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Oye como va: African and Hispanic Influences on Music

Author: Diana Shortall


Lamberton High School

Year: 2011

Seminar: Who Are Those People and Why Are They Listening to That Music

Grade Level: 9-12

Keywords: African music, Cuba, Cuban music, Music, Reggaeton

School Subject(s): Languages, Spanish

The curriculum unit will focus on exposing students to the historical impact that the slave
trade had on Latin American society. Students will be exposed to not only the African
influence on Hispanic music in Cuba but also the Hispanic influence on Reggaeton found
in the United States. Students will discover that learning the culture of a country is just as
important in the Foreign Language classroom as learning the grammatical and vocabulary
aspects most often times taught in the classroom. Students will use authentic songs from
Latin American musicians to see how these cultures have influenced each other
throughout time. They will also be required to complete listening activities using these
songs, writing activities based on the cultural information, and vocabulary lesson
stemming from musical terms in the foreign language. As we discuss the slave trade,
students will apply critical thinking skills and make predictions and comparisons, and
determine cause – effect relationships. Furthermore, the students will have the
opportunity to research further into topics that interest them, and will use the target
language in displaying what they have learned to the class. The use of song lyrics allows
students the opportunity to not only listen in the foreign language but also to read the
foreign language. Students will be given the opportunity to creatively write and speak in
the target language. The overall intentions of this unit are to provide students interesting,
relevant materials that are authentic in nature in order to teach a historical concept that
allows students the ability to see how cultures can work together to co-exist and create
success in the arts. By doing so, I hope to show students a different point of view which
will hopefully allow them to look at the culture in a new light.

This curriculum unit is intended for a Spanish 1 high school level class. The unit should
extend across a 2 week period, with a number of lessons and a variety of assessments.

Download Unit: 11.05.08-1.pdf

Did you try this unit in your classroom? Give us your feedback here.

Full Unit Text
Content Objectives


The intentions of my curriculum unit are to have my high school students learn cultural aspects of the Spanish language in a level one Spanish class. It is often difficult to teach cultural concepts in a relevant and authentic manner to students for a foreign language teacher. This is in large part due to the lack of resources that delve into cultural topics, and a sense of insecurity on behalf of teachers who do not know enough about the topic to convey it properly to students. I researched the following to gain a deeper understanding of the influences cultures have on each other. I wish to portray both the Hispanic and African cultures to students so they can gain an appreciation for foreign cultures.

A great way to incorporate cultural lessons into the classroom is through the use of authentic music that comes directly from the culture being studied. Through this music, students will learn to appreciate the target language culture and the influence it has had on our society here in the United States. Additionally, students will learn how their ethnicity has contributed to the Latin American culture. The use of music becomes essential in this unit as it not only teaches students about historical, social, and cultural experiences but also provides students with meaningful, relevant, and culturally authentic listening materials. Moreover, the students will gain a better understanding of multiple cultures as they are exposed to Hispanic, African, and other music throughout the unit.

While the true intentions of the unit are to make students aware of the cultural exchanges amongst Hispanics and Africans in regards to music, it is also a way of teaching students about important historical topics such as the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The Slave Trade, as well as immigration to Latin America and the United States, is an important tool for showing students that both cultures have influenced one another throughout time in various ways; one notable way being music.

While parts of the unit will be done in English, the unit will also incorporate lessons in which the students will read, write, listen, and speak in the foreign language.  They will also become familiar with vocabulary words in the target language that pertain to music, instruments, and dance.

This unit focuses on using music to connect cultures and to integrate more African themes into the course so that students can make connections between various cultures. Incorporating African and African influenced music into the classroom will enable lesson plans to include more than just the European perspective. “Afro-Cuban music” is a term used to describe music that combines both the Spanish and African cultures and traditions from African slaves and Spanish colonizers. These cultures and traditions can be seen in son and salsa music as African rhythms became dominant factors in the production of music in Cuba.


I am a Spanish teacher at Lamberton High School; a predominantly minority inner city school in West Philadelphia. Although a relatively small school, hosting about 250 students, the majority of students are African American. There are also students who come from countries such as Jamaica and Ghana. The Spanish 1 classes at the High School hold about 30 students and the students vary in age from 15 to 18 years old.

As a result of budget cuts, many schools are losing arts and humanities programs such as music and art. The school where I am currently teaching has no music program, and the art program has been limited to only two days a week. While there is no music program at the school, students can be seen with their IPods or MP3 players trying to listen to their music at any opportunity they get. Building a curriculum unit around music will give these students the opportunity to enjoy music while getting a look into the social and historical impact it had on both the Hispanic and African cultures throughout the years. Music is a language much like Spanish and English. It is a form of communication and a way of expressing beliefs and values of a culture. It can show signs of struggle, happiness, change, and progress. For example, the incorporation of music will allow conversation to begin about the hardships that Africans faced and ultimately overcame during the slave trade so that students can see the impact that the slave trade, amongst other historical events, had on the Latin American culture.

