Teaching Culture

When teaching culture, World Language teachers avoid making generalizations or rules. Instead, we show students examples from the culture by sharing authentic documents in order for students to make their own observations and draw their own conclusions. We do our best work when we share multiple authentic documents in an attempt to avoid representing a single story.

I have been showing my students multiple authentic documents on each theme we study so that the students have many views into the culture. Yet when I look at the culture standards in my state’s framework, I realize that to accomplish the intended level of understanding, I need to do some conceptual work with my students around culture.

Novice High Cultural Standards, from the Massachusetts Framework:
In a variety of settings, using the target language exclusively or almost exclusively, with appropriate linguistic scaffolding, students most often succeed but sometimes need help to:
– Analyze products and practices to help understand perspectives within the diverse cultures of the target-language communities.
– Investigate, explain, and reflect on how culture affects identity.
– Investigate, explain, and reflect on the similarities and differences of cultures over time.

I was having trouble working out how to teach these concepts to students in K-12, but luckily I found high-quality materials for free on the Internet. What I have put together for you are examples of these materials. For the most part, I have taken them as they are and made very few edits. For continuity, I made my presentation of the slides very uniform, but the materials are otherwise as I found them. You will find the URL of the site where the resource was found in the speaker notes at the bottom of the slide.

As I worked I noted the enduring understandings and have listed them here as a way for the teacher to keep track of the concepts that these lessons communicate to students.

Enduring understandings:
– Culture manifests in products, practices and perspectives. All three are connected. And, one can look at products and practices to try to understand perspectives.
– Everyone has a culture and everyone is different. People participate in different groups or cultures, which may be defined according to nationality, ethnicity, language, age, social class, gender, religion, political or sexual orientation.
– When one first enters into another culture, one is usually first interacting only with what you can readily see. Sometimes, people make assumptions or develop ideas about another cultural community without really understanding the internal or deep culture that makes up the majority of that culture’s values and beliefs.
– When meeting somebody for the first time, if prejudices are identified, we can try to go beyond them to establish a relationship that goes beyond the stereotypes conveyed by our society.

Stations for communication and culture in French class

What are the reasons teachers use stations? It allows students to be self-directed, groups to collaborate and the teacher to work in small groups. I thought I would try out this strategy and wanted to share my sample lesson on the country of Niger and daily activities with you. Here is my step by step process to make it easy to set up.

Post to your learning management system: 

  • The directions to read to all students– you will need to swap out the links with the ones you make 
  • The presentation Niger 
  • Assign the Kahoot on classroom, students play as an assignment– you will need to copy the game to your Kahoot account first
  • EdPuzzle: Aboubakar au Niger– to assign it on Classroom, you will need to copy it to your account first
  • Link to Aboubakar au Niger video


My version of these stations is for Novice students. I tried to make the activities well supported and super accessible so that stations would go well and we could build on this in the future!

Here is a second example of stations, this time on Senegal and free-time activities.

Photos for discussion in the World Language classroom

Images can be rich and compelling. Looking at them, language learners are encouraged to speak. When discussing images, you can employ Visual Thinking Strategy. Here are some questions to ask students to get you started (and if you want you can research the method further).
– What is going on in this picture?
– What do you see that makes you say that?
– What more can you find?
Validate student interpretations as they go. Every comment is an important addition. Point at what students mention as they say it. Repeat back to students their comments.

Where can you find rich and compelling photos? A resource that will be invaluable to you is the collection of photographs for educators to use for Visual Thinking Strategy from the New York Times. You can start with this slide show of 40 photographs.

For this discussion, I am going to use three photos from that collection to review some ideas for how to choose a photo that can be most useful for conversation. Here are three ideas to keep in mind:
Choose a photo that expresses multiple ideas. For example, don’t choose a photo that is a close up of one being. In this photo there is a parade, house, car and motorcycle. There is a girl in a dress and the color of that dress is compelling. There is emotion expressed in this photo.

From the New York Times

Choose a photo that lends itself to discussion using vocabulary that your students already have. This photo takes place in a classroom. There are students, a teacher, tables, chairs and they are looking at something. There is vocabulary that students have even at the novice level.

From the New York Times

Choose a photo that shows an aspect of culture or that lends itself to a social justice commentary. The last two photos showed two different themes for cultural commentary. The first was the celebration of a quinceañera and the second was a view into the setting of a school. Here is a photo of a human living in an exhibit in a zoo. This photo lends itself to a social justice commentary on habitats in zoos.

From the New York Times

Here are slides with the images I found so that you can easily copy the slide and use them in your classroom. You may want to use a chat mat to help your students. Here is a lesson using photographs to teach about Identity from Learning for Justice. It is from an excellent set of lessons on their site. Let me know in the comments what you keep in mind when choosing a photo for discussion in class and how you use images in class.

