InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources - Spanish > Instructor Story > Ruth Hoff
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Ruth Hoff: Using Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources — Spanish Adaptation at Wittenberg University

About this Course

An intermediate course for Spanish majors and minors.

Three 60-minute lecture
small, private 4-year liberal arts college

Syllabus (Microsoft Word 56kB Jan2 16)

Taught all in Spanish, "El mundo físico" is an intermediate, 200-level course primarily for students beginning their Spanish major or minor. It serves as an introduction to the Hispanic world by highlighting the diverse nature and cultures of Spanish-speaking people, focusing on speech patterns, climate, geography, and environmental issues. The course also develops language skills that enhance students' ability to express themselves in Spanish.

Course Goals:

Learning goal outcomes for students of this course are as follows:
  • make connections between the science of freshwater systems and principles of environmental justice;
  • articulate cultural similarities and differences between various communities in the United States and the Hispanic world as they relate to the environment;
  • comprehend and discuss authentic texts related to climate, the environment, and the natural world;
  • identify countries and significant geographic features of the Spanish-speaking world;
  • demonstrate an intermediate-level of competence in the grammar topics covered in the course;
  • identify strengths and weaknesses in pronunciation as well as develop a plan for improvement in this area as needed.

A Success Story in Building Student Engagement

I used the materials from this module in a half-semester intermediate-level Spanish course. I had taught the course previously but welcomed the opportunity to strengthen its interdisciplinary connections by introducing more science through the use of this module. As we made our way through all six units, students remarked on the fresh approach with its focus on scientific concepts taught in Spanish within a cultural context. For the most part, these are not science students.

By the end of the module, several students expressed surprise at being able to talk about specific topics more comfortably in their language of study (Spanish) than in English.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials

I ended up taking about three and a half weeks to complete the module since we did some of the optional activities to expand discussions. In order to include grammar, which is also part of this course, I would sometimes break apart a unit to cover it in two class sessions rather than one. This opened up time for language practice that focused on particular grammar constructions. In addition, I found that my students were not used to learning about scientific concepts in a Spanish course, and in many cases they needed extra time to absorb and work with the content material.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

The course is only a half semester so it moves quickly. We meet as a class for an hour, three times a week. The first two weeks are dedicated to a brief overview of geographical features of Spain and Latin America, with students viewing the film Diarios de motocicleta and then individually presenting specific countries to the class. I implement the materials from the Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources module during weeks 3 through 5. To finish the course, students read and discuss the short story "Axolotl" by Julio Cortázar. Throughout the course, we also work with specific grammar topics and pronunciation.

Unit 1

  • I followed the order of activities as indicated but I ended up covering the material over two days instead of one. This allowed for more time to discuss the PowerPoint material, gave students additional time with the "Comparison of definitions," and allowed us to complete the two optional activities in the assessment section. These two optional activities really helped clarify the distinctions between different definitions of environmental justice.
  • At the end of Day 1, I assigned the "comparison of definitions" activity and the "minute paper" as homework with follow-up discussions the next class period.
  • Toward the end of class on Day 2, I introduced the homework assignment for Unit 2 (La huella del agua) so that students were clear about the instructions and goals for the activity.
  • On Day 2, we also spent time introducing a new grammar topic with practice and explanations from our grammar textbook. Whenever possible I would bring back the grammar practice to the context of the module. In the case of this particular grammar lesson, distinguishing between "ser" and "estar" offered opportunities to practice defining terms such as environmental justice and the vocabulary in subsequent units ("ser") vs. conditions ("estar") and locations of the environment, water, etc.

Unit 2

  • We completed the activities from Unit 2 in one class period quite comfortably.
  • I opted not to do the optional additional activity for longer classes.
  • Students estimated their water consumption for the "water footprint" exercise with varying degrees of care and accuracy. Even so, they were intrigued by the numbers. Informal comparisons and discussions in class raised awareness about their personal water use in the context of US and global averages. Due to time limitations, I found it helpful to focus on the bigger picture with rough estimates for personal water use rather than getting too caught up in exact calculations. I believe it is also important to not overly "shame" anyone about their water consumption in class. I tried to avoid this by having students share results with small groups and then volunteer responding to questions as we talked as an entire class.
  • The pair work to label the water cycle and describe the terms went very well. Students were sufficiently familiar with the components illustrated in the water cycle diagram and able to recognize many Spanish-English cognates from the list of terms, which enabled them to successfully identify and describe much of the illustration. Any gaps were filled in (often by individual students) during the class follow-up discussion with the PowerPoint images.

