The Linguistic Universe in Global Context, Key and Related Contexts

Warning! This is a very long post!

This is the second entry in the series of blog posts that I am writing about my book Spanish by Concept, published by Hodder Education. In my first post on the book, I explained some of its main features. In this entry I will focus on a certain aspects of conceptual teaching with the book. Likewise, I will share how I approached the design on conceptual contexts as well as how I structured the linguistic framework for each chapter considering key concepts, related concepts, global contexts, as well as well as grammar and vocabulary. Since this is a book to learn Spanish, all examples will be in Spanish.

Exploring the Key Concept


Spanish by Concept, Unit 12 title and conceptual components

In the IB MYP, 4 Key Concepts have been assigned to Language Acquisition as s subject group: communication, culture, creativity, and connections, a.k.a. the 4C’s. It is important to remember that all concepts in MYP transcend the disciplines or subject groups to which they were assigned, and serve as the elements that allow us to establish connection with other areas of knowledge. Concepts are abstract and applicable over many times and circumstances; contexts are specific, varied and highly situational. Concepts are powerful ideas that have universal application, but the meaning of concepts can change as people experience and interpret them in different contexts. Contexts offer the possibility of new perspectives, additional information, counter-examples and refinements of understanding. (From principles into practice, pag. 17)

For this reason, it is a good idea to carefully pay attention the key concept identified for each unit in order to observe how it allows to conduct grammatical explorations, understanding that all structures can be approached considering form, meaning and use. Thus, if we take unit 6 as an example (¿Qué tan fuerte es el poder del cambio?), we can see that the key concept is connections and, due to the fact that this chapter addresses different elements related to change, we can see how structures such as the past and present (and possibly future) tenses framework will be useful.

Unit 4 (¿Cuál es la relación entre los modales, las reglas y las prohibiciones?), on the other hand, addresses a variety of aspects about manners and civil life and responsibilities and has culture as a key concept. This unit allows us to work with different forms of the present tense as well as el condicional form. The key concept, in conjunction with the main theme in this unit, provides us with the opportunity to look at verbs such as poder, deber, tener in a structure that can emulate the way modals in English (can, should, could, must) are used. This practice can encourage students to construct meaningful ideas in which they can also explore aspects such as formality, tone and function, as shown in a previous post of mine on an EFL strategies to teach foreign languages.

The processes implied in the related concepts

“Related concepts are grounded in specific subjects and disciplines. Related concepts are useful for exploring key concepts in greater detail. Related concepts may arise from the subject matter of a subject, from processes” (Developing MYP Units).

In a few words, in Language Acquisition, Related Concepts are the linguistic processes implied in the way we employ the language. Not only do they imply a linguistic function, but they also give us an idea of the possibilities we can consider when generating learning experiences for they (RC) will be the processes that will occur while communication is happening.

Spanish by Concept is a book for phases 3-5; therefore, I will offer a few insights on grammar or language functions that can be addressed through these phases’ related concepts.

Argument: language and structures of disagreement, debate or persuasion.

Spanish by Concept Unit 2, examples of Global Context and related concept-specific tasks.

Spanish by Concept Unit 2, examples of Global Context and related concept-specific tasks.

Audience: language and structures used to define specific readers, listeners, the views; aspects of formality; academic language. This RC is relevant to distinguish the difference between strand 4 in criterion C and strand 3 in criterion D.
Bias- language and structures that imply a conscious distortion or exaggeration; language and structures used to express prejudice. This related concept is particularly relevant in criteria A and B, as we ask students to evaluate and assess ideas expressed in texts.
Context- language and structures used to denote aspects of social, historical, cultural and workplace settings in which language is used. Examples could be, the language used at home in different cultures; the use of ‘’ and ‘usted’, among others. This RC is relevant to distinguish the difference between strand 4 in criterion C and strand 3 in criterion D.
Conventions- refers to the language that writers use, along with other features, in order to achieve particular artistic ends. Examples of this RC can be the way newspaper headlines are written in Spanish; the choices of adjectives used in specific descriptions; the frequent uses of certain grammar tenses, their exceptions and the meaning change that occurs when employed incorrectly.
Empathy- language and structures that can be employed to express understanding, an emotional identification with a person or situation. Structures such as subjuntivo pretérito (si yo fuera, si yo tuviera…) can be employed to express empathy. Some constructions / expression that can be mentioned are: ponte en el lugar de…, piensa / imagina que eres…, etc.
Function– language and structures that we use depending on the purpose and/or use of communication. For example, the use of ‘se impersonal’ in formal documents; the specific uses of passive voice in Spanish, in contrast to its use in English.
Idiom– language and structures that refer to a manner of speaking whose meaning differs from the meaning of its individual components. This RC allows us to look at the way Spanish is used in different countries; at the use/meaning certain words have in different contexts in different countries. This video might illustrate the RC.
Inference is the information in a text that goes beyond what is first understood or apparent to identify what may be thought, expressed or considered correct. It is the layer of text that is often referred to as “between the lines”. When we ask students to infer, we ask them to express their ideas using verbs such as: suponer, creer, sospechar, presumir, etc.
Meaning refers to what is communicated, by intention or by implication, using any range of human expression. This RC includes “layers of meaning”, nuance, denotation, connotation, inference, subtext. This RC is one of the broadest, and one that we address when we look at words in contexts, when we ask students to use specific words in a specific context to convey a meaning; when we combine grammar structures in order to generate different sequences of actions.
Message is communication in writing, speech, verbal or non-verbal language. The message can also be an underlying theme or idea. See meaning.
Point of view refers to an attitude or perception that is communicated in text. This RC comes to life when we ask students to express their opinion, to discuss beliefs, to compare judgments, to come up with a verdict, to contrast attitudes, etc.
Purpose, as RC, can be defined as the language and structures used in order to to entertain, to recount, to socialize, to inquire, to inform, to persuade, to explain, to instruct. A lot of the suggested vocabulary items in the book were chosen considering this RC. When working with literary works, this concept could also engage students in exploration of meaning, thesis/argument, gender, bias, persuasive techniques, function, critical stance, and message.
Structure refers to the organization, pattern and elements of text, in any format. This RC is evident when we ask students to produce specific texts for specific audiences.
Stylistic choice: A creator makes choices about what they are going to describe and how to describe it in order to create effect. Different kinds of texts and interactions will require different vocabulary, vocabulary used to serve as symbols, sensorial impressions, as well as a certain structure.
Theme refers to a dominant subject, thread or idea that is conveyed through a text form. We make room for this RC when we ask students to express ideas or inquire into a certain exploration.
Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a narrator; a persona, which conveys his or her attitude, personality, and character. We make room for this RC when we ask students to adopt a specific role in a conversation or text production, and then voicing ideas from that perspective.
Word choice has to do with the writer’s selection of words as determined by a number of factors, including meaning (both denotative and connotative), specificity, level of diction, and tone.
(Information on related concepts adapted from Language Acquisition Guide, pag 111.)