Moreover, many of the students in the school have limited awareness of other cultures because they are not properly exposed to them. They find it difficult to see the importance of learning a foreign language, especially the cultural aspects. Often times, students’ own personal attitudes towards the target cultures hinder their ability to accept the target cultures because the values, ideals, and practices of the culture are contradictory to their own. Students have their own cultural framework. Galloway said, “Things that fit into this cultural framework are given the labels human nature, instinct, common sense, logic. Things that don’t fit are different, and therefore either illogical, immoral, nonsensical, or the result of a naïve and inferior stage of development of human nature” (Omaggio, 348).  Teenagers spend their time trying to fit in, and push aside all that is deemed different or weird by society. This carries over into the foreign language classroom where they have a hard time grasping the idea that life is lived differently across the world. The lack of understanding results in an unjust thought of superiority of their own culture over others. Additionally, students find it difficult to accept the foreign language because they are unaware of the influence the target culture has on their personal situations in life. However, students come into the classroom all the time asking for the meaning of Spanish words that they hear in the songs of their favorite musicians. Many of the students, although they recognize familiar words in songs, fail to recognize the contributions that Latin music and musicians have had on the music that they listen to on a daily basis. Incorporating African music into the unit as well as Hispanic music that has influenced the current music trends will help the students recognize that the music of one culture is no better than any other because they all mutually influence each other in one way or another.

This curriculum unit will be done during the middle of the school year. It will be applied to a unit in which students learn about activities that they do outside of school for personal fun. By the start of the unit, students will have already been taught present tense verb conjugations; the dominant verb tense throughout Spanish 1 in the district. Students will use these verb conjugations throughout the unit to get themselves writing in the target language about cultural topics. This unit will be implemented predominantly for cultural awareness, but will also delve into grammar and vocabulary in the target language. Students will not only be exposed to the music, but will also be required to read, write, speak, and listen to the target language as they learn.


Teaching Culture in the Foreign Language Classrooms

The American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) set up a National Foreign Languages Standards document in 1996. There is an emphasis on the inclusion of cultural understanding in the foreign language classroom within the Standards document. The focus on the importance of cultural learning is rooted in at least two widely held beliefs among foreign language professionals: (1) that language study is an essential component in the curriculum because it can lead to greater cross-cultural understanding, and (2) that language and culture are inseparably intertwined (Omaggio, 345).

A student cannot fully understand the language itself without understanding the cultural contexts in which to use the language.

Ned Seelye developed goals for teaching culture in the language classroom to build awareness amongst students. These goals are listed as follows:

  1. To help students to develop an understanding of the fact that all people exhibit culturally-conditioned behaviors.
  2. To help students to develop an understanding that social variables such as age, sex, social class and place of residence influence the ways in which people speak and behave.
  3. To help students to become more aware of conventional behavior in common situations in the target culture.
  4. To help students to increase their awareness of the cultural connotations of words and phrases in the target language.
  5. To help students to develop the ability to evaluate and refine generalizations about the target culture, in terms of supporting evidence.
  6. To help students to develop the necessary skills to locate and organize information about the target culture.
  7. To stimulate students’ intellectual curiosity about the target culture, and to encourage empathy towards its people (Omaggio, 347).

There are various ways to incorporate culture in a foreign language classroom, yet many times teachers find themselves struggling to incorporate this into a curriculum that is grammar and vocabulary oriented. The curriculum set up by the School District of Philadelphia follows suit in that the majority of the curriculum focuses on grammatical concepts that must be mastered and vocabulary that must be built by the end of the year.

There are many ways to approach teaching culture in the classroom such as the “Frankenstein Approach” and The “Tour Guide Approach” as offered by Galloway (Omaggio, 348).  These approaches offer ways to incorporate culture into the lesson, but they are often times seen as “ad-ons” to a lesson, and don’t fit with what is being taught. It is essential to embed culture into the context of the material being taught so that students can understand the concept and appreciate its worth.

Moreover, a Spanish classroom is said to be multicultural in that it reflects the myriad cultures from around the world. Many times, when teaching about the Latin American life, the contributions that the African culture has made are minimized, if not completely ignored. What students fail to grasp as a result of this is that their own cultures are often times reflected in the cultures of others. Due to the lack of connections they can make with the target language and culture, students many times enter the Spanish classroom with little to no interest in learning. Without true knowledge of the many influences beyond European on Spanish speaking cultures students are left unable to appreciate the similarities within their own culture and the target cultures, and to acknowledge and accept the differences that lie within them that make each culture its own. Africans have made significant contributions to the Latin American culture from its history to its literature and music. Unfortunately, when learning about the Latin American culture these contributions have been slighted. Many textbooks have been created solely from a Euro-centric point of view leaving the “multicultural” approach to learning almost nonexistent in what should be multicultural classrooms.

