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High School — Social Studies
People in Societies

Our lives are greatly influenced by the societies in which we live. Each society contains distinct belief systems and languages, social relationships, institutions and organizations, and material goods such as food, clothing, buildings, tools and machines. Any society will contain various cultures, which are influenced by ethnicity, religious beliefs, and customs such as styles of music or dress as well as food, traditions and holidays. Today it is common to see members of different cultures living together in the same communities while still maintaining strong cultural identities and ties.

Historically, advancements in transportation and communication, along with wars and natural disasters, have increased interaction among cultures. The interaction has not always been peaceful. Some cultures have suffered discrimination and oppression at the hands of others, and many disputes remain unresolved. Cultural interaction can, however, bring about great gains. For example, trading practices in ancient civilizations led to the spread of the world's first known writing systems and the spread of languages and religious beliefs.

Cultural diffusion refers to the spread of different cultural beliefs and practices throughout the world. Our modern world has experienced significant cultural diffusion. We can recognize music and dance trends from one culture as they become popularized and incorporated into another. By examining the interactions of people in societies, we gain a greater understanding of ourselves and our world.

Ohio's Academic Content Standards establish the following expectations for student performance in the area of People in Societies:

  • Students use knowledge of perspectives, practices and products of cultural, ethnic and social groups to analyze the impact of their commonality and diversity within local, national, regional and global settings.

The content in this Teaching Tool is based on Ohio's Academic Content Standards: K-12 Social Studies and includes types of questions asked on the Ohio Graduation Test. While various activities are suggested for working with students, this Teaching Tool is designed to complement a rigorous, research-based curriculum, not to substitute for one.

People in Societies

1. People in Societies

Click on the following benchmarks for more information and for links to annotated OGT items.


Benchmark A: Analyze the influence of different cultural perspectives on the actions of groups.

Benchmark A: Analyze the influence of different cultural perspectives on the actions of groups.

Our cultural perspectives influence our decisions and values. Students need to understand how cultural perspectives affect our views of history and society.

Identify elements of culture that can affect perspective -- These cultural elements include:

  • Religious beliefs;
  • Economic status;
  • Education;
  • Work experience;
  • Political beliefs;
  • History.

Consider different cultural perspectives -- Cultural perspectives are the complex set of meanings, attitudes, values and ideas belonging to a cultural group. Have students consider each of the elements listed above and explain how that element might affect one's viewpoint on historical events or current political or social issues. Once students have a more concrete understanding of these cultural elements, discuss how cultural elements in general may influence a group's actions. For example, a group defined by its nationality might feel justified in going to war if it feels war is necessary to defend its nation. As students discuss various historical events or current issues, ask them to consider these elements when analyzing particular groups and their actions.

Differing cultural perspectives on historical events -- Students must be able to consider the different cultural perspectives that influence the way people feel about and act as players in historical events.

Have students research the viewpoints and actions of the groups involved in each of the following events. As a class, discuss the viewpoints and actions of each cultural group in response to the historical events. Use the chart below as a place for students to record notes in the final column.

Historical EventCultural Groups Viewpoints and Actions of Each Cultural Group
Creation of the state of IsraelJews 
The Partition of India and PakistanMuslims 
Reunification of Germany Soviets and Soviet-influenced East Germans 
 West Germans 
End of apartheid in South AfricaWhite South Africans 
 Black South Africans 

The rise of culturally influenced political action groups -- Oppressed groups of a common culture often have protested, taken action and brought about change to combat discrimination and limitations on civil liberties. Consider how cultural groups have organized to take action in the United States.

Help students identify groups defined by their cultural perspectives in the United States. For example:

  • African-Americans;
  • Women;
  • Native Americans;
  • Latino-Americans;
  • Asian-Americans.

Discuss with students which cultural elements (religious beliefs, economic status, education, work experience, political beliefs and history) apply to the above groups, and how these factors affect their perspectives. Then have students research the ways in which each group has organized to create change. As students examine various cultural groups, discuss the discrimination the group faced, ways the group took action, and changes the group helped to achieve.

Identify artistic expressions of culture -- Art, music and literature often reflect the achievements and frustrations of particular cultural groups. For example, we can look at hip-hop (a form of music typically associated with the urban African-American experience) and recognize the frustrations of dealing with racism in daily life. In recent decades, these artistic expressions have had a great influence on popular culture. The expressions may be physical objects (e.g., paintings, cathedrals, mosques, books, chopsticks) or less tangible expressions (e.g., oral tales, dances, sacred rituals, an educational system). These expressions are actions particular groups take to express their perspectives on societal issues.

