How teachers can D.I.V.E. into intercultural topics

by Melissa Liles, Chief Education Officer, AFS Intercultural Programs

In this article you will:

  • Learn about conducting a lesson in your classroom on intercultural learning topics,
  • Learn how to use this lesson plan to develop critical thinking, suspend judgement, and inspire curiosity in high school students,
  • Adopt a new practical tool to use when encountering differences in everyday life to have more effective, appropriate and meaningful interactions with others.
photo by: Guillaume Kerhervé, AFSFrance

Curriculums around the world must become more global-minded to adequately help students develop a global worldview and master intercultural skills. This challenge is becoming increasingly urgent as we prepare for the expansion of the worldwide Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) that will test global competence beginning in 2018. Equally important, a growing body of scientific evidence shows employers across professions need workers skilled to collaborate across difference and complexity.

Although many educators and others who work with young people feel unprepared to infuse intercultural learning in their classrooms or activities, getting started is easier than ever with the tools and resources available. (See How to Integrate Intercultural Learning Into Your Classroom for ways to get started).

This practical lesson plan will help teachers nudge critical thinking, suspend judgement, and foster curiosity — all considered crucial for global and intercultural competence — in your students. You might even find the exercise useful yourself.

Called The Other Side of the Net, this lesson plan focuses on how to more effectively and appropriately react to new or “out of the norm” behaviors, situations or people that we encounter in our daily lives. While it may be easier (and more comfortable) to stick with what we’re used to, being more interculturally competent requires pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and taking a few extra steps before passing judgement and taking action.

The Describe, Interpret, Verify, Evaluate (D.I.V.E.) tool helps people consider multiple perspectives when confronted with unfamiliar intercultural situations or ambiguous circumstances. You can find out all about this tool and its history in the Intercultural Learning for AFS & Friends Library (specifically, check out Tools to Suspend Judgement). It is important to have a thorough understanding of the D.I.V.E. tool and how it works, before conducting the activity with your class.

D.I.V.E is designed to help individuals:

  1. Learn to temporarily suspend judgement and verify insights before making a final assessment or taking action
  2. Help them navigate situations where they encounter something or someone different in everyday life to have more effective, appropriate and meaningful interactions with others

LESSON PLAN: “The Other Side of the Net”

This lesson plan was developed by AFS education experts Nadia Bello Rinaudo (Argentina), Eva Vitkova (Czech Republic), and Sarah Collins (U.S.A.) There are many possible variations in how the D.I.V.E. exercise can be conducted. This lesson plan is based on our successful experiences facilitating this activity around the world.

Target audience: students ages 15–18

Group size: 15–30 students

Time: 55 min

Materials: “The Other Side of the Net” image (see Resources) projected on a wall/large screen or print-outs of the picture; A different picture of your choosing; Flipchart paper or a white- or blackboard; 3 different colored markers/chalk


When we encounter a new or strange (to us) situation, person or object, instead of being curious and trying to better understand what is going on, whether for convenience or otherwise, we may jump straight to quick conclusions rooted in our own perspectives, even if they are incomplete or simplified. The media, our family members, or even peers may reinforce this approach.

Using an image from the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil that sparked debate about cultural differences in sports worldwide, we introduce the Describe, Interpret, Verify, Evaluate (D.I.V.E.) approach, a powerful reflection tool that students can use when confronted with difference or novelty. It invites us to suspend or delay judgment and explore the issue at hand with an open mind and heart, gather multiple perspectives, and only then, from a more informed position, take action or draw conclusions.

Part I (15 mins)

Begin this activity by explaining to students that together you will engage in an activity to explore how we see the world and experience differences, and how we can opt to react with our first instincts or take a more global-minded approach.

Distribute printouts of the image “The Other Side of the Net” or display the image on the screen, and instruct participants to look at the photo taken at a beach volleyball game at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Copyright: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters. Doaa Elghobashy, left, of Egypt and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany compete in the women’s preliminary beach volleyball during the Olympics in Rio.

