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Learning Activities

All Learning Activities

The Culture Connection

This activity is designed for youth 14-18 years old. Parts I and II comprise the core of the activity. In Part I, youth are introduced to the activity and are given a homework assignment. In Part II, youth build upon the homework assignment by participating in individual, small group, and large group work.

Part III is optional and is recommended for youth who might especially benefit from positive cultural messages. Part III is also recommended for groups in which many different ethnic or racial groups are represented.

Included in this month's learning activity are the following sections:

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At the completion of the activity, youth will be able to:

  1. Describe the major cultural influences in their lives,

  2. Identify positive and negative cultural messages they receive about health, sex and gender,

  3. Identify strategies for dealing with negative cultural messages about health, sex and gender, and

  4. Artistically represent positive cultural messages they receive about health, sex and gender (optional).


Part I: 10 minutes
Part II: 50-60 minutes
Part III: 60 minutes or more (optional)


Part I

  1. Make copies of the "My Culture" worksheet for each youth.
  2. Post definitions of "Culture," "Cultural Influences," and "Gender" on the board.

Part II

  1. Post definitions of "Culture," "Cultural Influences," and "Gender" on the board.
  2. Create a flip chart of "Examples of Messages from Major Cultural Influences."
  3. Prepare flip chart paper and colored markers for each group of three youth.

Part III (optional)

  1. Provide paper, colored markers and other art supplies.



Part I

  1. Introduce the Activity

Tell youth that they will participate in an activity about culture. During the activity, they will learn more about their own culture — how some messages from their culture can support them in being healthy and how other messages can promote unhealthy behaviors. Tell youth they will also be given a homework assignment that will help them to follow up on what they learn in class.
  1. Define Terms

Direct the youths' attention to the posted definitions. Share the definitions for "culture" and "cultural influences (see below)." Explain that some people feel a strong connection to their culture. < /p>

A strong cultural connection is fostered in some people because of their association with their race, ethnicity, religion, or some other influential part of their identity. Other people may feel they have "no culture" at all because they are similar to everyone they know or because their ancestors have been in this country for many, many generations.

Everyone, however, experiences life through a culture (or combinations of cultures) and has cultural influences in their lives. The first part of this activity will help them identify the cultural influences on their lives.

Tell students that they will be talking about "gender" during Part II of the activity. Share the definition of "gender (see below)."


The way of life of a group of people including, but not limited to, how they live, what they eat, what they wear, what they believe, and how they celebrate.

Cultural Influences Elements of life that contribute to culture like religion, race/ethnicity, geography, and family practices.
Gender The social meaning of being male (masculine) or female (feminine). Gender messages may be that males should be resourceful and good at solving problems while females should be caring, soft-spoken and neat.
  1. Give Youth Homework Assignment

Explain to youth that they will receive a "My Culture" worksheet to complete at home. The assignment will help them identify elements of their culture. They are encouraged to discuss the assignment with their parents, siblings, and/or friends in order to help them generate more ideas for answering the questions. Give each youth a worksheet and let the group know when worksheets should be completed.

Part II

  1. Refocus Youth on the Activity

Instruct youth to take out their completed "My Culture" worksheets. Ask youth how it was for them to complete the assignment. Invite a few volunteers to share something they learned about their cultures or themselves.

  1. Youth Work in Small Groups

    Have students work in groups of three. Explain to the youth that their group’s first assignment is to share their answers to the last question on the worksheet, "What are the major cultural influences in your life?" Encourage youth to notice what the similarities and differences there are between group members’ answers. Allow the groups two to five minutes.

    Explain to youth that they will now generate a list of messages they receive from their major cultural influences. Specifically, they are to focus on messages that pertain to health, sex and gender. Post the prepared flip chart of "Examples of Messages from Major Cultural Influences," and review the examples.