Have students find examples of art, music, literature and media from different cultural groups. Discuss the cultural and social perspectives represented by these products and have students consider how each form of cultural expression has influenced the broader culture in the United States.

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark B: Analyze the consequences of oppression, discrimination and conflict between cultures.

Benchmark B: Analyze the consequences of oppression, discrimination and conflict between cultures.

Help students understand the ways in which people of one culture have oppressed the people of another.

Understand exploitation of indigenous peoples -- Help students consider the effect of colonization on indigenous peoples. For example, consider how European "conquistadors" and colonists exploited Native Americans in North and South America. Consider the following forms of exploitation:

  • Exploitation of a culture's land;
  • Exploitation of people through forced and enslaved labor;
  • Eradication of culture through forced assimilation into the dominant culture.

Help students draw conclusions about the effects of colonialism on indigenous cultures. Be sure to expand the discussion beyond the Western Hemisphere, with references to colonialism in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia as well. Students can ask:

  • How did indigenous people react to the arrival of colonists and conquerors in their lands?
  • How were indigenous people forced to endure exploitation?
  • How were indigenous people able to maintain cultural traditions and expressions?
  • How have indigenous cultures survived to the present?
  • How did these experiences affect the indigenous peoples' self-image?
  • How did the indigenous people counteract or resist the conquerors? What conflicts resulted?
  • In spite of the oppression of indigenous peoples, did the colonization process lead to any benefits for the colonized people?

Understand the definition of genocide -- Genocide is the systematic killing of large numbers of people on the basis of ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, social status or other factors.

Understand examples of genocide -- For each example of genocide listed in the chart, students can identify which cultural group was targeted, which group was responsible, the global impact and the world response.

  • Identifying which group is responsible: Assigning blame is complicated by controversy over who controlled power during periods of war. Students can research multiple sources to determine the most widely accepted theories.
  • Identifying the impact: Have students consider the world response to each example of genocide, and the changes in laws or practices that were sparked by these acts of violence. The following graphic organizer can help students organize their notes as they research each example.
Example of GenocideDatesCultural Group TargetedGroup ResponsibleGlobal ImpactWorld Response
The Armenian Genocide1915    
The Holocaust1933-1945    
Kurdish Genocide in Iraq1987-1989    
The Bosnian Genocide 1992-1995    
The Rwandan Genocide 1994    

Understand acts of racial and cultural oppression and discrimination in the United States and their consequences -- As exemplified by the institution of slavery, racial discrimination has been part of America's history.

Help students consider the social, political and economic effects of racial and cultural discrimination. First, have them identify minority groups that have experienced discrimination and oppression in America's history. Then have students categorize the effects into social, political or economic. Once they have created these categories, students can consider the impact of each of these categories on the ways cultural groups live and interact today.

Students might organize their information using a chart like the sample below:

Cultural Group Social Effects of DiscriminationPolitical Effects of DiscriminationEconomic Effects of DiscriminationPresent Impact
African-Americans Endured substandard facilities through legalized segregation; general public acceptance of discrimination based on raceJim Crow laws legalized segregationSegregation limited economic opportunities, kept many African-Americans in a lower economic status Continued racial tension; relatively few African-Americans hold public office; and many African-Americans continue to struggle economically

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark C: Analyze the ways that contacts between people of different cultures result in exchanges of cultural practices.

Benchmark C: Analyze the ways that contacts between people of different cultures result in exchanges of cultural practices.

Due to advances in transportation and communication, we have witnessed a rise in the pace and scale of cultural diffusion. Help students understand that cultural diffusion has an impact on more than just popular culture.

Understand the causes of cultural diffusion -- Advances in communication have enabled people around the world to communicate faster and more effectively.

Help students identify advances in communication. Examine the impact of these advances by using the following ideas to spark class discussion.

Advances in CommunicationHow this has enabled Cultural Diffusion
Access to television and radioCheaper prices for television and radio have allowed more people to see and hear about different cultures. Trends from one culture may affect a second culture, until they become part of that second culture.
Access to computer technologyAffordable computers and computer components have allowed more people to create and distribute information and to spread different cultural beliefs.
Development of the InternetThe Internet has enabled the instantaneous transmission of information and news. Reactions to news events can be broadcast immediately, and public opinion can be shared across cultures. Users of the Internet can acquire goods and services from various parts of the globe, and products are quickly adopted and accepted across cultures.