Textbooks, students and teachers are all biased. Patrikis states:

For good or bad, we all have biases. We see things in terms of what we know. Education, however, can turn a bias into a perspective that opens the eyes and allows for understanding rather than into a blinder that restricts vision and ensures ignorance. Perhaps it is not possible to be fully and absolutely objective, but awareness of the problem can lead us to a kind of practical objectivity (16).

As previously mentioned, students come into the classroom with this idea that the native culture is superior to the target culture, yet they know so little about the target culture. The focus of this unit is to give students objective information so that they can demonstrate awareness and understanding of the historical and social contexts that shape both the native and target cultures.

Music in the Foreign Language Classrooms

There’s no denying that students love music. Every day teachers struggle with pulling the iPods and other music driven technology away from them. Additionally, teachers struggle with ways to make learning more interesting to students. Instead of continuing this ongoing struggle teachers can incorporate music into lesson plans. Music in a foreign language classroom be used for listening activities, and demonstrate an understanding for phonetics, grammar, vocabulary, and culture in a relevant manner to students. Failoni stresses the importance of using musical styles in the classroom as a way to decrease ignorance. She goes on to state that the incorporation of musical style is a good departure point in the classroom because it allows students to think and reflect and react to the target culture. By incorporating music to teach such an important historical concept, teachers are aiding students in this reflection process.

 Cuba and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

The basis of this unit stems from the Slave Trade from West Africa to Cuba. Cuba relied heavily on sugarcane and coffee for economic growth and development in the 18th and 19th centuries. As a result of sugarcane transforming Latin America and the Caribbean regions into a source of income and wealth for Spain, Cuba began to import slaves to work on plantations. The slave trade made its first appearance in the 1500’s, but the bulk of the slave trade to Cuba began in 1789. In Havana in1789, foreigners were able to introduce African slaves into the country and by 1791 Cuba increased the number of ports opened for the importation of slaves. The majority of the slaves were brought to Cuba between the late 1700’s and the mid 1800’s for labor purposes. They were used to produce sugarcane and coffee crops on these thriving Cuban plantations. In the late 1700’s the Cuban economy was tied exclusively to Spain as their goods were only to be sold to Spanish markets. Although accurate statistics of the slave trade are difficult to find, statistics found show that over 240,000 slaves were imported to Cuba from 1790 to 1821. By 1827, the population of African slaves in Cuba reached 287,000 and by 1841 it reached as high of a population as 436,500 (Murray, 134-136). Although banned in 1820, the slave trade continued illegally until 1873.

Throughout the slave trade whites were the dominant class while the African slaves were used for labor with no freedom of their own. As a result of the slave trade, racial integration eventually began and many Latin American countries found their cultures mixing with African cultures. Once the slaves became free they became a part of the Cuban demography. There was an apparent blending of cultures in the Eastern Part of the country, where there was a high black minority population. Traditional rhythms mixed together with Creole rhythms in urban areas of Cuba. African religions were also brought to Cuba through slavery. When the African Tribe known as the Yorubans brought their religion it fused with Roman Catholicism and became Santeria. Music was an extremely important component of the African culture, mainly because they used their musical instruments to worship. These African tribes began to lay the foundation for Afro-Cuban music. These tribes brought instruments to Cuba that would eventually bring a flourish of the clave rhythm to Latin American music. This Afro-Cuban clave is based on the religious rituals found in the religions practiced by the Yorubans. Additionally, Bantu dances became the foundation of the rumba. When combined, the Bantu rhythms and the African clave are the essence of Afro-Cuban music (Morales 4). Between the rhythms and dances in Cuba, it is easy to see that the African musical elements have had a powerful influence on music in Latin America.

Afrocubanismo is a movement which came about in the 1920’s that recognizes the African culture within the Cuban society. This movement greatly influenced the Cuban arts from its literature to its music. The incorporation of the African cultural traditions in the traditional Cuban arts validated the African influence in Cuba at this time.  In regards to the influence this movement has had on music, Fernandez claims that “The early appeal of Cuban music lies in their qualities as fertile mixtures of earlier European-origin instruments, melodies, and rhythms with African-origin instruments, melodies, and rhythms.” (viii) This unit focuses on the Latin American music, from the rumba to the son and finally, the salsa. These Afro-Cuban music styles all have common African characteristics, including the call and response technique and African percussion rhythms.

Latin Music

La Rumba

The Rumba emerged in Cuba during the 19th century amongst slaves from various African ethnicities. During this time, the urban areas of Cuba, such as Havana, found a mix of people that wasn’t seen in the rural populations. The Rumba was a predominantly lower class, African dance. The lower class often times turned to the rumba for recreation and pleasure. It may have derived from the Congolese slaves that found themselves in Cuba. Some believe that the Rumba started as an African folk dance. These folk dances often imitated the emotional and physical postures of a couple copulating. The men were said to be aggressive while the women, although enticing men, managed to maintain distance.

