Introduction to English-speaking Countries
(Lesson Outlines)

by Todd Owen (Email address presented as an image to guard against spam)

Contents: Background Course Structure Assessment Textbook and Homework Group Assignment Lectures Films Links


Foreign teachers at Chinese universities are sometimes asked to teach a course with a name such as "A General Survey of English-speaking Countries", or "An Introduction to English-speaking Countries", or similar. I taught this course for a semester in 2003, and found the lesson preparation quite overwhelming. This was especially the case since I was given very little guidance and no clear objectives. In the hope that it might be of some assistance to other teachers who find themselves in a similar situation, I have collected together some notes on how I ran the course, and the Microsoft Powerpoint presentations which I used during the lectures. Of course, I do not expect that any teacher would follow these notes to the letter, since their own lessons will naturally be influenced by their individual expertise and their ideas about teaching.

I would like to make it clear that this is not an ideal teaching plan, and if I taught the course again I would certainly make some alterations. But I will describe the course as I taught it, in the hope that others can learn from my mistakes as well as my successes.

Course Structure

The course was for second-year English majors. There was a textbook assigned, written in English by a Chinese author, that focused mainly on geography, history, economy, and government structure. I asked the students to read this outside class, while my lectures were largely unconnected with the textbook. There were several reasons for this: firstly, the textbook was dull; secondly, my own knowledge of these subjects was no deeper than the textbook itself; and thirdly, I thought that since I had personal experience of Western culture which most of the Chinese teachers lacked, I should find a way to incorporate this into my classes. That said, I did sometimes summarise the book's content, to help my students see the "big picture".

Lessons were given in a multi-media lecture theatre, with two classes (more than 60 students) attending at the same time. With so many students, it would have been difficult to manage groupwork or host class discussions, and so I adopted a lecture format. But a further problem was that it was beyond my ability to even find enough topics to fill two 45 minute lectures each week, let alone prepare material for them. So instead I spent only the first period presenting a lecture, and during the second period (which always directly followed the first) I showed films that were relevent to the course. I based my lectures around Microsoft Powerpoint presentations, and thus relied on both the computer and the DVD player that the classroom was equipped with.

Looking back now, I wonder why I did not allow some class time for students to read the textbook, or perhaps to cooperate in groups by each reading a part of the textbook and summarising it, and why I did not spend more class time discussing the answers to the homework assignments. I think that due to my background as a university student in Australia, I saw such activities as unsuitable for class time. But in China, the ratio of "contact hours" to "non-contact hours" is quite different to Australia, and in hindsight the amount of work that I asked my students to complete outside class was higher than many of their other courses.


The components of the final mark were: 10% homework assignments (marked for completion, not correctness); 30% group assignment; 60% final exam. The final exam was multiple choice, with questions based on both the homework reading and the lecture material. I designed the exam to test general, conceptual understanding rather than specific details like dates and numbers.

Exam Information

Information about the exam format, and several example questions.

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Textbook and Homework

Each week, I asked the students to read a section of the textbook and answer some questions. The questions were designed to help them understand and summarise the content of the textbook. At first I planned to only collect every second week's homework, but I had to admit to myself that unless I collected it every week it was wishful thinking to expect any significant proportion of students to do the work. At the beginning of the semester, what I received from most students was simply a few paragraphs copied word-for-word from the textbook, with no indication that they had understood or even read those paragraphs. In many cases, it was not even copied from the textbook, but from a classmate.

I prohibited both copying from the textbook and copying from other students. I sometimes wrote comments, but in general I did not mark the homework for correctness, since my collecting it was only a means to ensure that the students did the work, not a means of assessment. Of course the homework was still worth a small proportion of the marks for the course, and this was based simply on whether or not the homework had been completed, and whether it had been copied or not. Merely checking whether each student's homework was their own work or not became a major burden on my time, considering that there were some 120 assignments to mark each week.

Each week I selected the best answers to each question, photocopied them, and pinned them in each classroom (the fixed classroom for each class, not the lecture theatre). I preferred this to writing "official" correct answers myself.

