3 Learning Design for Teaching Culture in the Language Classroom

Culture is defined as “the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). This definition encompasses a broad range of domains, such as food, music, arts, clothing, religion, literature, and language, which are different from one social group to another. Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA, n.d.) goes beyond this definition and includes “shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization” as part of the culture. Because of the broad range of areas covered by culture, teaching culture can be a subjective process, as different people can see it differently, adding to the difficulty of incorporating it into the curriculum. The inclusion of culture in the language classroom also has its challenges, starting from its conceptualization to actual implementation. For instance, what constitutes culture is not universally accepted or a language teacher may have difficulties incorporating it due to lack of training or time constraints.

Language teaching has been traditionally treated as the teaching of four language skills: reading comprehension, writing, speaking, and listening comprehension. However, it is almost unimaginable to separate the culture of the target language from the teaching of language skills because it is not possible to learn language structures in isolation or independent from the context in that the language is spoken. Fortunately, since the 1970s, with an increased emphasis on the cultural studies, there has been a strong focus on cultural aspects of language teaching. Starting from the 1990s, many scholars studied the ‘cultural’ aspect of language learning (Byram, 1989; Kramsch, 1993) to link language and culture together. The central role of language instruction is to gain proficiency in the target language, be aware of the cultural elements, use them to communicate in foreign languages in a meaningful way, and understand the multilingual and diverse nature of the societies in the 21st century is new.

In 2014 American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) published a statement on its Global Competence position. This statement starts with the following:

The ability to communicate with respect and cultural understanding in more than one language is an essential element of global competence. This competence is developed and demonstrated by investigating the world, recognizing, and weighing perspectives, acquiring, and applying disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge, communicating ideas, and taking action (ACTFL, 2014)

In addition, when defining the central roles of language education, ACTFL identified five goal areas: communications, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. Culture refers to the learners’ use of the target language to “investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the practices and products with the cultures studied” (The National Standards Collaborative Board, 2015, para. 2). In practice, these five goal areas are used to generate educational standards and objectives, that guide foreign language teaching in the United States, which are called World-Readiness Standards for Language Learning. Similarly in Europe, the Common European Framework or CEF (2020) included linguistic, sociolinguistic, and pragmatic components as parts of the communicative language competence. Among them, sociolinguistic competency is closely related to the cultural dimensions described in ACTFL goals.

ACTFL’s inclusion of culture as one of the main tenets of language education had a long-lasting impact on how languages are taught in schools. Since the early aughts, this emphasis generated much scholarly inquiry and intense focus on the culture and its role in language education. While culture itself can be broad and somewhat abstract, the intention here is to translate the cultural goals into language standards via intercultural communication and competence, which is described in detail below.

Intercultural Communication and Intercultural Competence

Intercultural communication is a discipline that studies the role of culture in the communication processes. Different social groups, societies, and countries use different types of communication methods. Intercultural communication is the effort to understand these differences, by studying the social context in which the communication takes place. Various disciplines, such as linguistics, anthropology, business, and international education often use the findings of intercultural communication to better understand and value other cultures and societies.

In the context of applied linguistics, the competence of an individual’s intercultural communication skills is directly related to their language use. When a language learner uses the target language effectively, this also means that they understand the values and norms in which the language is spoken. As a result, the learner responds accordingly, not only by understanding the social differences but also by valuing and respecting these differences. This discussion brings us to the heart of intercultural competence, which is defined as “interacting appropriately and effectively with those from other cultural backgrounds” (Sinecrope et al., 2012). According to the Common European Framework (2020), intercultural competence skills include:

  • the ability to bring the culture of origin and the foreign culture into relation with each other,
  • cultural sensitivity and the ability to identify and use a variety of strategies for contact with those from other cultures,
  • the capacity to fulfill the role of cultural intermediary between one’s own culture and the foreign culture,
  • to deal effectively with intercultural misunderstanding and conflict situations,
  • the ability to overcome stereotyped relationships (p. 104-105).

At the concrete level, cultural goals of language education can only be achieved if they become part of the language curriculum. Including culture as part of language standards is a good start from the learning design perspective, however, more specific teaching strategies are needed, as outlined below. In addition, “teacher trainees need to develop a theoretical and practical awareness of what culture means and in what forms it may be present in the language classroom” (Kovacs, 2017, p. 74). Such cultural awareness can be developed in prospective teachers if they are given enough guidance and training in teaching culture.

