Students cheering, laughing and dancing while learning Spanish.
Don’t pinch yourself—you’re not dreaming.
The Spanish language is tied to diverse, brilliant, colorful cultures.
But wouldn’t it be lame to leave out the singing, dancing and general merriment?
You’ve probably been wistfully daydreaming about this idea for a while now.
Think back to when you were thinking of becoming a language teacher. How many amazing ideas did you have back then that now seem like a distant memory?
Coming up with engaging lessons plans for teaching Spanish language and culture together was likely one (or more) of them, right?
We’d all like to get our students excited about the different aspects of life in Spanish-speaking countries!
But especially if you’re preparing students for big exams, there’s so much content and vocabulary to cover that there never seems to be enough time to dig into the cultural aspect of language learning.
Even us teachers tend to think that culture is the more relaxed side of Spanish lessons.
However, including it in our planning has huge benefits for our students.
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The Benefits of Teaching Culture During Spanish Language Lessons
- It’s engaging. When you ask most people why they want to learn a language, they’ll say it’s all about exploring different cultures. Who wouldn’t like an opportunity to travel without leaving the classroom?
- It widens students’ understanding of the Spanish language. Spanish is spoken in so many places around the world that the differences between expressions and vocabulary in the various countries and regions are huge. Understanding the origins of the language is the best way to master it!
- It provides an opportunity to practice the language in a more natural way. We’re all tired of the artificial sentences and exercises that textbooks provide. Culture is the best way to make it all real!
During this past year, I’ve been working hard to find ways to introduce Spanish festivals into my lessons.
With so much to teach, how can I make sure culture isn’t forgotten?
With some research and imagination, I finally came up with new ways to teach Spanish culture and language at the same time.
Check out the following lesson plans for fresh, festive ideas!
4 Festive Spanish Lesson Plans for Teaching Language and Culture
El Carnaval is one of those festivals that really shows what Spanish and Latin American culture is all about: full of music, fun, jokes and endless partying.
This is probably the reason why we can see Carnaval festivals in the majority of Spanish-speaking countries, even in Spain where Carnaval takes place during cold winter nights!
- Lesson Focus: Clothes. This lesson will work best if you’ve already covered vocabulary related to clothing and colors. If you haven’t, you may want to check out the resources below to help you prepare your students for the activity.
- Things You’ll Need: Remember that the main elements of Carnaval are color and originality, so make sure you provide your students with a range of color cards and pens or, even better, ask them to bring from home different fabric and materials to use in the activities!
- Lesson Overview: Carnaval is all about dressing up and creating fun costumes, and that’s what we’re going to do with our students: draft the most amazing and original designs for a Carnaval costume competition!
Hook your students with a short video or with pictures of Carnaval. Then, ask them to discuss in pairs or scribble down all they know about this tradition on a sticky note.
Get all their ideas together on the board before introducing the festival and where it takes place. This is a great opportunity to practice expressing opinions in Spanish, as you can ask them to write down their first impressions and share them with the class.
First, introduce your pupils to some designs by playing a video featuring parades. While they’re watching, they must annotate the items of clothing that they see, using the worksheet provided in the resources below.
The clothing they’ll see in these holiday displays is always superbly diverse, so this task can work both as an introduction to the vocabulary or as a review of the most common words covered by the topic.
Give out cards, coloring pens and any other materials you’ve brought with you.
Ask your students to create the craziest costumes they can think of! You may want to give them a theme to speed up the designing process (like superheroes, the future, cartoons…), or give them creative freedom. A good idea could be to set it in a specific country, so you can bring in any other cultural information you’ve already studied in class (La Feria de Abril, El Día de los Muertos…).
The key at this point is to remind students that they have to describe their designs too.
We all know the challenge creative activities can post. Some students will get so carried away with the artistic part of it that they’ll postpone the writing as much as they can.
Give them a time frame or ask them to start with the narration. This will stop them from spending the whole lesson doing loads of lovely drawing and no Spanish writing work.
Provide your students with the appropriate support to facilitate this task (vocabulary sheets, access to dictionaries, grammar help sheets…) and give them clear criteria for success, letting them know exactly what you would like them to focus on (adjective agreement, superlatives and comparatives, tenses…).
