Table of Contents
I. General Introduction
II. Main Part: Class Activities
a) Talk Show and Attitudes (Tobias Kollmann)
b) Writing Circle (Tobias Herbst)
c) Completing a Chapter (Tobias Herbst)
d) Ideas and Mind Maps on “My Name” (Tobias Kollmann)
e) Debate on Friendship (Tobias Herbst)
f) Advising Sally (Tobias Kollmann)
g) Vocabulary Training (Tobias Herbst)
III. General Conclusion
I. General Introduction
Reading as an intellectual competence opens the way to explore culture and knowledge, to participate in cultural life and to enjoy literature. Culture and knowledge are parts of our education and are central to our ability to think critically on any topic. Studying literature plays a central role in developing these skills. According to Hesse (2002, p.50f.), there are some elementary goals of literacy teaching, such as (1) focussing on specific parts of the text, (2) the use of methods which support active and productive reading, (3) a change of intensive and extensive phases of reading and (4) the relation to students’ interests.
Literature studies offer students opportunities to work on carefully chosen texts provided by the teacher. Results from the PISA studies of 15-year-old readers in Germany illustrate the importance of finding adequate literature for the EFL classroom. In our term paper, we want to examine how far Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street is relevant for the EFL class. The questions which chances and opportunities the novel bears and for which purpose its plot is useful to discuss different topics are in the centre of interest.
Starting with Sandra Cisneros’ biography, which reveals her Puerto Rican origin, we will show the relation between her own background and Esperanza Cordero’s situation in The House on Mango Street. Obviously, there are similarities between the author’s and the protagonist’s lives which “form a modified autobiographical structure.” (Madsen 2000, p. 107).
Looking at the content of The House on Mango Street, this book mainly deals with the story of Esperanza Cordero, told by herself from the perspective of a first-person narrator. The reader learns about her origins, family, friends, neighbourhood, living conditions and especially about her dreams and wishes to escape from Mango Street and to walk the path to self-realization. In the course of this main topic, a number of aspects are made a subject, for instance, friendship, the oppression of women, racism, culture, love, sexuality and growing up.
In a final step, the term paper shows didactical and methodological aspects, i.e. how the book relates to the curriculum as well as to the students’ lives, which learning strategies and social forms can be applied. Therefore, we have provided several tasks to be used in the EFL classroom which all bear a differentiated analysis. On the one hand, the tasks have a tendency towards creating a relationship between the text and its reader; on the other hand, they enlarge students’ abilities to use various learning strategies and methods.
We can draw the conclusion that The House on Mango Street provides numerous essential topics and aspects for teenagers and is, therefore, highly relevant for students in the EFL class. As the book consists of many short stories, it can be used either as a whole entity or partially, a fact which makes the novel attractive to teachers and students as well.
II. Main Part: Class Activities
II.a) Talk Show and Attitudes
“An understanding of the individual sensibility or individual problems presented by the text may thus lead to an understanding of the implicit system of values and the sense of the relation of human beings to the world.” (Rosenblatt, 1995, p.113). When reading this quotation by the famous literacy expert Louise M. Rosenblatt, we thought that her demand should be the framework for the first task to be created. Young Esperanza, the main character of “The House on Mango Street”, has a very special relation to the world. Comparing herself to others, she explores her identity and develops her ideals—that result in a deep desire to break out from Mango Street. The following task deals with such approaches and attitudes.
1. Read the chapter “Beautiful & Cruel”. What does the chapter deal with? Collect important keywords through brainstorming and name the main topic of the chapter.
2. Which different opinions are expressed in the chapter? Explain the way of presenting them according to the levels of reality.
3. Which words stand for the different attitudes? Make a list of those contrasting expressions. Then, look at the list and think about how the words are used. What is obvious regarding Esperanza’s situation?
4. Play the following roles in a talk show “Women’s Role”, discussing the attitude of Esperanza.
- Esperanza’s mother
- Mirella, a good friend of hers
- Reverend Cruz, the preacher of the district who knows her since early childhood
- Mr. Albertez, her teacher at school who knows about Esperanza’s intelligence
Perform your results in class.
