breaking out of the dark blog melisa lopez

As I’ve been working through revamping my level three curriculum to include a broader perspective of Latin America, I was so happy to see the diversity included in Kristy Placido’s Vidas Impactantes readers. Kristy included biographies of six notable figures, and the greatest thing about this reader is that you can have your students read it all at once or sprinkle it throughout the year and create separate units based on each biography! The teacher’s guide is also full of unique activities that directly relate to each biography no matter how you choose to teach it!

Unit hooks are a great way to get your students to invest in whatever it is that they are about to learn. In one of the recent webinars sponsored by Fluency Matters, I learned about the importance of pre-reading activities and unit hooks. I’ve been so excited to dive back into a reader to implement all that I’ve learned! Unit hooks can include finding a song related to the unit, creating a scenario similar to that of the characters of a reader, a movie talk, and so many more ways of exposing the students to key structures and content without giving too much away. You can use the hook as a springboard to discuss some of the themes that will be explored in the unit.

For this particular unit, I chose to use the biography about Luis Urzúa who was one of the 33 men trapped in the San José mine in Chile in 2010. He was also one of the leaders (portrayed by Lou Diamond Phillips) in the 2015 film The 33. Many of my students were only 6 or 7 years old when this disaster occurred, but I remembered watching the footage once the U.S. media caught wind of what was going on as a result of the mine collapse. They love stories of survival, so I knew that I needed to put them in the shoes of the miners that were trapped.

I created a DIY breakout box that included a few items of food and one bottle of water. I knew that the amount of items in the box was minimal, but I let the students know that it was vital to their survival. In order to prepare my room to be “minelike,” I blacked out my windows and marked out a small space in the middle of my floor with painters tape for students to work. The rules of the breakout included that they couldn’t leave this space. I think I made the space too big this year for the size class that I had, but now I know exactly how much space they take up as a class without the obstruction of chairs!

I turned out all of my lights and waited for my students in the hallway. My students have to say a password to enter class each day, but for this day, I made them all wait outside so they could enter all at the same time. I made sure to explain in Spanish that they needed to be silent, place all of their belongings on the outer part of the square and stand inside the marked out square. Just the fact that we were doing something different already got their attention! As Carol Gaab always says, “Brains crave novelty!”

While all of the lights were out, I did allow them to use one small flashlight. The only caveat was that they had to share. This allowed for great teamwork to make sure that students were all working on their clues! I had 4 locks on my breakout box. The directional lock I used to have them think about various geographical points of reference to Chile. I have a map in my room, but because it was quite dark, they had to rely on their own prior knowledge! Two of my word locks were related to the miners, but the last lock was just a fun reading exercise. (To learn more about Breakout activities, visit!)

After students got the locks open, they were quite disappointed to see just how little food they had to survive. They asked me how long they had to survive, and I told them approximately 10 days. They knew there was no way that could happen, so we discussed how they could make sure that made their food last. Who would be responsible for dividing the food? How would they choose this person? What if one person is hungrier than another?

Then we started working through the pre-reading discussion questions from the teacher’s guide! I learned that my students are okay with small spaces and most are okay in the dark…but put those two things together, and they are downright frightened. Hunger, small spaces, darkness: these are all of the things that the miners experienced! While I couldn’t take my students into an actual mine, they did great at playing along and really got into the discussion!

Tomorrow we’ll be starting to work with more background about the geography of the Atacama Desert…from the teacher’s guide! All of this is in preparation for the reading of the biography. I can’t wait to see what my students take away from this unit!

Need strategies? Encouragement? Have burning questions?

Fluency Matters is proud to offer both live webinars and on-demand training! Join us any time of the day or night! #PDinyourPJs

1 Comment

Post A Comment

Don’t miss training events or special offers!

Subscribe to our newsletter.