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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices

Spanish: Food Facts and Stories

Spanish I, grade 8: Students use math and science skills as they interpret nutritional information in a Spanish-language McDonald's menu. John Pedini's lesson integrates authentic materials, makes connections to other academic areas, and develops interpretive and interpersonal communication skills.



John Pedini


Spanish I




Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, Massachusetts

Lesson Date

January 9

Class Size



40 minutes daily

Video Summary

In this lesson, students make connections to science, health, and math during a nutrition discussion. They talk about the effects of a fast-food diet, using a variety of authentic materials including the Food Guide Pyramid and a fast-food restaurant menu. Later in the lesson, they use Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS) to learn and practice new vocabulary.

Standards Addressed

Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretive

Cultures: Products

Connections: Making Connections


affective filter
The affective filter hypothesis (Dulay, Krashen, and Burt, 1982) describes the need for second-language learning to occur in an environment of low anxiety, to encourage the processing and learning of new information.

Dulay, Heidi, Stephen D. Krashen, and Mariana Burt. Language Two.Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1982.

authentic materials
Authentic materials are resources that have been developed specifically for native speakers. These include print, audio, and visual materials.

performance level
The ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners and the NCSSFL–ACTFL Can-Do Statements (derived from the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012) describe the language outcomes for students in standards-based language programs. The performance levels include Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced. Learners in the Novice range operate primarily with learned and practiced material. Learners in the Intermediate range use language to create with language on familiar topics. While operating primarily at the sentence level, they begin to expand and string sentences together as they build narrative skills. Learners in the Advanced range are able to sustain narration and description in past, present, and future tense and in a range of content areas. See also proficiency level.

Realia are materials that are highly visual, contextualized, and culturally authentic. Realia can include posters, advertisements, labels, schedules, tickets, placemats, and more.

Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS)
This adaptation of TPR adds the element of storytelling and uses the story narrative or episodic structures to build meaningful comprehension. The technique begins with the teacher telling a story and using actions and gestures to introduce new vocabulary. As students listen to the story, they confirm their understanding by repeating the actions: First they perform the actions for specific events and then recreate the whole story. Once the story is understood, students take over the narrative task, either as a group or individually. See also Total Physical Response (TPR).

Connecting to Your Teaching

Reflect on Your Practice
As you reflect on these questions, write down your responses or discuss them as a group.

  • How do you track students’ vocabulary acquisition from awareness/understanding to usage in context?
  • How comfortable are you creating original stories that appeal to the age group you are teaching? If that is not your strength, where else could you find a story?
  • How can you help students feel comfortable with the performance aspect of a TPRS activity?
  • How do you use vocabulary and concepts from disciplines with which you are not very familiar?
  • How might you present unfamiliar vocabulary words that have no cognates? In other words, how do you communicate the meaning of new words that are not related to words in other languages?

Watch Other Videos
Watch other videos in the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 library for more examples of teaching methodologies like those you’ve just seen. Note: All videos in this series are subtitled in English.

Sports in Action (German) features students engaged in TPRS, and Mapping Planet Earth (French) illustrates connections to other content areas for younger students.

Put It Into Practice
Try these ideas in your classroom. Where it’s not already evident, reflect on how to adapt an idea that targets one performance range for application to other performance ranges.

  • To successfully link vocabulary to other disciplines, first refresh or advance your own learning through good authentic materials. Collect materials that are age-appropriate, appeal to your students’ interests, and parallel their course of study. Posters, books for young people, magazines, Web sites, and other realia provide highly visual contexts that help learners remember new vocabulary. As you travel or attend professional meetings, look for illustrated classroom references. These will be especially important in subject areas where you feel less knowledgeable.
  • Storytelling is a powerful teaching method for all age groups, particularly when there is a set of key vocabulary terms and structures that can be taught as lexical phrases. You could use a story like the one Mr. Pedini wrote, or one that another teacher has shared with you. Most teachers find that the best stories are those created for a particular group of students. Students memorize these stories easily, comprehend grammar structures in them that they have not studied before, and then use the structures in retelling. You can use stories to begin lessons on current events, cultural practices/products, films, literature, and more.
  • When introducing new material, you can be the “expert” who helps students acquire new concepts and the language. Plan your interaction, but be prepared to adjust to how students respond and to how well they understand the material. For example, Mr. Pedini uses a variety of materials to build a discussion about nutrients, but he constantly checks to see if students understand and if they can respond meaningfully. The interactions are student-centered despite Mr. Pedini’s lead role in the discussion, because students are primarily absorbed in the pursuit of meaning.
  • When designing a health-focused lesson in a foreign language classroom, it is important, not only to present accurate information, but to be aware of potentially sensitive issues, in this case regarding nutrition and eating habits. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
    1. Recognize that dietary habits vary from person to person. Some students may be vegetarian or vegan, some may have restrictions on certain foods due to religious beliefs or for medical reasons (for example, allergies and diabetes), and some may have an eating disorder or be on a doctor-ordered specialized diet. Refrain from recommending specific foods as sources of a particular nutrient.
    2. Show sensitivity to overweight students. It’s important to educate about the health dangers of overeating and overindulging in unhealthy foods, but refrain from using language that can be demeaning and embarrassing.
    3. Be cautious about presenting information that could be frightening to younger students. For example, although students at this age may not be at risk for certain health problems like heart disease, they could still be left to worry about their parents or other loved ones.
    4. Talk about nutrition in terms of “guidelines” rather than “rules.” While it’s important that students be aware of their dietary habits, preaching strict calorie counting can be intimidating or even damaging, particularly to anyone dealing with an eating disorder. In general, keep in mind that calorie requirements vary among individuals.
    5. Avoid discussing fad diets, even if you are attempting to debunk them, as this can add to the confusion, frustration, or temptation that students already feel toward them.
    6. Consult with your school’s health teacher to make sure that students receive consistent information from class to class.

    In general, students need to know they are responsible for making decisions about what they eat and learning how to make the right choices.


World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages
The World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages create a roadmap to guide learners to develop competence to communicate effectively and interact with cultural understanding. This lesson correlates to the following Standards:

Communicate effectively in more than one language in order to function in a variety of situations and for multiple purposes

Interpersonal Communication

Learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken, signed, or written conversations to share information, reactions, feelings, and opinions.

Interpretive Communication

Learners understand, interpret, and analyze what is heard, read, or viewed on a variety of topics.

Interact with cultural competence and understanding

Relating Cultural Products to Perspectives

Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the products and perspectives of the cultures studied.

Connect with other disciplines and acquire information and diverse perspectives in order to use the language to function in academic and career-related situations

Making Connections

Learners build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using the language to develop critical thinking and to solve problems creatively.


Lesson Materials
Food Guide Pyramid Worksheet (PDF, 14 K)
A worksheet students used to compare nutritional guidelines from different countries

Curriculum References
Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks

Public Schools of Brookline: K–8 Learning Expectations

John Pedini’s Additional Resources

Web Resources:
Blaine Ray: Total Physical Response Storytelling
Information about TPRS, including relevant links and planned workshops

Yahoo in Spanish
The Spanish-language version of the popular search engine; find food Web sites by searching under Sociedad and Gastronomia

Series Directory

Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: A Library of Classroom Practices


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 2003. 2016.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-731-2