Teaching the novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha chapter 8 & 9

These two chapters are short and they go hand in hand so we read them together. We even did a little acting as Pedro waits in the dark for his brother to come home!

So in these chapters, the narrator has to choose between his girlfriend and the gang… So that’s what we did! We made individual Venn diagrams that represented the reasons he might choose to stay with Analรญa versus why he might stay with the gang.

Not high tech or fancy but it was a lot of fun reading the reasons they came up with!

Teaching the Novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha- Chapter 7

If you’ve been in a cave and haven’t seen me singing the praises of in my first 6 posts, be sure you click the link!

Yesterday we read chapter 7, Mi novia. The kids were so surprised that the girl whose grandma he had been assaulting in chapter 6 was now his girlfriend. It seemed like the perfect time to figure out exactly what made him so darn irresistible to women…. LA Harmony- the MS-13 version of E-Harmony! I gave each student LAHarmony7 brainstorm form. I wanted them to do some thinking before their presentations… Who IS this narrator? How is he getting the ladies??? But first, to give them inspiration, I showed them this to build interest!

Here’s an example of how the brainstorming began:
LA Harmony

The presentations today were great! My first hour is quiet and theirs were pretty serious (although several made funny references to lyrics from some of the songs we have studied with our unit). Seventh hour, who give me gray hair with all of their talking, did an amazing job! They came in costume, they had gimmicks, they were just wonderful! They’re such fast processors that their ideas were a lot deeper! Even my slowest processor impressed me with the name she gave the author, “Chac Mool,” a reference to our supernatural unit! In response to her ad, one of the other students shouted “Chac Mool es el verdadero OG” or “Chac Mool is the real original gangster” LOL It was a lot of fun! I hope you can find a way to use the “Harmony” idea in one of your units!

Teaching the novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha- Chapter 6

If you’ve been lurking around these posts, check out It is a great novel! (I might have said that before.)

This chapter was perfect for this Martina Bex “ activity! I did a sample doodle for the kids after Chapter 5 so that they would have an idea what I was looking for.

In Chapter 6, the narrator describes typical jobs in his gang and even his own job. He also describes a confrontation with an elderly woman and a run in with her grand-daughter. Because the events are so diverse, it allows for a lot of creativity in their doodles! I give the activity two thumbs up! The kids really enjoyed it and it brought out their creative side. Thanks Martina, for another great idea!

Smash Doodle Ch 6

Fun with Doodles

In level 4 we are finishing a short unit on the US invasion of Panama during Operation Just Cause. Today, for a Friday creative brain break, we did an activity I learned about from It is called Smash Doodle. I loved the post when I read it and then completely forgot about it until @sraslb Sharon Birch of the famous ElmundodeBirch reminded me this week! I am going to use it with my Mara Salvatrucha study in level 3 next week but wanted to give it a whirl with my level 4’s as a listening activity!

They’ve already learned about Noriega through our documentary . They did a class discussion (which was amazing and deep) about our essential question “was the invasion of Panama responsible or irresponsible?” And today we took a look at what was left of General Noriega’s home in Panama City. I found this video, , on Youtube and it is slow enough that I knew my students would all be able to take something away from it. The Smash Doodle project seemed like a great way to show their comprehension, so we gave it a try. Here are some of the doodles! This group has a long history of struggling to think outside the box but little by little they’re climbing out and putting the lid on it!





Teaching the novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha Chapter 5 day 2

There was just too much going on at this point in the novel to move ahead! I added a day to chapter 5 and did a review of the narrator’s life as a writing assessment. You should get this novel! And the TG has all of the essentials! These activities are not meant to replace the materials that accompany the guide, they’re meant to compliment it!

Our first order of business was to watch the video for our song of the week “Sueno Americano” by @losRakas. It is a great song! The video is perfect with this gang unit. We just talked about the narrator’s first mission yesterday and in the video we saw the crime and punishment as he might have!