Unit 3

  • The concepts in this unit proved to be challenging for students. I spread the activities out over two days to provide more time for students to both clarify and absorb the material. On Day 1, we stopped at the end of the gallery walk and I assigned as homework the question "Why do some dams cause more flooding than others?" making available the corresponding Google Earth files. I also assigned the assessment questions as homework. Day 2 we continued with the rest of the activities and discussion of the homework for this unit. This also gave me time to review grammar concepts introduced earlier.
  • When assigning the "pre-class" activity, it would be helpful to introduce the illustration at the top of the page. Some students had difficulty imagining it in three dimensions or understanding which direction the river is flowing. Pointing out the elevation of the surrounding hills and that the blue river in the center is flowing toward the bottom of the page should help them better visualize this image. The investigation of terms which follows is designed to help them better understand watershed components so it is important when introducing the image to not provide too much detail.
  • Students responded very positively to the image comparisons of the Grand Canyon and the Marañón River as well as the material on the asháninka.

Unit 4

  • My students were captivated by the events and circumstances which culminated in the political protests in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2000. For the context and significance of these actions to really come alive, however, they needed to see the film También la lluvia. The emotional drama of the film enabled them to more fully comprehend the value of their previous work on rain shadows and various models of supplying freshwater. I highly recommend setting aside time to show this film as an extension of the materials for this unit. Because we included the film, we covered this unit over two days of discussions plus a writing assignment tied to the film.
  • For the jigsaw activity to succeed, it is critical that students complete the pre-class activity carefully. Since access to the Google Earth files is a fundamental part of the assignment, students should either be familiar with Google Earth and/or they should be given alternative access to the activities. As much as I tried to prepare my students for this assignment, inevitably, some students would not be able to access some or all of the activities through Google Earth. The video interview embedded in one of the place markers seemed to work for some students and not for others. I highly recommend making the text, images and links provided for instructors available to students as a back-up if they have trouble accessing the activities through Google Earth.
  • Covering this unit in two class periods also gave us time for grammar practice. In this case, we were working on possessives which we tied directly to the Cochabamba water war protest slogan "El agua es nuestra carajo."

Unit 5

  • My students responded well to the striking visual images, compelling cultural perspectives, and controversial legal history of the Chevron-Texaco case study. We covered the material over two days to provide extra time for the assessment activity and a mock trial as described in the "Teaching Notes and Tips." The mock trial offers excellent oral practice for students and also brings out many issues related to environmental justice.
  • The science concepts of soil permeability and water table levels were received well initially but students struggled to apply these concepts to the assessment activity. I would recommend presenting and discussing the PowerPoint slides that address these concepts on Day 1 and then allowing students to start their discussion of the assessment activity in small groups with the understanding that they will be able to spend more time on the activity as a homework assignment. I believe that making the PowerPoint slides accessible as part of their homework allows students to revisit the unit ideas at their own pace and rethink the assessment activity at home. Day 2 allows for follow-up small group and in-class discussion of this assignment.

Unit 6

  • We completed the material for this unit in one class period.
  • Some students were more successful than others in finishing the pre-class activity primarily due to technical difficulties with the website or their own lack of familiarity with working with data in this format. When assigning the small group discussion of this activity, I arranged it so every group had at least one student with a printout of their findings. The next time I teach this, I may do a walk-through demonstration of the activity in class before assigning it. I may also create some of my own printouts for comparison purposes.


For each unit, I assigned the assessment activities as homework and/or collected pre-class activities. For purposes of the pilot, I evaluated these with the corresponding rubrics. Students received marks for completion and effort, which allowed them to tackle more difficult material without feeling overly anxious if they had a hard time understanding. The summative assessment was part of a quiz given after we completed the entire module. As part of this quiz, I also included some of the questions and/or variations of work they had done previously as homework to check their comprehension of the material.


My goals in developing and using the materials in this module were to strengthen the interdisciplinary scope of my course, particularly in the area of science, and to give students the opportunity to advance their Spanish skills through active engagement in authentic global contexts. I was drawn to the theme of environmental justice in that it combines social, cultural, and environmental components in challenging, meaningful, and at times, gripping ways. I believe the materials simultaneously raise awareness of the human impact on and struggles surrounding natural resources while introducing them to tools to address these challenges.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »