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

Spanish: Interpreting Literature

Spanish III, grade 11: This lesson centers on the story Dos Caras by the New Mexican author Sabine Ulibarri. Barbara Pope Bennett guides students as they recount the details and discuss their interpretations of the story and its moral message. Students act out segments of the story and then collaborate in groups to come up with alternate endings.



Barbara Pope Bennett


Spanish III (IB)




Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, Washington, D.C.

Lesson Date

December 12

Class Size



45-90 minutes; alternate week block schedule*

Video Summary

In this lesson, students discuss Dos caras (Two faces), by New Mexico author Sabine Ulibarri. Having read the story in previous classes, the students begin by summarizing and interpreting the story and its moral message. To show they understood what they have read, students dramatize scenes from Dos caras, then work in groups to create alternate endings. The class also listens to a student’s oral presentation about a local artist.

Standards Addressed

Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentational

Cultures: Products

Connections: Making Connections, Acquiring Information

Communities: School and Community

*The class meets for 45-55 minutes daily every other week. On the alternate week, the class meets three days for 55 minutes each and one day for 90 minutes.


heritage speaker
A heritage speaker is a student who is exposed to a language other than English at home. Heritage speakers can be categorized based on the prominence and development of the heritage language in the student’s daily life. Some students have full oral fluency and literacy in the home language; others may have full oral fluency but their written literacy was not developed because they were schooled in English. Another group of students — typically third- or fourth-generation — can speak to a limited degree but cannot express themselves on a wide range of topics. Students from any of these categories may also have gaps in knowledge about their cultural heritage. Teachers who have heritage speakers of the target language in their class should assess which proficiencies need to be maintained and which need to be developed further. See also native speaker.

negotiation of meaning
In this process, teachers and students try to convey information to one another and reach mutual comprehension through restating, clarifying, and confirming information. The teacher may help students get started or work through a stumbling block using linguistic and other approaches.

proficiency level
Proficiency describes how well a person functions in a language. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages further defines proficiency with a set of guidelines for assessing communicative abilities. The guidelines cover how an individual performs across three criteria: function, content/context, and accuracy. When combined, these criteria determine the student’s communicative ability to be Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, or Superior. See also performance level.

Connecting to Your Teaching

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

  • What criteria do you use in selecting literary texts for your students?
  • How do you check that students comprehend the text? How do you check that they are moving beyond a basic understanding toward grasping the deeper meaning of the text? How do you differentiate between a student’s lack of understanding and what could be a unique interpretation of the story?
  • How do you use literary texts to further students’ critical thinking skills?
  • When assigning oral presentations, what guidelines do you give to students? How do you assess the presentations? How do you involve the other students during the presentations?

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.

Exploring New Directions (Chinese) shows students making oral presentations based on their interpretations of literary texts, and Interpreting La Belle et la Bête (French) features students interpreting a cultural product (a film) and discussing its moral message.

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.

  • When exploring literature as a cultural product, tailor the tasks to the proficiency level of your students. Begin by selecting a text that is age appropriate and interesting to students but also challenging. For younger or beginning students, contemporary poems, short stories, or children’s books are appropriate. For high school students in intermediate/advanced levels, texts with “coming of age” themes or issues of right and wrong (as in Dos caras) are appropriate because students can relate to the content without needing extensive knowledge of history or culture. Regardless of the age group, begin by designing carefully sequenced activities that focus on the text’s meaning and that use support materials — such as the visuals, dramatizations, retelling, and summarizing seen in Ms. Pope Bennett’s class. Once students understand the content of the story, they can begin to interpret the text for the author’s underlying message and note their own reaction to it.
  • Use oral reports to assess students’ skills in the three modes of communication. The following is one potential presentation sequence: First, a student gives an oral report, thus performing a presentational task. The students who are listening use interpretive communication skills to understand the report. After the presentation, students engage in interpersonal communication during a Q & A session. The session gives the presenter an opportunity to negotiate, clarify, and expand on information, while giving his or her classmates an opportunity to correct misunderstandings and to react. In terms of language outcomes, oral reports allow students to plan and deliver a set speech in which pronunciation, word choice, structure, and fluency can be practiced. Students should be made aware, however, of the different expectations for their language use in prepared speeches for different audiences. In addition to language use, oral reports demonstrate how well students conduct research, organize material, and deliver information to a group — all outcomes that are highlighted in the educational system at large.


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.

Presentational Communication

Learners present information, concepts, and ideas to inform, explain, persuade, and narrate on a variety of topics using appropriate media and adapting to various audiences of listeners, readers, or viewers.

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.

Acquiring Information and Diverse Perspectives

Learners access and evaluate information and diverse perspectives that are available through the language and its cultures.

Communicate and interact with cultural competence in order to participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world

School and Global Communities

Learners use the language both within and beyond the classroom to interact and collaborate in their community and the globalized world.


Curriculum References
Benjamin Banneker Academic High School: IB Program

International Baccalaureate Organization

Barbara Pope Bennett’s Additional Resources

Web Resources:
CNN en Español
The Spanish-language version of the popular news site
Entertainment and news updates in Spanish

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