Integrating Culture in All Modes: A Noël Unit for Novices

noelAs a result of a recent #langchat discussion, I’ve been reflecting a lot about how to more fully integrate culture into my instructional practices.  In an earlier post, I shared the essential questions I developed based on my current units that I will use as a baseline for increasing the focus on cultural competency in my classroom.  A greater challenge that I identified as a result of the #langchat conversation, however, is the importance of integrating culture across all communicative modes. While my first thought was that I was that was providing my students with ample opportunities to develop their cultural competence by interpreting authentic materials, this is clearly not enough.  Encouraging students to identify the cultural products, practices and perspectives reflected in these authentic resources is only a first step. The cultural knowledge which is gleaned from these interpretive tasks must be carried over into the other modes to maximize student learning.  With this goal in mind I’ve begun modifying my Christmas units to provide a greater emphasis on cultural integration in each mode.

My French 1 class, with a targeted proficiency level of Novice Mid, provides the greatest difficulty when it comes to fully integrating culture, especially in the interpersonal mode.  The NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do’s for this level (which I use to guide my instructional design) are very speaker-centered.  Students are expected to communicate basic information about themselves and people they know and communicate basic information about their everyday life.  These objectives clearly aren’t appropriate for this cultural unit.  As I explained in last year’s post regarding my Christmas lessons, my students come from varied cultural and religious backgrounds and I consider it vital to honor this diversity. Therefore, it clearly wouldn’t be appropriate to design interpersonal activities that require students to interview classmates about their Christmas traditions (and then make comparisons), as I do in units on family, leisure activities, school, etc.  In the past, I assigned interpersonal tasks that required students to describe holiday-themed pictures in order to avoid personalized questions in this unit.  While these activities helped the students to acquire the new vocabulary, they did nothing to develop the students’ cultural competence regarding Francophone Christmas celebrations. Therefore, this year I’ve decided to use some role-play activities to integrate more culture while at the same time respecting both the cultural diversity and the proficiency level of these learners. While I think that we must ensure that our students are able to express their actual preferences, surroundings, and experiences in the target language, the same memorized phrases which enable communication at this level can be used to play the role of a speaker in another culture.  In these role-plays, in which pairs of students play the roles of French-speakers in Quebec and Paris, the students will not only integrate their understandings of the cultural practices of these regions as they relate to Christmas, they will also learn vocabulary and structures that will enable them to participate in authentic conversations in the future.

Here’s the unit plan I’ve developed for this year. Click here for the student activity packet.

Lesson 1: I’ll play this video to introduce the students to some French Christmas traditions and corresponding vocabulary. Then they’ll complete this pair role play activity to practice talking about cultural traditions associated with Christmas. This resource guide will help them interpret the pictures in the role play.

Lesson 2: I’ll start this lesson with the short video about Christmas traditions in Quebec, pausing frequently to discuss.  Then I’ll assign this guided role-play. As a follow up presentational writing activity, the students will write a message from the person belonging to the culture they played in the role play to a person from the culture that their partner played. In the message, they will demonstrate their new cultural competence by including appropriate facts and asking relevant questions.

Lesson 3: The students will watch and video and read an article about decorating a Christmas tree.  Next they’ll draw pictures showing the steps given in the article, and then present the steps to their partner using their pictures.

Day 4: The students will read an infographic about French holiday eating habits and then interview a partner. Afterwards they’ll complete a Venn diagram comparing French Christmas eating habits to those of their own family during any special celebration.

Day 5-8: The students will spend one day each at these learning stations:

  • Listening: The students will watch Christmas-themed authentic cartoon videos and complete on-line comprehension quizzes.
  • Reading: Students will read an article about Christmas traditions in various European countries and then one about Christmas in France and complete comprehension guides.
  • Speaking: Students assume the roles of a French and a Canadian teen and discuss “their” holiday traditions using a set of pictures. (Noel Speaking)
  • Writing: Students will write a message about French holiday traditions.

Day 9-10: IPA

Reading: Students interpret an article about Christmas traditions throughout the world.

Speaking: Students assume the roles of a French and a Canadian teen and discuss “their” holiday traditions using the pictures on these Google Slides. Slides #1-#7 will be used by the student from France, and #8-#14 will be for the student from Quebec.

Writing: Students write final draft of writing station.

If time permits, I’ll make some modifications to my French 2 and 3 units , but in the meantime click here for the units as I used them last year.


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