Tired of telling your students to put their devices away?
You’re not alone.
But here’s a little secret: with the right resources, those devices can transform from classroom distractions to your new favorite teaching tool.
Your students’ familiarity with online tools and mobile devices can be harnessed for effective, engaging and super relevant Spanish lessons. Even if you’re teaching centuries-old stories or the history of a country thousands of miles away, technology can give your students a close-up view without leaving their desks.
In this post, we’ll show you six exciting Spanish culture lessons that’ll boost their language skills and immerse them in the Spanish-speaking world, all while using the tech tools they already love.
Here’s what you need to know to get started:
How to Introduce Culture Lessons to Your Language Classroom
Every Spanish teacher knows that learning about Spanish-speaking cultures is just as important as grammar lessons and conversation practice for our students, but the word “culture” itself can be hard to pin down. Culture is sometimes described as the heart and soul of a people and a place, but what exactly does that even mean? And more importantly, how can we teach that?
The cultures of Spain and Latin America exist in obvious forms like paintings by Frida Kahlo and books by Miguel de Cervantes. But there are also more abstract forms of culture, like oral history, rules of etiquette and regional slang.
Before implementing the specific culture projects listed below, take some time to turn the question of what defines culture into a student-led discussion in your classroom. Ask your students how they define their own personal and national cultures, and what role they believe language plays in that definition.
Aside from providing essential context for any Spanish culture projects you’ve planned, the conversation could even open up more project possibilities than you expected. For example, the students may see television commercials or magazine ads as relevant to a country’s national culture, and they wouldn’t be wrong!
Why Use Technology as a Foundation for Spanish Projects?
- Students love it. Imagine the joy when you actually require students to use the devices they love in order to learn something and to complete an assignment effectively. These non-traditional teaching tools will get your students thinking and engaging with Spanish in new, creative and highly motivating ways.
- It emphasizes the relevance of the lessons. Incorporating technology into a Spanish culture project brings the project to life and makes it relevant and accessible to students.
They’ll be learning Spanish via the internet, their mobile devices and other technology that’s already vital to their day to day lives. Plus, technology skills are now life skills, so here’s an opportunity to build those skills alongside language development.
If you and your students are lucky enough to have internet access at home or at school, the first three projects described below will be sure to enhance their learning experience. The last two do require specific apps best used on a computer or tablet device, but they can be tweaked to work with whatever resources you have on hand, even good old pencil and paper.
The projects below are best suited for middle school and high school students, but elements of each could be beneficial to younger students. Cherry pick and adapt as you see fit for your classroom.
6 Spanish Culture Project Ideas for the Tech-savvy Teacher
1. Use Prezi Presentations to Explore Mexican Myth and Folklore
About this project:
Mexican myths and folklore provide a wonderful entry point into Central American culture. Traditional stories and legends tend to cover universal themes and are interesting to students of all ages, but are also accessible even to beginner Spanish learners.
Myths and folk tales also often reveal historical details of a people as well as explanations of natural phenomena that underly important cultural belief systems.
And with Prezi digital presentations, you can bring Mexican myths and folklore into the 21st-century classroom. Downloadable and free to educators with a school email address, Prezi is user-friendly and fun. Students will enjoy the straightforward platform, which was designed to help anybody, even non-artsy types, create beautiful and dynamic presentations.
The resulting presentations are full of action and as many colors and images as students can find and organize.
How to implement:
To get started, you can mine this list of teaching resources from the University of Illinois’ Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies for content that suits your class’ age and proficiency levels.
Depending on the age of your students, you can assign them individual topics (for example, specific legends or Aztec gods) to research or let them select their own, securing a personal interest while they develop their analytical skills.
Specify how much of the written content and oral presentation must be in Spanish as is appropriate to the level you’re teaching.
To use Prezi technology to its best advantage, make sure project guidelines specify:
- How many slides to include and a timeframe for the presentation.
- In what ways the students feel a connection to the particular myth or folk tale.
2. Create Vimeo Skits to Master Slang and Idioms
About this project:
Spanish slang and idioms can be unbelievably colorful and sometimes very playful from an English-speaker’s point of view; no other language describes looking for trouble as poetically as Spanish: No andes buscándole los tres pies al gato. (Don’t go looking for three feet of a cat.)
Intonation and facial expressions go a long way when speaking in any language. You can capture all the interactiveness of a casual chat between classmates on video, and then post it on Vimeo for easy presentation to the rest of the class.
If you have students who are already Snapchatting, Instagramming and filming with their smartphones all day long, this is a great way to put those fun technology skills to use in the Spanish classroom.
How to implement:
Set a minimum number of idioms per skit, as well as parameters for length. Here’s a list of Spanish idioms and here’s some Spanish slang you can use as a jumping off point. You’ll be evaluating students on their pronunciation as well as their ability to use the slang in the proper context.
