Level 4 Spanish Civil War / Art / Film unit

Recently my level 4 Spanish class finished up a study of the Spanish Civil War and Franco. It was a lengthy unit, which encompassed a novel study last semester, and then continued into the current semester with a film and art study. I was really pleased with the learning that took place, the increased ability of my students to discuss more advanced topics (these are 4th year students, but not pre-AP. Most of them are just interested in Spanish and not all are even college bound kids.), and what seems to be a genuine appreciation for the struggles of the Spanish people, the understanding of the concept of fascism, the understanding of left-wing versus right-wing, and the concept of film and art as a powerful political statement rather than simply entertainment or beauty.

I’d like to share an overview of what we did, much of which unfolded as a result of some really powerful collaboration with my colleague Carrie Toth (@senoraCMT). I am so grateful to know her and call her my friend!


Federico García Lorca


Los niños robados de España

Website about the work of Ron English (Guernica inspired art)


La lengua de las mariposas

El espinazo del diablo

El laberinto del fauno


Guernica by Pablo Picasso in 3D


Students kept journals, we did lots of discussion, and they also were told to look for imagery and especially what they believed might be symbolism. We kept track of the powerful images that were common across more than one of the items we viewed or read. Students practiced speaking about the imagery with an inside-outside circle activity.

Finally, after studying the painting Guernica by Picasso, students were given time to create their own art representative of what they knew about the events and consequences of the civil war for the people of Spain. Once their art was finished, we displayed it in a “gallery” (a large open unused choir room in our school!), complete with tapas (ok, popcorn, chips and oreos, but it was a nice thought!) and elegant beverages (white grape juice in fancy glasses). Students were divided, each group had 10 min to circulate and talk with others, 10 minutes to stand near own art. All talking in Spanish. I circulated asking questions to help them refine their own thoughts and statements. At the end, they had to describe their art to me in Spanish (via cell phone using Google voice), and then were randomly assigned to the art of another student to describe or discuss in Spanish.

Here is a video of two of my students describing art created by their classmates.


  1. I’m sure you are familiar with the film, but my personal favorite from the time period is “El viaje de Carol.” I’m biased because Juan José Ballesta is one of my favorite actors as well. It is a really great film!

  2. Hola, I am planning a Spanish Civil war unit, so glad I found this resource! Did you watch all three of the movies you mentioned in class? What activities did you do with them?

    1. We did watch all three. We use all 3 for discussion, journaling, comparing to the novel La hija del sastre by Carrie Toth, and we also collect examples of powerful imagery and we use to make an art project.

  3. Outstanding resources! I realize that you posted this almost 3 years ago now, but I am curious if you recall how much of the vocabulary you pretaught with your students. I am teaching a level 4 class and we are ramping up to read La hija del sastre and dive into a unit very similar to what you outlined above 🙂 and I am noticing that the structures used throughout the novel can be quite advanced. That being said, the novel is very riveting, which may help keep interest high even if the language is challenging. How perfectly do you feel students should understand the text? Did you focus more on a gist, or on making the text 100% comprehensible? Thanks for your help!!

    1. By the time we read this novel in level 4, it is the 11th or 12th Spanish novel they have read and we read a lot of other stories as well. So they are very experienced readers at that point. I don’t pre-teach anything per se, but we do stop and discuss as we go along. I also do still translate anything that is creating confusion. I strive for 95% comprehension at least.

  4. This is an amazing unit! How long did it take you to read the book? Did you do read it all at once or read so much each week? I love the different aspects that you tied into this unit.

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