Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reading in the Classroom: Pam Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising

This year my seventh graders read Pam Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising, and -- for the most part -- absolutely loved it. We read it primarily aloud, throughout the third nine weeks, although at times we varied this. For instance, my students enjoyed doing small group and partner reading, during which they read anywhere in the room -- in the floor, under my table, by the window -- aloud to each other at their own pace.

If you've never read Esperanza Rising, I can't recommend it highly enough. I first read it years ago, when my mom was going through coursework to add an ESL endorsement to her teaching license. In the novel, twelve-year old Esperanza undergoes many life changes in a short period of time -- she loses a family member, her home is lost, and her family is forced to immigrate to America from Mexico. Munoz's novel is a story of many difficult times in Esperanza's life, but also of the hope that rises in spite of it all. In Spanish, Esperanza's name means "hope," making the novel's title translate into "hope rising."

We (obviously) did many activities and lessons on various topics throughout our reading of the novel -- an entire nine weeks worth! We did various things with vocabulary in the novel -- defined it with dictionaries, wrote our own definitions, used context clues to define, wrote sentences with the words. We also examined plot, characters, setting: all the usual literary suspects

Our study of the novel began with a crash course on the Great Depression. Scholastic has a wonderful slideshow with captions (click here for Great Depression slideshow) that is appropriate for elementary students. Seeing images of real people and places helps the students connect with the time period, although it was more than eighty years ago. We then wrote a journal entry similar to the one Scholastic suggests: how do you think you would deal with living during this time period?

To keep track of the plot, students created a plot foldable. It was just a simple accordion-folded half piece of paper on which we wrote each chapter's plot separately. When unfolded and flattened out, the student could review the entire plot of the novel in a small amount of space.

We also wrote a compare/contrast paper delving into the characters of Esperanza and Isabel, a girl Esperanza meets once in California. Using a Venn diagram, we compared the two characters, answering the questions: how are they alike? How are they different? I then asked students to choose the character they were most like and write a paper comparing themselves to their character of choice.

We studied conflict in the novel, and students drew fabulous drawings illustrating person vs. person, person vs. environment, and person vs. self types of conflict. These went out on the wall in our hallway!

Symbolism exists throughout Esperanza Rising. In addition to regular symbolism that exists in virtually all literature, Pam Munoz Ryan frames her chapters with symbolism. Each chapter, rather than having a number, is titled by a fruit or vegetable that factors heavily into that particular part of the novel. Of course, the fruit or vegetable has both a literal meaning and use in the novel and also a deeper, symbolic meaning. For instance, in the chapter "Las Papayas," Esperanza receives a shipment of papayas for her birthday. The  papayas symbolize her father's immense love for her, as he ordered them especially for her. We used a graphic organizer chart to keep track of the fruit and vegetable symbolism in the novel (click here for Symbolism in Esperanza Rising chart in PDF).

Finally, my students performed a skit using the Reader's Theatre Script from Pam Munoz Ryan's own website (click here for Esperanza Rising Reader's Theatre Script in PDF). I divided students into groups for sound effects, speaking parts, background/scenery, and props. All groups did an excellent job, and the skits my two classes performed were amazing -- and, starring seventh graders, often hilarious (even during the serious scenes).

In addition to Esperanza RisingPam Munoz Ryan is also the author of four other books for middle grade readers, as well as almost a dozen picture books for younger children. For more about this author, visit her website.

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