I ask my students a lot of questions. I want them to think. I also what to know what they know. I ask them if they know where their food comes from and who makes their clothes and shoes. I ask them about places and people. The answers are sometimes amusing and sometimes frustrating. The answer to question one above was in fact what the student thought ("This is a trick question, right?") but the second illustrates something quite different. I find that knowledge of history and geography are really weak. This saddens me a great deal.
I grew up in a homogeneous small town, from which I was rescued by my grandparents with a subscription to National Geographic. Bored no longer, I explored the world and continue to do so. My older ESL students have come from all over the world and my knowledge of their cultures and customs has made for a satisfying and productive experience on both sides. They know first hand about the shrinking world and the importance of knowing other countries and cultures. Many were brought here by business, hence the need for better English.
So even when the call is for improving a student's reading or writing I try to include history and geography.
What I have found is, it is very effective to get the students interested and motivated, for every grade level. Writing assignments about the countries classmates come from, or the history of spaghetti produce enthusiasm, interesting work and even requests for new spelling words! When I think that in the future my students may find them selves drilling oil in Azerbaijan or buying sustainable timber in Indonesia or working with robots from Japan I hope their explorations with me will have helped prepare them.