Ask the students to tell you something about this image, and capture their answers on the flipchart or board. It is important that you not ask leading questions or give them clues here, only respond with, “What else?” as you write down everything they say. Let them know that you will return to this image and their thoughts in a minute.

Explain that we often tend to analyze reality from our own point of view and make what can be premature judgments or conclusions based on our own personal values or the values of a group of people that we identify with. In fact, it’s human nature to jump to conclusions and classify what we see, and it’s very hard to control our subconscious, “gut” reactions. However, one way to help us slow down and try to remain objective especially in the face of something new or different is to use the D.I.V.E. tool.

Explain the four steps of the D.I.V.E. tool, one by one, as described in the Tools to Suspend Judgment document.

  • Describe: Describe what you see, sticking to objective and observable facts.
  • Interpret: Think of the various interpretations or explanations as to what is happening, or any assumptions you have about what you described. Try to come up with at least three interpretations.
  • Verify: Here we verify whether our interpretations are correct or not with one or more “(cultural) informants.” These are reliable people or sources with insights into the culture(s) or situation.
  • Evaluate: This is where you evaluate your interpretations, decide what value they have to you or how you feel about the situation now that you have more information.

Return to the students’ comments about the “Other Side of the Net” picture. Show that what they said can be divided into either a Description, Interpretation or Evaluation and use different colored markers/chalk to circle the descriptions, interpretations and evaluations accordingly. This demonstrates how, they may have jumped straight to interpretations or evaluations. However, pausing and using the D.I.V.E. will allow them to be more thoughtful, which generally leads to being more accurate when the place, person or circumstances are unfamiliar.

Additionally, ask the students how they might verify their interpretations of this picture. We can verify with a cultural informant, be it a person or another trustworthy source of information. It’s important to verify, ideally from multiple sources, so that we see if our interpretations are accurate before we decide how we feel about them. Verification can also push us out of our comfort zone by encouraging us to use new resources or talk to people who might have more context of a particular situation. We must keep in mind, however, that cultural informants can also be biased and may not might not have a complete picture themselves. This is why using multiple resources is preferable.

photo by AFS USA

Part II (20 mins)

Now that the students understand the D.I.V.E. steps, break them up into groups of four or five and distribute a different picture (see examples below). Have them repeat the above exercise, but this time writing down their answers for each step of the D.I.V.E. Once done, students should report back as a group and review whether the classifications are accurate: Are there evaluations in the description category? Are interpretations listed as evaluations?

Next, compare some of the descriptions, interpretations and evaluations of the picture across the different groups. What do these have in common? How are they different? Did they have the opportunity to verify their interpretations of this image? What did they learn?

Finally, the students will be curious about the “real” interpretation of the picture. After they report back, you can share the photographer’s interpretation of the situation in the image, if this information is available to you.

Part III (20 mins)

The final reflection is perhaps the most important part of the lesson as it helps students make meaning of the activities. You can do this by inviting participants to share their answers to one or all of the following questions:

  • What is your key takeaway from this activity?
  • How easy or difficult was it for you to differentiate between descriptions, interpretations and evaluations?
  • How did hearing what your classmates thought were descriptions, interpretations and evaluations change your own considerations?
  • How can you use this tool in in your everyday life?


Consider taking this discussion even further by asking students to find articles in your national or local media referring to the picture from the Olympic Games and then discuss their findings in your next class.


  • Explanation of D.I.V.E. and its origins: Intercultural Learning for AFS & Friends series — Tools to Suspend Judgment
  • Nam, K-A; Condon, J. The DIE is cast: The continuing evolution of intercultural communication’s favorite classroom exercise, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, v. 34, n. 1, 2010, p. 81–87
  • How are Intercultural Skills Valued in the Workplace? — this article summarizes three research studies which demonstrate that employers value intercultural skills
  • More pictures suitable for D.I.V.E. exercise

READ NEXT: Benefits of an Intercultural Classroom



AFS Intercultural Program
Connect: Intercultural Insights for Global Citizens

AFS is a community of 50+ Partner organizations, supported by 44,000 volunteers worldwide, who provide global exchange and intercultural opportunities.