8 Spanish Culture Lesson Plans Your Students Will Love
To have fun with your students and get them to learn at the same time, try teaching Spanish culture lessons!
These help widen students’ understanding of the language and its variations, uses and customs, all while providing awesome opportunities to practice Spanish in a more natural way.
Learning via Spanish culture projects also helps students connect to the lesson and stay engaged in the classroom—vital for truly successfully language learning.
So read on for eight cultural lessons you can use in your classroom to bring Spanish to life!
- 1. Experience El Carnaval Through Costume Design
- 2. Teach Body Parts and Hospital Vocabulary with San Fermín
- 3. Describe Physical Appearances with Las Fallas
- 4. Review Spanish Holidays with La Tomatina
- 5. Explore Mexican Myth and Folklore Through Presentations
- 6. Create Video Skits to Master Spanish Slang and Idioms
- 7. Go On Virtual Adventures to Discover Argentina
- 8. Explore Pablo Neruda’s Poetry with Ed.VoiceThread
1. Experience El Carnaval Through Costume Design
El Carnaval is one of those festivals that really shows off what people love about Spanish and Latin American culture—music, fun, jokes and endless partying!
It’s a great way to reinforce previous lessons on clothing and colors by tying them to the real traditions of Spanish-speaking regions. Carnaval is all about color and originality, so there are lots of ways to cover this festival while having fun by decorating and designing.
Play a video or show some pictures of Carnaval to introduce it. You can ask students to describe what they see and hear, and have them practice expressing opinions in Spanish by sharing their impressions of the festival.
Then, have your students design their own Carnaval costumes. Ask them to write a description of their costume in Spanish, including how it incorporates their knowledge of the current country you’re covering.
Finally, everyone can present their costumes to the class and vote for the traditional king and queen of the festival!
Some helpful resources for this lesson include:
- This Carnaval video, ideal for younger students.
- This El Carnaval PowerPoint to help introduce the topic.
- A worksheet on Spanish clothes and colors to ensure students know the necessary vocabulary.
2. Teach Body Parts and Hospital Vocabulary with San Fermín
Ever since Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Sun Also Rises” featuring San Fermín in Pamplona, Spain, the week-long festival has been a point of cultural intrigue. Bull running can certainly catch one’s attention, after all!
San Fermín (also called Los Sanfermines) is always a hit with students who’ve never heard of it. It’s great for generating cultural discussion and introducing vocabulary relating to health and body parts. In fact, you can end the lesson “at the hospital” after a week long fiesta!
You can find plenty of resources for and reviews of this Spanish culture lesson online, which can provide additional activities and exercises.
First, introduce the festival itself and discuss the lesson’s key vocabulary:
- Show some photos of the festival and ask students to discuss them in small groups in Spanish.
- Share a video explaining the festival and/or showing a bull race.
- Use a PowerPoint like this one to introduce or review Spanish body parts and pain, in the context of San Fermín.
For the main task, you can have students pair up to role play a visit to the doctor’s office after the festival.
One of them will be the corredor (runner) and the other will play the doctor. They can write, rehearse and perform, or practice spontaneous speaking.
3. Describe Physical Appearances with Las Fallas
Not many people 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.
These statues—called ninots—are set on fire on the last day of the festival after a year of creation. They’re made of wood and paper, and they feature satirical and funny cartoons, created around political, social or religious characters that have been popular in Spain over the year.
This is a great follow-up to a lesson on personal appearances and descriptions. Your students may also have questions about this strange tradition in which Spanish people set fire to their own work, so this a good opportunity to get them engaged.
Introduce the festival and answer any questions that students may have. Review vocabulary for personal appearance and descriptors as you go through photos of the ninots.
You can give each student a picture of a different ninot and ask them to write a description of it using the vocabulary. They can peer-assess the work in pairs and give each other feedback.
Then, as a fun game, you can play a life-size version of Guess Who! Here’s how:
- Have students stand and hold up their pictures so everyone can see.
- One student will be “it” and secretly choose one of the photos, while the others ask questions in Spanish to figure out which picture the “it” player is thinking of.
- For example, if someone asks whether the ninot is tall, and it isn’t, then everyone with a tall ninot sits down.
