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Live the Language:  Integrating Experiential Learning into the Classroom

By Cassandra Glynn and Brandon Locke | Published: May 23, 2017

Concordia Language Villages is both a place and a state of mind. The participants take part in a grand simulation in which they are immersed in the sounds, sights and tastes of the target cultures in which they find themselves. How can world language teachers gain inspiration from this unique environment and bring these characteristics of experiential learning that are so deeply woven into the everyday experience of villagers into their own classrooms?  

Through the Internet, students can explore sites relevant to their language study from the comfort of their classrooms.

In our work, we strive to help teachers make connections between practices in the Language Villages and in their own classrooms. Although there are many elements of the language learning experience at Concordia Language Villages that can be integrated into classrooms, we have identified two examples based on Doing Foreign Languages (2005) (written by Heidi E. Hamilton, Cori Crane, and Abigail Bartoshesky): (1) Transporting Students via Technology and (2) Authentic Communication. These examples are ones that we highlight when working with teachers in professional development sessions hosted at the Villages, and they provide a springboard as teachers seek to develop opportunities for experiential learning.

Transporting Students via Technology

Although the Villages are a low-technology environment, the importance of linguistic and cultural authenticity is underscored throughout the villagers’ daily experience, and teachers can strive toward this goal in their classrooms. Many K–16 classrooms have become high-technology environments, meeting 21st Century Skills and preparing students to engage in digital literacy and collaboration. In the world language classroom setting, technology makes it possible to transport our students to environments that are too far away, too expensive or too difficult to visit in person and gives us access to resources that may otherwise not exist within the four walls of a classroom. Technology provides opportunities for students to experience the language and culture in an authentic manner.  

One way to provide these experiences is through Virtual Field Trips (VFT), technology highlighted in Concordia’s M.Ed. Program. Stephanie Battista, a current M.Ed. student, created a VFT for her middle school Spanish immersion social studies class. Students explored Spanish architecture via Google Tour Builder, using Street View to walk around Parque Guell and gaze up at the intricate features of the la Sagrada Familia cathedral.

Another graduate student, Nicole Thompson, located a real wedding through social media taking place in Puebla, Mexico. Her high school Spanish students read the invitation and then gained an overall perspective of Puebla through Google 360. Next, they used Google Maps to explore the church where the wedding would take place and the reception venue. Finally, they used EdPuzzle to watch an authentic video of the couple on their wedding day. Students had the opportunity to hear authentic language and be immersed in the culture of this Mexican wedding.  

Google Tour Builder facilitates virtual field trips all around the world.

Authentic Communication

In the Villages, there is a continual need for villagers to engage authentically in all three modes of communication (interpretive, interpersonal and presentational). Villagers often use language for practical and realistic purposes such as buying a treat in the store or conversing with others over a meal.

However, these opportunities for authentic communication can be replicated in the classroom. In a unit on the home, one M.Ed. student, Katie Scepaniak, reached out to a realtor in her community who is a native Spanish speaker. Students conversed with the realtor about various homes and building features that might suit their needs.  Students also explored organizations combating homelessness and created short videos on this topic.

Finally, students designed their own using the Homestyler program and met with their team of architects (4–5 students) and the client (the teacher) via Google Hangout to discuss plans for the client’s house. Scepaniak was able to take a typical textbook unit taught at the novice-high level and elevate it in a way that it became meaningful, realistic and engaging, allowing students to communicate in a similar way to how villagers communicate at the Language Villages.  

There are many other websites and apps that help bring the world to classrooms to facilitate experiential learning. This post stems from our 2015 session at the ACTFL conference where you will find additional resources: Live the Language: Integrating Experiential Learning into the Classroom.

About the Authors

Cassandra Glynn, PhD., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education and the Director of the Master of Education in World Language Instruction at Concordia College, Moorhead, MN. She teaches undergraduate elementary and secondary world language methods courses, general secondary methods, a graduate level course on integrating technology into language instruction, and when she is lucky, a German course here or there. Cassandra is also the co-author of Words and Actions: Teaching Languages through the Lens of Social Justice and co-teaches an institute on teaching for social justice in the world language classroom at CARLA, University of Minnesota.


Brandon Locke is the Director of World Languages at the Anchorage School District in Alaska, where he oversees K–12 immersion and non-immersion language programs serving 8,000 students in 7 different languages. He has been on staff at the Language Villages for 18 years, serving six years as dean of Lac du Bois. Now, he serves as dean of Concordia Language Villages' Educator Programs, leading professional development for world language teachers each summer. Currently pursuing a PhD at Indiana University, Brandon has a strong passion for teacher education, specifically improving K–12 language programming.

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