Yvonne Daniel distinguishes two types of Rumba: The first refers to an actual celebratory event or dance that grew out of the social circumstances of Havana and other urban areas; the second is a music/dance tradition that came from Native Americans, European settlers, and African slaves that evolved throughout time to become Cuban musical creations (19). It is said that originally the rumba was played with African percussion instruments such as the tumbao and claves. According to Bilby, the rumba “denotes a traditional genre in which one or two dancers are accompanied by an ensemble consisting of three congas, two pairs of tapped sticks, and a lead singer and chorus (27-28). The instruments that accompany the movements as performed by dancers include the marimbula, the claves, and the drums. As a result of it being too exotic and risky, the rumba was eventually banned in Cuba.

There are three distinct rumba styles in Cuba: the guaguanco, the yambu, and the columbia. The most aggressive is the guaguanco, in which there is a seduction between the man and woman. This style of the rumba is danced at the quickest tempo, as it is the most sexually charged of the three styles. The second style, the yambu, is a little less aggressive but is still flirtatious. This rumba is danced to a slower tempo but still maintains sensuality. Finally, the most polite form of rumba is the columbia, which demonstrates the masculinity of the male instead of the seduction that takes place in the other two styles. Traditionally, it has been used to show off dance moves.

It is essential to remember that in the 1920’s and the Prohibition in the U.S. a lot of Americans found themselves traveling to Cuba to vacation. Around this time, the rumba became a popular dance in the United States although its popularity has decreased throughout the years.

El Son

“Like the Rumba, the Son is more than just a particular song form; it is an ambience, an atmosphere that expresses something essential about Cuban culture” (Morales, 15). Up until 1917, the Danzon had been deemed the national dance of Cuba. The appearance of the Son changed that as the Son began to be considered the heart of Cuban music. Its roots stem from Havana and combine both the Spanish and African cultures and embody the history and the life of Cuba. As the Son evolved in Cuba, so did the African heritage of the country. The Cuban Son has both a tone and a rhythm that stems from African influences. Prior to the Son, the music scene was dominated by white musicians.  This European dominance fell out as soon as black musicians began obtaining jobs and began performing. The Son was originally played by and for Africans. This inclusion of minorities in the music scene increased interaction amongst Europeans and Africans in Cuba.

The son originated in the Oriente province of Cuba. While most settlers in the Eastern part of Cuba were of Spanish decent, many African laborers found themselves working in these areas doing agricultural and mining work. There was a clear miscegenation between the lower class Spanish and the African slaves which allowed for the convergence of the two cultures. Although it originated in the Cuban countryside, it eventually spread to urban areas of Cuba in the early twentieth century. The early son orchestras blended Spanish guitar with African percussion and included the tres, (Cuban guitar instrument that contains three sets of double strings), marímbula (bass instrument), clave and the maracas. As the Son progressed and gained more influence, it began to see call-and response patterns with two vocalists and the bongos being added to its traditional form. It is said that the anticipated bass, which is an Afro-Cuban musical form, is a strong rhythm that can be associated with the son. This call-and-response, as well as the instruments, have deep roots in the African musical traditions brought by the slaves.

The Son found its way to cities such as Havana in 1920 where it was urbanized. This urbanization saw new instruments being added to this music genre, and has ultimately influenced later forms of Cuban music, such as the salsa. While the claves gave the music its steady beat, the instrumentation began to grow and lead singers began to improvise lyrics and melodies. The Cuban son gained world popularity in the 1930’s.

El Sexteto Habanero was a popular music group founded in Havana in the 1920’s during the popularity of the Son. The Sexteto Habanero started out as a group of four members originally known as the Cuarteto Oriental but later expanded to include more members. The members of the Sexteto Habanero included Guillermo Castillo, Carlos Godinez, Gerardo Martinez, Antonio Bacallao, Oscar Sotolongo and Felipe Neri Cabrera. In 1925, the Sexteto Habanero traveled to the United States to begin recording with Victor label. These recordings soon became very popular in Cuba. In 1927, the Sexteto Habanero acquired a trumpeter, Enrique Hernandez, and became the Septeto Habanero. Some of their popular songs include Tres Lindas Cubanas, La Loma de Belen, and Maldita Timidez. Their music will be incorporated into the part of the lesson associated with the Son.  