The textbook was An Introduction to Britain and America (Lai Anfang Ed.), published by Henan People's Publishing House. It's a small book with the Statue of Liberty and a map of England on its blue cover.

The details of the homework tasks are contained in the files below:

Homework Hints

Notes about how I expected the students to carry out the homework tasks.

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Homework Assignments

Homework questions for each week.

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Model Answers

Answers to the homework questions, selected from students' assignments.

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Group Assignment

Towards the end of the semester, I asked the students to arrange themselves into groups of four, and produce an A3 poster on a topic related to the course (I supplied each group with cardboard to use as a backing). Of course it was my hope that each group member would contribute to the project, although I have no way of knowing whether that was the case or not. Every group in the class had to choose a different topic (I helped them to organise this), and after marking I pinned the posters up in the respective classrooms so that students could admire and learn from the work of their classmates.

The topics I suggested were: Festivals, Religion, Social Problems, Sport (UK), Sport (USA), Famous Places (UK), Famous Places (USA), Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. But students were also able to invent their own topics, subject to my approval, and some that emerged were Movies, Music, and Food.

Poster Marking Guide

I provided this to the students in advance, requiring them to write their names on it and submit it with the poster.

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Example Poster: Weddings

I printed this, cut it up, and stuck the fragments onto cardboard with appropriate titles and decoration as an example (albeit somewhat minimal) of what I expected from the students.

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The Powerpoint presentations listed below are by no means complete lesson plans. They only contain the core points which I discussed in my lectures. They are provided "as is" here, in case other teachers find them useful in planning their own course outline, and lessons.

Most of the images used in these presentations were found on the internet. Unfortunately, due to my own lack of foresight, I did not record the relevant copyright details at the time I downloaded the images.

The text itself is copyright 2003 Todd Owen. Permission is given for it to be used freely.

Week 1: About the English language

Where English is spoken; its history; its significance in the modern world.

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Week 2a: Social Structure

Corporate capitalism; social inequality and class; families and households.

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Week 2b: Australia

Facts and trivia about my own country. Includes the lyrics to a well-known Australian song, which I explained to the students and then invited them to follow me in singing.

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Week 3: Religion

Christianity and its history; religion in Britain and the USA; the troubles in Ireland.

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Week 4: Political Systems

The political systems of the USA, UK, and Australia described and compared. Constitution; upper and lower house; executive; America's "checks and balances"; the two party system.

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Week 5: Communication Between Cultures (1)

These three weeks of lectures were based on the book "Doing Culture", written by Linell Davis and published by the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press in Beijing. In fact, this was to be the textbook for a course that some of the students would do in third year, but I saw no harm in introducing the principal concepts earlier. Be warned, however, that this is a difficult topic to cover, and some of my students found some of the examples of Chinese culture given in the book to be quite unfamiliar (it has the same limitation of any book on culture, in that it deals with generalisations). I found it very enlightening to elicit opinions and ideas from the class.

This first lecture introduced the idea of culture; visible and invisible aspects of culture; and high versus low context cultures.

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Week 6: Communication Between Cultures (2)

More about high and low context cultures; formality; "Dinner with Friends" case study.

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Week 7: Work Culture

Culture in the workplace; large versus small power distances; "Four Secretaries and Their Jobs" case study.

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Week 8: Drinking; Smoking; Dating

Occasions when alcohol is drunk (not much different to China!); popular kinds of alcohol; smoking customs and trends; dating customs.

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Week 9: English History

The class had finished reading the chapter of the textbook devoted to Britain's history, so I spent this lecture revising the basic facts and at the same time trying to inject a bit of interest by briefly retelling two legends (accompanied with appropriate actions).