I printed just one copy of this page: Chapter 5 Review Pics I am no artist, sorry! I cut out each picture and had students join me in a circle on the floor. I held up one of the images and asked them to tell me all that they could about it in TL. I encouraged them to ask questions about things they didn’t understand and to add detail to classmates’ comments. When discussion was slow getting started (like the child soldiers image), I reminded them of the context by asking leading questions like: Why did the father flee El Salvador? These questions got things moving along again and we had an excellent summary of the first 5 chapters of the novel. I feel like we know the author well at this point!

After about 20 minutes of discussion, students returned to their tables where I gave them this worksheet, one per student: ReviewCh1-5vidaymuertewriting One of the skills that I LONG overlooked in my classroom was question asking. About a year ago, the great Amy Lenord (@alenord, follow her) posted about how important this skill is since students are more likely to need to ask for information when traveling and working than simply give information! I’m always looking for ways to get them into question asking mode now! I asked them to interview the narrator and give his likely replies based on textual evidence. I don’t know if you’ve noticed a theme here… I am responsible for proving how I am working the literacy common core standards into my curriculum! ๐Ÿ™‚ That support of main idea with textual evidence shows up a lot!

It was a day of 90% output and the kids felt (and WERE) successful as language speakers and writers! I was really proud of the way they led the discussion (even my quieter class!)

Have a great day and give the same idea a try in a different context!

Teaching the novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha Chapter 5

Another great chapter! You should get this novel! And the TG has all of the essentials! These activities are not meant to replace the materials that accompany the guide, they’re meant to compliment it!

Today began a two day look at chapter 5, “My first mission.” We looked at the chapter’s symbol, a gun, and discussed what the narrator’s mission might be, then we read the chapter together. We do not translate word for word, we circled some new vocabulary like “Me acuerdo de” and “tiene la culpa” and we did a great subjunctive pop-up with the line “quiero que tomes la pistola.” TPRS style I built the difficulty level of the pop-up questions by asking what “quiero que bailes” might mean and then “if hablas is you talk, how do you say I want you to talk?” They caught the pattern very quickly and had no trouble coming up with I want you to eat and I want you to drink on their own. Less than a minute, very little English, still getting some grammar instruction in! (My inner grammarian likes that.)

After reading the chapter, we did this speaking assessment:
Conversation Circles ch 5

1. I copied half as many papers as I had students.
2. (My kids already sit at tables of 4) I gave two papers to each group of 4 students.
3. I explained that we would be doing a speaking assessment and that their goal was to use as much Spanish as they could in order to sustain the conversation for the entire 3 minutes. They are familiar with the proficiency levels and understand that being able to use detail and sustain a conversation are important to moving through the intermediate level.
4. I looked at the instructions with students and paired them off for round 1.
5. Students spent 3 minutes discussing the first conversation circle: What do you know about the narrator’s parents?
6. I set a 2 minute timer and student pairs took notes on their first round conversations. It is a handy reference when I sit down to assign them grades.
7. I told students to work with a different person at their table for round 2 and we repeated the process with the new topic: What do you know about the narrator’s initiation and first mission? I followed again with a 2 minute timer.
8. Students worked with the final group member for round 3. We repeated the same process with the topic: What do you know about Gustavo and Pedro? One last 2 minute timer to finish up the note sheet!
9. I collected the papers for my reference as I grade. I am using my simplest grading rubric, a 5 point one, for 5 points students must participate actively, use only target language, and refer to current content. If they lapse into English or fail to participate fully, I warn them but they also know that this costs them one point. I circulate throughout listening to all groups, the great thing about 3 timers is that you have plenty of time to hear everyone one on one and can always look like you’re listening to EVERYONE at once if you master the look around but listen to the closest group! ๐Ÿ™‚

Enjoy! As always, you’re welcome to use the activity and please give credit when you share!

Teaching the novel Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha Chapter 4

Vida y Muerte is so engaging! And the TG has all of the essentials! These activities are not meant to replace the materials that accompany the guide, they’re meant to compliment it!

