The Culture Connection: Linking Language, Learners, & Life

Presented by Cherice Montgomery, Ph.D., Brigham Young University
V Annual BYU Spanish Teacher's Workshop
Tuesday, June 14, 2011 from 1:00 - 2:15 p.m.


In these sessions you will:

  • explore online cultural resources and experiment with engaging tech tools you can use to create meaningful student projects with culture at their core
  • participate in and collaboratively create culturally-infused activities that develop the proficiency of beginning level learners
  • use the rich cultural and linguistic resources that children's literature provides to motivate communication in your classroom

Guiding Questions:

These sessions will address the following essential questions:

1) What is culture?

2) Why is it important to embed culture in second language lessons?

3) How might teachers design opportunities for students to experience and explore culture in meaningful ways that develop students' proficiency in Spanish? Annenberg - El triángulo cultural

4) How might teachers guard against reinforcing stereotypes and prejudices when teaching culture?

5) How might teachers assist students in recognizing the diversity that exists within the target culture (i.e., avoid overgeneralizations)?

Key Principles:

  • Activate Prior Knowledge & Experiences - Build on what students already know about their own culture to help them understand cultural ideas and practices that are new to them. Start locally and then build (i.e., self, families, communities, nations). Teach them that they have a culture (i.e., how would they respond to the idea of eating chicken soup on Thanksgiving?)

  • Avoid Stereotypes- Purposefully provide counterexamples to stereotypes and over-generalizations. Try to avoid absolutes (i.e. "All French people . . . ."), "othering" (objectifying the other culture or separating "US" from "THEM," often with the intent to criticize or pass value judgments), "exoticizing" (i.e., emphasizing only what grabs attention or will be perceived as strange or weird by students), "trivializing" (i.e., presenting only what is quaint or silly) or "political bias." You can "type" without "stereotyping."

  • Compare, Don't Just Contrast- Present both similarities and differences between the target culture and the dominant culture of your students (i.e., refrain from "othering" the target culture by emphasizing solely the differences).

  • Critically Evaluate Texts - Consider the cultural content (or lack thereof) embedded in the texts you choose to use

  • Elicit & Challenge Incomplete or Mistaken Information- Uncover students' mental models about culture by giving them opportunities to talk about their own culture. Address their misconceptions respectfully. Offer students multiple examples/representations of the phenomena under study so they can see the diversity that exists within the target culture. Be sure to address both "big C and little c" culture.

  • Embed Culture in EVERY Activity

  • Highlight Connections & Relationships - Focus on the relationships between products, practices, and perspectives in the target culture rather than considering each one separately and in isolation.

  • "Make the Familiar Strange" - Encourage students to examine their own culture from the perspective of an "outsider."

  • "Normalize" the Target Culture - Use culturally authentic images and materials on a regular basis. Try not to "frame" or "teach" the culture as something that needs to be separated or "pulled out" each time (from Deanna Mihalyi)

  • Prioritize Perspectives- Encourage students to examine how the beliefs, values, historical events, and physical conditions of the culture influence the logic behind what and how people do things.

1: Explore

  • Children's Songs
  • Music
  • Nursery Rhymes
  • Resources
  • AudiriaLogo.gif- A collection of multimedia texts from a variety of different sources (movies, radio, songs, TV) that teachers can use as the basis for activities

    BLAALogo.jpg - Extensive library of digital texts (including children's literature and museums) from Colombia

    GlencoeOnlineLogo.gif - Culture-based websites in Spanish

    GlossLogo.jpg - Searchable database of language maintenance/proficiency development lessons (reading and listening) in a wide variety of languages. Allows you to limit the search to video-based lessons. Click on the individual links to launch the lesson modules

    KennedyCenterLogo.gif - Check out CDs of music, content materials, culture kits, flags, and/or maps from the Outreach Resource Library at BYU's Kennedy Center for free. The Center can also help you schedule free presentations for your classroom regarding specific countries. You may also wish to explore their CultureGuides--conuntry-specific teaching units for both elementary and secondary classes

