How I began Vida y Muerte de la Mara Salvatrucha

 Let me start by saying that I love this book. At the beginning of the year, I thought I was going to read La Guerra Sucia with my 4s, but things fell into place differently (as they often do) and I decided that Vida y Muerte might be more engaging at this point in the year.

The last time I read this novel with students was two years ago with my Spanish-speakers class and I have to say that it saved my sanity. It was a very trying class and the content this book offered was exactly what they doctor ordered. A lot of my students could relate to the main character in a lot of ways which kept them engaged.  This time around, I will be reading this book with my Spanish 4 students. I have one student that has read it before, and he keeps telling the other students that it is so good.

I knew that I wouldn’t get to the book before we went on Spring break so I planned on prepping the book with a lot of background information on El Salvador. There are so many great bloggers that have posted their activities so a lot of the activities that I used are not my own. I began looking at Kara Jacobs’ page as well as Sharon Birch’s page for ideas on essential questions and songs to use with the book.  I also printed all of Carrie Toth’s post on the book in addition to buying Kristy Placido’s materials on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I also asked A LOT of questions on twitter to figure out organization of materials.

Once I figured out my plan, I started by giving my students a set of questions created by Kara Jacob. The questions were the following:

  1. ¿Cuáles fueron las causas detrás de la guerra civil en El Salvador?
  2. ¿Cuáles fueron los dos lados opuestos en la guerra civil en El Salvador?
  3. ¿Cuáles son las repercusiones de una guerra así (con niños soldados)?
  4. ¿Qué pasó a las personas ordinarias que vivían en el medio del conflicto durante la guerra civil?

I told my students that before we begin the novel, they will be able to answer these questions in depth. I wanted them to understand why so many people left El Salvador to come to the United States.

Once the students wrote down their questions,  we did a Gallery Walk using the PPT slides created by Kara Jacobs. I had students organize their a page in their notebooks by sections: La Historia de El Salvador, La Guerra Civil, FMLN, Los niños soldados, El Apoyo de los EEUU, El Arzobispo Óscar Romero, y Diverso (for the miscellaneous details). Students read the many slides that were scattered around the room and pulled information that they felt could answer the essential questions.

The following activity that my students did was read about Óscar Romero. Kristy Placido created an adapted reading on him that was very comprehensible to my students.  The next day, students listened to the song El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andres. Using the activity created by Kristy, students drew out the lyrics provided to them in chunks. Students had to then order the song while listening to the song. They were confused with the lyrics, but once they listened to the song in its entirety, thoughts fell into place.

The following day I was in Columbus, OH for #csctfl16 so I had students glue a Venn Diagram into their notebooks that compared Óscar Romero and El Padre Antonio. Considering it was a Friday and students had a sub, they wrote a lot down. We reviewed the information when I returned.

Before we began watching Voces Inocentes. (The movie is rated R so I had parents sign a permission slip, but Kristy also has a reading of the movie available). I had my students read the Derechos Humanos Universales that Kristy adapted. I told my students that we would be looking at how people’s rights were abused or violated throughout the movie.

The day we began the movie, I had students read the poem Ascensión by Alfredo Espino. I am sounding like a parrot, but Kristy has three versions of the poem depending on the levels of the students. I ended up shrinking the poems and putting all three on one page. I told my students that they should be a little uncomfortable reading so to not go straight for the easier version. I had a lot of students work through the harder version because they wanted to push themselves.

We watched the movie for about 3.5 class periods. Students had comprehension questions to answer throughout the movie. After each day of viewing, we reviewed the questions that were answered and I also answered any other questions that students had. They were like zombies with the movie. They kept on saying, Sra. you are giving me the ‘feels’ with this movie.  They really enjoyed the movie.

We followed the movie with listening to Casas de Carton. Students filled in lyrics and then we discussed as a class why this song might have been prohibited. Some compared it to the Hunger Games and people putting up their three fingers to show support to Katniss. I love where their minds go!

This week was a short week and I felt like I was pressed for time. I hate that feeling, but I decided to have students read the Los Niños Soldados article that was adapted by Kristy Placido. A lot of these materials come in a bundle so you can access all these if you buy her materials from her Teachers Pay Teachers store.

We ended the week by revisiting the Derechos Humanos Universales. Students described three scenes from the movie that showed how people’s rights were abused. They had to justify their answers by explaining why. It was an early release day and the day before break and they were working like it was any other day. I like how passionate they seem to be about the topic we have been studying.

My plan for when we return on April 4th is to read one more article on the Massacre of Mozote adapted by…Can you guess? Yes, Kristy Placido. After we review all the different resources that we have used,  I will be assessing them by asking them to answer our essential questions. I have created a writing for them where I will let them use all the materials that we have gathered and used in class.

Two years ago, I was just excited to use this novel that all I did was read it with them and use the materials provided in the Teacher’s Guide (a new TG is coming out soon- CANNOT WAIT), but I am so happy with starting Vida y Muerte this way so students learn the reasons behind why people immigrate as well as learn a different perspective on war and people involved.

Please check out the others’ sites. I would probably still be just reading the novel with students if I hadn’t found such great material.  Stay tuned for future posts for when I actually start the novel. Thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “How I began Vida y Muerte de la Mara Salvatrucha

  1. Love this! I have just completed a global challenges unit including the universal human rights and immigration. Now, I wish that I could go back and redo it with these suggestions and of course the novel…I’m looking forward to how you develop it and taking notes for the next time that I do this! Thank you for sharing!


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