You probably know that Latinx Heritage Month is September 15th through October 15th, but I imagine you want to celebrate Latinx voices all year long in your high school English classroom, so here are some super simple ways to bring in works from a few amazing authors no matter what unit you’re teaching, and no matter what month of the year it is!
All of these ideas are easy to add to nearly any curriculum or unit you have already planned, even if you teach in a school that requires you to do a pretty set curriculum. There are always ways to include a wide array of voices in the English classroom.
Include Latinx voices through oral storytelling
What To Do
I love some oral storytelling because it captures students' imaginations. It allows students, especially struggling readers and students with learning disabilities, a chance to get totally immersed in a story. And I am here for that!
You can bring oral storytelling into a unit that you already teach by connecting a theme from a novel or short story you're reading to an oral story. Podcasts work great for this, and with a little digging you can find one that relates to what you’re already teaching.
What’s more is that when students listen to stories they develop active listening skills and they practice many of the same strategies they have to when reading such as predicting, inferencing, analyzing, and drawing conclusions.
Recommendations For Including Latinx Creators
I absolutely LOOOOOOVE the podcast Scattered by Chris Garcia. I could talk about it all day long, so shoot me an email if you want to get into the deets.
In short, Chris describes his journey of honoring his father after his father’s death by spreading his ashes in Cuba. It’s a memoir told in six 30-minute episodes, which works great for the high school English classroom.
Students get to learn about characterization, conflict, and storytelling while falling in love with this endearing family, but the bonus is students also get to learn some really interesting stuff about Cuba under Castro’s regime as well as current-day Cuba.
I taught this podcast a few years ago in conjunction with the novel Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle, and it was really a great pairing. The students made connections with themes of family, the outsider and otherness, assimilation, and more.
One caveat: the podcast includes a few f-bombs, so you’d have to discern how your particular school and your students’ feel about that. I used it with a group of seniors in a school that is o.k. with this type of language when it’s only occasional.
My other go-to for beautiful oral stories is The Moth podcast. Each episode includes several super short stories, so you don’t need to listen to the whole episode. You could listen to just one story as a bell-ringer or warm up (most are less than 10 minutes). Then, simply ask your students how they can make text-to-text, text-to-self, or text-to-world connections with the story. You’ll be surprised at what they notice!
The moth has a list of great stories from Latinx writers that you can find here.
Use Latinx voices in bell ringers and mentor sentences.
Using mentor sentences is by far my favorite way to teach grammar and style. I have a pile of lessons on this, but one super simple way to bring it into any classroom is through bell ringers.
Bell-ringers give your students bite-sized grammar lessons, and it’s super easy to draw from any work and allow your students to imitate that mentor sentence.
Here’s an example, from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho:
“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too."
Give students this sentence, and then discuss how it starts with a dependent clause and ends with an independent clauses. When a dependent clause begins a sentence, it is followed by a comma.
Then, challenge students to come up with a sentence that starts with a dependent clause and ends with an independent clause, or provide them with a sentence frame like this:
"When I focus on ________________, everything around me ___________."
There are a million ways students can fill in the blanks, but it should allow them to work with the concept of starting a sentence with a dependent clause.
If you'd like to read more about how to teach grammar and style using mentor sentences, check out this post "What Is A Mentor Sentence."
A few amazing novels from Latinx writers that you can draw from for great mentor sentences that you might already teach are House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and In The Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.
Use personal narratives from Latinx writers
I’d love to meet Gary Soto one day and shake his hand because this man has provided piles of mentor texts that I’ve used over the years, especially with 9th and 10th graders.
I’m a huge fan of using mentor texts when teaching writing skills whether it involves zeroing in on a single sentence or taking a look at a full essay.
When teaching narrative writing, it can really help students to compile some great narratives and allow your students to see how authors craft a story from beginning to end, and then imitate some of those techniques.
For sensory details, I strongly recommend using Gary Soto’s A Summer Life. This short little book of personal narratives is chock full of sensory details and his voice really jumps off each page.
An added bonus is that each of these stories is just about run-of-the-mill, everyday life stuff--he steals a pie and feels guilty, his mom buys him an ugly jacket and he has to wear it, his cousin is good at gymnastics and brags too much. These are all things that your students might say “Wow, he wrote a story about that?” But, it shows how just everyday things can absolutely make great stories when you craft your writing!
It works well to give students “The Pie” by Gary Soto and have them make a list of all the sensory details he uses--he doesn’t just use your typical sensory details. He goes into great details about smell, taste, and touch!
Once students see how sensory details bring a story to life, they can work on bringing in more sensory details to their own writing.
If you’re teaching characterization, Sandra Cisneros “Only Daughter” works beautifully for students to look for direct and indirect characterization. For 9th and 10th graders, you might have students just focus on the characterization of the father. For 11th and 12th graders or honors students, you could have students consider both the narrator and the father, and even how their relationship shifts from the beginning to the end of the story.
I’ve put together a full bundle that breaks down the process of teaching narrative writing day-by-day which you can check out here. It includes both of these lessons, plus a few more that allow your students to work with several mentor texts and then consider how they can apply similar techniques to their own writing.
An added bonus is that I include 3 free grammar lessons in this bundle so that you can easily integrate your grammar instruction into your writing instruction, which allows your students to really craft their writing in intentional ways!
Celebrate Latinx Voices All Year Long
Yes, all of these are simple ideas, which means there's no reason to not integrate more Latinx voices into any unit at any point in the school year. Do you have a favorite mentor text by a Latinx author? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!
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