La llaman América is about a little girl who immigrated to Chicago from Mexico and her experiences in her home, school, and neighborhood. As authentic texts go, it is a unique perspective but, frankly, awkwardly translated from English. Still, there are enough angles to capture teenagers' attention, and inner-city or neighborhood violence is one of them.
The article is "Violencia de pandillas cobra vidas inocentes in Chicago," and I have been tinkering with how to present it, not just for teaching, but also as part of my graduate class in Issues in Foreign Language Instruction. I was to come up with a reading activity and break it down by pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading with follow-ups. Since graduate classes exist in the land of Theory where everything works (you know, "in Theory"), and I actually had a chance to pilot the lesson on real live
- Introduce vocabulary. I put 8 words (abatido, aumento, callejera, concejales, gente, miedo, pandillas, and periodista) on a powerpoint slide with accompanying clipart to illustrate, then acted them out, adding clues in Spanish as I presented (Nicky Minaj for aumento, Bloods, Cryps, Latin Kings for pandillas).
It is important to emphasize that students do not need EVERY SINGLE WORD to understand the text, and that choosing the vocabulary they need can help direct them to what they DO need in order to piece things together.
- Analyze Wordle. I projected the Wordle pictured above and had students point out the largest words, vocabulary words, and recognizable (past or cognate) words.
Making a Wordle is easy-peasy, but making a GOOD one takes a little more time. I didn't want students to focus on the superintendent of police or his name, so I had to go back and cut him out, same with the pastors who offered commentary on the shootings. It took going back and removing things from the original text to make it an adequate advance organizer for the young ones, a purposeful one.
- Write headlines. I introduced the term titular and did my level best to get them to "headline" with drawing on the board, naming local newspapers, without speaking any other English. Then I had them write headlines about what they article they were about to read was about based on the Wordle. The one who used the most words from the Wordle--and still made sense--won.
The "classroom talk" emphasized by the NC New Schools Project instructional framework seemed to be a natural fit in getting students to piece together what the article was about, so I'd do this paired in the future. And probably also offer a prize for the pair that got closest to the real headline.
- Scan for calendar vocabulary. I did not think to do this first with my guinea--students--but I soon found the necessity for it. They need to find familiar things, and they need to be able to reorganize the information. I noticed that when I ended up having students put things in chronological order that they just looked for where things appeared in the order of the article itself. Plus they need to have an orientation to what is going onto the article, and time is a pretty straightforward.orientation. If we write it on the board (diving into the reading together for some guided instruction), then students can start their interpretation off on the right foot and model for each other.
- Create individual T-charts of victims vs community members. My professor suggested I focus only on the victims section and not get into the community responses at all--for brevity's sake, but there are still a few community people mixed in, and students should get that one of the victims is not named, just described. And if they have to name the different people's roles, then I think that is a valuable tool to help them break down the reading. So students would include names and brief descriptions where available, I suppose.
- Re-arrange events. I have some of the main events from the article paraphrased in Spanish that students can cut out and re-arrange. I made the mistake of trying to do this on a worksheet when I had no voice, but I always confuse myself on how to grade such things when students are one or two off. Plus this way, students can make their guesses, then when we go over the actual order, number the events correctly to ensure they can line up what is going on.
- Split-class true-false. This is similar to how I set up debates, which will come later, but it is not so, well, debatable. I also made the mistake of trying to make a worksheet of this at first (I had no voice! I had to do something!), but I found that students probably needed to talk more about why answers were right or wrong and use the text.
So, as with the original worksheet, I have about two statements per 3-paragraph section, so students are able to do a closer analysis and find exactly the part that tells you what is true or false. The twist now is that students can agree or disagree out loud, and direct each other to specific parts of the text to support their answers (the English teacher side of my loves this).
- Fill in a Venn diagram comparing article neighborhoods and America's. I might hold off on this one until after they've done "Pedro Navaja" too in the future, or just re-do it then. Basically, students would look for similarities and differences in the crimes described as well as the communities in which they took place. I'm hoping they'd get that there is violence and that they are minority communities in Chicago, maybe that the violence seems common in both, but that people actually die in the real-life one, there are definite gang ties in reality, not always witnesses, and that the community reacts.
- Split-class debate. I have a series of charged statements related mostly to America, but that has students draw parallels to the article to agree or disagree. Things like "La policia no protege a la gente del barrio de America" or "Hay pandillas en el barrio de America" or "Muchas personas mueren por causa de violencia en el barrio de America" are offered to students to create an initial agree/disagree and why response. And now, when I "sweeten the deal," I offer double candies in the jar when students respond directly to a classmate.