- This continues until there’s only one person left, or until the students can guess the correct photo.
4. Review Spanish Holidays with La Tomatina
Oh, your students will go absolutely crazy over this massive tomato fight. The tradition started spontaneously in 1945 when, during a parade, some participants got into an altercation and began pelting each other with tomatoes from a nearby vendor’s stand.
Now, La Tomatina has become such a phenomenon that people from all around the world travel to Spain for the opportunity to be part of a city-wide food fight.
You can use this lesson to review Spanish holidays in general, like at the end of a unit. It’s a fantastic excuse to get your students to produce an extended piece of writing about holidays in the past tense, which can be done individually or in small groups.
Ask your students to produce a pretend blog post about their visit to La Tomatina, including when they went, what happened, who else went with them, and their overall opinion of the experience.
Here’s a beautifully-crafted lesson plan you can use that comes with fantastic vocabulary support, clear explanations and some guidance for peer assessment.
For younger or less advanced students, you could have them create a postcard instead, with a drawing on one side and a shorter writing piece on the other.
5. Explore Mexican Myth and Folklore Through Presentations
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.
Further, myths and folk tales often reveal historical details of a region and its people, as well as explanations for natural phenomena that underly important cultural belief systems.
You can use Prezi digital presentations to bring Mexican myths and folklore into the 21st-century classroom. It’s user-friendly, free for educators to download with a school email address and more attention-grabbing than classic PowerPoint slides.
Have your students design a Prezi presentation on their subject. Depending on the age of your students, you can assign them individual topics (such as specific legends or Aztec gods) to research or let them select their own.
Make sure your project guidelines specify:
- How many slides to include
- A timeframe for the presentation
- How to cite research sources
- Which parts of the written and oral content must be in Spanish
You can also ask students to include their opinion of their particular myth or folktale.
6. Create Video Skits to Master Spanish Slang and Idioms
Spanish slang and Spanish idioms can be colorful and even playful from an English speaker’s point of view. No language describes looking for trouble as poetically as Spanish, after all: 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 interaction of a casual chat between classmates on video (which can be posted to YouTube or Vimeo for easy presentation), or simply ask students to perform their skits in front of the class.
You can provide students with a list of common Spanish idioms and slang and encourage them to find other examples they enjoy (as long as they’re appropriate, of course).
You’ll want to specify:
- The minimum number of terms to include in the skit
- An ideal timeframe
- Anything students will be graded on (pronunciation, contextual usage, etc.)
To further inspire your students’ creativity, you can have each group choose a prop from a list or box and require the conversation to involve the prop somehow. The weirder the props, the more entertaining the skit will be!
7. Go On Virtual Adventures to Discover Argentina
Thanks to technology, you can take your students on an adventure to Spanish-speaking regions without buying them all plane tickets!
Using Google Earth, you and your students can explore Argentina from the comfort of your classroom. This will help them see and understand the use of Spanish beyond their textbook. It can also be a great motivator for learners who may want to visit Argentina or other Spanish-speaking countries in person.
You can of course use this project for any country you like—though Argentina’s compelling and diverse topography make it a particularly effective subject.
Ask students 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.
You can have students include things like:
- A list or paragraph detailing proper trip supplies
- A brochure using only formal usted commands
- A filmed television commercial to present to the class
- A follow-up questionnaire for customers about what they liked and disliked about the trip
8. Explore Pablo Neruda’s Poetry with Ed.VoiceThread
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.
Consider having students use Ed.VoiceThread, a network that enables users to upload text with their own voiceovers and text comments. Students can mark up a text in advance and prepare a statement about it before actually recording. Those who are anxious presenters will especially appreciate the option to delete and re-record as many times as they need.
First, you can 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:
- Teach Neruda’s work in class
- Assign poem(s) for students to recite and/or analyze
- Provide any specific questions they should address in their projects
You can assign the whole class one poem to get a number of interpretations, or choose different poems for each student to have more variety among the projects.
As you can see, teaching Spanish culture offers endless opportunities to learn and revisit vocabulary and grammar structures.
That’s why the key to using these activities is to be creative. Adapt them to your own classes and come up with new ways of taking your students on a cultural trip without leaving the classroom!