I taught at an international school when I first came to Thailand. The school used American textbooks, but the English the students learned depended on the nationality of the teacher; if the teacher was American, the students learned American English, but if the teacher was British, the students learned British English.
I realized that my 7th and 8th grade students needed to have an understanding of both, as students at international schools in Thailand often go to college (or university) in Western countries. I wanted my students to know that first of all, although these two particular versions of English are mostly similar, there are some differences that they will need to know when they want to communicate with others who speak a different form of English. I wanted them to know both versions of common words as well as the major spelling differences. I then wanted them to think about which version of English is more commonly spoken. I think studying both forms is essential when studying English.
I begin this activity with a PowerPoint with 19 pictures that represent 20 words (one picture includes two words) and I ask students to label the pictures. They look at me funny because they don’t understand why I’m asking them to do this because it seems like something they might do in second grade, but I just tell them to write down the words the pictures represent.
After giving them some time for this, we look at their answers. My students’ answers tended to be the American English versions as most of the Western teachers at my school were American.
I ask my students why they think I asked them to label these pictures and hopefully the right answer comes out: all of these pictures have two names.
I then ask them to go back through the pictures and label them with both the American English name and the British English name, if they know the British English name.
We go through the PowerPoint to make sure the students have all the answers. Here’s an example:
We then take some time to look at the spelling differences. The students form four groups and I give each group 12 words to sort without telling the students how to sort them, although they quickly figure it out since we’re talking about American and British English. I chose the words from an article on the spelling differences.
Then comes the song assignment. I put the students in pairs and ask them to write a song that includes 10 pairs of American and British English words. The students then sing the songs in class; while they perform, I complete the rubric at the bottom of the assignment sheet. Because my particular students were not familiar with British English, the objective of this assignment for them was to teach themselves and their classmates some British English words.
One thing I think it’s important to talk about is which version of English is more common. We sometimes forget that many non-Western countries speak British English, like Fiji, where I lived when I was in high school, as Fiji was a British colony until 1970. It’s worth having the students look into how many countries speak American English and how many speak British English to see which one is more commonly spoken.
Last is the test, though it’s a pretty easy one.
Here are the links to download / buy the resources you need to teach American and British English. Let me know what you think!
Picture labeling PowerPoint ($2)
Spelling sort (FREE)
Song assignment (FREE)