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by Erica Fischer on Jun 17, 2011

How Can World Language Instruction Complement Other Subjects in School?

Thanks to all our dedicated #LangChat Twitter participants who shared some great ideas and suggestions on how world language instruction can complement other subjects in school. We had a lively discussion on Thursday night at 8 p.m. EST. Thanks especially to Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and Don Doehla (@dr_dmd) for moderating our chat. You can read the entire archive here.

World languages are a natural complement to other courses, especially through cultural connections (@dr_dmd). Social studies, music, art — and even math, science and PE — have great opportunities for collaboration. Often, language classes can fill a gap not covered by other subjects. For example, history classes sometimes focus on European history and only briefly touch on Latin America (@dr_dmd).

What can we do to find ideas for to complement other subjects? Participants shared many ideas including a suggestions to look to the curricula from dual-language or immersion schools as they often do content-based instruction (@pamwesely). Many world language teachers cover material that complements other subjects well, but we don’t collaborate with other classes or teachers as much as we could (@madamebaker). When covering content from other subjects, then, we should look at ways to work closely with other teachers. For example, @profesorM’s school has core/encore faculty meetings throughout the year. Foreign language classes are encore, and in these meetings teachers brainstorm ways to connect the classrooms.

World Language Topics That Complement Other Courses

#LangChat participants shared ideas for collaboration with other teachers and for topics that mix well with other courses. Many of the topics covered in other courses have similar vocabulary to that taught in the language classroom. Collaborate with other teachers to try to cover these topics at the same time to maximize your students’ interest. Keep in mind that classes taught in other disciplines likely cover technical terms that your students won’t need to use in their second language, like “barometric pressure” from earth science. When teaching vocabulary, keep to broader thematic terms rather than specific terminology (@SraSpanglish).

English and Writing

  • Poems are great interdisciplinary mediums. Many foreign language classrooms already cover poems as a cultural point, and a lot of English classes have students read a variety of literature in translation — why not also share the original (@madamebaker)? This is a great opportunity to discuss the differences in culture that cause a translation to vary.
    • Students can write different styles of poem in the foreign language (haiku, acrostic, odes, etc.). @profesorM
    • A couple teachers mentioned the possibility of a poetry month in both English and foreign language classrooms. You can coordinate with English teachers for Poem in Your Pocket Day (@lee_bruner).
  • A great idea outside of poetry is to read foreign literature in both English and the native language. Discuss the differences in style between each version.
  • Try working with your English teacher colleagues to integrate the same writing strategies in both English and a foreign language. @MmeNero


  • Many teachers mentioned weather as a good interdisciplinary subject. Almost all low-level foreign language classes teach weather terms. One idea you can implement is to study weather phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña, then visit the NASA website in the foreign language for further research (@cadamsf1). Or try creating video weather reports in class in the target language (@dr_dmd).
  • The metric system is another area with opportunities for collaboration; you can work with science and math colleagues to tie everything together. This also fits in with weather. There are tons of possibilities to teach metric. Check out the resources found here. @lee_bruner
    • Another opportunity for students to convert GPS units into metric, as most GPS devices are available in multiple languages. This is good for teaching commands, too. @lee_bruner
    • Try teaching the metric system of weights and making a marketplace in class. Students act out buying and selling authentic goods using different currencies and metric weights and measures. Videotape the students for later review. @dr_dmd
    • Students can focus on thinking in the metric system, rather than doing the conversion every time. A helpful hint for temperature: 30 is hot, 20 is nice. 10 is cold, 0 is ice. @lee_bruner
  • You can show the connections between chemistry and French — famous scientists, the periodic table of elements and the history of the metric system. These are connections to world history, math, the sciences, and famous people. @dr_dmd

