other people’s ideas and link them into coherent lines of thinking, considering different sides of an issue.
Mediating Communication
  • I can mediate a shared communication culture by managing ambiguity demonstrating sensitivity to different viewpoints and heading off misunderstandings. 
  • I can communicate significant information clearly, fluently and concisely as well as explain cultural references. 
  • I can use persuasive language diplomatically.
  • I can encourage a shared communication culture by adapting the way I proceed, by expressing appreciation of different ideas, feelings and viewpoints, and inviting participants to react to each other’s ideas. 
  • I can communicate the significance of important statements and viewpoints on subjects within my fields of interest, provided speakers give clarifications if needed.

(CEFR Companion Volume, 2018)

Teacher Assessment Goal-Oriented Collaborative Group Tasks Rubric

  • Can highlight the main issue in a complex task and the important aspects that need to be taken into account. 
  • Can contribute to collaborative decision-making and problem-solving, expressing and co-developing ideas, explaining details and making suggestions for future action.
  • Can ask questions to stimulate discussions around organizing the work. 
  • Can help define the task and propose suggestions on how to proceed. 
  • Can help to develop others’ ideas and opinions. 
  • Can collaborate on shared tasks by asking and answering straightforward questions. 
  • Can respond to suggestions and propose alternatives. 
  • Can use comments and questions to confirm mutual understanding. 
  • Can organize and manage collaborative group works efficiently.
  • Can intervene supportively in order to focus attention on aspects of the task.
  • Can encourage members of a group to build upon one another’s information and ideas to come up with a concept or solution.
  • Can explain different roles in a group task. 
  • Can intervene when necessary to keep group members on task. 
  • Can formulate questions and feedback to encourage people to expand on their thinking and justify or clarify their opinions.
  • Can manage turn-taking in group discussions. 
  • Can build on others’ ideas and link coherent lines of thinking. 
  • Can ask members to explain how ideas fit within the main topic/task. 
  • Can encourage members of a group to build upon one another’s information and ideas to come up with a concept or solution.
  • Can ask follow up questions to check that he/she has understood what a speaker intended to say and get clarification of ambiguous points.
  • Can intervene in discussion when appropriate, using appropriate language; uses effective turn-taking strategies. 
  • Can formulate follow-up questions to a member of a group to clarify an issue that is implicit or poorly articulated.
  • Can initiate and intervene using acceptable language most of the time. 
  • Can use stock phrases to gain time while formulating what to say.
  • Can contribute to discussion by summarizing ideas and inviting others to speak.
  • Can develop follow-up questions to clarify others’ ideas.  
Building on knowledge
  • Can clearly connect ideas from source material with related ideas, concepts, or personal experience.
  • Can compare and contrast source material with concepts other members are already familiar with. 
  • Can make connections with source material with content previously studied. 
  • Can understand and use topic-specific vocabulary in discussion with confidence.
  • Good grammatical control. Occasional ‘slips’ or non-systematic errors and minor flaws in sentence structure may still occur, but they are rare and can often be corrected in retrospect.
  • Can adapt language to convey complex ideas to others and use paraphrasing effectively. 
  • Can express him/herself clearly, with a  wide range of vocabulary without strain on the listener. 
  • Grammatical errors are minimal and do not impede understanding. 
  • Can paraphrase main points in simpler language to aid others’ understanding. 
  • Has a sufficient range of vocabulary to express him/herself in unpredictable situations. 
  • Uses grammar with reasonable accuracy; errors occur but the speaker’s meaning is clear. 




The rubrics used for this activity are from the DICE official curriculum.



The prerequisites already mentioned in the lead in preparation are essential for the success of the activity. Time should be spent on teaching active listening, cultural metaphors, and the ladder of inference prior to conducting the activity.


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