Spanish Learning Scenario:
Author: Lynn Basdeo & Renée Wooten
La Casa en Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is a collection of short narratives written as reflections of the protagonist, Esperanza. In these stories, Esperanza recounts tales of her family, friends, and neighborhood and examines the lasting influence they have on her life. Cisneros’s novella is used as a catalyst for the creation of an autobiographical booklet, the students’ final product in a unit on self-awareness. (Activities can be adapted to other works of literature, such as essays and poems, that deal with the topic of self-esteem and self-awareness.)
In this scenario, students create a librito autobiográfico to reflect their uniqueness as well as to connect to the Spanish-speaking world. Students explore personal values and make cultural comparisons in a unit designed to enhance self-esteem and self-awareness through a variety of activities. Students describe themselves and significant others in order to demonstrate how they fit into their own community. Each of the following activities leads to a product, a page that students can include in their librito autobiográfico.
ACTIVITY SET 1: Mi nombre
In the introduction to the novella and one of the stories, “Mi nombre,” Esperanza describes the meaning and feelings associated with her name. Either in small groups or working independently, students read “Mi nombre.” After reading the selection, students work in small groups and use a graphic organizer such as a Venn diagram to reflect on the importance of one’s name. Then students create a bio-poem (see Fernández in Resources) related to their name and which includes current structures and vocabulary items. This poem is illustrated, and the poems are displayed around the room prior to inclusion in the final product. Students are given the opportunity to share their poems in small groups or with the entire class.
ACTIVITY SET 2: El vecindario de mi niñez
All the selections in the novella are about Esperanza’s childhood community. After reading a few selections from it, students reflect upon their own childhood community and create a “picture” of their neighborhood by writing a paragraph describing the area and noting the names of streets, buildings of interest, friends and neighbors who populated it, etc. Students also compare their childhood community with the one described in the novella. Some students enjoy drawing an illustration or computer design captioned in Spanish to accompany the description.
ACTIVITY SET 3: La mano mía – mi familia
Since the main character in Cisneros’s novella explores how she fits into her family and community, students mirror this reflection by performing the following tasks. Students create original sentences describing several members of their families. Then students trace their hand on a piece of paper. In the palm area, students write their name and then record a descriptive statement about their family members in each of the five digits of the hand-tracing. This is an excellent opportunity to practice peer editing in groups of two to four students. (Students may opt out of this activity if they prefer not to write about their family.)
ACTIVITY SET 4: Mis amigos
In several of the stories from Cisneros’s work, Esperanza describes her friends from the neighborhood. After reading or listening to some of the descriptions, students create scrapbook pages that include photographs and written descriptions of their friends in Spanish, elaborating on their personality traits. The pages can be displayed in the classroom, or students can choose to “introduce” a friend to the class. More advanced students can add information about the importance of the friendship in their life, tell a funny or touching story about the friend, or make a comparison of a friend with that of a fictional character from Cisneros’s novella.
ACTIVITY SET 5: El arból de la vida
In Cisneros’s novella, Esperanza describes herself in several of her tales including “Bella y cruel” and “Caderas.” The following activity provides students a unique way to describe themselves. They need a blank sheet of paper and several crayons, markers, or colored pencils. They have five minutes to draw a tree of their choice. The teacher plays some music from a Spanish-speaking country as students work. At the end of this time, they list seven adjectives (in Spanish) that describe the tree. Finally, students use the adjectives written around the tree to describe to a partner, group, or the class how the tree is representative of their own personality.
ACTIVITY SET 6: Mi autoretrato
In this activity, students produce a self-portrait page using a photograph from home or one taken in class. They first write a description in Spanish of their physical characteristics and personality traits. Next the written descriptions are collected and displayed for all to see. As a whole-class activity, students try to match the descriptions with the photos which are also displayed. Finally, students attach their photograph to their description to complete their self-portrait.
ACTIVITY SET 7: Mis preferencias
An “opinion line-up” is used to begin exploring the students’ personal preferences. Place pre-written phrases around the room such as me encanta, me gusta, me gusta un poco, no me gusta, no me agrada nada or similar statements of opinion. Call out a word (an activity, a food item, a person, etc.) and ask students to place themselves in front of the phrase that best expresses their opinion of it. Each student has a turn at calling out a word to which the others respond. Once students have reflected on their personal preferences, they begin to collect visual images and words in Spanish related to activities, objects, and ideas that express their likes and dislikes and which they use in creating a collage. Finally, they share the preferences depicted in the collage in small groups or with the whole class. Students may also do an analysis of the class’s preferences based on the information gathered in the line-up or in the collages.