As in every Carnaval, the time comes to pick the king and queen of the festival!
Students can present their designs to the class in Spanish and then you can have a voting session in which they choose their favorite ones!
You can even have a Coronation Ceremony and use the posters to create a colorful display for your classroom!
- Some resources to use in this lesson:
Ever since Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Sun Also Rises” in 1926, the Spanish Sanfermines has become the most appealing festival of all, even starring in Hollywood films like “Knight and Day.”
Sanfermines is a fantastic topic, not only because of how fascinating it is for students who’ve never seen anything like it before, but also because it offers a great topic for cultural discussion and language introduction.
- Lesson Focus: Health and Body Parts. This lesson can work as an introduction to Body Parts and me duele (it hurts). No prior knowledge is needed, but if you have already covered this topic you can plan it as a lively revision.
- Things You’ll Need: Get students excited by giving them some laminated pictures of Los Sanfermines to look at and discuss. You can find loads on Google Images, ranging from bull racing to partying and traditional outfits.
- Lesson Overview: The dangerous Sanfermines will end with the whole class at the hospital, practicing some of their recently studied vocabulary after a week long fiesta! Many teachers have already tried this combination out and have included fantastic reviews on the Internet, so have a look at them online if you want any extra ideas!
Place the laminated pictures on the tables and ask students to discuss them, in Spanish, with groups for two minutes. Then ask them to share their pictures and ideas with the class to check what they already know about Los Sanfermines.
There are some great videos on YouTube to help you take your students to the very heart of Pamplona without leaving the classroom. You can pick one that explains all about the festival or go for an actual bull race from one of the previous years.
In the past, I’ve used this wonderful PowerPoint to introduce Body Parts and pains in the context of Sanfermines. If this is something you haven’t yet introduced, you can spend some time doing choral repetition and teaching the vocabulary. If your students are already experts, you can use it to refresh their memories.
There’s a big chance that, after going wild during Sanfermines, you’ll have to visit the doctor. We all know how dangerous bulls can be, not to mention partying, singing as loud as you can and eating too much. Lucky for us, there are fantastic hospitals in Pamplona that we can visit!
In pairs, students will prepare a role play. Have them imagine themselves at the doctor’s office after a week of partying for Sanfermines.
One of them will be the corredor and the other one can play the doctor. As with El Carnaval, it’s all about knowing your students and providing them with the appropriate support in terms of vocabulary, and a clear success criteria to guide them.
Depending on how long your lesson is, you may have time to get them to write, rehearse and perform, but if you haven’t got much time another option is to practice some spontaneous speaking without putting together a script.
Wrap it up with a debate. Everyone has something to say about Sanfermines and there’s nothing better than allowing your students to express their views and have their say.
Make sure you write down phrases on the board such as estoy de acuerdo or no estoy de acuerdo (I agree, I disagree), to ensure the debate isn’t only about giving their opinions, but also about interacting with each other.
- Some resources to use in this lesson:
Not many people out there know about Las Fallas, the most eagerly-awaited festival in Valencia, but it’s always a success with students, as it involves massive statues being burned down in the main square of the city.
“Hold on, fire?”
The ninots, the statues that are set on fire on the last day of the festivals, are made of wood and paper and take a whole year to build. They feature satirical and funny cartoons, created around political, social or religious characters that have been popular in Spain over the year.
- Lesson Focus: Personal appearance and descriptions. This lesson will work best if you’ve already introduced the vocabulary related to personal descriptions, as your students will be expected to describe one of the ninots.
- Things You’ll Need: An A4 picture of a ninot per student. Loads are built every year, so just choose your favorites from Google Images and print them out. Some of them aren’t appropriate for children, but the festival also has its own section for kids, with ninots representing the most famous characters in fairy tale stories.
- Lesson Overview: The main objective of this lesson is to get your students to learn something about Las Fallas while they use their Spanish to describe a ninot.
Show your students a video about Las Fallas and have a conversation about the festival with them. They’ll probably have many questions about this strange tradition in which Spanish people set fire to their own work, so this is your opportunity to get them engaged.
You can use one of the PowerPoints below to help you run them through the most important facts about Las Fallas and the ninots, asking them key questions and revisiting the vocabulary on personal appearances through the pictures.