One important aspect of culture in the language classroom is called ‘appropriateness.’ In the multicultural world, we live in, foreign language learners use their language skills in a way that they are aware and respectful of the norms and traditions of the target language. As Kovacs states (2017) “Speakers must take into consideration the situation, the circumstances, the topic, the expected level of formality, their partner’s level of knowledge, and the culture-sensitive scenarios” (p. 77). Students learn not only linguistic structures of the target culture, but also have insights into the economy, history, folklore, and societal structures. Language educators become moderators for their learners, as they navigate in the target culture through intercultural encounters and exchanges.

Intercultural Competence Models

Because culture encompasses a large portion of human endeavor, teaching intercultural competence skills as an integral part of language instruction is quite tricky. Various authors developed models to systematize the instructional process. Table 3.1 shows a summary of the three most prominent models.

Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (Bennet, 1993) Multidimensional Model of Intercultural Competence (Byram, 1997) Process Model of Intercultural Competence (Deardoff, 2006)
A continuum of how people experience and interpret cultural differences, as they move from an ethnocentric view of the world to the ethno-relative view of the world. The continuum is called the Bennet scale and has 6 stages: denial, defense, minimization, acceptance, adaptation, and integration. Teaching intercultural competence around three components (knowledge, skills, and attitude) along with five values: intercultural attitudes; knowledge; skills of interpreting and relating; skills of discovery and interaction; and critical cultural awareness. Using five components (attitudes, knowledge, skills, internal outcomes, and external outcomes) to promote intercultural competence in the curriculum design, while also integrating assessment of acquired skills.

Table 3.1 Intercultural Competence Models

These models offer a conceptual framework for the curriculum design process, but in terms of implementing such frameworks, the learning design process might provide a more specific guideline for the language teachers. (For more on Intercultural Competence Models and Assessment Tools, see Garrett-Rucks, P. (2016). Intercultural competence in instructed language learning: Building theory and practice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.)

Learning Design for Intercultural Competence

As we move from a broader intercultural communication approach to gaining intercultural competence skills in the target language, the design of learning activities takes center stage in teacher planning efforts. As a general framework, language educators can start by creating time and space for cultural exploration of the target language. Then the next step would be reviewing the language standards available to them to guide the planning process (e.g., ACTFL or CEF). When it comes to cultural dimensions, ACTFL uses the Cultures Framework, to demonstrate the interplay between cultural products, practices, and perspectives. This framework is shown below. Standards provide a general framework for the goals or aims of education/training but there is also a need to generate more specific learning objectives and outcomes.



Figure 3.1 ACTFL Cultures Framework (National Standards for Foreign Language Education Project, 2015;

Published by permission of ACTFL Copyright Office)


After the standards, educators create learning and teaching activities and complete the planning process with the assessment procedures. Finally, they use formative and summative evaluation processes to get feedback on teaching and student learning so they can improve the instructional processes. The basic steps for learning design are outlined in Figure 3.2.

Figure 3.2: A Basic Learning Design Model for Language Classroom


It should be noted that there are many learning design models out there, but the above model is a simple but easy-to-follow model for language educators. This model is also comprehensive enough to capture every learning design element while requiring no background knowledge in learning design to use it. On the other hand, the model is broad in the sense that each of these steps can have sub-steps depending on the goals of instruction. For instance, if the instruction is provided online, the educators can include additional steps under ‘learning activity design’ to engage students and increase their participation (For a more detailed model for student engagement, See: Czerkawski, B. & Lyman, G. (2016, November). An instructional design model for fostering student engagement in online learning environments. TechTrends. 60(6). 532-539). Finally, this model can be applied to the teaching of any subject, and it is not specific to intercultural competence. It will be the ‘activity design’ step that will differentiate the subject matter and the processes educators follow to create activities for intercultural competence. Because this e-book’s main purpose is to highlight the activity design process for intercultural competence, Figure 2.4 offers a more detailed ‘Learning Activity Design’ model.

The activity design can be viewed as a mini and more focused learning design process. In recent years, most instructional design approaches have come under fire for being too broad and generic. Learning design, with its emphasis on specific activities, tries to remedy these critiques. This discussion between instructional and learning design is beyond the scope of this e-book but interested readers can read Saçak, Bozkurt, and Wagner, 2022 for more on this discussion.

Figure 3.3: Activity Design Framework for Intercultural Competence


Step 1: Can-Do Statements: Determine what your students can do linguistically. ACTFL Can-Do statements can serve as a guide for this step.