The first slide gives a list of events, which I asked the students to put into order, without looking at their books if possible (I did not require them to recall the exact dates, though). Then I drew a timeline on the board (700BC to 1914AD) and marked these events on it. The answers are: arrival of the Celtic people (about 700BC, the Celts were however not the first inhabitants of Britain), Roman invasion (Julius Caesar 55–54BC, but it was Claudius in 43BC who genuinely conquered the island), Romans leave (410AD), Anglo-saxon invasion (5th century AD), Norman invasion (1066), Magna Carta (1215, King John), First parliment (1265, Simon de Montfort), Peasant uprising (1381, not listed on the slide), Republican government of Oliver Cromwell (1649–1660), Industrial Revolution (late 18th century), The Chartist Movement (1836–1848), The First World War (1914).

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Week 10: Festivals

Christmas; New Year's Eve; Easter; Thanksgiving.

Note that slide 17 is intentionally left blank: at this point, I paused to ask the class what other Western festivals they know, and in which countries Thanksgiving is celebrated (the short answer is that Thanksgiving is a US festival).

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Week 11: Special Occasions

Birthdays; weddings; funerals.

This presentation includes a wedding photo featuring my friends Lukasz and Amy, which you may want to delete or replace. With regard to birthdays, note that in the Chinese version of the "Happy Birthday" song, the same lyrics are repeated four times, whereas in the English version the third line varies.

In fact, when I gave this lecture I stopped after describing wedding customs, because I wanted to play the first half of "Four Weddings and a Funeral". The funeral in this film does not occur until the second half, so I described funerals the following week just before continuing the film.

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Week 12: Food and Drink

Breakfast; lunch; dinner; fast food; sweet foods; drinks.

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Week 13: Art and Literature

Drama; opera; musical theatre; novels.

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Week 14: Entertainment and Sport

Popular English, American, and Australian sports; descriptions of rugby, cricket, baseball, American football, rodeo, ice hockey, Aussie rules football, and golf (note that in China only the wealthy can afford to play this sport). Soccer and basketball are popular in China and hence need no introduction.

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Week 15a: Recreation

Meeting places (restaurants, cafes, bars); movies; music styles.

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Week 15b: Education

Compulsory education; university; typical number and type of classes; differences between education in the East and West; gap year.

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Week 16: American History (An Overview)

Native Americans; the American Character; Western expansion; the Vietnam War; the Cold War; America as a superpower.

As with the English History lecture, I began with a list of events, asked the students to put them in order, and later arranged them on a timeline (1607 to today). The answers are: War of Independence (1775–1782), the purchase of Louisiana (1803) which marks the start of expansion to the west (continuing until about the time of World War I), Civil War (1861–1865), World War I (1914–1919), the start of the Great Depression (began in 1929). I kept this timeline on the board, and later added: the first colony (1607, at Jamestown in Virginia), the second colony (1620, at Plymouth), the Boston Tea Party (1773), the Articles of Confederation (1781), the establishment of the Constitution (1787), the second war with English (1812), and the Mexican War for Texas (1846–1848).

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Despite the large number of DVDs available in Chinese cities, finding films appropriate to a course like this one is not easy. For reference, the films that I showed are listed below. Since the aim was to understand the cultural content, not challenge their listening comprehension, I usually turned on the Chinese subtitles (but played the English soundtrack). I explained the reason I was showing each film, paused it from time to time to ask questions or point out things of historial or cultural significance, and in some cases drew a history timeline on the board.

Bend It Like Beckham

Feelgood comedy which deals with multiculturalism in England.


The life of Queen Elizabeth.

Far and Away

Scenes from frontier America, with the Oklahoma land race as its climax. (Since this is rather a long film, I skipped a part in the middle). I used the following presentation to provide background information:

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Forrest Gump

A film spanning the important historical events of the baby boomers' generation in America. (This is actually quite a well-known film in China, and many of my students had watched it before).

Four Weddings and a Funeral

A romantic comedy with numerous examples of wedding and funeral customs.

Michael Collins

The story of Ireland's violent struggle for independence.


Knowledge of English Speaking Countries (EFL Sensei) — detailed lesson plans and student handouts for a similar course.

Survey of UK/US (Chuck in China) — powerpoint presentations by another foreign teacher in China.

You may also be interested in our sister site, Oral English Activities.