La Salsa

The origins of the Salsa can be found in the Cuban Son. The Salsa, just like the other musics in this unit, follows the traditional structure and instrumentation found in Afro-cuban musical forms. Just as its antecedents, the Rumba and the Son, the Salsa originated in Cuba. In the United States we associate it more with Puerto Rico. Havana, Cuba is known as the birthplace of salsa music and its roots are deeply tied to the slave trade from Africa to the Spanish Caribbean. With its African drum rhythms and its Spanish song types, it’s easy to see the fusion of the Spanish and African cultures. An instrumental factor in the development of salsa was the African rhythms. These rhythms found in salsa were used in the religious rituals practiced in Santeria. It is said that Afro-cuban music associated with the Santeria cults went under hybridization with musical forms from the Western cultures, and out of this derived Salsa. In Salsa music, the clave is used to perform a constant rhythm and other musicians join to create a polyrhythm, which has become an important characteristic of Salsa. Although its roots are in Cuba, the Salsa audience extends far beyond just the Caribbean.

Celia Cruz is a Cuban Salsa singer respectively known as the “Queen of Salsa.” Celia Cruz is perhaps the most influential female figure in the Cuban – American music scene. With almost sixty albums to her name, she has had one prolific career as a Salsa musician. Although her music career started off a little rough, by 1950, her popularity began as she became a member of “La Sonora Matancera” after the lead singer of the group left. Cruz eventually found herself in the United States as a result of Castro’s reign in Cuba. Over time, Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, another famous Latin musician, began to collaborate. Tito Puente, born Ernest Anthony “Tito” Puente, was a Latin Jazz and Salsa musician known as the “King of Latin Music” or the “Rey de Timbales.” Puente played with Machitos before being drafted into the Navy. He, just like Cruz, found the height of his popularity in the 1950’s. His highly recognized album Dance Mania was released to the public in 1958. His fame carried on into the 1970’s with the rise of salsa in the United States. One of his songs “Oye como va” became a huge hit performed by the singer Carlos Santana. Together the two collaborated to record several albums. This unit will implement salsa music recorded by both Cruz and Puente separately as well as collaboratively. Although both have died, their music still remains and influences others in the music world today.

Hispanic Influence on Hip Hop / Raggaeton

While the focus of the beginning portion of the unit will be on the African influences found in Latin music, it is hard to deny that there is undoubtedly a Latin influence in urban music form in our society today. Reggaeton, an urban music, has found its way into inner cities all over the United States. Reggaeton, which emerged from Puerto Rico in the late 1990’s, became main-stream in the United States in 2005. Its success in the United States urban areas, especially New York City, is a result of demographic changes stemming from immigration to urban areas. It is valued as a true music form amongst African Americans in cities due to its connections to hip-hop and reggae, and it embraces the black culture. Reggaeton is a hybrid mix of musical genres of various countries, as it draws from and embodies Jamaican reggae, hip-hop, Latin musics, and a dembow rhythm. “It is imperative to interrogate the list of genres contributing to reggaeton’s hybrid style and to examine the ways that its links to the U.S., the Caribbean, Latin America, and the African diaspora serve to inform the cultural work that reggaeton does” (5).  Some Reggaeton artists with whom the students are familiar, and are to be incorporated into the curriculum unit, are Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Wisin y Yandel, and Tego Calderon.


This unit is intended for a Spanish 1 class, typically geared towards students in Grade 10. The Spanish 1 High School classes are approximately 55 minutes. Due to the lack of a music program at the school, students will most likely have limited prior knowledge of music outside of their own interests. The intentions of this unit are to provide students with culture information and allow students to use the language itself to express what they have learned. In order to do this I have implemented cultural information into the unit by using the four required skill areas learned in foreign language: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. With this unit, students will build listening comprehension skills as they are asked to complete activities that have students fill in missing lyrics while listening to songs. While some of the cultural readings will be done in English, they will be asked to take the information that they have read to create a timeline in the target language using the present tense verb conjugation that they learn throughout Spanish 1. This unit touches on higher level thinking skills when dealing with the cultural aspect as students will analyze the cause-effect relationship the slave trade had on Latin culture, society, and arts.

The objectives of this curriculum unit will address the National Standards for teaching a Foreign Language that were set up by the ACTFL. These standards are all set within Goal Areas and address the content being presented in world language classrooms. There are five goal areas (or Standards) in total, commonly referred to as the 5 C’s. These five C’s are: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. Communication is often the dominant Standard addressed in lesson plans. This curriculum focuses on incorporating other Standards. The unit addresses the Culture standard as students begin to develop a better understanding of their own and other cultures’ influences on the world. The Connection standard is addressed by incorporating historical topics and musical themes throughout its entirety. Finally, it includes the Comparisons standard by asking students to explore similarities and differences between their own and the target culture and begin to appreciate them for what they are worth.

