Cultural Protocols in Everyday Life

Overview and Background

Overview and Background


Students will learn that there are protocols or preferred behaviors that we all use in our lives. These protocols can apply to everyone we come in contact with in our daily life (for instance, most Americans customarily say "hello," "good morning," "thank-you" or "you're welcome"). They can also apply to customary practices of a smaller subset of the population (such as members of particular religions, who may wish each other a "Happy Easter" or "L'Shana Tovah", or those individuals who have been instructed since childhood to take their shoes off when they enter a home).  The more we recognize that there are protocols in everyday life, and learn about each others' cultural protocols, the more we can learn to work together respectfully.

Class time needed

This learning center can take one or two class periods, or can extend throughout an entire term, depending on the teacher's preference.

Example 1: Museum programs

Cultural Protocols may take many different forms. In this photo, we see Tobias Vanderhoop of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah performing a chant in the Peabody Essex Museum's exhibition "Intersections: Native American Art in a New Light." This protocol was conducted as part of the opening activities for the exhibition, which acknowledged both the traditions of the Native American people and those of the Peabody Essex Museum. Here we can see the audience listening respectfully while Mr. Vanderhoop honors the Native people of the region and welcomes the guests to the event. Prior to the opening of the exhibition that evening, Mr. Vanderhoop, along with other Native Americans and Peabody Essex Museum staff, participated in a modified smudge ceremony to purify the exhibiton space and cleanse it of negative energies, spirits or influences.This was another Native American cultural protocol.



Student objectives and activities

  • Students should be prepared to conduct research at home, in the classroom among their fellow students, and/or on the internet.
  • At the end of the first class, students should be able to recognize at least one protocol that seems universal in their experience, and two or three protocols from other cultures, as a result of their research.
  • At the end of the first class, students should be able to write or say their own definition of "cultural protocol".

Example 2: Museum collections

Cultural objects in museum collections, although they often represent an earlier time period, may continue to have significance for the people whose culture created them.  That is the case with the object pictured to the right.  When Native Hawaiian people come to the Peabody Essex Museum, they honor this temple image of Kuka'ilimoku with gifts from their homeland.  The museum works with the Native Hawaiian people to allow certain protocols to take place within the exhibition and storage areas whenever possible. 


Classroom Activities

Classroom Activities


  1. After introducing the two examples of protocols on the previous page with students, ask them to come up with a definition of the word "protocol." Ask for examples of protocols in their lives. Prompt them if necessary.
  2. Have students interview each other in small groups so they can generate a list of protocols represented by your class.  Encourage students to include both common protocols that everyone shares and culture- or age-specific protocols. Challenge them to tell you about one protocol that they regularly use that you as an adult might not be aware of.
  3. If necessary, provide prompts for student interviews. For instance, they might inquire about other languages spoken at home, special holidays celebrated, special clothes that are worn or foods eaten. 
  4. After students have generated a list, have them continue to work in their groups to break the list into two columns: universal and sub-cultural. Explain to them that even the universal protocols are culture-based. They are evidence of a general American culture that all students share. Note that these same items would not necessarily appear on a list generated by French students in Paris, for instance.
  5. Gather the students together and share lists. Discuss items that generate disagreement or diverse opinions.
  6. Have students sign up to with a username and a password. They will receive notification of their acceptance to the web site on the email address they indicate that day. The next day in class, have students browse through the Resources tab of this web site to identify other protocols. Each student can gather his or her own list of images by clicking on the word "Save" beneath the chosen resource. This resource will then be deposited on their own My Profile page, which they can access from a tab at the top right hand corner of the page. There is no limit to the number of resources a student can place in his or her profile page.
  7. Students could look on-line for ceremonies and celebrations in different cultures and add their findings to their lists.
  8. Students can interview their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and ask them about specific ways they had to behave when they were children, especially around holidays and life-cycle events (weddings, funerals, etc.).  What was allowed and encouraged, and what was not acceptable?
  9. After researching cultural protocols, ask the class to create a new protocol surrounding an everyday practice (e.g., the protocol related to needing a bathroom break) or a special event such as a holiday that your class will follow.
  10. As a summative assessment activity, have students write about a protocol that they regularly follow. The writing prompt might be, "Whenever I do [fill in with the protocol description], I feel [their own words]." Have students use best writing practices (complete sentences, well crafted paragraphs, descriptive language, complete essay structure).

Photo Gallery of Protocol Behavior

Photo Gallery of Protocol Behavior

Choose one or more photographs from this page. Research them, if possible (most photographs are accompanied by some descriptive or explanatory text). If not, write about the protocol that is depicted in the photograph.


  • The behavior depicted
  • When it would be appropriate
  • Where it came from (region or culture)
  • What its purpose is
  • How it relates to protocols in your own culture, if this is an unfamiliar protocol that you don't normally engage in.

Academic Standards

Academic Standards

National Standards

Geography Standard 4: The Physical and Human Characteristics of Places (view this link for more details).

Geography Standard 5: People Create Regions to Interpret Earth's Complexity (view this link for more details).

Geography Standard 6: Culture and Experience Influence People's Perceptions of Places and Regions (view this link for more details).

Geography Standard 10: The Characteristics, Complexity, and Distribution of Earth's Cultural Mosaics (view this link for more details).

State Standards

To view your state's academic standards and correlate them with this Learning Center, visit this link.