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Teaching Esperanza - Year 2

I just finished teaching the novel Esperanza by Carol Gaab for the fourth time in two years. Last year it was the first novel my Spanish III class ever read, and then my Spanish II class read it semester 2. This year at a new school, Spanish III read it trimester 1, and my second class of Spanish III read it trimester 2. I know that it is marked a "level 1 book" and is in the present tense, but I would personally shy away from reading it in Spanish I due to the deep themes and discussions that it brings up about social justice and immigration. 
If you are going to teach it, I would high recommend the Teacher's Guide & Audio Book. Here is my first post about teaching Esperanza after year 1. 

You may think that after teaching something three times, it gets easier, but that was the opposite for me this past time. I made the mistake of teaching this novel during the Iowa caucuses, a time where students are bombarded from all sides on TV, social media, and people around them with political views, especially on immigration. After a particularly difficult class discussing chapter 1 and unions, I was called into the principals office, because two separate parents had come in complaining about my class and how I was "pushing my political agenda on the students." (I exposed students to the possibility that immigration is needed in certain situations. There are many in this town of 700 people who are in the "build a wall" camp.)

I was obviously quite upset about this reaction and sent an SOS to a local Iowa CI group that I am a part of. Luckily, some pretty awesome educators came to my rescue and convinced me to keep going and not just drop the novel. They shared similar stories of parents, administrators, and students fighting the real life content that they were trying to get across. I decided to focus my attention on just immigration from Guatemala during the civil war, as to not bring in current politics. Also, I really pushed that one of my essential standards is "I can use my language skills to recognize others' ways of thinking as well as my own." As an educator, I would love if my students' gain empathy for a situation, but I will even settle for just gaining a new, broader way of thinking about the world. 

Before starting the novel

Before starting to read, we spent two weeks introducing Guatemala, poverty, the Guatemalan Civil War, and immigration from Central America. There are a lot of deep topics in the novel and all of this front loading really has helped the deep comprehension of the novel and the themes. 
  • Living on One - A great hour long documentary on Netflix. It is in mostly English, but it takes place in Guatemala and really made students think about the extremity of the poverty that many people live in. Here are some discussion questions in English that could be used if your class needs something to do while watching to keep them focused. These could also be put in Spanish as well. 
  • Guatemala Slideshow - The slideshow from the teacher's guide gives a nice introduction to the country, as well as the Guatemalan civil war. 
  • Which Way Home - Before starting the novel, as a class we watched this great documentary about child immigrants from Central America. Check out this post about why I would recommend using the subtitles to get the most out of the movie. I moved this to before reading, since it gives the students a better visual picture of the lives people are trying to leave behind in Central America. 

During the novel 

I have one large PowerPoint for a novel that includes chapter by chapter pre-reading questions, vocabulary, discussion questions, and class activities. I shared this on Schoology before we started the unit, so anytime a student is absent, they know they are expected to read the next chapter and complete all activities listed. During class I post the discussion questions, which helps me to focus while conversing as a class, and keep everything organized. This PowerPoint is heavily based on the Teacher's Guide, so I can not post it here. Here are some specific things we did while reading the novel. 

Chapter 1 - Union reading from Teacher's Guide 

Chapter 2 - Casas de Guatemala slideshow & discussion from Teacher's Guide Timeline activity by Martina Bex

Chapter 5 - Vocab word sort by Martina Bex

Chapter 6 - Esperanza - the immigration game - great game from Jason Noble
  • Jason was one of the teachers who came to my rescue and convinced me to not shy away from immigration, but instead have students experience it through the simulation above he created. I printed colored game board and directions for each table, so we had many going on at once. One mistake I made was not specifying that immigration forms are to be filled out as Alberto from the book. This ensures that students see how he would do in an immigration interview, and how difficult the process really is.  
Chapter 7 - Find Someone Who character cards from Teacher's Guide

Chapter 9 - Immigrant Archive Project - with activity by Martina Bex

Chapter 10 - Sentence strip story review from Teacher's Guide 

After the novel 

My first year as our assessment, we completed the great choice board project from Elizabeth Dentlinger. For this, you would need more class time if you want quality projects. This year I gave students the option of a project or a interpersonal speaking and written presentational writing assessment. They chose the assessments instead. 
*Update* You can download the assessments here.

Overall, I am glad I stuck with the novel, and hope that students gained a new perspective on the topic of immigration.

For more inspiration for teaching Esperanza check out these posts from Martina BexProfe HansonKristy PlacidoElizabeth DentlingerSharon Birch & my immigration Pinterest board


  1. Thank you for sharing, Allison. Would you mind sharing your essential standards?

  2. Thank you for your ideas! I have taught Esperanza for 3 semesters, and each semester I have changed the supplemental activities we complete with it. I would love to see the writing assessment, when you get a chance--

  3. Thank you for your honest post! So fabulous to learn from each other's successes and difficulties as immigration is a hot topic right now! I'm teaching Esperanza for the first time and am excited to gather as many great resources as possible. May I also have a copy of the writing assessment? Gracias!

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  5. I have never taught a novel before, but am hoping to make Esperanza my first! How long would you estimate a typical unit would take? My Spanish 3 students will be reading it (they have had CI for the past two years), so I do not anticipate them having a hard time with the reading.

    1. It all depends on what you want to included in the unit. This year we spent a full quarter including the films Living on $1 & Which Way Home before, as well as La Misma Luna after. We read the actual novel in about 3 weeks. I spend about 2 days on the first chapter or two, and then usually a chapter a day after that. We take a day during to do The Immigration game & Immigrant Archive Project.
      Good luck!

    2. Thank you for the info! I am excited to get started!

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  7. Hi Allison, love your website! You have been such a source of inspiration for a teacher without a curriculum. Would you say this would be appropriate for middle schoolers?

  8. Sarah,
    I know Martina Bex used it with her middle schoolers. It could be done for sure, but I personally like to wait until Spanish 2 sophomores, so we can dig deeper into immigration.

  9. La jaula de oro (The golden dream) 2013 - an excellent film that follows three teens from Guatemala heading to the USA for a better life.

  10. Hi there! I tried accessing your speaking / writing assessments, but TPT keeps redirecting me to your main store page. Any chance you could share those with me? Gracias!

  11. It would be very helpful if you could indicate which links lead to materials for purchase and which are shared resources.


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