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

Italian: U.S. and Italian Homes

Italian II, grade 9: In this lesson, Marylee DiGennaro's students compare American homes with typical dwellings in Italy. The class learns new vocabulary words, then practices them during a line dance and a card game. For homework, the students compose letters describing their homes, which they will email to students in Italy.



Marylee DiGennaro


Italian II




North Haven High School, North Haven, Connecticut

Lesson Date

October 9

Class Size



Block schedule, 82 minutes every other day

Video Summary

In this lesson, students practice vocabulary relating to homes, furnishings, and directions. First, they compare typical U.S. and Italian homes, using their own drawings and a PowerPoint presentation by Ms. DiGennaro. Next, they practice vocabulary words as they match labels to pictures of furniture, play a card game, and even dance! Students then use the vocabulary in two final activities: They follow classmates’ directions to place pictures of furniture on a floor plan on the board, and then work in pairs to draw a picture of a home described by their partner.

Standards Addressed

Communication: Interpersonal

Cultures: Practices, Products

Comparisons: Cultural

Communities: School and Community


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.

  • What kinds of vocabulary-learning activities do you use?
  • How do you maintain a sense of cultural authenticity when focusing on vocabulary learning?
  • How do you structure vocabulary study to move students from learning single words to engaging in communicative activities?
  • What kinds of bodily/kinesthetic or musical/rhythmic activities do you use? How do you make students feel comfortable enough to participate in these activities?
  • How might an ongoing email exchange provide students with communication and cultural experiences?

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.

  • Touring a French City (French) demonstrates multiple activities for learning and practicing vocabulary.
  • Happy New Year! (Japanese) illustrates the use of visuals and cultural perspectives to teach vocabulary to a class with a strong Japanese heritage.
  • A Place I Call Home (Arabic) presents a sequence of activities that builds vocabulary and lets students demonstrate their learning in conversation.

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 multiple activities to encourage students to attach meaning to vocabulary words. Although the teacher is often the source of initial vocabulary presentation, students must be actively engaged in associating words and meanings in a number of formats so that they can recall them short and long term. For presentation, group large vocabulary units into chunks of related words to help students learn terms through association. Students learn and remember new words better if they can organize them into categories. Ms. DiGennaro used the following sequence for her lesson: Housing styles, rooms, furniture, and words of location. To illustrate meaning for individual words, you can match the terms to visuals. Younger students benefit from clear line drawings or illustrations from children’s books in the target language. High school students, such as those in Ms. DiGennaro’s class, can use photographs and magazine pictures. Some vocabulary can also be taught through actions, such as the directions vocabulary Ms. DiGennaro taught through a kinesthetic activity — the dance. After the initial presentation, practice should be varied and scaffolded from activities that focus on recognition (for example, matching definitions, following directions, or manipulating items or visuals), to activities that focus on recall (for example, a card game or a pair or group competition), and finally to those that focus on usage (describing, expressing preferences, or discussing similarities and differences).
  • Use authentic images to help students connect language to a cultural context. Direct translation of everyday words conveys their meaning, but images can help evoke a feel for the culture. Photographs, Web sites, and magazine pictures can provide memorable images to correspond with a set of vocabulary terms about homes, villages, cities, clothing, sports, and much more. In Ms. DiGennaro’s class, magazine pictures of furniture illustrated a sense of Italian style, and the labels students attached to the pictures served as a vocabulary review. The visuals also aided students in their comparison of U.S. and Italian homes and furnishings by exposing them to visual differences that may not have been obvious otherwise. You can add this cultural authenticity to many units.
  • Look for ways to involve students in direct communication with peers from the target culture. Students can write emails or send written or videotaped messages by mail. This exchange allows students to use language in real communication and learn about the target culture from an authentic source. Try to include regular opportunities for your students to communicate with students in the target culture so that their content knowledge and communication abilities can both expand. Successful exchanges require a commitment from both schools. Some teachers have found schools through online sources or professional associations.


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.

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.

Develop insight into the nature of language and culture in order to interact with cultural competence

Cultural Comparisons

Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.

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.


Lesson Materials
Card Game Instructions (PDF, 13 K)
Instructions for the card game played by students to review furniture vocabulary

Email Rubric (PDF, 14 K)
Ms. DiGennaro’s rubric for grading student email correspondence with the Italian students (Includes English translation)


Curriculum References
Connecticut State Department of Education: World Languages


Marylee DiGennaro’s Additional Resources

Web Resources:
A real estate Web site that gives descriptions of houses and apartments for sale or rent (available in Italian only)

The popular search engine can be used to find images of Italian furniture; click on the “Images” tab and enter the name of a piece of furniture or room in Italian to get images from Italian web sites

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