    LanicLogo.jpg - Latin American Network Information Center - Extensive list of texts in Spanish & Portuguese (organized by country)

    OpenCultureLogo.jpg- List of audio courses and podcasts in a variety of languages, including Spanish & Portuguese

    QuinoLogo.jpg - Site in Argentina containing Quino comics & Mafalda videos

ZambombazoLogo.png - Blog by Zachary Jones with links to materials in Spanish that reflect popular culture

2: Evaluate

  • Cultural Accuracy, Authenticity, Currency, & Quality
  • Pedagogical Possibilities
  • Creativity & Critical Thinking

Discussion Forums

3: Search

18 Free Ways to Download Any Video Off the Internet

DeliciousLogo.jpg- Links

DiigoLogo.jpg - Links

DotSubLogo.jpg - Videos

NewseumLogo.jpg - Today's front pages from newspapers around the world

PlaylistLogo.jpg - Music

SchoolTubeLogo.jpg - Videos

ScribdLogo.png - Documents

SlideshareLogo.gif- Presentations

StockXchngLogo.gif - Images

TeacherTubeLogo.gif - Videos

ViddlerLogo.jpg - Videos

YouTubeLogo.jpg- Videos

4: Share

Discussion Forums

18 Free Ways to Download Any Video Off the Internet

ZamzarLogo.jpg - Allows you to convert and then download to the hard drive on your computer the videos you find online

  • Three cultural photos (Bonus: Highlight a specific grammatical structure)
  • One quiz question
  • One caption in the center

Your turn!
PhotopeachLogo.jpg (Other tech tool options)

B: Inspired by Culture:

Planning Powerful, Proficiency-based Activities

  • Learning is the process of forming associations and connections
  • The formation of associations and connections comes from the interaction between thinking and doing
  • The need for interaction between thinking and doing means our planning must focus on STUDENTS
  • A focus on students means we must focus on creating conditions that foster learning
  • Thematic planning is one way to create the conditions essential for learning

In other words, ". . . the selection of a material or activity is also the selection of an array of forces that will influence how students will be challenged to think . . . . The curriculum is a mind-altering device" (Eisner, pp. 13, 72).

"In the absence of our clear intention, our willingness to consciously change the settings of the world we are creating, the default culture is decisive" (Block, 2003, p. 143).

It is not about doing more, it is about layering what you do so that it has more impact.
Paso a paso--what is your very next step? Textbook-->supplemental resources-->culture-->connections and comparisons-->communication and interaction-->communities-->integration

The Power of Understanding (Duplicate, Adapt, Innovate)

What is the difference between a topic and a theme?
  • Topic: Tells students what they are going to talk about
  • Theme: Encourages students to explore the significance of some aspect of a topic for themselves, their community, and/or for others

Jane Harper, Mary K. Williams, Madeline G. Lively. From Topic to Theme.



C: Cultivating Communication Through Children's Literature

Children's Literature Page

  • Edit the task, not the text
  • Make multiple passes through the text for different purposes
  • Focus on meaning first, then form
  • Don't "teach" grammar, draw students' attention to patterns in the language
  • Make input comprehensible


La hora de Francisca - Excusas
La hora de Francisca - Predicciones
El secreto en la caja de fósforos - Describe & Draw
El secreto en la caja de fósforos - Si un dragón viniera a la escuela

During Reading:

Historias del arte

Book exploration time


ColorsLogo.png - Magazine available in English and the language of your choice. Each issue is organized around a conceptual theme. Excellent visuals make great bulletin board material if you buy these in your local bookstore instead of viewing online. CAUTION: Much of the material in these magazines is NOT appropriate for classroom use, so teachers should preview and select carefully.

ConversarSinParar.jpg - Series of group conversation activities (mostly discussions and debates) organized around themes such as immigration, organ donation, war, etc.

MaterialesLogo.jpg - Magazine produced by the Embassy of Spain (also available through the Spanish Resource Center)

Thematic Units from the National K-12 Foreign Language Resources Center