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by Erica Fischer on Oct 26, 2016

#Langchat: Infuse unit/textbook chapters with culture & student interests

How can you adapt your textbooks and units to reflect student interests and culture?

Infuse unit/textbook chapters with culture and student interests

Last week, the #langchat community decided to chat about ways to adapt/improve pre-existing units/textbook chapters to better focus on culture and student interests in the World Language classroom.

Participants discussed what elements of current textbooks/units could be easily adapted to reflect such a focus as well as ways to give students opportunities to direct the course of pre-existing units.

Contributors also chatted through the strategies they use to adapt a required unit when it doesn’t mesh well with student interests, along with their thoughts on how to integrate both Big C Culture and Little C Culture into instructional units.

Langchatters finished up their discussion on culture by sorting through the finger points of how they respond to and/or assess cultural tasks in the WL classroom.

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Question 1: What elements of your current textbook/units could easily be adapted to reflect interests/culture?

World language teachers know better than most that there is rarely an option to fully (or even partially) replace curriculum and/or textbooks every year. Adaption is the name of the game when it comes to updating/working with the material that you have in order to reflect student interests and culture. Ideas for techniques to do so included things like using the grammatical structures from the textbook but choosing your own topic/themes, modifying the vocabulary or representing it visually to reflect the target culture, taking units on family/school life and using authentic resources to explore the cultural connections, structure the class by the book’s grammar/vocabulary but use authentic resources for cultural contexts that students will find relevant, and many more.

Many participants agreed with @MmeFarab’s input when she said that:

My answer to this question is, “everything!” I adapt a lot of what I teach to what my [students] are interested in.

Similarly, @profesorM shared,

At my school we follow the vocabulary and grammar topics, but we make our own activities.

The overall answer to this question seemed to be that any/all of the elements of current textbooks/units can be adapted to reflect interests/culture if you’re willing to put the time in to make it happen.

Question 2: How can we give students opportunities to direct the course of pre-existing units?

Some students are ready and willing to dive-in and help direct the course of pre-existing units but as @caraluna34 pointed out, many students embrace a less-involved “you tell me what to do” attitude rather than an “I’ll tell you” attitude.  So in order to give students the opportunity to direct the course of those ready-made units (and sometimes force them to be involved), langchatters shared ideas like allowing students to interact with native speakers via Twitter or Instagram, letting students pick out/ask for more vocabulary words that are relevant for them, having lead any/all types of creative projects, survey them to find out what they want to learn about, and getting them to set their own goals at the beginning of each unit so that they can get what they need out of it.

@SraWilliams3 shared a popular idea when she said, “I also think [that] keeping it personal helps. The kids love to talk about themselves & I try to give them stuff to say.” In the same way, @krisfauch mirrored her opinion saying, “I love allowing students to build part of their own vocabulary list on a topic – it keeps their interest and personalizes the learning.”

When it comes to using vocabulary as a jumping off point for student involvement, it’s important for WL teachers to remember that you’re oftentimes asked to be more of a coach since the whole point of getting them involved in the process is to get your students to negotiate meaning – and it’s better to ask them to do that with you than with a dictionary!

Question 3: What strategies do you use to adapt a required unit that doesn’t mesh well with student interests?

Like any class, there’s a possibility that some topics or units won’t match up exactly with student interests, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If a unit is relevant to the learning process, then your students will just need to deal with having a unit or two that aren’t the most “entertaining” to them, which means you may just need to have a few strategies up your sleeve to help adapt the content a bit to make it more palatable to your students (and to save your sanity).

Some suggested approaches included

  • abridging the unit
  • asking for lots of student input
  • looking to when/where you would actually encounter the topic in real life
  • removing the original story or item and replace it with something more compelling
  • mixing in music wherever possible to connect the content, and
  • if possible, insert the “must-have” portions of the vocabulary/content into another unit and scrap the unnecessary pieces of the unit.

And as @GrowingFrench pointed out,

If a unit does not mesh with student or cultural interests, then why are you teaching it? Unless its survival language…

and most everyone agreed that if there isn’t “survival language” involved, then just say good-bye to it altogether. On a similar note, @CoLeeSensei said that she chooses to “pare it down to the essentials, and [then] supplements with [student] interests/words.”

Question 4: How can we integrate both Big C Culture and Little C Culture into our instructional units?

Integrating both Big C Culture and Little C Culture into your WL units is important for students to get a well-rounded exposure to both aspects of the target language culture.  Suggestions for how to include them in instructional units included things like using Hispanic artists’ work to demonstrate target vocabulary, widening your definition of ‘culture’ in order to address things like idioms/gestures/sayings/authentic visual representations/etc., incorporating as many authentic resources as possible, using your own experiences from travel/friends/family as examples, don’t change the text for your different levels (just change the task to make it relevant to that age group), and overall, just make sure to incorporate both types of culture in any way you can, as often as you can.

@secottrell offered a tip that she received from @mcanion:

Culture ought to be the story, not [just] appear in the story.

What a wonderful way to think about it!  Don’t forget that as you move into planning your next unit.

Question 5: How do you respond to and/or assess cultural tasks?

Responding to and/or assessing cultural tasks in the WL classroom can be a hard job for teachers – a good perspective on this question came from @GrowingFrench who pointed out that, “It’s such a broad topic, we can only touch/assess the tip of the iceberg – it’s more about teaching empathy and an open mind.”

Even so, WL teachers still have to attempt to do so in order to meet required stands – with that in mind, langchatters suggested strategies like assessing the task that uses the cultural task as it’s springboard, adding a cultural competence box into your rubric based on the ACTFL standards, make/use the 3P’s for all levels and adapt them to student’s experience, build the assessment so that it prompts students to elaborate with cultural info, or even make each units have a set of 3P’s so that they are nested in the culture and requires student’s to use the unit’s vocabulary structures to respond.


This week, #langchat contributors talked in-depth about ways to adapt/improve pre-existing units/textbook chapters to better focus on culture and student interests in the WL classroom. Takeaways from the conversation included remembering that you can use pre-existing resources and just adjust them to your liking, that it can actually be beneficial to have your students tell you what they want to learn/be able to talk about in the target language, holding on to the fact that it’s really important to make students realize that it’s all connected/culture is in everything, remembering how many other ways there are to teach language other than through the use of a memorized list, and last but not least, keep it personal so that students can really connect to the culture!

Thank You!

Thank you to Colleen (@CoLeSensei) for leading this week’s chat, along with her team of co-moderators Meredith (@PRHSspanish), Wendy (@MmeFarab) and Laura (@SraSpanglish). As always, we’d like to give a big thanks to everyone who takes the time to join these discussions every week. We hope that you continue to link up with #langchat as often as you are able – if the weekday chats on Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. ET don’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Our weekly #langchats have gotten busier and busier, so due to space limitations, the summaries always focus on the main themes and takeaways from each week’s conversation. Many tweets have to be omitted but to read the entire conversation from this week, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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