Step 2: Prior Knowledge: What do students bring to the classroom before instruction starts? For learning to be meaningful, new information needs to be related to prior knowledge students already have (Gagné, 1985).  Knowing students’ prior knowledge helps with the selection of content for instruction, by choosing topics relevant to the students’ background.

Step 3: Objectives and Outcomes: This step is about clarifying performance criteria for the learning activity. ACTFL performance standards can guide educators here, as they write objectives of the instruction along with the performance outcomes. One advantage of determining learning outcomes is that they not only help learners understand what they are expected to learn and do but also help teachers establish the assessment criteria for the instruction.

Step 3 is also the stage where various intercultural competence models can be incorporated. Selecting objectives that focus on knowledge (e.g., sociolinguistic awareness, knowledge of the culture in broader and specific terms, knowledge of self and others, knowledge of interaction modes, knowledge of societal norms), skills (e.g., skills for interpreting and relating, skills to explore and acquire new knowledge about a culture, metacognitive skills for evaluating one’s learning), and attitudes (e.g., respect and value other cultures, general attitude of openness towards foreign cultures) could be used as starting point before planning teaching activities.

Step 4: Activity Design: At this stage, teachers start planning the activity with much detail by elaborating on the procedures to be implemented in the classroom. For instance, selection of existing instructional materials, development of new materials (if needed), technology integration strategies, and teaching strategies are part of this step. All this information comes together with an explanation of how they will be utilized to teach the content.

Regarding the teaching activities, the Common Language Framework (2020) suggests the following activities to foster intercultural competence: use of greetings, address forms, conventions of turn-taking, use of expletives, politeness conventions, expression of folk wisdom such as proverbs, idioms, expressions, register differences, dialect, and accent.

Step 5: Assess and Reflect: The final step in the activity design is two-fold. First, educators determine how the student’s learning will be assessed. This task is guided by the learning outcomes set up in Step 2. Second, teachers reflect on the way the activity is implemented, so that they can improve future teaching practices.

Learning Design for Technology Integration

While planning and designing language learning activities, an important factor to consider is the way technology will be integrated into the teaching. Considering the continuously evolving nature of educational technologies and diverse learner needs, learning design can help educators systematically plan for available technology resources, so technology use will positively impact the learning process. To guide educators and help them conceptualize the complex technology integration process, over the years many technology integration models have been proposed. While the discussion of these models is beyond the scope of this book, one of these models, PICRAT, will be used in this book to assist educators.

The PICRAT Model of technology integration is one of the most recent models proposed by Kimmons, Graham, and West in 2020. The model represents a learner-centered approach while also focusing on the teachers’ perspectives on their own teaching. The authors of PICRAT start from the two key questions relevant to technology integration: “What are the students doing with technology?” and “How does their use of technology impact the teacher’s pedagogy?” They create two axes to respond to these questions. In the teacher axis, there is PIC (Passive, Interactive, Creative), and in the student axis, RAT (Replacement, Amplification, Transformation). Table 3.2 summarizes each of these constructs.

Student Behaviors Creative (Students use technology to construct learning artifacts and master new knowledge or skill) Creative-Replacement (e.g., Students make summary notes in MS Word) Creative-Amplification (e.g., Students make a presentation using Canva) Creative-Transformation (e.g., Students create a short movie to analyze their research findings)
Interactive  (Students interact with the content to engage in exploration, experimentation, collaboration) Interactive- Replacement (e.g., students search Metaverse Studio or YouTube to identify relevant vocabulary) Interactive-Amplification (e.g., Students play a culture game on Kahoot Interactive-Transformation

(e.g., Students use Google Docs to collaboratively research and write a project)

Passive (Students receive content passively)  Passive-Replacement (e.g., Students listen to a PowerPoint lecture) Passive-Amplification

(e.g., Students watch a video on target language culture)

Passive-Transformation (e.g., Students attend an online seminar given by an expert on the target language)
PICRAT Model Replaces (Use of technology to replace a previous practice, usually used in f2f environment) Amplifies (Use of technology to improve and augment learning outcomes) Transforms (Use of technology to enable new ways of thinking)

Teacher Behaviors


Table 3.2: PICRAT Model for Technology Integration


This model was chosen for a few reasons. First, compared to other broader and conceptual models, PICRAT is highly suitable for lesson planning and smaller-scale activity or task design efforts. Second, the model presents a truly learner-centered approach to technology integration, while balancing learner needs with the educators’ pedagogical choices. Third, the model is clear and easy to understand and use. Finally, this model encourages an approach to technology, where technology is a means for achieving learner outcomes rather than being an end.

