Oct 21, 2010

It's Harper, not Hawking: Canada Lessons

For the first lesson with my new students, I prepared a little PowerPoint about Canada. Some beautiful photos, some pertinent facts, and a sprinkling of Justin Bieber just to keep them awake.

I thought it would be a standard lesson, but oh, middle school students can surprise you. I compiled some tips here for anyone hoping to do a Canada lesson overseas.

Get ready for Australia comparisons

I know that Canada isn't a global heavy-hitter like England or the States. I never thought, though, that Canada and Australia could be easily confused. I guess we’re both quieter English-speaking countries, rugby-playing, beer-drinking, but still, the mix-ups surprised me.

Canada’s capital? “Canberra!” shouts one boy. I shake my head, and his friend nudges him mockingly. “Noo!” he smirks, “Canberra, no! It’s Sydney.”

A photo of Toronto’s skyline? “Sydney operahouse!” they shout, pointing at the Skydome.

A picture of a raccoon? “Koala!” calls a girl.

Don’t show plain photos of animals…

… when you can show pictures of animals and their young! It’ll up the shriek factor when you show a romping polar bear cub or adorable baby seal. That may sound like a headache, but you know my classroom motto: shrieking students are better than sleeping students.

Make a teachable moment out of /b/ and /v/

These consonant pairs are a common hurtle for Korean students, for whom the /v/ sound simply doesn’t exist in their native tongue. You can easily work a little pronunciation practice into your Canadian culture lesson.

Repeat after me… vuh…vuh… beaver. Now, buh… buh…. Bieber. This will come up somehow.

Try not to laugh as they react to the Canadian Celebrity collage

It’s really hard to predict which bits of western pop culture make it to the Far East, and which get lost along the way. I learned something new when I showed my students some famous Canadians.

“Vampire!” they shouted at the picture of the admittedly pale Celine Dion.

“Hitler!” one girl called out at the image of James Cameron in a tux (!)

“aaa-oooo-ga!” they honk at Jim Carrey. (Apparently this is a Mask impersonation)

...and the Justin Bieber pictures? Well, the girls cooed in unison and fanned themselves Beatlemania-style. The boys nodded approvingly at Bieber's "Korean hairstyle."

Get ready for a “who’s bigger?” debate

Canada may be lacking in a few departments, but hells bells, are we ever big. The second largest nation, I pointed out to my students, who nodded agreeably. That is, until I told them that the Rebublic of Korea could fit into Canada 99 times.


I showed them a world map. More outrage! Accusations of tampering! Western cartographer conspiracy theories! One pushy girl took over my computer, used the Korean equivalent of Google image search to find a map of the world, and found…. Oh.

If you find a photo of Justin Bieber holding a baby raccoon…

…use it, then send me a copy. Guaranteed to win over the frostiest of students.


  1. LOL, these are too cute! Never a dull moment...you make me want to be a teacher!

  2. Oh my God, I have so been there! Different countries, same exact situations.I could write an essay but I'll spare you. Two points of advice: Just accept that New Zealand IS a part of Australia since EVERYBODY knows that, and never tell Chinese students that it's an urban myth about the Great Wall being visible from space.