Chapter 4 has some great information about how the narrator’s family made the decision to emigrate to the United States. I decided that this would make an excellent reading assessment. I wanted them to look at the chapter through an evidence finding lens, so I adapted a Pinterest literacy pin to suit my needs!

I gave each student a copy of the worksheet and asked them to read individually and provide text-based evidence that supported the main idea: “Gustavo cared for the boys because he was their father’s best friend.” The evidence is easy to find as this chapter details how the two left El Salvador with their wives to start families in the US.

Hope it works well for you!
La Idea Central Capitulo 4

Teaching the novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha: Chapter 3

This week’s song for our gang theme is by Los Rakas (follow @losrakas on Twitter). Los Rakas are a class favorite and this song is always engaging.

Chapter 3 is called “Mi padre” and readers learn how the anonymous author lost his father at a young age as well. Don’t forget that novels and teacher’s resources are available through !

Before we began reading, we brainstormed in our table groups “What are characteristics of the Ideal Dad? They posted their characteristics on the board and then we read the chapter.”FullSizeRender (2)


After reading, we returned to our table groups where we listed characteristics of the author’s dad. Next we contrasted the reality of “Anonymous’s” dad with the ideal father.FullSizeRender (1)

My favorite “characteristic” of the father in the novel was this one, which borrowed lyrics from our song of the week! They’re making connections!! FullSizeRender(2)

Teaching the novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha: Chapter 2

All activities are created and posted with written consent from to accompany the novel

In Chapter 2 of Vida y Muerte (but this would also be a great fit for Chapter 3 of !)the anonymous author describes his mother’s murder at the hands of a rival gang. He was just a toddler so he never had the chance to get to know her! This activity is a great way to help students see connections between the characters and their own families.

Give it a try with your students and see who knows their mom best! My daughter is in my class this year and she knew me pretty darn well! ๐Ÿ™‚throughthekeyhole

This activity was inspired by a pinterest pin from an artist’s sketchbook! Keep your eyes on Pinterest, there are so many great ideas that apply to language classrooms too!!

Teaching the novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha 13: Pre-teaching and Chapter 1

If you have taught many novels, these activities will be easy to implement. If you’re looking for a great read for your level 3/4 classes, this is so engaging!

All activities I will be sharing as my class reads the novel are activities that supplement the published . The teacher’s guide is a MUST have but these activities compliment what is already there! These activities have been created and shared with the consent of . Please keep in mind that any time you create and share materials that may be derivatives of another author’s work, it is important to get consent in writing! So many people work so hard to create these materials, it is important to respect their copyright!

In my classroom, preteaching the novel starts with El Salvador’s Civil War. We look at how Oscar Romero, the assassinated Salvadoran Archbishop, created a movement among the poor that led to an uprising against the government. From the war we are able to look at the many who fled El Salvador for what they hoped would be safety in the United States… and here we connect with the gang.

As a prequel to the novel, we listen to the song Gangsta in Spanish by Kat Dahlia and talk about what it means to be a gangster? What does it mean to have a “gang family” versus a traditional family? We watch the documentary “The World’s Most Dangerous Gang” and read the prologue to the book to build background knowledge, and then its time to dive in!

Underpinning the entire novel study is our classroom Vida y muerte twitter feed. Students add to the feed daily as we read. It helps them engage with characters as they create their twitter handles! FullSizeRender(6)

Or as they compose tweets that flow with the novel! FullSizeRender(4)

On Monday, we read Chapter 1 of the novel. In this chapter the anonymous author describes his initiation. I used this as an opportunity to access prior knowledge by having student groups brainstorm all they had learned about the initiation and missions of MS-13 gang members from the documentary. After reading the chapter, they competed to make the most complete list of facts. (My level 3 are competing a’la Amazing Race this year so it was an Amazing Race task that could earn them first place for the week!)