    Examples of Messages from Major Cultural Influences

    About Health:

    • Alcohol is an important part of family celebrations.
    • Exercise is fun and important.
    • Smoking is not that bad for you, and it is good for stress reduction.
    About Sex:
    • Couples should wait until they are married to have sex.
    • People shouldn't talk about sex.
    • It is okay to be gay or lesbian.
    About Gender:
    • Boys should play sports, but girls should focus on working around the house.
    • Both girls and boys should go to college.
    • It is okay for women to be ministers and men to be nurses.

Instruct youth to make a list of the messages (both positive and negative) they have received from their culture about health, sex and gender. Youth should do this activity individually. Allow five minutes.

Next, instruct youth to work in their small groups to combine all of their messages on one piece of flip chart paper. Ask youth to organize the messages on the flip chart paper in two columns, one for positive/healthy messages and one for negative/unhealthy messages. Allow 5-15 minutes. Ask the groups to choose reporters to share the lists with the large group.

  1. Reports and Large Group Discussion

Ask reporters to post each of their groups’ lists around the room. Invite the reporter from each group to share the lists of positive and negative messages that the small group generated. For larger classes, ask groups to prioritize the two or three most common or powerful messages and report those only. After all groups share, ask the following discussion questions:

  • What kind of similarities do you see between the lists?

  • What do you notice when comparing the negative and positive messages?

  • Are there more positive messages or negative messages?
Focus the youth’s attention on the positive messages. Acknowledge that our cultures help make up who we are. Fortunately, we have received some very positive messages about our health, sexuality and gender from our cultures. These can be viewed as strengths we receive from our culture.
  1. Youth Generate List of Strategies

    Tell youth that, unfortunately, not all the messages they generated are positive or healthy. Ask the group: what can you do when you receive negative and unhealthy messages from your culture that you do not believe or do not want to accept? For example, a boy may receive messages from his culture that to be "a man," or "masculine," he has to have sex. He feels this message is negative and unhealthy, AND he feels a lot of pressure to conform. So, what can this boy, or others in a similar situation, do to deal with this negative or unhealthy cultural message?

    If the youth have difficulties coming up with ideas, allow them to discuss the issue with partners. Additionally, offering one or two examples from the list below may help them generate their own ideas:

    • To learn more about it, ask parents and other elders about the message. Maybe there is more to the message OR a positive message that you did not notice.

    • Investigate what other peoples’ cultures teach them about the issue.

    • Choose not to accept the message as part of your life.

    • Look to other elements of your culture for more healthy messages.

    • Connect with role models and mentors who support your healthy behaviors.
  2. Youth Personalize the Activity

    Ask youth to identify and write down one negative message about sex or gender they personally receive. Then ask them to chose a strategy for dealing with negative cultural messages. Encourage the youth to choose a strategy they will actually implement in their own lives.

    Invite several volunteers to share their answers. Tell youth that even though they may be dealing with some negative messages from their culture, they can still feel very connected to and positive about the many other aspects of their culture.
  1. Summarize the Activity

    Summarize the activity by reminding youth that they all have cultural influences in their lives which help shape who they are. We receive many messages about sexuality and gender from these cultural influences. They are encouraged to acknowledge and build on the positive messages they receive from their culture. They should question and find support to deal with the negative messages.

Part III (optional)

  1. Introduce the Art Activity

    Explain to youth that this next activity will reinforce and build upon the positive health messages they receive from their cultures. Youth will identify at least one positive health message they receive and integrate it into an expressive art creation. Youth can create a drawing, poster, song, web page, skit, poem, collage, short story or other type of art to share something about their culture and the positive messages they receive.

    Provide youth with paper, markers and other art supplies as possible. Allow youth time to work on their art in class or instruct them to work on it at home. Tell the youth that they can create their artwork individually or with a partner.

  2. Youth Create Artwork

  3. Youth Share Artwork

    After youth complete their art, invite them to share whatever they created with the rest of the youth. Keep the sharing time fun and fast moving with lots of applause for each youth who shares. Encourage youth to post their creations.

    Thank the youth for participating. Summarize the art activity by stating that culture is important in influencing our lives. Encourage them to keep appreciating the positive and healthy messages they receive from their culture. Remind them that their cultural connections can offer them strength and support in living healthy lives.