Teaching Intercultural Competency

While we are teaching students to communicate in another language we are also teaching them intercultural competency, so that students can learn to interact in other cultures. As I am currently planning lessons I feel fortunate that there has been a lot written on teaching culture and some of the guidance is available for free on the Internet. In this blog post, I will show you free materials that I borrowed from to build my toolbox to teach intercultural connections.

My favorite three activities from: Intercultural Learning Toolbox of Classroom Activities

  • 2 visions for 1 reality
  • 60 seconds = 1 minute, or does it?
  • Drawing with 2 hands

Build rapport between the members of your class by having them divide into groups to prepare to teach the whole class playground games from around the world. Or, ask students to read about food from different cultures and comment on what they would like to try, as a means to develop cultural curiosity.

Lesson plans for Lessons that address cultural competency

I truly benefitted from some language to explain different cultural concepts. While I find that I am able to describe these concepts to adults, the simpler versions written for students were a true help.

Along the way, students reflect by writing in their in-class journals. In addition, when we look at specific cultures, they write their thoughts. For some ideas of prompts, here is an ACTFL document.

Though all of these resources are in English, many of them are straight-forward enough for students to navigate in the language they are learning. I wish you great luck with the teaching of culture to your students. A deep understanding of culture promotes tolerance and justice. This is truly important work.

What are the resources you have found to teach Intercultural Competence? Please add to this post with a comment so that we can start a conversation.

Reader: Qui parle français? Livre 1

Individuals in a culture share knowledge of the same people. When I listen to a podcast or read a book, there are references to real people who it is understood that the listener or reader will know. In Novice French I want to introduce my students to people world-wide who speak the language they are learning, so I have found this reader to be helpful. The purpose of my post is to share with you one way this reader could be incorporated into your students’ learning.

The can-do statement for intercultural communication is: I can describe famous people who speak French.

You might want to start with a video of why people around the world speak French. This EdPuzzle of a video from 1jour1actu could be a good start. Then move on to a Quizlet that introduces high frequency verbs in the first person. These phrases appear again and again in the readings and teaching them up front will support your students. Next, have the students do the short one-page readings on the different personalities. After the students read, ask them to communicate five facts about the person to a partner, then have them share these facts as a whole class.

At this point get students to talk without having the text in front of them. Show the students a picture of the person. During your class discussion, ask students to say any detail about the picture, the person or who the person is. Then, after the class discussion, write a paragraph together to collect all the ideas that were shared. The teacher can write on the white board while the students say sentences. Once a paragraph has been completed, read the paragraph back to the students or have them read it with you. As a final step, erase the board and ask students to write three sentences about the person in their journals. For a challenge, ask students to add in one original sentence, for example what they think of the person.

The reader is very accessible to novice learning and provides them with entry-level information. At the end of the lesson, extend their learning with an authentic document. For example, here are three EdPuzzles for your students:

.I hope you will find these materials useful with your own students!

Infusing Culture in Assessment

My discovery of backward design came at the right time. I have been slowly making the shift from teaching students about language to teaching students to use language, what we sum up as teaching for proficiency. Backward design allowed me to make a change in what the students understood they had to do. The teacher gives students the objectives formulated as can-do statements. Then shows them how to use language in a series of three tasks that reflect the three modes of communication, Interpretive, Interpersonal and Presentational. We call this triad, developed by ACTFL, an Integrated Performance Assessment.

Integrated Performance Assessment

There were many characteristics of the IPA that worked for my teaching.  Principally, it allowed me to use culture as the overarching theme to my unit. Culture is the relationship between the products, practices and perspectives of people.  When we show students an authentic document (in an Interpretive task for an IPA) we give them a chance to observe culture and draw conclusions for themselves. I wasn’t doing them any service by making generalizations about French culture myself.  It is much better to show them the culture through readings, videos, and pictures. The teacher is in effect bringing the culture into the classroom.

On Friday I am going to present on Infusing Culture through Assessment for novice learners at my state’s annual professional development conference. Putting together my presentation gave me time to reflect on where I am in the process of writing and implementing IPAs. I haven’t mastered IPAs, so I am hoping that my audience will appreciate what I have to say about what I have learned so far through the process. The process I have been through has convinced me that IPAs drive a method of instruction that gets learners from the beginning to “use” language and teaches them to speak spontaneously. This method, to me, is worth exploring further.

Please see my presentation posted below.

Infusing Culture in Assessment Presentation

Here are my handouts for the presentation.



Mon Pull Interpretive Activity

On fait les magasins Interpretive Activity

Activities Interpersonal Prompt

Food Interpersonal Prompt

Here is a Spanish example IPA from my colleague Lauren Carroll

Spanish Example IPA