You can inspire student creativity by having each group choose a prop from a list and require that the conversation involve the prop somehow; possible props include such random items as a pizza, an inflatable baby pool, a coloring book or anything else that might get your students thinking in unusual ways.
Filming with today’s smartphones allows for quick deleting and easy retakes, and the natural humor of young students will surely entertain while educating. No option to incorporate video in your classroom or school? Have students perform their original role plays live in class.
A free basic Vimeo account offers basic privacy provisions, but your school may have an account that includes more advanced settings. To be on the safe side, it might be worth checking with your school before putting student work online; as well, some families may need a bit of reassurance that these videos are for classroom use only.
3. Critique Authentic Spanish Videos on FluentU
About this project:
As a language educator, you’re probably always looking for opportunities to show your students how Spanish really sounds when native speakers use it. But you also don’t just want to turn on a movie and watch all your students doze off once you hit the lights.
FluentU gives you the best of both worlds. This innovative tool provides a direct view into contemporary Spanish culture, with videos including hilarious YouTube clips, movie trailers, TV shows and much more. But it also comes with interactive captions providing in-context definitions for all words in the video, as well as flashcards and exercises that ensure your students are actually learning from what they’ve watched.
In this project, your students will use FluentU to critique authentic Spanish movies, TV shows and any other content they’re interested in, all while actively building their vocabularies.
How to implement:
FluentU videos are organized by level, so you can easily explore the content that will best suit your classroom. Pick a single video to assign to the class, or assign different videos to different groups.
Your students will then watch the video and can respond with some or all of the following, depending on what you’d like to assess:
- Answers to specific questions you’ve provided
- A one- to five-star rating of the video, with a spoken or written explanation to back up their opinion
- Ideas for different choices they would have made if they were directing or acting in the video
- Their interpretation of what the video reveals about Spanish culture
Meanwhile, FluentU provides built-in student progress tracking, so you can view their results in the vocabulary exercises and see what other videos they explored. If you want to repeat this project as their language skills grow, you can design your own curriculum, assign homework and communicate with students all from the FluentU platform.
4. Take Your Students on Adventures Through Argentina with Google Earth
About this project:
Thanks to technology, you can take your students on an adventure to Spanish-speaking regions without buying them all plane tickets. This Google Earth exploration will help them feel the relevance of Spanish outside the textbook. It can be a great learning motivator for those students who may want to one day visit Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries in person.
You can of course use this project for any country you like—Argentina’s compelling and diverse topography make it a particularly effective subject.
How to implement:
Offer students an opportunity to develop a sales pitch and travel itinerary in Spanish for a fabulous adventure in Argentina. Assign students different regions of the country to research and explore using Google Earth. The grasslands of the Pampas, the majesty of the Andes and the glacial lakes of Patagonia will surely inspire any number of extreme adventuring ideas.
Students will be fascinated by the 3D images on Google Earth. Ask them to create a list of required supplies to ensure their holiday-makers are safe and having fun in their assigned landscapes.
Extend the project with any of the following options:
- A printed brochure using only formal usted commands
- A filmed television commercial to present to the class
- A follow-up questionnaire for customers to find out what they liked and disliked about the trip
5. Explore Pablo Neruda’s Poetry with VoiceThread
About this project:
The poetry of Pablo Neruda is renowned for its passion and originality, as well as its direct and simple language. Students new to literary analysis may find his work refreshingly clear.
His nature imagery in particular is easy to spot, and pre-project classroom discussions around the symbolism of specific images and words can prime students for this kind of advanced study.
VoiceThread is a network that enables students to combine uploaded text with their own voiceovers and text comments. This tool is ideal for literary exploration as students can mark up a text in advance and prepare a statement about the text before actually recording the VoiceThread. Students anxious about standing up in front of the class will also find this kind of project a relief as they can delete and re-record as many times as they need to.
How to implement:
First, create a VoiceThread yourself to demonstrate the tool to students, and so you know how to troubleshoot if they come to class with questions. You can also let students familiarize themselves with the app by assigning a simple practice VoiceThread for homework.
Once students are comfortable with the tool, you can start teaching Neruda’s work. You can assign one poem for all students to recite and/or analyze using VoiceThread, or different poems to different students. You may also want to provide specific questions you’d like students to address regarding the poems.
It’s a great way to get everyone engaged with Spanish literature, across different proficiency levels and learning styles.
6. Complete a Federico Garcia Lorca Play Using Edmodo
About this project:
Advanced students will be up to the challenge of this interactive culture project. Encourage students to embrace creative writing in Spanish; as Lorca died before finishing this play, it’s incomplete.
Students can tap into their creativity and finish the work using a fun digital classroom tool called Edmodo.
