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

Spanish: Routes to Culture Class Context

It’s one thing to be fluent in another language, but I don’t think anyone can achieve full fluency unless they have a good grasp of the culture and feel comfortable in that culture.

– Pablo Muirhead



  • Who are you? Where are you from?

African Presence in Latin America

  • History; Contributions of people of African descent


  • Aspects of traveling and different types of trips
  • Tourism vs. living abroad (What kind of traveler do you want to be?)

Daily Life

  • Routines; Free time; Curfews


  • Grading systems in different countries
  • Students’ preferences and strengths
  • What is a good teacher? What is a good student?


  • Physical and mental health
  • Are you a healthy person? What should you do? (commands)


  • History: Pre-Castro, during Castro, and recent events
  • Literacy campaign; Government; Freedoms
  • Miami Cubans

Coming of Age

  • Quinceañera (a girl’s coming of age at 15)

School Profile

Pablo Muirhead teaches Spanish II, IV, and V at Shorewood High School in Shorewood, Wisconsin, a suburb just outside of Milwaukee. The majority of Shorewood’s 16,000 residents are professionals. Shorewood’s 750-student high school has two strong integration programs that draw students from Milwaukee and includes a 20 percent minority population. Starting in elementary school, most students participate in the college preparatory foreign language program, which offers Spanish, French, and German classes.

Lesson Design

When designing his lessons, Mr. Muirhead refers to the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards (see Resources) and plans each thematic unit with the end result in mind. For each unit, he determines what he wants students to be able to do, then designs lessons to meet that goal. To keep students motivated and help lower their anxiety levels, he includes four to five activities per lesson in which students progress from working in pairs to working in small groups to full-class participation.

Having grown up in both the Milwaukee area and Peru, Mr. Muirhead has personal connections to Shorewood and the nearby Latino community. He takes advantage of his familiarity with the area to help students experience Spanish language and culture firsthand. His classes regularly visit the local Latino community and interact with its Spanish-speaking residents. Some of the activities students have done when visiting this community include eating at local restaurants, learning salsa dancing, and even playing dominos at a senior home with senior citizens originally from Puerto Rico and Cuba.

The Lesson

In this lesson, students discussed the African presence in Latin America through the perspective of Onama, an African woman enslaved in Peru. Onama is the main character in a three-part original narrative written by Mr. Muirhead and modeled after Alex Haley’s Roots. In previous lessons, Mr. Muirhead taught the first two parts of the narrative through Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS). In addition to the cultural references that he embedded in these stories, Mr. Muirhead introduced students to the African influence through readings, discussions, and short lectures that used many cognates and a lot of visual support. Following this lesson, Mr. Muirhead shared the third story of Onama, which takes place several generations later and focuses on her descendants. This unit concluded with multiple assessments, including letters written by students to a character from one of the stories.

This Spanish II class was comprised of ninth-graders who had begun studying Spanish in the fifth grade, and tenth-graders who had begun studying it in the ninth grade. Although Mr. Muirhead taught the same curriculum to both groups in his class, he took into account that some students had been exposed to the language longer than others.

Key Teaching Strategies

  • Creating Cultural Experiences: The teacher designs activities in which students can see, hear, or touch a cultural artifact, create their own cultural artifact, and/or observe or engage in cultural practices in or beyond the classroom. These direct or simulated experiences lead students to discover the perspectives of the culture being studied.
  • Discovering Cultural Understanding From Texts: The teacher has students derive knowledge of cultural products, practices, and perspectives from written or oral documents.
  • Reading to Write: The teacher has students interpret a text that can then be used as a model for their written work.
  • Student Grouping: The teacher designs activities that allow students to engage in multiple types of interactions, including working with partners, in small groups, and as a whole class.


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