Faster and cheaper transportation has allowed more people to travel around the world. Greater trading of regional products has also contributed to cultural diffusion.

Students can identify advances in transportation and discuss the impact of these advances:

Advances in TransportationHow this has Enabled Cultural Diffusion
Cheaper air travelAccess to air travel has allowed more people and goods to travel across the world, increasing tourism and interest in other cultures.
Development of space travelVarious countries have cooperated in the exploration of space and the development of an international space station. These efforts have linked people across cultural and political barriers.
Cheaper and more efficient automobilesMore people own cars, allowing greater travel across lands and easier access to more remote parts of the world.

Understand the effects of diffusion due to advances in communication and transportation. --

  • Globalization: Globalization is the act, process or policy of making something worldwide in scope or application. Globalization has allowed businesses to spread into markets across the world. Because advances in transportation have increased the speed and efficiency with which products can be imported and exported, it's no longer a surprise to see western companies sprout up in Asian, Latin American or African cities, just as it's no longer unusual to see Asian, African or Latin American products on sale in North American or European stores. Improvements in communication have made it easier for businesses and governments to communicate internationally with speed and clarity about products and policies.
  • Cooperation: The spread of cultural practices and ideas and the desires for worldwide influence have led to alliances and partnerships. For example, international groups cooperate by providing economic aid for a natural disaster. Groups like the International Red Cross can use such resources as the Internet to more effectively solicit donations and communicate information and news about disaster preparedness and safety. Such groups can also quickly transport people and goods to areas that are in need.
  • Collective security: Greater ease of travel has led to more trafficking of drugs, weapons and even of people. As a result, we face an ongoing worldwide threat to our collective security. In addition to utilizing advances in transportation, terrorists and other criminals have used the media to intensify the power of their threats.
  • Religion: We can trace the origins of major world religions and the spread of religious beliefs and influence across the world. Initially, major religions like Christianity spread through colonization, missionary work and religious crusades. Today, the spread of religious beliefs is facilitated by immigration and cheaper transportation. The media has also worked to spread knowledge and practice of religious beliefs. People receive religious messages through televised sermons, radio shows and literature.

Understand diffusion through the example of immigration in the United States -- Have students explore how immigration has spread people, ideas, technology and products throughout the United States. Consider the following categories:

  • Housing Patterns: Cultural communities have formed in many cities; for example, Chinatown and Little Italy have formed in New York City. Some immigrants have moved periodically to follow the seasonal availability of jobs.
  • Political Affiliation: Because it is assumed that immigrants share strong cultural and community ties, many politicians recognize immigrants as a group that can have strong political influence. As a result, some political parties seek the immigrant vote.
  • Language: Some cities and towns offer signs and labels translated into several different languages, particularly (in many parts of the country) Spanish. Some people believe that it is necessary to offer second language support to immigrants. Other people believe that it is the responsibility of those who are immigrating to the United States to learn English without these supports.
  • Religion: As immigrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia arrive in the United States, religious communities to support them have emerged. In recent years Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu communities have grown throughout the country. The spread of religious communities and practices has sometimes led to discrimination.

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.



Help With Fundamentals

These activities can help you address the fundamentals with your students.

Activity 1

Investigating Cultural Perspective in the Historic Actions and Responses of Groups

Help students see how a person's culture shapes his or her response to historical events. Prepare a list of historical events for students to consider. Ask them to identify different cultural groups who may have been affected. Have students consider each group's viewpoint, and any action the group took in response to the event. Students can practice this activity by completing the following chart to organize their thinking:

Historical Event Cultural Groups AffectedPoint of View of the Cultural GroupsAction taken by Groups in Response to Event

Students can reflect on the viewpoints that they considered and draw conclusions by asking:

  • How do various cultural groups view the same events differently?
  • How does cultural perspective influence actions taken in response to an event?
Activity 2

Identify Forms of Oppression

Help students identify examples of oppression throughout history and its lasting effects on society today. Begin by helping students understand that discrimination is unfair treatment of a person or group based on prejudice, while oppression is a series of harsh, unfair, burdensome acts or demands.

Help students understand the effects of oppression on a social group. Ask students to consider an example: Have you ever watched a bully force someone to do something? How does that person react? What are the consequences of the bully's actions on the person being bullied? Explain that acts of oppression are just the acts of a bully: using unjust authority to keep someone or some group of people in hardship and under control. Have students list ways that indigenous peoples have been oppressed by colonizers. They can consider how indigenous peoples have been oppressed politically, culturally, and economically.