How to implement:
Edmodo is a unique technology that closely resembles other social media platforms your students likely know, making it a fun and interactive way to collaborate with you and with one another. You’re in charge of the platform, with the ability to create assignments, post shared classroom resources and communicate digitally. You can post specific questions like these:
- Who would you cast as the character of Autor (Author)? Find a photograph online, cite your source and explain your decision in 50 words or less.
- Title the play. Make sure you use one symbol in your title that you feel represents Lorca’s vision and explain your choice.
Students can post their responses for you and for the rest of the class to see. Future assignments can require students to respond to one another’s posts for credit, and you can decide if you would like all comments to be on view. Extend the project with scripts, performances and even reviews.
Travel to Spanish-speaking countries can be a costly privilege. Encourage your students to take flight in their imaginations with culture projects like the ones described above. Hopefully, the projects will pique their curiosity and inspire them to learn more about the language and the people they’re studying. Isn’t this love of learning what motivates us to teach in the first place?
Both you and your students will be rewarded by the processes and the outcomes of these projects. By using technology in an educational way, you and your students are working together to make your classroom a more enjoyable and relevant place of learning.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.
Bring Spanish immersion to your classroom!
When it comes to culture, the question is sometimes asked: what is culture, exactly? Is culture what people do on a daily basis, namely, live? Or is culture, rather, a lofty expression of the more sophisticated and complex ideas developed by the intellectual elite of any given society? Whether you advocate for the supremacy of high-brow culture, or consider it to be constituted by every aspect of interaction within a social compound, in Spain you will find myriad examples of both kinds, forming a rich and diverse phenomenon.
Rich and Varied Heritage
From the most ordinary habits, such as the variety of dishes that together form a mouthwatering cuisine, to the institutional support for the artistic establishment, Spain holds a surprise around every corner. Ranging from the largely simple and straightforward characteristics of a Mediterranean diet, with plenty of fresh produce from land and sea, to the ingenuity of a number of recipes from the rustic center of the country, such as roast piglet or the famous sopa castellana, to the crafty use of offal throughout the land, Spanish culture is hugely heterogeneous, due both to geographic as well as historical circumstances.
The fascinating mosaic formed by the cultural differences found from region to region across the country extends far beyond matters of eating habits and dress code, however. From patxarán in Navarra, to orujo in Galicia, from sherry in the region between Jerez and Cádiz, to the sweet wine from Málaga, somewhat similar to port wine from Oporto, the various traditions that have defined each of the regions permeate deeply to every aspect of Spanish culture, from what digestive to follow your meal with, to the style and material used to erect buildings in the area.
Popular vs. High-Brow Culture
Intrinsically, the distinction between popular and high-brow culture, which emerges with the question "what is culture?" might not be as drastic as it seems. A good example of this proximity can be found in the characteristics of Spanish architecture. Dating all the way back to Roman times, there are still perfectly solid examples of buildings as ancient as 2000 years old. And then, from Roman to Romanesque, Gothic, Mudéjar, Renaissance and every artistic style to emerge thereafter, Spanish architecture has been shaped as much by aesthetic considerations as it has been by the specific conditions prevalent in the country.
Thus, the emergence of red brick in the region around León as the material of choice in the construction, not only of regular homes but also of official and even religious buildings owed less to taste than to necessity. Similarly, the development of adobe as a viable building material shaped the landscape of the countryside indelibly, much in the same way as the tendencies arrived from the Frankish counties on the other side of the Pyrenees spread from coast to coast and ultimately determined the triumph of Romanesque architecture.
Spectacular as it is, Spanish architecture is indebted in equal measure to circumstances of daily life, such as the coexistence of Muslim, Christian and Hebrew communities, and to the conscious development of aesthetic ideals. This is true of architecture, but it is equally the case with the literature that sprung in parallel with the culture that produced it as a reflection (in both meanings of the word) of the reality of its time. As a matter of fact, this is true of a vast majority of Spanish culture, from the forging of true national forms of expression, such as flamenco, to the paintings of grand masters, such as Goya.
Spanish: A Lot More than a Language
We understand that when you come to Spain to learn Spanish, it's not only about the language... you also want to see and experience new places, take plenty of pictures, meet new people and immerse yourself in the country's fascinating cultural scene. After all, some of the world's top museums and wholly unique festivals are found in Spain. Nevertheless, in order to get a genuine taste of Spanish culture, you need not spend hours in libraries and dusty rooms: just go out there, communicate with the people and experience first hand the cultural paradise that is Spain.
In order for you to be able to do just that, our schools, located in Spain's most interesting destinations, are open all year round (yes, even during festival seasons!), and offer classes focusing on such cultural facets as literature and art history, organizing all sorts of interesting cultural activities and excursions for our valued students!
Below you can read up about a wide range of Spanish cultural topics, ranging from history and festivals to food and drink and everything in between.