Adventures in Different Ways to Teach Culture

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I’m coming at you to share the 4 ways that I approach teaching culture – but I want to start with a REMINDER – You and I are different people… even though we’re both really awesome 😉 our classrooms are different places with different students from different places. So, what works for me, might need to be tweaked by you to best serve your students – and that’s 100% okay! But here we go – 4 ways that I work in culture into my curriculum.

When I first became a WL teacher, I was told I HAD to teach culture as its own unit. So overwhelming! I didn’t feel like I knew enough about ANY culture topic, let alone to teach it as an entire unit. I ended up trying to learn just to teach – it wasn’t enjoyable. 8 years later, I have found that teaching culture through cultural topics I enjoy, is a better approach for me AND my students! My students love learning about culture through topics like natural treasures and protected lands & animals of Latin America. In Colorado, we love our outdoors and nature – so I capitalize on it in my classroom. And I actually do teach this as a whole unit- it’s a win, win! 🥳

It’s okay to double dip! This is something I enjoy doing now – for example, when I teach or review the Sweet 16 verbs in Spanish 2, I do it with a unit that talks about various superstitions in Latin America, including the “red string.” (also available in French here!) The concept of the red string and “Good luck” or “protection” is intriguing for my students. That’s the trick: How can you sneak in little cultural tidbits that will get your students curious and wanting to know more?

While I enjoy the first two ways, this is probably my favorite and most used way across the three levels I currently teach (Level 1 – 3 in middle school!). Since middle schoolers (ehm… most people) have short attention spans, dedicating time to whole units all the time isn’t feasible… and embedding content just doesn’t cover all I want to cover. So now I dedicate 1 or 2 days to a topic – like La Mascarada in Costa Rica or Semana Santa around the world! I can pull LOTS of cool pieces of information about the celebrations or traditions, drop them in a Gallery Walk, and let students choose their own learning adventure! The best part? If students don’t get to all of them, it’s okay. They aren’t being tested, just learning fun, new things – and that’s motivating for them!

My goal for all of these methods is to stay in the target language (for me, Spanish) as much as possible while teaching culture. So how do you do that with Level 1 students that just walked in your door and don’t know any language? You give them the language! Games like Yo tengo, ¿quién tiene? and BINGO are my favorite way to give students just a little vocabulary to begin to talk about pieces of a celebration or tradition. Engaging games allow students to grab onto a few words that they’ll carry with them while giving us a fun class day, it’s a win for everyone!

I hope one of these methods – or more – resonate with you. I’d love to hear what you’re trying and what’s working for you in your classroom in the comments!

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