Udo has a question. If group members can each respond with one or two sentences we might be able to collectively craft a decent answer. The question is obviously too big for one person to answer. It could be a book! So let’s just all throw in a few insights:

How can we teach culture and history in the upper classes with the help of TPRS?




20 thoughts on “Question”

  1. Several weeks ago, I did a story listening lesson on Louis XIV and Versailles. One of the topics we have to “cover” is daily routine. I printed out little clocks and put them on the board and then drew pictures of what Louis did in a typical day at the palace of Versailles at the different times. I made it into a story and had fun with it. I think the key is that you have to pick topics that you actually want to talk about. I don’t typically care about daily routine vocab, but I do like talking about the castles and history. Then, we read an article I had adapted about Louis XIV and did some research on the present day website, which has a lot of history on it. We also talked about Marie Antoinette using a movie talk. There is a film where Kirsten Dunst plays her and there is a scene where she wakes up and gets dressed. History and culture are FULL of drama and interesting stories; it’s just our job to figure out how to make them interesting and accessible to our students. Constant balance.

  2. Singing children’s songs of the target culture has been fun and cultural.

    Of course, there’s the adage that comes something like this: learning a peoples language is the epitome of learning their culture.

  3. I also really like finding good images that have to do with culture to talk about with the class. There are many historical photos and art that can be interesting to students. The trick is to find something interesting and keep it simple. Too much can be overwhelming. I also like the emphasis of not worrying too much about them memorizing a bunch of information. They take in a bit at a time, and eventually it adds up to quite a bit.

  4. It depends on the group. Sometimes I do things like a “lecture” which is a little like SL, where I talk about whatever the topic is, a historical event or a biography or a timeline of something we are looking at. I just talk about it and they take notes in Spanish (aka copy off the board). That is for groups that like to have that “lecturey feel.”

    I feel like SL is probably something I need to do more of, as it will provide richer language and more complex readings that are accessible.

    I like to use films. I’m not awesome at following a lesson plan though. Even with a film. When I try to be too lesson-y with a film it seems to get out of hand with “extra stuff” and it drags on. I’m sure a lot of this is because I am scattered. It works best for me when I’m a bit more casual about it. We watch a chunk (20 mins or so, of course it depends on what’s happening and I try to pause at a compelling point). Then we talk about it. I give writing prompts, ask them to predict, etc. I have used Bryce Hedstrom’s “book review” handout (from his book “Stuff for Spanish Class) as a way to talk about films.

    Upper level is where I have used the TPRS novels as an anchor point for digging into something historical / cultural. Personally I like learning from a narrative / personal story. It helps make the external historical events relevant. I have trouble using the novels sometimes, sticking with it, etc. We read together, do RT as appropriate etc. I have also done a sort of hybrid with SL and novel reading. I tell a certain amount, then they read part, etc. I basically just adjust whatever I do to the interest of the group.

    I have a level 4 right now. It also has 2 level 2 students, so I have to be mindful about making sure the level 2s don’t feel “behind.” I am thinking of giving them a choice of novels (topics from the novels, like Guatemala / immigration; Argentina / Dirty War; Spain/ Civil War) so that they get some voice in what our discussions are about.

    I’m eager to hear what others do. I am a big fan of giving them some say in the topcis. Also I am kinda lazy and need to up my investment in creating compelling and organized classes for upper levels. I get a bit too loosey goosey with them bc they can interact more, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t need input.

    1. Jen said:

      …I feel like SL is probably something I need to do more of….

      Yes! I think it is the big “find” of this year. I think it will change the experience of many teachers in the classroom. High engagement from the kids, very easy to do for the teacher. Researched with a fine toothed comb for so many years by one of the best and most dedicated (for the kids) researchers ever – Beniko Mason.

    2. When I first read the question my immediate thought was SL! My students have loved fairy tales and legends. I have first year and advanced immersion classes and these stories can be layered up or down for any level. I told them the story of the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Itza. They loved it! It also reminded them of Romeo and Juliet. I had students draw after listening and summarize in English. I followed it up with an embedded reading.

      Tongue twisters, music can also be really fun. Sometimes I’ll start with a tongue twister and have them work in partners, as a class, etc. It takes like 2 min. is totally dumb but they seem to enjoy it from time to time.

  5. The question from Udo is:

    How can TPRS be used to teach culture and history at the upper levels?

    I don’t think we can teach culture and history using TPRS. I tried hard for many years and couldn’t figure out a way to do it. I think it is because TPRS (not T1 but the real kind, NT) is expansive in nature. Since our experience with language is expansive, we can take a picture or a blank piece of paper or a single word, any word, and create something from it. Doing that makes it exciting, in my opinion.

    A universe can/did come out of a word. Creating new things is much more fun than grabbing TPRS and saying, “OK we are going to use you to talk about French culture in the 18th century!” It is perhaps due to the fact that the history and culture have already happened, and so exist for us as teachers as fixed information. That kind of thinking is reductive, it has to be. But TPRS (again, not the T1 type of TPRS that everyone does with such sadness), is not reductive, it is expansive and freeing and always full of surprises

    When we try to use TPRS to teach culture and history (and grammar, for that matter), we are trying to use a way that expands into all sorts of shapes and sizes and interesting forms to teach something that is already fixed, because it already happened. In pure and unfettered CI we can the stars through our telescopes, each handcrafted for us by our personalities since there is no one way to do it. We don’t want to look through the end of the scope that makes everything small, right?

    So I say use the L1 to teach boring stuff like culture and history, and use TPRS to teach le nouveau.