Give each of your students a picture of a ninot and ask them to write a description of it, using all the vocabulary they’ve already learned. As before, it’s all about differentiating the work for your students with the appropriate support. No matter what level they are, they’ll always be able to get something out of this task if you give them clear targets. They can then peer assess their work in pairs and give each other feedback.
Have a human Guess Who in the class.
Ask your students to stand up and hold their pictures so that everyone else can see them. Here’s how Human Guess Who works: one of your students thinks of a picture they see being held up by their peers, while the others ask questions in Spanish to try and guess which one it is. If someone asks if the ninot is fat and it isn’t, then everyone with a fat ninot sits down. This continues until there’s only one person left, or until the students can guess which one is correct. Human Guess Who is the kind of activity that’ll get a standing ovation from your students!
- Some resources to use in this lesson:
Oh, your students will go absolutely crazy about a massive tomato fight.
This tradition started spontaneously one year, when there were so many tomatoes that couldn’t be sold that the local producers decided to organize this absurd battle, using rotten tomatoes as weapons against one another. Now, it has become such a phenomenon, people from all around the world come to enjoy this opportunity to be part of an actual city-wide food fight.
- Lesson Focus: Holidays. A great way to review everything students have learned after the topic “Holidays.” This lesson will allow them to use vocabulary from other units too, so it’s also a good idea as an end of year project.
- What You’ll Need: Nothing out of the ordinary is needed, but a picture bank with photos of La Tomatina for students to use would probably be a good idea. Make sure you have a look at the resources below, as everything you could find useful is provided there!
- Lesson Overview: La Tomatina will be a fantastic excuse to get your students to produce an extended piece of writing on Holidays in the past tense. The following lesson plan suggests a group activity, but it can be easily adapted if you’d rather they worked individually.
There’s nothing better for your students to understand La Tomatina than to watch a video of it.
Some people have trouble coming to terms with this wacky tradition, which was created just for the sake of fun. “But Miss, it makes no sense! Why would people just through tomatoes at each other?” This clip, which comes with some questions to answer while watching, will help them learn a bit more about the most entertaining Spanish festival of all.
Ask your students to produce a blog post about their visit to La Tomatina, including when they went, who with, what they did there and some opinions.
This activity has been beautifully crafted and planned by a teacher who then decided to share it on the TES website, and comes with fantastic vocabulary support, very clear explanations for students and even some guidance for peer assessment.
Another possibility which could work really well with primary school students is to ask them to create a postcard, with a shorter writing on one side and a picture on the other. Once again, make sure you offer them support in terms of vocabulary to help them make the most of the activity. There are some resources below that can help you with this!
Get groups to peer assess each others’ work, using the success criteria provided. This is a fantastic way for them to reflect on what they’ve done and get ideas for the future. Then, use the last minutes to get your students to share their views on La Tomatina and even ask them if they’d like to have their own food war at school. They’ll go wild!
- Some resources to use in this lesson:
As you can see, teaching Spanish culture is full of opportunities to learn and revisit vocabulary and grammar structures. Remember, the key when using these activities is to have an imagination, to be able to adapt them to your own classes and come up with new ways of taking your students on a Cultural Trip without leaving the classroom!
And One More Thing…
If you already love the idea of teaching with authentic Spanish content, another option is to use FluentU. We feature tons of clips—the modern, audio-visual equivalent of short stories, if you will.
How can video clips aid Spanish teachers in class? FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
We’ve got a tremendous collection of authentic Spanish videos that people in the Spanish-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices here when you’re looking for material for in-class activities or homework. Plus, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Each video has interactive subtitles. If a student comes across a word they’re unfamiliar with, they can hover their cursor over the subtitled word. That word’s definition, pronunciation and in-context usage examples will all pop up on-screen instantly. This is what your students will get after they click “watch” on a video. Clicking “learn” opens up a whole new learning experience for them.
In learn mode, all the vocabulary and grammar from the video is taught and reinforced through varied repetition (practicing the same concepts in different forms and contexts). They’ll play with flashcards, games, word matches and exercises like “fill in the blank.”
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that they’re learning, and it recommends examples and videos based on what they’ve already learned. Every student has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Use FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU App for iPad and iPhone from the iTunes store
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.