I’m willing to bet that Thanksgiving lessons – or any similar incompatible holiday in your world language class – have brought this question sharply into focus for you: how do I teach better, more relevant French culture lessons? What’s the secret to teaching culture in Spanish class? How can I get students to appreciate the richness of Japanese culture in my language class when grammar goals are taking up so much of my time?
What’s the secret to successful culture lessons – especially in the target language?
Through my years being a Spanish and French teacher, and now a teacher coach and consultant, I’ve found that there are specific keys and elements to gripping, fascinating, and rich culture lessons for French, Spanish, or any language you teach. Even better, it is indeed possible to make specific and measurable goals for your student’s growth in their cultural understanding of the target culture through specific tools from the ACTFL 5 Cs of Cultural Competency.
And we’re finishing with a quick and easy tool to instantly make your culture classes reach better depths of empathy and intercultural competence. What are they? The ACTFL tools of Performance Indicators (Can-Do Statements, really) and Enduring Understandings. Let’s dive in!
3 secrets for excellent French culture lessons
Thanksgiving for me was always the worst time to teach culture. I mean…verb turkeys? Really?
So I started digging and found out that even though this is definitely not a global tradition, there are many Francophone and Hispanic cultural traditions worth talking about in the real way.
Using some simple principles, we can more easily make time for culture, make it more accessible, comprehensible, and wildly engaging with 3 important elements.
Here are my 3 secrets for excellent French culture lessons and for all world language:
- go deep, not wide : research what a certain town does, go hard on what one single culture celebrates or remembers, instead of trying to cover and generalize. Students don’t need to know everything to fall in love with it. They’ll more easily fall in love with the details – just like you did!
- show, don’t tell : let photos, videos, articles, and quotes tell the story for you whenever possible. I do like to sum these up for levels 1 and 2 just for ease of teaching with some simple paragraphs, but the showing comes first. Students will want to solve the mystery of what it’s all about when they see new things. You telling them is like giving away the end of the movie. Let the story unfold before them by only giving away bits and pieces as you show them beautiful pictures, delicious dishes, and fascinating clips.
- give students an opportunity to ask big questions and explore it for themselves : the PBL (project based learning) peeps are the best at this. I used to ask them to do a little informal digging on their own by giving them some guiding questions. Here’s how you can make this work in level 1 when talking about big questions. Instead of asking “why do they do this?” ask for more interpretive answers. Here’s an example for teaching culture in Spanish class: “Do all Puerto Ricans like celebrating American holidays? Yes or no?” Asking the question alone will get them thinking about the relationship between PR and the US.
Enduring Understanding – ACTFL Concept
What is an enduring understanding? I’m going to answer your question by asking a question. “Want to stop putting culture in the corner?” Like we all do. Enduring understandings helps to do that. They measure and define what your students absorbed about the world around them after your unit. They measure it concretely. So, what do they believe now about the world after the unit that you presented to them and the unit that they participated in? This term comes to us from ACTFL in their standards for unit design.
The reason we teach world languages
Here’s another way to say it. What is the life lesson that learners will take from the activity or unit that you’re doing? What will transform their knowledge and understanding of themselves in the world? AKA, why are they here? What’s the whole point of world language? Because that’s really why we’re here, right? The reason we learn languages is to learn and understand other people and other ways of living and being. If that’s the whole reason why we have this class, then we better be measuring that and finding a way to incorporate it into all of our units. But that’s hard to do. So, an enduring understanding helps to make that concrete for us.
When teaching culture in Spanish class or or creating French culture lessons about Francophone cities, you truly can measure a student’s progress.
Enduring Understanding Example
Let me give you an example here. Let’s say that we’re working with a recycling unit. In this unit, students will explore ways to help the planet. So, they’re going to be learning vocabulary about the earth and recycling, all that good stuff. They’ll maybe compare the ways that people help the planet in their home country and a target language-speaking country. So, that’s a really common generic description of a unit and why people would be talking about recycling that whole deal. Here’s an example of how all this might work. An enduring understanding paired with a performance indicator. Both of these terms are at full terms. You can look them up. But the performance indicator just shows what proficiency level students are at.
ACTFL Performance Indicators for Cultural Goals
So, for interculturality to investigate novice, we’re looking at this one. In my own and other cultures, I can identify good and bad ways that people interact with their environment. That is a great performance indicator. And then the guiding question for this is because these two work in tandem. The enduring understanding is the answer, usually, to your guiding question.
Measure the Effectiveness of Your French Culture Lessons with Essential Questions – Key #5
And the guiding question is something that should have multiple answers to it. If you would like to know more about a guiding question, we don’t have a ton of time to talk about it today. But it’s also a great way to frame your unit. And it’s something that Clemente and Terrell talk about a great deal in their work. Look up that name as well and you’ll find a lot of stuff in there. They do a lot of curriculum and design work.
Essential Question Example:
An essential question is what do people in a target language-speaking country do to look after our planet? And there will probably be a lot of different ways to answer that question. Your enduring understanding of this unit might be something like this. This is a very open-ended thing, but you should be able to measure it pretty concretely with whether a student is there or not.
Enduring Understanding Example:
For me, when it comes to talking about how people view the importance of climate change and recycling you could even measure that as very, very different opinions and beliefs on that in just different pockets. In the area where I live, economy, geography, and access to information impact the way that people interact with nature. That’s a huge part of it. So, that is something that I would say I would want students to understand.
It has nothing to do with some of the other things that stereotypically might be put out there about recycling. There are far more factors in there. And that is your example of an enduring understanding because I want to drive home this important point.
Teaching Culture In Spanish Class Doesn’t Have to Be Vague
Cultural gains, which is my slang for intercultural competency are not abstract. This is the main purpose of our classroom, so let’s remove any ambiguity from it. When the end of the unit comes, can you measure if the student has this understanding of the world? If the answer is no, then we need a tool to measure it and you have it, the enduring understandings. Are they still in their more limited worldview than before the unit happened? If so, if they still have the same perspective as when you started the unit, then your unit didn’t achieve its goal. Or maybe your student, you know, didn’t do what they needed to do to learn that enduring understanding. There’s that too. But now you have a way to measure it like you should have everything.
More Resources for Teaching Culture in Spanish Class:
Ready to try these out for yourself right away in your next Spanish class culture lessons and projects? Check out these posts and resources:
- Virtual Field Trips in Spanish Class
- Free Spanish Teacher Resources
- Springtime Spanish Class Activities
- Spanish Navidad Activities
- Día de Muertos Activities
- Día de la Raza Activities
- Songs for Hispanic Heritage Month
More Resources for French Culture Lessons:
Ready to try these out for yourself right away in your next French culture lessons and projects? Check out these posts and resources:
- Virtual Field Trips in French Class
- Free French Resources
- French Songs for Class
- French Activities for Mardi Gras
- French Christmas Activities
Easy World Language Resources for Culture Lessons:
Keeping all of these keys in mind is tough on top of all your teaching responsibilities. With the world language teacher treasure chest, you can get access to over 110+ resources, including many culture lessons in the target language, with a simple monthly membership. Find more information here.
Free Conference for World Language Teachers
If you’re ready to jump in and get started with proficiency and teaching with comprehensible input, I have another resource to help you on your journey below:
Sign Up for the Next Practical & Comprehensible Free Virtual Conference! Every year, I gather together the best and brightest in the field of world language to share with you how to switch to proficiency through comprehensible input. All with practical ideas that you can use tomorrow. It’s a FREE virtual conference – join the waitlist and find out more about the speakers here.
Thanks for learning more about world language culture lessons in both Spanish and French class!
Rooting for you,