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

Spanish: Politics of Art

Spanish V, grade 12: Lori Langer de Ramirez's class stages a political debate based on Spain's visa requirement for Central and South Americans who wish to enter that country. During the debate, students assume the role of Latin American artists whose work they had researched and weigh the pros and cons of boycotting an invitation to exhibit their work in Spain. After the debate, the class votes on whether or not to accept the Spanish invitation.



Lori Langer de Ramirez


Spanish V




Herricks High School, New Hyde Park, New York

Lesson Date

February 26

Class Size



43 minutes daily

Video Summary

In this lesson, students read a letter written by prominent Colombian artists and intellectuals to Spain’s prime minister. The letter is in protest of a new Spanish policy requiring Colombians to obtain a visa in order to enter Spain. Role-playing Latin American artists, students formally debate the pros and cons of accepting an invitation to exhibit their work in Spain. After a vote, they prepare to write a letter in response based on majority opinion.

Standards Addressed

Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentational

Cultures: Practices, Products

Connections: Making Connections, Acquiring Information



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

Fossilization refers to the linguistic phenomenon in which students internalize “incorrect” or “non-standard” forms of the language to the degree that they become habits of speech not easily corrected.

native speaker
A native speaker considers the target language to be his or her first language. Teachers seek opportunities for students to communicate in person or through technology with native speakers. Students in foreign language classes who are first- or second-generation immigrants and who use the language extensively outside the classroom are also considered native speakers. These students typically maintain the cultural norms of their heritage in certain situations. See also heritage speaker.

Role-playing is an activity in which students dramatize characters or pretend that they are in new locations or situations. This activity challenges students by having them use language in new contexts.

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 keep abreast of current cultural issues and present new perspectives in your teaching?
  • How do you use current events and issues in your classes? Does your use of current events vary according to the level of your students?
  • How do you plan for students to assume more control over the amount of language they use?
  • How do you help your students develop critical-thinking skills?
  • How do you promote an understanding of other cultural perspectives?
  • In what ways could you incorporate the arts into your classroom content and connect it to larger global issues?

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.

Performing With Confidence (French) explores student presentations based on research of political topics, and Exploring New Directions (Chinese) illustrates student interpretation and presentation of dissident poetry.

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.

  • Plan for activities that encourage use of both formal and informal discussions within the communicative modes. With advanced students, plan activities that vary in genre, style, and quality and quantity of language and that promote student expression independent of teacher prompting. For example, during the debate on visas, students in Ms. Langer de Ramirez’s class performed at different levels of oral discourse within the interpersonal and presentational modes. In the warm-up discussion, Ms. Langer de Ramirez questioned, clarified, and expanded on student responses, many of which were short and elliptical. Then, as students exchanged information and opinions regarding the visa issue, their sentences became longer and more spontaneous. In the debates, they spoke more formally and expressed their thoughts in strong connected discourse. They had less time to prepare their counterarguments, but their presentations still retained a degree of formality. You can capitalize on any burning issue in the target culture and use this format with it: Introduce the topic with a prompt (for example, a letter, article, or news broadcast), establish opposing viewpoints via informal student interactions, and then have a formal debate.
  • Help your students develop a critical understanding of other cultural perspectives by linking historical and current events. For example, Ms. Langer de Ramirez’s students had previously studied colonialism in Latin America and applied what they learned to a present-day issue: the visa requirement. Students used terms such as mother countryand common heritage during the debate in ways that reflected the positive or negative feelings that today’s artists might have about the visa issue.
  • Provide opportunities for students to test their communication skills with a real audience. For example, Ms. Langer de Ramirez organized her lesson so that students could address questions to artists currently living in Latin America. This exchange gave students useful information for the debate as well as practice communicating by email. The exchange also allowed them to use their language skills and cultural knowledge in the community beyond the classroom. To ensure that students did not become a nuisance or violate cultural norms, Ms. Langer de Ramirez collected and reviewed the emails created by the students and managed the sending and receiving of all electronic correspondence. Situations such as this international political protest provide unique opportunities for students to communicate with native speakers. But you can also find correspondents in your own community who will participate in short exchanges. Look for retired teachers, native speakers residing nearby who would be willing to correspond via email on specific topics, teachers you have met at conferences, and the like.


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 Practices to Perspectives

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

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.


Lesson Materials
Rules for Debate (PDF, 15 K)
Debate procedure followed by students (Includes English translation)

Debate Worksheet: Student Work (PDF, 104 K)
Worksheet completed by a student, which lists classmates’ arguments and counterarguments during the debate

Curriculum References
New York State Education Department: Standards and Information About Learning Languages Other Than English

Lori Langer de Ramirez’s Additional Resources

Print Resources:
Krashen, Stephen D., and Tracy D. Terrell. The Natural Approach: Language Acquisition in the Classroom. Hayward, CA: Alemany Press, 1983.

Omaggio, Alice C. Language Teaching in Context. 2d ed. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers, 1993.

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