ACTFL Takeaway – Cultural Contexts Make Learning More Meaningful!

Posted by Megan Smith on December 1, 2016 in Conferences, Culture, New Year's, What's New

One of my favorite sessions at ACTFL16 was a Sunday morning session by two teachers from the American School in London. The session was about incorporating tech projects in the language classroom and both teachers showed how they let students learn and practice language with fun, independent tech tools. I noticed something else. What stood out to me was that they were wrapping the traditional topics in an engaging cultural context. Language on its own is just a subject, but combine it with culture, authres, and native speakers… and it comes to life! Here are three examples from Chinese classes that might just inspire some new ideas for you. 

“New Year, New Clothes”

Chris Chen is a middle school Chinese teacher in London who is combining the language and culture really well!  He explained that they teach the clothes and how to describe what someone is wearing at a time when most people in China buy new clothes as a New Year’s tradition for a fresh start. They also learned about the importance of the color red. Then students created a new outfit. The art teacher helped him by creating red lanterns and artwork of the zodiac animals for the celebration. In the end, they held a fashion show and students showed off their new clothes and the students got to be each other’s fashion critics.

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“The Moon Lady”

Miller, another Chinese teacher from an elementary school in Korea, was really great at this, too. He was supposed to support the science curriculum during his time teaching Mandarin. They were learning about lunar phases so he created a unit about Chinese Moon Festival, the story of the Moon Lady, and even planned to bring in moon cakes to eat in the shapes of the lunar phases. It’s cultural, relevant, and tasty!

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The Monkey King

Another great idea came from Fiona who teaches Chinese in Shanghai. She found this ad from Pepsi called The Monkey King Family about a family who had played the role of Monkey King for generations. It is such a great visual to see this tradition and how it is passed down. It also helps students learn more about the original Monkey King from the classic Chinese novel.

I can’t use these exact resources since I can’t teach Chinese, but these neat examples make me think about how I cover the topics I am asked to teach. What cultural connections can I use to make a traditional topic more meaningful?

*Oh, and if you liked any of these different ideas, leave a quick comment below to let these teachers know they are doing great things!

4 comments for “ACTFL Takeaway – Cultural Contexts Make Learning More Meaningful!”

  1. Maria Pilar Tompkins says:

    This is very interesting but you still can use this video, when you are talking or start family and traditions: I will use this add soon, before my students start their presentation about: Una Tradicion Familiar; this is a good input to see the traditions over generations and the importance of each of our traditions and how originated, actually this is one part of their project in Spanish.
    Thank You!, for take the time and share with us!

    1. Megan Smith says:

      Glad it was helpful, Maria!

  2. Sue Lee says:

    Do you have the Chinese teachers’s contact or do you have the instruction on the projects from the teachers.

    My personal

    Thanks a lot.


    1. Megan Smith says:

      Hi Sue! Here’s a site where Chris has shared some of his projects:


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