By the end of the unit, students will recognize the influence the African culture has had on Hispanic music; and understand the influence the Hispanic culture has had on current music trends. Students will use lower and higher order thinking skill to answer questions based on reading activities. Students will also recognize the contributions that the African culture has left on the Latin American lifestyle and the contributions that the Latin American culture has left on the United States with performers such as Celia Cruz and Tito Puente who made their music popular in the United States. Students will be given the opportunity to appreciate the influences that music has on history and culture and recognize the similarities and differences between the native and target cultures. The reason for this unit is to take a concept that is unfamiliar to students and teach it to them so they can shy away from the cultural superiority complex they have.

Additionally, grammar and vocabulary objectives of the unit include (1) identifying music vocabulary in the target language, (2) writing about a historical topic using present tense verb conjugations correctly, and (3) developing listening skills through the use of authentic music in the classroom.

The major assessment for this unit is a collaborative project. Students will work together with a partner to further research the slave trade, any musical genre learned, or another Latin American music in order create a timeline in Spanish. This will demonstrate that the students have learned the cultural concept presented to them as well as show that the students have grasped the grammar concept of conjugating verbs correctly in the present tense. Students will have to present their timelines to the class to ensure that they are getting speaking practice in the target language.

Students will also be required to take a summative exam on what was learned throughout the unit. The exam will include multiple choice, matching, and short answer questions for the students to complete. Information that will be included in the exam is vocabulary words, musicians’ names, the genres studied, and the names of the instruments used in the music.

Teaching Strategies

Implementing a curriculum unit with music as its centerpiece is an ideal way to teach students about cultures of different countries as it is relates to students’ lives while teaching them history. By doing this, students will be able to recognize the importance of learning another language and its culture. The world today is still influenced by discrimination and prejudices due to lack of knowledge and understanding. Using something so close to students as the music they enjoy will help present them with new knowledge so they can learn to accept and appreciate the Hispanic culture. This unit will include reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities in both the native and target languages. Students will be asked to compare and contrast music and cultures, identify rhythms, instruments, etc. that are common as seen in the music. By the end, students will be able to recognize cultural and social influences found in the music of the target culture and their own present day culture.

Collaboration in the Classroom

Students will be asked to work individually and collaboratively throughout the unit. This collaborative work will take precedence in the final assessment as they will work with others to create a timeline and present it to the class. The class will also collaborate as a whole to brainstorm and discuss the slave trade.

Technology Enhanced Language Learning

This unit will incorporate various means of technology into the classroom. Students will be given information through use of PowerPoint. The Activeboard will allow for both the teacher and the students to take part in the lesson to make it more interactive and student driven, instead of relying on direct instruction. Students will also be listening to various music through the use of the computer as well as an iPod. Students will use the songs as listening activities as they will be asked to read lyrics in Spanish and fill in the missing words as the song is played. By using the lyrics, students will listen for the missing information while reading in the foreign language.

Writing and Speaking in the Target Language

Students will be asked to write sentences and small paragraphs in the target language to using the grammatical aspect being studied. This provides a gateway to creative writing in the foreign language. This written output will then lead into speaking in the foreign language as students will present their timelines in Spanish to the class.

Classroom Activities

Multiple lessons will take place throughout this unit. Provided below are examples of three different types of lesson to be implemented in the unit: (1) an idea for a vocabulary lesson, (2) a lesson dealing with the slave trade, and (3) a lesson dealing with a musician and a specific genre of music. Other lessons included in the unit, but not provided, deal with the other types of music: Rumba, Son, and Reggaeton.

Lesson One: Building Vocabulary in the Target Language

The objectives of this lesson are to identify words pertaining to music in the target language. By the end of the unit, students will have worked together to build a classroom word wall that focuses on this vocabulary. The vocabulary for this unit will include basic music words: la música (music), la canción (song), el baile (dance), el/la cantante (male/female singer), el bailarín (male dancer), la bailarina (female dancer), la discoteca (club), el ritmo (rhythm), las letras (lyrics).

To start the lesson the teacher will have students work by themselves to write words they associate with music in English. After five minutes of brainstorming students will share what they have written. The teacher will create a list on the board. If a vocabulary word that is being studied is said the teacher will put a check next to it. If time permits at the end of the class, the teacher will go over the Spanish translation for the terms that students provide. Students will not be required to know these additional words for the exam.

Next, the teacher will hand out a guided notes worksheet containing the vocabulary words in Spanish with a blank space next to it for the English equivalent. The teacher will use pictures to display vocabulary words to students. For example, the teacher will hold up a picture of a female ballerina and will say in Spanish “bailarina” to the students. The students will be asked to repeat the word as a class two times before writing the word down on their guided notes sheet. This is to ensure that students are pronouncing the words accurately.

The teacher will then hand out a worksheet that the students will complete that will contain three sections. The first section will be similar to the introduction to the lesson and will be composed of five pictures which students will have to use their vocabulary sheets to identify then write the vocabulary word down. The students will be given five minutes to complete this section. After the five minutes, the teacher will review the answers with the students using the Activeboard by calling on students to come to the board and write their answers for the class.

