6 Grados de Separación: Cultures in comparison

la charreriaHave you seen this series of 1 minute cartoons published by Canal 11 (Mexico)? They are beautifully illustrated, well-researched and engaging. Each short video starts with a cultural product that is generally considered a significant part of Mexican national identity (such as charrería or horchata). In the course of one minute the video traces back through the historical roots of the product, uncovering cultural exchanges that have been hidden by the passage of time. The producer of the segments, Cuitláhuac Ibáñez, said in an interview that each segment takes about a year and a half to produce with the collaboration of around a hundred people… well worth it in my opinion.

How to adapt this to a world language classroom, especially a comprehensible input classroom? I have a few ideas.

First, don´t play the video!! Sure, you could play the video as a warm-up and ask students to “get the gist”, but you´ll be wasting a marvelous opportunity in exchange for hearing a few words that they already know (caballo, México). And once you play the video it is over, it is no longer a question of discovery (encouraging curiosity) but mere explanation (understood as drudgery). Don´t gallop ahead.

I want to rein myself in so that everything remains comprehensible. Honestly I am more interested that they use the phrase viene de, or perhaps that they acquire the phrase proviene de if this is for a more advanced class. Before class I am going to watch the video again and make a list of three new structures that are crucial to discussing the video but also transcend it, that will be useful far beyond this one particular context. That is the list of structures that I will have written on the board when they enter class. Before teaching this I am also going to make a brief power point to help structure our class conversation, using pictures to drive home the idea that culture is products and techniques, as well as perspectives. The power point will also have words next to pictures for vocabulary that I don´t intend students to acquire, such as riendas, los estribos and silla de montar

Don´t miss a great opportunity to personalize the classroom. I know that I have students who love to ride horses, and others who wish they could have the opportunity. In Jason Fritze´s words, go for the tragedy! PQA with the kid who wants to ride but cannot. Transform it into a TPRS story… perhaps his older brother goes to Kazakhstan to learn to ride and becomes a wonderful jinete, but our student has to stay home to clean the bathroom. His younger sister goes to Persia and becomes an expert jinete, but our student has to stay home because he has algebra homework to complete. Even his grandmother goes to el Desierto de Sahara and returns with her own Arabian stallion. This summer, however, our student is going to Mexico where he will become known as El Charro Negro… perhaps you should preview the video if you are wondering why I am throwing in some seemingly random locations.

The above story may be a bit too pre-planned, but it is much better than my first attempt at a lesson plan. Here is what I originally wrote:

If the subject of the video has an analogous place in the student´s culture, such as charrería, then I may begin the conversation there. Where do cowboys come from? Starting with the idea of cowboys is a great way to introduce the notion of cultural icons. I have never met a cowboy and an hour on a horse makes my inner thighs ache for days, but I still recognize the cowboy as an American icon. How delicious it is for a Spanish teacher in the U.S. to be able to talk about where cowboy culture comes from… (click here to read a brief article).

That is great background information for me, and super fascinating as well, but not likely to hook my students. I will review that website before teaching this lesson so that I can seed the story with fascinating tidbits of history and culture, but what will rope my students in is the personalization.

Following the TPRS story I will play the video on mute, and using the slow tool on the VLC player (freely available to download, just google “download VLC player“). Even with the slow tool, I have a student who controls my computer and stops the video whenever I tap the screen it is projected on… with this type of video I would stop it every ten seconds or so as I am circling the material. The second time we watch the video (this time with the sound on) I would still probably slow it down with the VLC player, but not interrupt. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE VIDEO ON YOUTUBE. Finally I would include some sort of nominal assessment… it could be as simple as asking them to write a single detallito that was surprising or unexpected.

If the subject of the video is something like horchata then clearly I´ll have to explain what horchata is. Actually I cannot imagine presenting the horchata video without having a sample of horchata for my students to try… otherwise it would simply be too theoretical for most teenagers. In any case, if the video is worth watching, then it is worth making it entirely comprehensible. This is not a warm-up!

Here is a list of all twenty of the 6 Grados de Separación videos:

La Barbacoa

Los Buñuelos

El Café

Las Canicas

El Carnival

La Charrería

El Corrido

La Horchata

La Lucha Libre

La Piñata

El Queso Oaxaca

El Rebozo

El Rompope

El Rosario

La Rosca de Reyes

La Sandía

La Serenata

La Talavera

El Trompo

La Virgen de Guadalupe

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