Description and Structure of the Developed Tasks
The first part (tasks one to three) is mainly text-related, because the learners are confronted with different levels of “Beautiful & Cruel”: describing the most important messages of the text in general; visualizing them through brainstorming, in order to save the results as a base for the following parts; analyzing the text for attitudes, opinions and perceptions; filtering out the key message and the “atmosphere of the story”. Furthermore, the students should focus on two contrasting attitudes which are contained in this chapter. On the one hand, there is the word field of breaking-out and becoming active; on the other hand there are a lot of expressions which stand for keeping the status quo and passiveness.
The second part (task four) is more creative, fictive and action-oriented. Using the basic information of the chapter and referring to previous parts of the book, students should prepare a short role-play. In a talk show which deals with the topic of “Women’s Role”, they have to identify themselves with different characters, some real and some fictive ones, from Mango Street. Their task is to prepare the talk show and to perform it in front of the class.
A priori analysis: Expected Results
The first-person narrator (Esperanza) thinks, similarly to the chapter “Boys and Girls”, about her relation to her family members. Mostly, she compares herself to others and weighs positive and negative aspects. Right from the beginning, the reader discovers that she is disadvantaged in regard to others: “I am an ugly daughter. I am the one nobody comes for.” (Cisneros, 1984, p.88). As a woman, her destiny seems to be manifested: finding a good husband, having a baby and working in the household. However, Esperanza’s reaction is that she does not want to accept such a way of life. In comparison to her sister Nenny, she has “decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain.” (Cisneros, 1984, p.88). Finally, she declares that she is going to swim against the current and, thus, will not conform to the traditional and unfair way of life. In this brief chapter, Esperanza again discloses her very individual out-standing genuine character.
A suitable headline or summary for this chapter, therefore, could be: ‘The Woman’s Role on Mango Street: The difference of how to be or expected to be’. Regarding Nenny’s behavior and her mother’s advice, another title could be: ‘Being Beautiful Makes Everything Easier’.
Nenny wants to be on her own, which is a real desire in this context. On the other hand, her mother wants her daughters to be good and well-behaved girls, which is another real wish. In movies, Esperanza watches the easy and carefree life of a beautiful woman, which is obviously fictional.
As a consequence, Esperanza herself plans to be like the woman in the movies. So, her attitude can be described as a real desire, but at the moment it is still a mental concept which has to be translated partially into practice.
If you go through the text, you will find the following keywords that describe contrasting attitudes. Comparing these two opposing lists of attitudes, you will draw the conclusion that more words represent a break-out of Mango Street which Esperanza longs for and describes as her “own quiet war” (Cisneros, 1984, p.88).
illustration not visible in this excerpt
The suggestions for the different roles in the talk show can optionally be added with even more persons. Then, it is important that the newly-created characters have different opinions on Esperanza’s situation, in order to start an interesting discussion with sensible arguments. Of course, the learners should feel free to improvise through techniques that make the talk show more lively and interesting. If the school has a drama group, the students can ask them for certain advice about acting and becoming an actor.
The following roles and characters could be performed in the talk show “Women’s role”. The learners could decide if they would like a host as a useful addition.
(A) Esperanza’s mother: On the one hand, she can understand a bit of her daughter’s behavior, because she had the same ideas once when she was a young girl. But in the end, she was afraid of breaking out due to her lack of self-confidence. On the other hand, she is also captured in the life of Mango Street and, therefore, wants her daughter to stay with her family. She wants Esperanza to become a good girl which conforms to the family traditions. While being very loyal towards her husband, she would want her daughter to be the same way.
(B) Mirella, a good friend of hers: Mirella, a young twelve-year-old girl, admires Esperanza for her ideas and ideals. She is in a similar situation and would like to join her friend if she could. While she will be moving to another city in a few weeks and will not be able to keep in touch with Esperanza, she is very sad, because she agrees with Esperanza’s attitude.
