Recently the topic of novel selection and usage in a particular class level has come up in several forums including CI Peek and the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook page. I’d like to join the discussion by sharing my recent experience during which there was a slight hiccup that became a perfect segue for student “buy in” for why a particular novel for that class was selected.

This year I made the decision to read the novel Esperanza by Carol Gaab in my Spanish 4/5 class and start it in the first days of the first trimester with my class. In fact, I had made the decision the previous spring when I was thinking about my plans for the class. I alternate the curriculum for level 4/5 because of the combined levels and was looking forward to using the novel for the first time. Recently we were able to purchase several new novels to supplement and/or replace some of the novels we’ve been using. We typically read two novels per year (2 trimesters) in levels 1-3 and in level 4/5 we read at least two as a class and students read at least two to three novels individually during Sustained Silent Reading/Free Voluntary Reading time throughout the two trimesters. My colleagues and I initially thought about reading Esperanza in level one but decided to use other novels (Piratas del Caribe y el mapa secreto by Mira Canion and Carol Gaab in the first trimester and Robo en la noche by Kristy Placido in the second trimester). I wholeheartedly agree that the novels selected for class reads should not be overly difficult for the class level. It is better to choose a novel that you feel is appropriate for students’ comprehension rather than select one that will be too difficult for students.  

During the first day of class, I mentioned that we’d be starting a new novel right away and I talked a bit about it (in Spanish). The next day I introduced the novel with a pre-reading activity similar to the reading strategy K-W-L (Know/Want to Know/Learned). Students worked together (in groups of four) and wrote what they already knew about Guatemala and what they wanted to know on poster paper. It was interesting to overhear their discussions! Next they read an informational sheet about Guatemala by Daniel Retberg and then went back to their lists and made adjustments (or corrections) as needed before finally sharing with the rest of the class.

Next I handed out the novels and gave them time in pairs to check out the cover art, chapter titles, read the back cover, etc. As I circulated, I overheard a few students grumbling about the level of the book and questioning why we weren’t reading some of the books listed in the back for higher levels. I gathered everyone in a circle and posed two questions to the group. “Why did I choose this book for this class?” and “What will you learn from this novel?” I said I wanted to hear their opinions. I smiled like a proud mother as students came up with my reasons and more!

  • You want us to learn about Guatemala
  • You want us to learn about the Civil War in Guatemala
  • It is based on a true story
  • We haven’t read a novel written from the first person perspective
  • We’ve had two trimesters and a summer since our last Spanish class
  • You want us to learn new words and refresh our memory on ones we’ve already learned
  • Reading is good for us to learn (students’ word–learn, teacher’s word–acquire!) the language
  • To give us confidence

I made the right choice! Students are learning about Guatemala, the Civil War, immigration, human rights, in addition to acquiring new vocabulary. I have been using some supplemental resources from the Teacher’s Guide and other resources shared online by others such as Martina Bex, and Sharon Birch.

At the halfway point in the novel, I recently asked students to reflect on their comprehension, what they’ve learned, and their opinions of the novel at this point. Again, I had a big smile on my face as I read the reflections. Student comments were positive and included:

  • The novel has been pretty easy for me to understand. I have reinforced what I know after reading in first person, present tense. It was hard at first especially since last year everything was past tense. I like the book and reading about Guatemala.
  • The main things I’ve learned have been cultural. I learned about the Guatemalan Civil War and that the U.S. sided with the Guatemalan military.
  • It is a good book and I think we are prepared for a more difficult novel.
  • I really like the novel…I want to finish it. I also enjoy learning the historical/cultural side of it.
  • Despite being a level 1 book, Esperanza still retains complexity. I’ve refreshed on old and learned new terms as well as historical and cultural aspects about a country I know little about.
  • I have found the novel to be very beneficial. I did not even know about the Guatemalan Civil War and Mayan genocide before reading it. I was surprised at how easily I can read the novel on my own and comprehend the storyline. Also, I am picking up how to conjugate verbs into the first person. I am really glad we are reading the book, it is a good confidence builder.
  • My comprehension of Esperanza so far is pretty good. The only struggle is keeping in mind that it is first-person and present tense, so paying attention to word endings is important. It has been rather educational in that you get to see what Guatemala is like for an everyday family. So far I really enjoy the book and look forward to the rest.

I also look forward to the rest of the novel and will check back in with CIPeek when we have finished it!

Rebecca (Becky) Moulton has been teaching Spanish since 1995 at Northwest High School in Jackson, Michigan. She has been teaching with TPRS/CI since 1999. She earned a BA from Alma College in Alma, MI and an MA in Common Learnings in Curriculum from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, MI. Contact Becky at or Twitter: @SraMoulton

  • darcypippins
    Posted at 16:25h, 09 February

    You have convinced me to read Esperanza in Level 4 this spring! I can’t wait!

    • Becky
      Posted at 19:05h, 09 February

      Hola Darcy, thanks! You’ll be glad you did! Becky

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