The second section of the worksheet will have short sentences written in Spanish describing the vocabulary words and students will have to fill in the vocabulary word that pertains to the description. For example, the sentence will say “una mujer que baila” (A woman that dances) and the student will have to answer with “bailarina.” Again the students will have five minutes to complete this section and the teacher will review as a whole class by calling on certain students to come to the board and give their answers.

The final section will have students fill out a section of their “favorites.”  They will fill out a survey that asks for their “cancion favorite,” “cantante favorito(a),” “letras favoritas,” etc. This section will then be used as a guide for a speaking activity. Students will go around asking other students in the class who and what their favorite music/musician/lyrics/song/etc. for ten minutes. When students are finished interviewing, the teacher will repeat the questions to get their answers. This is done so that the students are hearing the words repeatedly, understanding what is being asked, and responding appropriately. The teacher will have a paper taped to the board and when a student responds, the teacher will ask if anyone else in the class has the same response. By the end, the teacher will have made a chart that shows the class favorites that will be displayed in the class throughout the unit.

Students will then be assigned partners to play a game of Memory. This game will have the same pictures that were shown to the students at the beginning of the lesson and the vocabulary word. The two partners will compete with each other by associating the picture with the written vocabulary word. This will take ten to fifteen minutes.

To finish the class, the teacher will hold up the pictures from the beginning of class and call on students at random to give the vocabulary word that pertains to that picture. Finally, the students will be asked to write down three new words that they have learned in both English and Spanish to ensure that the objective of identifying vocabulary words pertaining to music is met.

Lesson 2: Slave Trade

One lesson in the unit will deal directly with the slave trade from Africa to Cuba. The lesson will include whole class discussion, individual work, and technology enhanced direct instruction.

The objective of this lesson is to recognize the effects the slave trade had on Latin American culture, particularly in Cuba. By the end of the lesson, the students will understand the impact the slave trade had on the arts in Cuba, with its main focus on music. Through discussions, readings, and direct instruction, students will be given a wide range of information on why the slave trade occurred and the results of the slave trade. They will see how the coexistence in Cuba helped fuse together two different cultures to create an Afro-cuban culture in Latin America. 

The teacher will open the lesson by having students fill out a “What I know”, “What I want to know”, and “What I learned” (KWL) chart on what they already know, and what they would like to learn about the slave trade.

The teacher will then open up the panel for a discussion on slavery in general. The teacher will use this technique to activate students’ prior knowledge on the subject.

The teacher will then present to the students a PowerPoint presentation with facts and statistics about the slave trade to Cuba. Students will have a guided notes worksheet they are to complete as information is presented to them. At the end of the direct instruction, the teacher will have questions directed towards students to make sure they comprehend what they have learned. These questions will be presented orally and students will be called on at random to answer. These questions will require students to recall information from the PowerPoint.

Students will then be given a reading about the slave trade, written in English. Students will read the article, and will have to fill in a cause and effect graphic organizer and answer more in-depth questions dealing with the analysis of the article and the slave trade. After the reading, the teacher will review the questions and see if the students understood the effects the slave trade had on Cuba, Africans, and their cultures throughout time.

The students will then break up into groups and will be given a fictitious situation: they must pretend they are African slaves being brought to Cuba and will be asked to write a diary entry in English depicting their own thoughts about the slave trade and its effects on  their lives and cultures as a whole. They must include facts and opinions and describe how they pass their days, how they feel their music has changed as a result, and their feelings while being a part of such turbulent times.

The teacher will assign the last column, ‘What they have Learned” as homework.

Lesson 3: Salsa

This lesson will deal directly with teaching the kids all about Salsa music. The main objective is for students to understand what salsa music is, and to see how the African culture can be seen in salsa through its instrumentation. The students will also be exposed to salsa music and musicians.

The class will start off with the teacher reviewing the slave trade and discussing its effects on music in Cuba as a result. The teacher will discuss the influence that the African percussion had on salsa music, and will bring claves in for the class to see the instrument first hand. The teacher will also review the rumba and son that will have already been taught to the class.

The teacher will then play “Tu Voz” and “La Vida es un Carnaval” by Celia Cruz for the students to hear the percussion in the songs. The teacher will then replay Cruz’s “Tu Voz” and will hand out a worksheet to students containing the lyrics. Some of the lyrics will be omitted from the worksheet. The students will listen to the song three times. The first time the teacher will play the song without stopping and have students fill in the missing lyrics with what they hear. The second time the teacher will stop the song periodically. After listening twice, the teacher will play the song a third time but with the full lyrics displayed for the students to compare their answers with the correct lyrics.

