Geoliteracies and Place-Based Language Learning

What is Place-Based Learning?

“Place-based learning adopts local environments—social, cultural, economic, political, and natural—as the context for a significant share of students’ educational experiences.”

— Gregory A. Smith, “Going Local”

Place-based language learning is an approach to language education that emphasizes the connection between language learning and the physical and cultural environment in which it is used. It is often associated with the idea that language is not just a set of abstract rules and vocabulary but is deeply rooted in the context of its use. Place-based language learning encourages learners to engage with the local community, culture, and environment to enhance their language acquisition and cultural understanding.

The principles of place-based language learning can vary slightly depending on the specific context and goals of the program, but they generally include the following:

CONTEXTUAL LEARNING: Place-based language learning emphasizes learning language in context. Learners are encouraged to use the language in real-life situations and settings, such as interacting with local social spaces, local residents or navigating their surroundings.

CULTURAL INTEGRATION: The approach promotes an understanding of the culture associated with the language being learned. This includes exploring traditions, customs, and values of the community where the language is spoken.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Learners are encouraged to interact with the local community not only in the target culture but also explore the linguistic and cultural practices in their own community, which can include participating in community events, volunteering, or collaborating on social projects that benefit the community.

ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS: When used in K-12 classrooms, place-based language learning has historically entailed a focus on the natural environment. Learners may engage in activities such as nature walks, environmental conservation efforts, or learning about local ecosystems and wildlife in the target language, while also learning new vocabulary and developing important observation skills.

AUTHENTIC RESOURCES: The approach encourages the use of authentic resources which represent local cultural and linguistic practices, such as street signs, billboards, publicly displayed menus, and community announcements, as well as conversations with local residents, to expose learners to real language as it is used by native speakers.

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING: Learners are encouraged to learn through experience rather than just through textbooks or classroom instruction. This can involve hands-on activities and immersion in real-world situations.

PLACE-BASED ASSESSMENT: Assessment methods are designed to reflect the principles of place-based learning, often focusing on practical language skills and cultural understanding gained through real-life experiences.

LOCAL RELEVANCE AND ORIENTATION TOWARDS SOCIAL JUSTICE: Language learning materials and activities are tailored to the specific location and community in which the language is being learned, making the learning experience more relevant and meaningful for learners. Teaching “places” engages learners in critical issues in a concrete community through social-justice oriented language learning.

SUSTAINABILITY AND STEWARDSHIP: Some place-based language programs incorporate themes of sustainability and environmental stewardship, encouraging learners to appreciate and protect the natural environment of the place where the language is spoken.

Overall, place-based language learning seeks to make language acquisition a holistic and culturally enriching experience by connecting it to the places and communities where the language is used and emphasizing the principles of social-justice oriented language education. This approach can be particularly effective for learners who want to develop not only their language skills but also a deeper understanding of the culture(s) and environment(s) associated with the use of that language in concrete communities of practice.


Footprints provides a place for educators to become acquainted with different activities related to place-based learning. Each footprint leads to a pedagogically designed lesson plan that encourages  students to engage in place-based learning. Our hope is that you leverage the activity and contextualize it as needed to create your own footprint to take your students on an adventure to visit a new place or space.


Guides provides a space for educators to explore terms associated with place-based learning, such as geolocality, place-based learning, cultural space, place and spatial storytelling. Each term encourages educators to think about ways to connect language teaching to students’ immediate surroundings and to reflect on the development of intercultural awareness, cultural noticing and interpretation skills.

Place as Text

Place as Text features place-inspired narratives created by our students. In their narratives, language learners engage in spatial storytelling while connecting the local experiences of place to larger social, historical and linguistic contexts. Spatial storytelling is a narrative technique that utilizes the spatial dimensions of a physical environment to tell a personally relevant story or convey information. Spatial storytelling leverages the power of space and environment to engage, educate, and entertain audiences by immersing them in a place-based narrative. It enhances traditional storytelling by making the physical local space an active participant in conveying the story or message.


Place-based learning can be facilitated by various technological tools. Toolbox Box provides a place to become acquainted with tools that can help explore place and space. Educators can find information about tools such as padlet, storymap, leaflet, siftr, google maps and other tools.