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Lesson Plan: Cultural Dig

Inspired by an exercise from Robert Greene

I. Learning Objective(s)

(1) To help students understand what is meant by ‘social institutions’ and to familiarize them with some of the major social institutions
(2) To help students asses the symbolic meanings attached to social artifacts and the extent to which these meanings are variable or stable across societies.

II. Rationale for Objectives

By simulating an archeological or “cultural” dig, students will come to appreciate the influence of culture on the form that social institutions take in different societies.

III. Materials

For the economy: coins, paper money, checkbook etc.
For religion: small cross, star of David, Bible, Book of Mormon, etc.
For sports: jersey, cards, ball, shoe, etc.
For science/technology: mouse, diskette, CD, test tube, etc.
For education: text, notebook, pen, calculator, chalk, picture of teacher, etc.
For family: pictures, house figure, picnic artifact, grill, etc. 
For government: gavel, speeding ticket, tax bill, constitution, park sticker, flags of various countries, etc.
(Modify materials as appropriate to reflect other social institutions including Media and Healthcare)
Large container for holding artifacts

IV. Procedures


1. Introduction


2. Activity

Ask students to match cultural artifacts with their corresponding social institutions.
Divide students into small groups (of about 5).  Ask each student to pick one item for their group, return to their group and share what they have found. For example, if a student found a piece of chalk, they might discuss it in relation to education. If a student found a Star-Spangled banner, they might discuss it in relation to government. 

3. Discussion

Students are asked to reflect on the meaning, purpose and utility of those items found by their group’s members. The reflection assignment should include the following; To what social institution does this artifact belong? Does it belong to other social institutions as well, and if so, what are they? What does the artifact tell us about this culture? Is this item culturally universal? If someone arrived from Pluto, what other possible uses could they find for this object?