    Like Kierkegaard said, ““If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”

    1. “When we try to use TPRS to teach culture and history (and grammar, for that matter), we are trying to use an approach that expands into all sorts of shapes and sizes and interesting forms to teach something that is already fixed, because it already happened. In pure and unfettered CI we can look at the stars through our telescopes, each handcrafted for us by our personalities since there is no one way to do it. We don’t want to look through the end of the scope that makes everything small, right?”

      Beautiful, Ben!

      1. Ben, I’m going to disagree with you a bit on this one.

        While I think that pure TPRS, especially Non-Targeted TPRS, does not lend itself to a planned lesson on culture, history, etc., TCI does.

        In addition, I disagree that culture and history are inherently boring. We only make them boring by the way we teach them. For example, if I were teaching Swahili, I would be sure to include the story of the Man-eaters of Tsavo; it is both history and culture, and one of the most suspenseful stories you can imagine. I am still working on how to incorporate the story of Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in my German class. During WWI, Lettow-Vorbeck led the British troops on quite a chase through German East Africa. His were the only German troops to invade British soil during WWI, and his Askaris (African troops) thwarted the attempts of British troops at over ten times their number to defeat them. At the end of the war, they seriously considered “going rogue” rather than surrendering, since they had never been defeated. In fact, the surrendering German forces provided the “victorious” British troops with supplies they desperately needed and surrendered only because they received orders from Berlin. After the war, Lettow-Vorbeck was invited to be the guest of honor at a reunion of British officers and troops who had opposed him – and accepted. When the Nazis came to power, Hitler asked Lettow-Vorbeck to become an ambassador; Lettow-Vorbeck told Hitler to go f— himself. Then, when he fell on hard times, his former opponents in WWI sent him care packages so he and his family could survive. In 1964, the year Lettow-Vorbeck died, the West German government voted to pay all remaining Askaris the pay they had not received during the war. The big question was how to identify these former Askaris. The agent tasked with the payout got a broom handle, and every person who came forward was asked to perform the Manual of Arms. Every genuine Askari did it perfectly.

        You see, history is really about people and ideas, not dates and dry facts.

        BTW, I think I’ve found my way into The Realm. My two 3-4-AP classes are involved in a Role Playing Game. Having been a Dungeon Master (D&D) for years, I decided to adapt a D6 system (i.e. using only six-sided dice), take away the magic and other fantasy elements (though a dragon may make an appearance), and put the action in the Middle Ages. I can see this working in any setting, though. I’m going to blog about it, put some comments on my FaceBook page, and eventually write a manual. Today, my first-period students (normally sleepy heads) were so involved that they were yelling at each other in German, and the teacher next door came to see what was going on. And the action is just getting started. The enemy is just arriving – and I’m using real German medieval alliances (history) and social structure (culture) as part of the set-up.

        1. The first real foray into the Realm! I am not surprised that it is happening in your classroom, Robert. The 12 years that have passed since we first tried have perhaps ended! My efforts with the Realm at the beginning were doomed bc I was working with 7th and 8th graders and clearly it is an idea for advanced older kids with lots of CI under their belts.

          My point about history and culture being boring is not of course my opinion, and I completely agree with your point. My thought was that we make those things seriously boring when we try to “teach them” using TPRS – a reductive thing and an expansive thing thrown together to create a pedagogy – as opposed to letting the language expand as per, for example, perhaps the only way to do it, Story Listening. Or group reading and discussion. But unless the kids are coming from years of stories, it can’t work. That’s kind of what I meant.

          Remember your first survey course in Western Civ in college? A long time ago I was 18 and a freshman at Washington U. – St. Louis in (the great) Peter Riesenberg’s class. I learned quickly that if you didn’t read, you didn’t get it. So also with our students. We must ask them to first read a lot about history and culture, but not in a “required reading” setting where on a beautiful day we had to go back in the stacks and read all those articles.

          Rather, we offer, or so I advise and would like to hear how you do it, and so would Udo, we can perhaps offer our advanced kids some SSR time to prime their knowledge and then, if they have been fed enough CI, we can get into the good stuff of history and culture. But unless the teacher is great and the kids not burdened by life as so many are, I don’t think that we can succeed.

          1. We often make history boring by the way we teach it, whether we try to incorporate TPRS or not. I see history as expansive, not reductive. After all, a key component of the word history is “story”. This is not just a folk etymology (as some might think) but a fortuitous (providential?) event that the word has kept its essential meaning of a narrative of events from Latin and Greek “historia”. In fact, the word “story” derives as a shortening of “history” rather than the longer word deriving from the shorter.

            If we tell history as stories, there is no reason it cannot fit into a TPRS/TCI classroom. (I’ve been doing it for years; that’s part of why I wrote my first book.)

      1. Thanks a lot, Kathrin.
        You can count on me being there. By the way, Erlangen was my home town and now I live in Coburg – no big deal to get to the workshop!

      2. I can’t access your youtube videos via my Mozilla Firefox. Could you please send me the exact link for your videos – thanks!

  6. Upper levels, culture, and history: I have done a lot of this with short videos and with a TV show, all done more or less original MovieTalk style.

    Since it’s upper levels, sometimes they can read the subtitles, too. (Chinese TV and movies nearly always have subtitles in Chinese; it’s for improving literacy, done on purpose). Sometimes we pause and they read the subtitles, or I do, filling in for unknown words with synonyms or rephrasing in a comprehensible way. Culture and history come up throughout that. We pause and I may explain a reference to history that was made (because Chinese TV has a fair amount of that, too), or pause to respond to students’ reaction to someone’s behavior or words — usually because of cultural values or issues. I like it a lot.

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