Art is a pretty common topic in any upper-level language class. I spent a lot time researching and trying to learn art history and artists like Dali, Kahlo, and Picasso before teaching this unit. I thought that was what they “needed” to know for college, AP, or to support their Humanities course. The more I understand proficiency, I am realizing that most language goals can be taught through any cultural topic. Choosing a focus that engages your students and motivates them to want to communicate is what is really important.
So this is my newest art unit – focused on Hispanic street art! This could replace a traditional art unit OR serve as a great part two.
I love starting with art at the beginning of level three. Most upper-level students are already able to describe and give opinions and any art theme naturally recycles vocab from the past (descriptions, colors, personal info, activities). They don’t have to learn a whole new set of vocab or grammar to get started. It’s brand new but it’s also sort of a review without the blast-to-the-past feeling of a review.
Authentic resources help me be sure my lessons have a cultural focus. There are so many articles, videos, and pictures/comments on social media about street art to use for comprehensible input. I usually see what I can find before I plan my goals.
My main culture goals:
Students will investigate graffiti and murals and look for symbols and messages. They will try to understand different perspectives by reading opinions for and against street art from social media and articles. Finally, they will use social media to interact with native speakers and experience the art process by creating their own.
It’s really important to think function when planning communication goals. Most level three students are heading into the intermediate proficiency range so key skills they will need to work on are describing with more detail, narrating (eventually in different tenses), explaining, and backing up their opinions. So those are the skills I have sprinkled in the “can do” statements for this unit and they will see these again with the next few units we study.
This is where I have to work! Culture and Communication seem pretty natural in lessons but the other Cs deserve the same attention. They are an equal part of our world language standards!
Community – You may not know a lot of artists in your area that are native speakers but it’s worth asking around. Maybe there is an art teacher who speaks your target language or someone you can Skype in to your classroom! I met Alfredo Escobar, a Chilean artist here in Kentucky who visits schools and works with students to create a mural in the building. If you can’t contact someone locally, use social media to reach out to artist around the world. My students did this as a project and about 25% of them got responses. Here are some from a sand castle artist and a model – and let me tell you, the students that got a response were beyond excited!
Comparisons: I used to talk about my students’ lives and our community first but I’ve found starting with the target culture and then reflecting back to our own worked even better. Also, they can also compare other cultures to get a perspective of the world, not just the ones that speak the target language. How does Spain compare to the Caribbean?
Connections: Let’s support what students are learning in their other classes. Symbolism is a big deal in both art and language arts. Street art could also connect with history and government class. Graffiti definitely shows political issues and having a basic understanding of different governments or current events help students decipher an artist’s messages! Graffiti is a problem in some places… have students research laws in your area. If it’s allowed, your students could recommend a mural idea with a positive message for the community!
This modern twist on art lets students improve intermediate skills like describing, explaining, and narrating. Plus, they learned a lot about street art and what is going on around the world! Any other authentic resources or ideas to add to this unit? Share in a comment below!
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