My favorite session from iFLT 2014 (of the ones that I taught, anyway) was my session about planning units that introduce a set of target structures and then use them to teach a cultural topic to students. This was my favorite session because the creation of vocabulary-driven cultural units have had a greater impact on my success as a TCI teacher than anything else. They have given me direction as a teacher and increased engagement for both me and my students, and they have made it easier for me to meet all of the lesson planning requirements for my district–writing essential questions, addressing CCSS and content area standards, and fitting into AP themes.

If you were at one of the Vocabulary-Driven Cultural Units sessions, I would love for you to share your unit idea (cultural topic + target structures) in the comments section. I am kicking myself for not keeping a record of everyone’s ideas! 

I just finished up one of my own Spanish 1 cultural units–one that I’ve had in the ‘editing’ stage for over a year now. The story script (click here to view) teaches the target structures “gives to him/her”, “gives back/returns”, and “this seems strange to him/her”, and the cultural focus for the unit is Spanish superstitions. You can download the seven-day unit here.

So yes…as I said, the unit was in the editing stage for over a year, which is a really long time. I have had several session attendees email me post-conference to ask about how to plan for an entire year and not go insane. If you are looking to make the transition to a TCI curriculum that matches all target structure sets to cultural topics, it is overwhelming to think about building that! My advice would be to begin by choosing a novel or several novels that you can teach as units in whichever level it is that you are working with. Block out however many weeks you need for that novel (as few as 5 or as many as 10, depending on how much time you want to spend with each chapter and the topics that it addresses–for ideas, check out my Esperanza or El Nuevo Houdini plans). Then, make a list of all of the new structures (vocabulary/phrases) that you will need to teach in that level in order to read the novel at a healthy pace. Scan the list and brainstorm which cultural topics you could address with the vocab, and begin grouping them into units. Once you’ve done the ‘big picture planning’, you can chill out a bit. I’ve spent several years flushing out my Spanish 1 curriculum and working up in-depth plans for each set of vocab and cultural topic! If you have your unit ideas planned out, you can just teach the target structures for each unit as you would in more traditional TPRS® classrooms, adding in the culture whenever you find the planning time to make it happen. Each year that you teach the course, you’ll add a few more topics until eventually your entire year-long curriculum is packed with culture. Don’t stress out if you can’t get it all done right now!

And if you have any questions…email me or contact me via Facebook (I finally created a page for The Comprehensible Classroom!). I’d love to help you out in your planning!

5 replies on “Unit planning for TCI courses

  1. Kate and I brainstormed a unit on the Running of the Bulls with the target structures corre, va, and lleva. I’m also working on some cultural units that will all connect back to the Calle 13 music video, “Latinoamerica”.

    1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing!! I just added a reading about the Running of the Bulls to the second unit of my Spanish 1 curriculum map–structures are corre, camina, and ve. It’s super basic and doesn’t go into much detail because it’s designed for the second week of school. It would be awesome to re-visit the topic later on in the year with new structures that allow students to go more in-depth!

  2. I definitely feel this way with building a TCI classroom. I was wondering you recommendation…My class is currently in Piratas and in chapter 2 it discusses the market and what the characters want. I would love to branch off into a two week side unit on clothing, markets in other countries, and even Kristy Placido’s Botas Picudas. Is it bad to do side units within the novel? Will it lose the flow of the class reader?


    1. It does disrupt the flow; I would suggest doing a 1-2 day mini-unit, and then re-visiting it again after you’ve finished the novel. Students will forget what happened, and they won’t care if you leave it for too long!

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