Nonetheless, while it is easy to see how each related concept suggest specific structures and/or functions, it is important to remember that the learning scenario needs to be meticulously crafted in order to create room for these processes to come to life. In the tasks in the book, we encourage you to look at the elements of the task: (GRASPS: goal, role, audience, situation, purpose, standards) in order to see how the RC selected for the chapters were represented in the tasks.

Navigating the Global Context

If we could say that the Key Concept is a soccer player, and that everything he or she is

Spanish by Concept, Unit 12 Suggested Vocabulary and Grammar items

Spanish by Concept, Unit 12 Suggested Vocabulary and Grammar items

able to do on the field are the Related Concepts, then the Global Context would be the filed on which s/he would play. In other words s/he would still be him/her and would be able to do the same things all the time, but in different scenarios.

As a subject that is skill based, it is important to remember that in Language Acquisition we can use information and content form any subject in order to generate learning experiences.

Global Contexts, therefore, represent opportunities for students to receive language input and experience language output with specific characteristic features, understanding the culture that lies behind the grammar. GC allows teachers to enrich the learning contexts and add layers to the experience for it is not the same to play soccer in Singapore and Canada during the winter. Soccer players need to adapt to specific conditions and employ their best resources in order to succeed, and so must students: in each GC, language has different nuances, language can be used for different purposes and in different formats. Some GC lend themselves to more specific linguistic explorations, while others welcome transfer.

For example, Personal and Cultural Expression provides opportunities to explore vocabulary and structures related to different forms cultural expression; artistic appreciation; the opinions art and cultural trends generate; influences, influencers, connections with one’s personal life; vocabulary related to the senses, to human emotions, different disciplines, etc. This means that should this GC be selected, teacher should procure contexts/situations in which that type of language and structures is employed.

This GC can be identified in unit two, and some examples of the language that can be explored can be:

  1. Presente simple de indicativo
  2. Conjunciones copulativas (y, e, ni, que)
  3. Conjunciones adversativas (pero, mas, aunque, sin embargo)
  4. Conjunciones de modo (según)
  5. Conjunciones comparativas (más….. que, menos….. que, tan…. como)

Let us not forget that another approach towards contextualizing Global Contexts in our curriculum is by engaging our community in our exploration, in order to see how similar or different the scenarios are in comparison to a more global situation. You might want to read this example.

Thus the exploration of Global Contexts that once decides to carry out will determine in big part the language that will be used, while the Related Concepts will determine the processes that will take place, and the Key Concept will be the rope that ties everything together.

After reading this post, you might be interested in reading about the role of the IB Learner profile while designing lessons. You might also be interested in an exercise through which I piloted some of the learning experiences for this chapter.

In the next entry I will share my views on how to unpack the statement of inquiry, and will establish connections with specific aspects of the language as well.


About Rafael Angel

Concept-Based Curriculum and Instructor Independent Trainer. Concept-Based Foreign Language Curriculum and Instruction specialist. Teaching and Learning Director; lives for traveling, reading, learning and tasting new flavours; culture and art lover; passionate about cinema and music. IB MYP, DP Workshop Leader. Mexican YouTuber and Soundclouder.
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2 Responses to The Linguistic Universe in Global Context, Key and Related Contexts

  1. Adrian von Wrede-Jervis says:

    Hi Rafael, to play devil’s advocat for a moment.

    You say that “It is important to remember that all concepts in MYP transcend the disciplines or subject groups to which they were assigned, and serve as the elements that allow us to establish connection with other areas of knowledge.” But did you know that Culture is only used by languages B and not in any other subject, and that Connection and Creativity are only shared with Language A. It is only Communication (arguably an ATL skill) that is shared by more than one discipline.

    How then are these concepts transcending subjects?

    • Rafael Angel says:

      Hi Adrian, I appreciate a devil’s advocate observation anytime.
      The concepts prescribed by the IB MYP guides offer a very limited series of concepts; and they narrow it even more when they assign 4 to each subject. I wrote the statement you mentioned considering the work of Lynn Erickson, particularly taking the idea that concepts transfer and that it is possible to observe relationships across areas of knowledge through concepts.
      When I was writing the book, I developed what I considered wonderful chapters using concepts outside the 4 assigned by the IB MYP, but for consistency with other books, we stuck to those 4. Nonetheless, I still contend that for an effective concept-based instruction model to evolve and positively impact students’ learning process, we need to bring in learning experiences and contexts from other subjects. In foreign language, this is what brings the intellect back into the classroom.

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