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

Spanish: Interpreting Picasso’s Guernica

Spanish II, grade 10: In this lesson, students use their interpretive abilities to learn about culture and history through art. The students in Meghan Zingle's class make initial observations about Picasso's painting, and then work in pairs to write and present a mock radio announcement about it. After reading about the painting's background, they discuss the history it represents.



Meghan Zingle


Spanish II




Glastonbury High School, Glastonbury, Connecticut

Lesson Date

March 1

Class Size



40 minutes daily


Video Summary

In this lesson, students interpret and discuss Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. First, as a class, students list vocabulary words suggested by the images in the painting. Then, working in pairs, they write a radio news announcement based on their interpretations of the painting. Finally, students read about and discuss the painting’s historical background and prepare to use this information to revise their newscast.

Standards Addressed

Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentational

Cultures: Products

Connections: Making Connections


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.

thematic units
Thematic units are designed using content as the organizing principle. Vocabulary, structures, and cultural information are included as they relate to the themes in each unit. For an excellent example of theme-based units, see the Nebraska Foreign Language Education Web site in General Resources.

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 design lessons so that students can work with more abstract topics that are important to a culture?
  • What kinds of reading strategies help your students understand informational texts without having to spend excessive time decoding or translating?
  • How do you make decisions regarding the role of the textbook in your teaching? When do you enhance textbook materials? When do you substitute other materials for those in the textbook?

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.

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.

  • Use artwork to help students develop their communication skills and learn more about the culture reflected in the art. For example, have students choose a painting and imagine what happened before and after the scene depicted in the painting took place. A painting like Georges Seurat’s Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte,which inspired Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George, can evoke rich classroom discussion about characters. By using art to stimulate oral and written work, you can move students outside of their environment. Students can explore the art for its artistic meaning and value in the culture.
  • When assigning reading selections, give students a reading plan that includes prereading, skimming/scanning, and closer reading stages. Let students know how closely they should read the text — in most instances they can stop short of understanding every word. Once they have gleaned the relevant material from the reading, you can use the information in other activities. Ms. Zingle began with a prereading activity (the initial interpretation of the painting) that piqued student interest. She then explained skimming/scanning guidelines for identifying people, places, and dates when reading the textbook selection. Students used a graphic organizer to help them identify who, what, when, where, and how as they read. The focused reading helped students develop effective reading strategies (learning to read), and also gave them relevant cultural and historical information (reading to learn).


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.


Lesson Materials
Painting Interpretation Web: Student Work (PDF, 40 K)
Sample graphic organizer completed by a student during the Guernicainterpretation activity

Curriculum References
Glastonbury Public Schools: Foreign Language Department

Meghan Zingle’s Additional Resources

Web Resources:
Online tutorial with links to Spanish pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and verb lessons for students and teachers

Conjuguemos: Conjugation Practice
Self-timed, self-graded grammar exercises with an optional grade verification sheet (Available in French, German, Latin, and 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