ACTIVITY SET 8: Show and Tell
Students bring an item of personal significance to share with the class. The sharing is in Spanish and reflects why the object is representative of, or important to, the speaker. A photograph or a drawing of the item shared and a short, original poem in Spanish about its significance to the student is included as a page in the librito autobiográfico.
ACTIVITY SET 9: Yo soy...
Students choose a piece of art, literature, or song from a Spanish-speaking country that reflects something about their personality to use as a springboard for further self-expression. For example, a student could read Versos sencillos by José Martí (which begins, “Yo soy un hombre sincero”) and then create an original “Yo soy” poem to describe themselves (see Fernández in Resources for examples). Other students might choose different vehicles for self expression: creating their own sculpture or painting reminiscent of an original, adapting a Spanish-language song to reflect their personality, etc. Copies of the students’ work become a class publication entitled, La Clase en ____ Street.
- Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretative, & Presentational Modes
- Cultures: Practices & Perspectives
- Connections: Access to Information, Other Subject Areas
- Comparisons: Concept of Culture
- Communities: Within & Beyond the School Setting, Personal Enrichment & Career Development
- La Casa en Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
- Art supplies, cameras, photographs
- Computer access for students who wish to develop their projects electronically
Communication: Interpersonal mode is used as students participate in group discussion and exchange of information. Interpretive mode is used when students read authentic texts. Presentational mode is used as students show and tell about their products.
Cultures: The novella provides students with the opportunity to understand and appreciate Cisneros’s perspective and portrayal of a Spanish-speaking family’s life experience.
Connections: Students use authentic texts to explore connections to family and community. They connect to English language arts through the study of Spanish-language literature.
Comparisons: Students examine family and friend relationships, discover and evaluate shared interests and opinions, and seek to understand how they are truly unique and have value in our common society. They compare personal cultural norms, values, and perceptions with that of an Hispanic culture.
Communities: Students use the language for personal enrichment by creating a reflective, illustrated autobiography.
- Differentiation of instruction and assessment is implemented by allowing students to have choices as to which pages are generated for the final product. They may choose to “opt out” of certain activities, or they may wish to include additional pages that meet their personal expectations, ideas for which are included below.
- Students interview family, friends, and classmates about preferences and then find a unique way (song, drawing, poem, etc.) to compare their answers.
- Students develop a chart to compare themselves with a fictional Spanish-speaking character or historical figure.
- Versos sencillos is an excellent text to reinforce the imperfect tense with emphasis on what students used to do, what they were like, and what family life was like in their early childhood.
- As a culminating activity, advanced-level students write a letter in Spanish to themselves in which they describe their feelings about the process of completing the librito autobiográfico. Students reflect on the insights gained from self-exploration and address goals and aspirations as an outgrowth of the project.
- Provide tactile or artistic learners the opportunity to construct a model of a neighborhood with a house representing the childhood home of each student in the class. The model becomes a springboard for multiple conversational activities.
- Students create a display of their libritos for other teachers and students to appreciate.
Carrera-Hanley, T. et al (1998). Ventanas uno. Geneva, IL: McDougal Littell.
Ventanas dos and Ventanas tres are also good. These readers include selections at three proficiency levels related to the scenario’s topic, e.g.: “Nombres y apellidos hispanos,” “Querida amiga, ” “¿Eres perfeccionista?”, “Versos sencillos,” “Balada de la estrella,” “El árbol de oro,” and “La siesta del martes.”
Cisneros, S. (1994). La casa en mango street. New York: Random House, Inc.
Fernández, C. (1998). Creative writing prompts in Spanish and English. Auburn Hills, MI: Teacher's Discovery.
Santiago, E. (1993). Cuando era puertorriqueña. New York: Random House, Inc.
This is an advanced-level text.
NOTE: These Internet resources may have changed since publication or no longer be available. Active links should be carefully screened before recommending to students.