(C) Reverend Cruz, the preacher of the district who knows Esperanza since early childhood: He shows a very conservative attitude towards the women’s role. He advises the young girl to stay with her family, listen to what her father says and be a good girl that should support the family as much as she can. Reverend Cruz does not show any understanding for her attitude. He strongly believes that her strange ideas are typical for her age, but surely not realistic.
(D) Mr. Albertez, Esperanza’s teacher at school who knows about her intelligence: Having a very liberal position, he explains how he got to know Esperanza at school. He admits that he is not always satisfied with her attitude towards school, but he also speaks very highly of her, because Mr. Albertez is often fascinated and amazed at Esperanza’s excellent essays. As he mentions, they imply extraordinary and intelligent thoughts. He advises the family to send her to a special literacy course.
In the first part, the learners are confronted with the text of “Beautiful and Cruel” in a very immanent way. That means that the text itself has to be scanned for key messages and general aspects concerning unknown vocabulary and structure. Before the students read the text, we advise them to present the text on a tape and give a few comprehension questions to the students.
In a next step, after reading the text, we suggest using a form of brainstorming, in order to make it easier for the learners to cope with the text and visualize their own ideas as well as significant personal aspects. Therefore, they should work individually in the first step, before they start cooperating with their colleagues. Using a meta-cognitive learning strategy of ‘cooperation’, the partner work is highly recommended, because the learners can exchange their ideas here and support each other by making progress and solving the task. (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990, p.120).
While working on the second and third task, the students can continue using these social forms, since further close text studies are required. Optionally, the group size can be extended by uniting or combining two or three sub-groups, in particular with the third exercise, because this is, in our opinion, the most difficult one.
The last part of this task is action-oriented and uses the previous tasks as a base. It has to be organized in a group work, whereas five to six students ought to build one team. The teacher gives the instructions and can either introduce a few characters which may be included in the talk show, or let the students work autonomously and creatively.
After the presentation of all groups which logically follows, the learner group has to reflect on the given performances, because especially the created characters will arise certain discussions. Here, the students are asked to express their opinions on the topic, in order to evaluate their points of view.
Learning Goals and Relations to Students’ Life
Obviously, an extensive collection of learning goals cannot be analyzed in this brief chapter, but, in our opinion, the prior educational goals of the developed tasks can be summed up in the following way:
(1) Reading comprehension: The learners should filter the key messages of the chapter “Beautiful and Cruel”. Besides, they will obtain a further knowledge on the story-line and, in particular, Esperanza’s self-identity and character.
(2) Language: Introducing new lexis to express certain attitudes means to enlarge the students’ vocabulary, because they also learn the new words from the context.
(3) Finally, the learners have the opportunity to put themselves in a role and try to observe the situation from a different point of view. Being an actor, everybody has to leave his/her own opinion and make an attempt to act authentically. Furthermore, standing in front of the class and giving a presentation will be trained.
II.b) Writing Circle
The writing circle is based on two excerpts out of the chapters The House on Mango Street and Sally. The first excerpt depicts the living conditions of the Cordero family in their house on Mango Street. The reader learns that the whole family has to share one bedroom and one washroom. The house has no front yard and the small garage is empty because they do not own a car yet. In short, the house is not what Esperanza is dreaming of, for her parents have often told her that they would move into a real house with a garden, a basement and trees around it one day. “But the house on Mango Street is not the way they told it at all.” (Cisneros, 1984, p.4)
The second text extract portrays Esperanza’s friend Sally and her life with all her secret dreams and wishes. As she has a strict and harsh father who thinks “to be this beautiful is trouble” (Cisneros, 1984, p.81), she is not allowed to dance and meet many people. In a monologue Esperanza imagines a better future for her friend by taking her to a dream house where she can be free, happy and finally finds the love she has been looking for. Both chapters give a short but clear insight into the lives and living conditions of two Latino families and stress especially the teenagers’ hopes and dreams.