As a next step, put students into groups and ask them to draw conclusions about the long-term effects of oppression. Ask such questions as:

  • How has past social oppression affected the interactions of cultural groups today?
  • How has past political oppression limited the political success of cultural groups today?
  • How has past economic oppression limited the economic success of cultural groups today?
Activity 3

Identifying Cultural Diffusion in Your Neighborhood

Ask students to spend a couple of days identifying different cultures in their towns or neighborhoods. They may visit stores to note the availability of products from different cultures and regions around the world. Or, they could search a public library for foreign language newspapers or magazines that reflect trends from various cultures. Ask them to keep track of stores, restaurants and places of worship that reflect different cultural perspectives. After students have gathered and recorded examples, have them share the ways that other cultures are part of their daily lives and experiences. Discuss examples of products, periodicals and places that may be accepted within a particular cultural community but not diffused into society in general (such as a German-language newspaper) and those that can be said to have been adopted by the society at large (diffused), such as Mexican restaurants.

Additional Instruction and Practice

These activities may be useful for students who require additional instruction and practice.

Activity 1

Analyze the Impact of Cultural Groups

Have students identify the political and social changes brought about by various political action groups. Students can consider such groups as:

  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People;
  • National Organization for Women;
  • American Indian Movement;
  • United Farm Workers.

For each group studied, have students identify the group's:

  • Founders;
  • Initial goals and the cultural perspectives that the groups hoped to advance;
  • Important events and achievements;
  • Current goals.

Students can draw conclusions about the impact of these groups by asking, "How is life in the United States today different as a result of the actions taken by this group?"

Activity 2

Research Indigenous Cultures Around the World

Students can research and analyze surviving indigenous cultures. They can extend their research to trace how their assigned culture has adapted to cultural contact and exchange, or how the culture has remained unchanged throughout history. Ask students to consider:

  • The influence of the culture's perspectives on their actions;
  • The consequences of oppression, discrimination and conflict on this culture;
  • The ways that contacts with other cultures led to exchanges of cultural practices or how isolation from other cultures has limited exchange.
Activity 3

Create a Presentation

A cultural practice is a pattern of behavior accepted by a society. Throughout history, people have exchanged cultural experiences, ideas, values and goods through trade and migrations. Have students research exchanges of cultural practices, such as language or art, and the various means by which exchanges of cultural practices take place, such as advances in technology or communication and transportation. Alternately, students might choose to discuss how different cultures might deal with the same social issue, such as standards of beauty. Students should create presentations to be given in class.

Advanced Work

These activities can help your students reach the next level in their understanding.

Activity 1

Role-Play a Model United Nations General Assembly

Create a classroom forum similar to a United Nations General Assembly in which students are asked to present particular cultural perspectives on a chosen historical event. Assign representatives from both sides of historical events in which there were different cultural perspectives, including:

  • Creation of the state of Israel;
  • Partition of India and Pakistan;
  • Reunification of Germany;
  • End of apartheid in South Africa.

Students must be prepared to articulate and defend their assigned viewpoint. Ask students to share their research that verifies the accuracy of the cultural perspective they portrayed. Members of the class not participating in the immediate presentation can be asked to evaluate the presentation and make a recommendation for action as though they were members of the United Nations.

Activity 2

Analyze the Exploitation of Native Indigenous People by European Colonizers in the United States of America

Students can trace the exploitation of Native Americans that resulted from interaction with European colonizers. Assign students a particular Native American culture or region. They can research how Native Americans of a particular region fared when contact between cultures was first made. They can trace how that group of Native Americans was treated by the newly independent United States of America. They can also trace how American governmental policies affected Native lands and forced cultural assimilation. Finally, students can research the lifestyle of Native Americans today. Students should ask themselves, how did oppression of Native Americans affect their culture? Has that changed in recent years, and if so, how? Students can present their findings in a report or presentation to the class.

Activity 3

Explore Cultural Exchange

Ask students to consider examples of cultural exchange or diffusion that are evident in historical record. In addition, have students predict ideas, technology, and products that will spread in the future. Students should identify one idea, one example of technology, and one product, and they should be able to explain the impact that these will have. What cultural practices will be altered? How might cultures change as a result of these exchanges? Students can present their findings through a written report or through a multimedia presentation.