Math and Architecture

  • The ideas using the metric system and marketplace activities connect foreign language to science as well as math. For other, business-related ideas, try connecting your class with an entrepreneur in a target language country using the small loan charity website Kiva. This will turn your class into social investors! Kiva has tons of people to invest in from a multitude of countries, with authentic text and video. Have a math teacher first teach how interest rates work (principal + interest), then pick a profile on Kiva for discussion. For a sample article, check out @lee_bruner
  • Architecture also connects well with foreign language, math and art. Have students draw the details of a cathedral or castle — La Tour Eiffel is fun! Students draw the monument, then read “Calligrammes” by Apollinaire. Then they can create new calligrammes of other buildings. @dr_dmd

Cooking, Health and Nutrition

  • Many teachers said foreign language instruction goes hand in hand with cooking classes — and it’s fun, too! Try incorporating traditional recipes and even calculations of the exercise required to work off the calories. Recipes make wonderful authentic texts because they have culture already built in, and they’re hands-on! (@SraSpanglish) Cooking shows are also excellent authentic audio because the hosts usually explain everything they’re doing, and often write it on screen as well (@SECottrell)
  • Or you can work with algebra and health teachers to collaborate on units on BMI, nutrition, calories, etc. @SraSpanglish

Physical Education (PE)

  • Dancing is a great way to mix PE into the world language classroom. Try Québécois dancing as a great way to integrate French commands and culture (@MmeNero), or for Spanish classrooms use the Latin “Dancing with the Stars” dances (@SraSpanglish).
  • Try doing a unit on games around the world with PE teachers, too (@SraSpanglish). Focus on your corner of the world in the foreign language classroom.

History and Social Studies

  • Current event projects are great for integrating social studies and foreign language classes. @MmeNero
  • There are also extensive of opportunities to mix history with the culture of your students’ second language. For example, the French Revolution is a subject every year for French 2 kids studying world history. Students can research key terms for both classes (@dr_dmd) and even go on field trips to watch related performances, like “Les Misérables” (@madamebaker). For Spanish classes, there are great connections with Al Andalus and world history classes, or try a unit to connect La Violencia with Botero and Juanes through Zachary Jones (@cadamsf1).

Drama and Music

  • Like poetry, drama and music have a lot of applications in the foreign language classroom. A program called AIM encourages the use of drama in class (@sylviaduckworth).
  • Another fun connection is to use your school’s music directors to incorporate one or two songs from another language into their concerts (@lee_bruner).
  • Even the national anthem is a great complement to foreign language instruction — @MmeNero asks her kids to sing “O Canada” in French every Monday in class!


Like history and social studies, geography often complements foreign language curricula well. Some schools no longer have classes on geography, and so the world language classroom might be the best place to introduce students to the rest of the world. Participants had a variety of techniques they use to teach geography in the classroom

  • Try using Google Maps for students to create “My Maps.” For example, place pushpins on Spanish- or French-speaking countries and write about the nationality. @lee_bruner
  • Integrate with English as well with novels, and use Google Earth to explore and connect with geography. @SECottrell
  • Combine current events with geography at the basic level. Students learn about what’s going on in the world as well as where it’s happening. They can learn about situations such as Yemen and Iraq, then talk about it with their parents! @cadamsf1
  • Have your students from the AP class on human geography learn or even help to teach geography. @madamebaker

All Subjects

Many of the fantastic ideas included above can be adapted to work with several different subjects, both individually or all together. Other ideas are watching movies that focus on one subject in another language, such as watching the film “Home” in its original French in French class and in the translated English in science class (@madamebaker). You can also work with teachers from other disciplines to plan a fair or convention bridging multiple classes, such as a History Fair when teaching social studies or history in the foreign language classroom (@MmeNero). Check out some of the resources below for other great ideas.

We’ve shared some helpful ideas and resources from our #LangChat participants this week, and I’m sure you can take some inspiration from their thoughts and experiences. Thanks again to everyone who stopped by, and be sure to check back next week for more great ideas and best practices from your world language colleagues. Don’t forget to keep connecting and collaborating through #langchat, #flteach and the LangChat wiki!

Also, you can suggest topics for future #LangChats at, please be sure to let us know what you’re interested in discussing. Only two #LangChats remain before we break for the month of July, so don’t hesitate!

Elementary in Spanish
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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