It should be noted that the purpose of using the PICRAT model is not to foster solely creative and transforming (CR) experiences with the technology, which is shown on the upper right side of Table 3.2. Depending on the learning objectives, an educator can plan a lesson that may look like as following:

  • Teacher shares with students a website about Ukrainian cities that uses 360 videos (PA)
  • Students use the 360 Cities website to view landmarks, important historical monuments, and museums in Ukraine (IA)
  • Students present a 360 VR exhibition using the Google Arts and Culture website in Ukraine (IT)
  • Students shoot a 360 video in their school as a reference to discuss cultural similarities and differences with the Ukrainian schools (CT)
  • Students write a reflection on the activity using MS Word (CR)

Learning Outcomes, Technologies, and Teaching Strategies Alignment

One of the best ways to assure achievement of learning outcomes is aligning various aspects of learning design protocol, so designers can visually identify the strengths and weaknesses of their plan. Table 3.3. shows an example of such visualization.

Learning Outcomes (Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy) Teaching Activities Learning Activities AR/VR Technologies
Remembering (Recalling basic facts) Q & A; Repetition Practices; Feedback Drill & Practice Repetitive Practices via simple AR activities understanding
Understanding (Explaining) Educational gaming; Group projects; Social Learning Playing games to practice simple facts; Presenting an AR/VR activity to others to summarize findings Locate; Identify and Describe facts, events, and rules within AR/VR activities
Applying (Using information in a novel way) Active Learning; Discovery Learning; Task-Based Learning; Problem Solving Escape Room; Virtual Trips Virtual trips via 360 videos; Solve a mystery or problem
Analyzing (Relating and Connecting ideas) Connectivist learning strategies; Situated Learning Test hypothesis; compare new and prior learning Intelligent tutors; Virtual collaborations; Multi-user VR games
Evaluating (Justifying an argument) Coaching; Socratic questioning Simulation games playing Playing simulation games; Presentations; Debates over AR/VR activities
Creating (Producing a new or original work) Experimentation; Project-based learning Creating AR and VR products Individual or Group Portfolios

Table 3.3. Learning Outcomes-Teaching Strategies Alignment


Chapter 5 presents examples of the activity design process, so the theories and models presented here will be put into action.

Further Reading



American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Board of Directors (2014). Global Competence Position Statement. Retrieved on April 12, 2023, from https://www.actfl.org/news/global-competence-position-statement.

Bennett, M. J. (1993). Towards ethno-relativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity. In R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience (p. 21–71). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Byram, M. (1989). Cultural studies in foreign language education. Cleveland, England: Multilingual Matters.

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Cleveland, England: Multilingual Matters.

Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (n. d.). What is Culture? Available at: https://carla.umn.edu/culture/definitions.html.

Council of Europe (2020). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment – Companion volume, Council of Europe Publishing, Strasbourg. Available at https://rm.coe.int/16802fc1bf.

Czerkawski, B. & Lyman, G. (2016, November). An instructional design model for fostering student engagement in online learning environments. TechTrends. 60(6). 532-539.

Deardorff, D.K. (2006). Identification and assessment of intercultural competence as a student outcome of internationalization. Journal Studies in International Education, 10(3), 241-266.

Gagné, R. M. (1985). The conditions of learning and theory of instruction (4th ed.). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Garrett-Rucks, P. (2016). Intercultural competence in instructed language learning: Building theory and practice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Kimmons, R., Graham, C. R., & West, R. E. (2020). The PICRAT model for technology integration in teacher preparation. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 20(1), 176-198.

Kovacs, G. (2017). Culture in language teaching: A course design for teacher trainees. Acta University Sapientiae, Philologica, 9 (3), 73–86. Available at http://real-j.mtak.hu/22980/3/AUS_Phil_2017_9_3_.pdf#page=68.

Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and culture in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Culture. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture.

Moeller, A. K., & Nugent, K. (2014). Building intercultural competence in the language classroom. Faculty Publications: Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education. 161. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/teachlearnfacpub/161.

Saçak B., Bozkurt A., Wagner E. (2022). Learning Design versus Instructional Design: A Bibliometric Study through Data Visualization Approaches. Education Sciences. 12(11):752. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12110752.

The National Standards Collaborative Board. (2015). World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. 4th ed. Alexandria, VA: Author.