Spanish Learning Scenario:

Author: Sarah Thompson & Pam Young
Level: Novice (Elementary School)

Using the story Isla, by Arthur Dorros, the teacher introduces travel by imagination with islands as the destination. Students discover what makes islands different and special from mainland homes and environments as they “travel” to an island or a series of islands to explore life there. In the context of Spanish-speaking islands, students make comparisons of island elements such as weather, wildlife, economy, geography, folklore, and international relations.

ACTIVITY SET 1: Introduction to Islands
In an introductory discussion, students brainstorm the names of as many islands as they can and follow up by locating them on a map. (The teacher identifies Spanish-speaking islands to be researched in the course of the learning scenario. See Resources for ideas.) The class uses a graphic organizer, such as a Venn diagram, to list the characteristics of an island and compare them to the characteristics of the mainland, including what is shared and what is independent, what is similar and what is different, etc. The teacher reads Isla out loud to the whole class. The book tells the story of an imaginary trip that a grandmother and granddaughter take back to the island where the grandmother grew up. After listening to the story, the class discusses the sights they “saw” and the difference between real and imaginary happenings. As a reflective piece, students use a personal “journal” to list aspects of the story that appealed to each of their five senses.

ACTIVITY SET 2: Building an “Island”
Using the characteristics of an island compiled in Activity Set 1, students work together to create a model island for the classroom. A plywood board can be used as the base; students build up from there, adding clay or papier mâché hills or volcanoes, grass, roads, ponds, houses, cars, vegetation, etc. They also paint or draw a background or several backgrounds on poster board or butcher paper (perhaps depicting night and day or different kinds of weather on the island). Students label the parts of the island in Spanish, play on it, and enjoy it. (Note: Make the island only as large as you can easily move!) They then work in pairs to generate lists of words/phrases that describe the island, using a dictionary as necessary. Students share original sentences about the island’s different components, using phrases such as: “Me gusta….” “Te gusta...” “Le gusta...” “Nos gusta...” “Les gusta...” “Es muy bonito(a)...” “Son muy bonitos(as)...”

ACTIVITY SET 3: Presentations
Students work in collaborative groups and choose an island to research from the Spanish-speaking islands identified in Activity Set 1. The teacher provides:

  • an outline of four aspects of the island that each group should address
    1. landforms, vegetation, and wildlife
    2. map and geographical information
    3. people and culture (including products, practices, and perspectives)
    4. government, politics, and international relations
  • a template for the oral presentation (requiring the use of technology, such as PowerPoint, HyperStudio, a “live” visit to an Internet site, etc.)
  • a timeline for completion

Target-language research resources, including maps, books, Web sites, atlases, etc. are made readily available. Students use English resources for support as necessary. Students (or the teacher) bring samples of tropical fruit for the “audience” to enjoy as the island presentations are made. After all the presentations are complete, students make a human bar graph to show the class’s favorite fruits.

ACTIVITY SET 4: Island Research
The presentations from Activity Set 3 provide food for thought about the studied islands’ neighbors and the relationships between them. Students explore these relationships in terms of history, commerce, trade routes, military alliances/conflicts, weather, ecological issues, etc. They use grade-level mathematics skills to graph island data such as average high temperatures, average rainfall, population growth, import/export information, etc. Students use the target language for numbers, weather terms, seasons and months of the year, geographical terms, etc.

If possible, invite a parent or other community member who speaks the target language and was born on one of the studied islands to come and share with the class.

ACTIVITY SET 5: Family Ties
Close family ties are one focus of the book Isla. Have a class discussion of the family ties in the story and at home. Start by asking what the relationship between the grandmother and granddaughter is by using the illustrations from the book and asking simple questions such as ¿Quién es? Bring the discussion “home” by asking questions such as ¿Cómo se llama tu abuela? and ¿Cómo se llama tu mamá (papá, abuelo, hermano, hermana, etc.)? (Teachers should be sensitive to students without families and those with non-traditional families. With younger children, it may be useful to send home a note asking for a “family tree” listing significant relatives, including their ages.) Students then practice these questions in pairs. The class discussion might also address the issue of age with the teacher asking ¿Cuántos años tienes? The pairs then converse again, asking the ages of the family members instead of asking their names.

ACTIVITY SET 6: Planning an Imaginary Trip
Now that they are well-informed about islands where Spanish is spoken, students plan an imaginary trip to one of the islands studied with their most special friend or relative. They make lists of clothing appropriate for the weather there and come up with a travel itinerary full of specific activities, including restaurants they’d go to, museums they’d visit, beaches they’d like to see, etc. They list foods they think they will enjoy. As they are working on their travel plans, they listen to music typical of each destination. Students write and present a diamante poem to describe the trip.

