Inside: How to introduce the novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha using the film Voces Inocentes, El Salvador, Child Soldiers & the MS-13.
Introducing the novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha
This summer I blogged about Resources for teaching Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha. Well now that I am back from maternity leave, I have actually been able to put these hypothetical plans to use for my Spanish IV. I knew I only had nine instructional days (plus the two Fridays of El Internado) before we would be on Thanksgiving break. Instead of splitting up the novel over break, we spent all nine of those days introducing the novel using the rich cultural context of the setting and themes.
How to Introduce Vida y Muerte
You may be thinking, how did you spend NINE days introducing a novel? Well, actually I could have used more. I think one of the biggest mistakes people make when first teaching a novel is not spending enough time introducing it. By spending time in advance exposing students to the country of origin, historical context, and current content with novel-specific vocabulary, actually teaching the novel will go much smoother.
For example, while I was gone students read a novel, but the sub did not have them do the weeks of prep work that I usually do first, which includes watching two movies that set up the foundation for being able to analyze the novel. The students told me they did not understand the novel, and therefore that they did not like it. It makes me so sad that they missed the whole point of an awesome novel because they were not given the foundation on which to properly “get it.” I digress, but here is how I introduced the novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha from Fluency Matters. Make sure to get the NEW Teacher’s Guide too.
Why watch a film before reading Vida y Muerte
I used to have students watch movies at the end of a unit, but it is so much more powerful to watch one cultural context before reading a book. Since the authentic movies I show are not the same as the books, it is not spoiling the book for students. (Unlike in English class, when watching the movie version will keep students from actually reading the book). We started by watching the movie Voces Inocentes using the awesome guide from Kristy Placido. It is rated R, but I have all students and parents sign a permission slip at the start of the year for both El Internado and movies. Honestly, besides violence, there are just a few swear words. If you are going to teach this movie, make sure to buy the movie packet from Kristy. It is so much more than just a movie guide with all kinds of other resources as well.
Song – Casas de cartón
- We used the song activity from the movie packet to introduce the song that plays an important role in the movie, and the war in El Salvador.
Watch Voces Inocentes
- We used the guide questions from the movie packet to help keep them focused, as well as to provide discussion in Spanish during and after the movie.
- After discussing the movie students worked together in groups to organize the cut-up events of the movie (from the movie packet).
- For an assessment, students took the included quiz over the movie. I usually just collect the movie questions, but since many just get those answers from friends, the assessment actually showed me who had been paying attention to the movie and in class, and not what their neighbor knew.
Song – Niño Soldado
- We used the song activity from the movie packet to introduce our discussion on child soldiers around the world. The students really liked hearing Ska music in Spanish, since some say “all music in Spanish sounds the same.” The interesting thing is if you just listen to the song, you would think it is fun and positive until you analyze the lyrics about child soldiers.
- We then used the reading and discussion questions (from you guessed it the movie packet) to talk about child soldiers around the world.
El Salvador & Civil War
- We used the great, comprehensible slide show about El Salvador and the Civil War by Kara Jacobs to continue our discussion, and put together everything we had done so far.
MS-13 & El Salvador – Stations
- I had been doing a lot of teacher-centered comprehensible input, so both the students and I needed some time for independent guided inquiry. I knew the students still needed to have a base on the MS-13 gang before starting the novel, so I created these MS-13 cultural stations for them to complete. We are 1:1 with Chrome books, so they each completed their own Google document, which had links included for authentic resources of articles in both English and Spanish, videos, pictures, and an infographic. If we were not 1:1, I would have done them as old school stations, printed out materials, and had computers available to work together for videos.