Next, the teacher will have students watch a PBS documentary called “Celia the Queen” that displays the life of Celia Cruz, the artist behind the songs used in this lesson. As they watch, students will be asked to take notes on the artist. Afterward, the teacher will discuss some of the main points in the documentary through a quick PowerPoint presentation. Finally the students will have to write a summary of the main events in Cruz’s life.

The lesson will end with the teacher demonstrating to the class the steps to salsa dance. The students will be asked to stand with the teacher and perform the steps that they learn. The students will not only follow the teacher’s instruction but they will also be given a sheet that demonstrates the basic salsa movements they can follow. After listening to salsa music by Cruz, and practicing their dances, they will finish class by watching a clip from the TV show “Dancing with the Stars” in which one of the stars performs the salsa dance with a professional dancer.


Daniel, Yvonne. Rumba: Dance and Social Change in Contemporary Cuba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. 19.

This book focuses on the Rumba as it describes dance styles of Cuba. The book delves into the history behind the Rumba as well as the relationship between the dance and Cuban society.

Failoni, Judith Weaver. “Music as a Means to Enhance Cultural Awareness and Literacy          in the Foreign Language Classroom.” Mid-Atlantic Journal of Foreign Language           Pedagogy 1(1993)97-108. ERIC. Web. 20 April 2011.

This article describes how music can be included in the foreign language classroom as a means to teach culture to students. It also describes how this music can be used to enhance reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities in the foreign language classroom.

Fernandez, Raul. From Afro-Cuban Rhythms to Latin Jazz. Berkeley: University of   California Press, 2006. viii.

This book describes how Cuban music has evolved over time and how Cuban music influenced Caribbean music. It also takes a more in depth look at musicians by providing biographies. The book describes Cuban music from the son to the salsa.

Manuel, Peter, Kenneth Bilby, and Michael Largey.  Caribbean Currents: Caribbean       music from rumba to reggae. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006. 27-28.

This book looks at the many music genres found in the Caribbean, including reggaeton. Additionally it provides information on the history of music in Cuba. It is also analyzes the social and historical factors that have shaped music in the Caribbean.

Morales, Ed. Latin Beat: The Rhythms and Roots of Latin Music from Bossa Nova to Salsa and Beyond. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2003. 4, 15.

This book explains the roots of Latin music in various countries and its progression throughout the years. This book describes the development of many genres of music as it migrated from one country to another. It also looks at the influences of the African and Hispanic cultures on Latin music.

Murray, D.R. “Statistics of Slave Trade to Cuba, 1790-1867.”  Latin American Studies.       3.2 (1971): 131-149.

This article gives an in-depth look at statistics dealing with the slave trade from Africa to Cuba. It also compares statistics and explains why statistics of the slave trade are difficult to find and keep accurate track of.

Omaggio Hadley, Alice. Teaching Language in Context. 3rd.  Heinle & Heinle, 2001.

345 – 348.

This book begins by explaining many theories involved with the learning of a foreign language. It also provides examples of ways to incorporate culture, reading, speaking, listening, and writing into the Foreign Language Classroom.

Patrikis, Peter. (1988) “Language and Culture at the Crossroads” Pp 13-24 in A.J.         Singerman ed., Toward a new integration of language and culture. Reports of the            Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Middlebury, VT.:            Northeast conference.

Patrikis describes teaching culture in the classroom. In relation to this particular unit, I focused on his idea that biases exist in the world but that education, although not always fully objective, can help build awareness and limit prejudices and biases.

Rivera, Raquel, Wayne Marshall, and Deborah Pacini Hernandez. Reggaeton. Durham:   Duke University Press. 2009.

This book is made up of a collection of essays written by both musicians and journalists that deal with Reggaeton and its influence on culture. It provides various topics that are heavily debated, including the sexuality and aggression involved with this genre of music. Also provided in the book is a historical approach to how Reggaeton came about. 





COMMUNICATION: Communicate in Languages Other Than English

  • Standard 1.1: Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions
  • Standard 1.2: Students understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics
  • Standard 1.3: Students present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics.

CULTURES: Gain Knowledge and Understanding of Other Cultures

  • Standard 2.1: Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied
  • Standard 2.2: Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the products and perspectives of the culture studied

CONNECTIONS: Connect with Other Disciplines and Acquire Information

  • Standard 3.1: Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through the foreign language
  • Standard 3.2: Students acquire information and recognize the distinctive viewpoints that are only available through the foreign language and its cultures

COMPARISONS: Develop Insight into the Nature of Language and Culture

  • Standard 4.1: Students demonstrate understanding of the nature of language through comparisons of the language studied and their own
  • Standard 4.2: Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.

COMMUNITIES: Participate in Multilingual Communities at Home & Around the World

  • Standard 5.1: Students use the language both within and beyond the school setting

Standard 5.2: Students show evidence of becoming life-long learners by using the language for personal enjoyment and enrichmen