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Targeted Standards

  • Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretative, & Presentational Modes
  • Cultures: Practices & Perspectives, Products & Perspectives
  • Connections: Access to Information, Other Subject Areas
  • Communities: Within & Beyond the School Setting, Personal Enrichment & Career Development

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  • Isla by Arthur Dorros
  • Materials for the classroom “island,” including plywood board for the base, papier mâché, clay, paint, butcher paper for background, etc.
  • Computers with Internet access and presentation software (e.g., PowerPoint)
  • Art supplies, including construction paper and drawing or painting materials
  • Books for research on islands
  • Graph paper
  • Software templates for group presentations (e.g., in PowerPoint, HyperStudio)
  • Template for diamante poems
  • Materials for map-making (such as salt dough, tempera paint or food coloring, cardboard as a base, etc.)
  • Assorted tropical fruits

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Reflections on How the Standards Are Met


Communication: The interpersonal mode is used in class discussions, small group work, and pair work. The interpretive mode is used when students listen to Isla, when they conduct research on their island, as they listen to class presentations of island projects and diamante poems, and as they listen to a classroom visitor(s). The presentational mode is used when students present their group projects and diamante poems.

Cultures: Students learn about products (food, music, and exports) and practices (religion and government) of the islands studied and thereby gain understanding of many Hispanic cultures. Classroom visitors lend insight into the perspectives behind the products and practices.

Connections: Students use target language resources to gain access to information about islands where Spanish is spoken. They also connect to many other subject areas, including science (geography, topography, environmental biology), mathematics (graphing activities), the fine arts (creating model of island, discovering artwork of the islands during research, listening to island music and identifying its characteristics), and social studies (research on political systems, trade issues, international relations, history).

Communities: Students gain insight into island life by listening to a community member who speaks Spanish and is from one of the islands studied.

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Expansion Ideas

  • Invite a travel agent, preferably one that speaks the target language, to class to present information on the islands studied.
  • Students create a full-color travel brochure for their chosen destination.
  • Students keep journals of their imaginary trips.
  • Intermediate- and advanced-level students could prepare a speech to lobby for conservation legislation reform. (All islands have serious ecological issues, such as beach erosion, habitat preservation, ecotourism, etc.)
  • Students create a timeline of colonization of the island and the resulting changes over time.
  • Students create Web pages or electronic brochures for their islands using all of the information they acquire from their research.
  • Research groups from Activity Set 3 write a letter requesting information to the Travel Bureau or Consul General of the island they are studying.
  • Students compare original artwork from three or four islands and note specific island influences.

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Cooney, B. (1993). Hattie and the wild waves. New York: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers

Dorros, A. (1993). Follow the water from brook to ocean. New York: Harper Collins Children’s Book Group.

Dorros, A. (1999). Rain forest secrets. New York: Scholastic.

Fiarotta, N. & Fiarotta, P. (1996). Great experiments with H20. New York: Sterling Publications Corporation, Inc.

Forsyth, A. (1989). Journey through a tropical jungle. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Ganeri, A. (1995). I wonder why the sea is salty: Ocean questions. New York: Larousse Kingfisher Chambers, Inc.

Hulme, J. (1993). Sea squares. New York: Hyperion.

Linse, B & Judd, D. (1993). Fiesta! Mexico and Central America: A global awareness program for children in grades 2-5. Torrance, CA: Frank Schaffer Publications, Inc.

Nelson, W. E. & Glass, H. (1992). International playtime: Classroom games and dances from around the world. Torrance, CA: Frank Schaffer Publications, Inc.

Orozco, J. (translator) (1994). “De colores” and other Latin-American folk songs for children. New York: E P Dutton.

Rockwell, A. & Rockwell, H. (1991). At the beach. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks.
Truglio Martin, A. (1993). Famous seaweed soup. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Co.

Rylant, C. (1997). Henry and Mudge and the forever sea. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.


  • Knowles, R. & Morse, K. (1991). Lyric language [audio cassette]. Carlsbad, CA: Penton Overseas, Inc.
    This bilingual cassette tape features the song “At the Beach/En la Playa.”
    Luciani, G. (1996). Azúcar [CD]. Canada: Avalon Music.
  • Vehkavaara, K. (2000). Fiesta del Sol [CD]. Canada: Avalon Music.


NOTE: These Internet resources may have changed since publication or no longer be available. Active links should be carefully screened before recommending to students.

  • (Spanish)

Sites that go with Isla (by Arthur Dorros)

    Authored by teacher Donna Fuller, this original interactive game allows students to play a spin-off game of “So You Want To Be a Millionaire” to check their reading comprehension of the book Isla.
    This site gives a simple synopsis of the book Isla and offers a technology connection between the story and its art.

Rainforest Site

  • (Site no longer available 2/2010)

Weather Sites


Falkland Islands Sites


Sites on Cuba


Isla Margarita Sites
Visitors to this site will feel as if they’ve read a private journal. “Virtual traveling” is at its best here, and students will make the transition to their own imaginations easily.
    Due to the ever-changing be
    ach scenes, screen carefully before directing students here!

Islas Galápagos Sites


Puerto Rico Sites


San Blas Sites

    This site is also available en español.
    The famous molas, nut carvings, and woven baskets will inspire the segment of your unit dedicated to island art. Meet the artisans themselves and see the artwork in detail. Current events, exhibits, and links to the Kuna Indians are also presented.

Template for Diamante Poem

Students follow this template to write an original poem of their own:

adjective, adjective
infinitive, infinitive, infinitive
adjective, adjective


la isla
brilliante, misteriosa,
cantar, sombrar, mirar, murmurar
verde, viva
la isla

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