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Welcome to teaching Sandra Cisneros in the Classroom by Carol Jago!

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In this NCTE (National Council for the Teachers of English) high school literature series, Carol Jago provides detailed information about Sandra Cisneros, including an interview with her and lessons that can be done in the classroom using Cisneros's writing and poetry.

Sandra Cisneros has undoubtedly had an impact in the writing and educational communities, but she has also been instrumental in paving the way for other Hispanic and Chicana writers and poets. In addition, Cisneros's works-- especially The House on Mango Street--have become a staple in many middle and secondary schools around the country.

Cisneros knew at an early age that writing would be her outlet in the restrictive, male dominated latino culture. Like many Language Arts educators, Cisneros became "entranced" with poetry and creative writing (Jago 3).

In 1972, Cisneros attended Loyola University, and she later joined the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop. While at the workshop, she was able to hone her skills as a writer and created one of the most widely used pieces of literature found in classrooms around the country today--The House on Mango Street.

Lecciones por Jago (Lessons by Jago)

Much of Jago's book offers classroom teachers helpful ways to present Sandra Cisneros's work while presenting the following skills:

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  • Creating details
  • Getting inside a poem
  • Identifying sensory information
  • Teaching literary terminology in context
  • Connotation and denotation
  • Questioning the author
  • Think alouds
  • Personal Writing
  • Taking a Critical Stance

Por Ejemplo (For example)

Using the essay "Ghosts and Voices: Writing from Obsession" by Cisneros, Jago helps students realize that their own lives can be cultivated into works of art!
Each student brings in a picture of themselves (preferably as a child). This lesson is specifically designed to help students focus on detail, which is an important writing skill no matter what students you have in your room or where you teach. Students spend time reflecting on various aspects of their photo, including abstract details. To conclude the activity, students write themselves a letter from their present self to their past self. This helps students "to move students beyond simple description into reflection" (7).

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Jago also writes about an activity where she uses Cisneros's poem "Good Hotdogs" to discuss sensory details. Students read through the poem silently by themselves first. Then Jago has the students draw pictures of the five senses. Finally, students draw a line from the sense being evoked to the word or line where the sense is present. Identifying sensory details is an essential skill for any writer. This also enables students to think aloud with classmates and gain insight they did not have in their own initial reading.
I tried this sensory technique in my classroom to help students see how they can incorporate sensory details in their writing. Drawing the images and connecting them to words and/or phrases in a model text, such as Cisneros, helped my students see ways in which mature writers incorporate these details into their work.

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¿Problemas? (Problems)

There is no doubt that Sandra Cisneros's work has made its way into many of our personal and professional libraries. As Jago says near the beginning of her book, "Within seconds I was captivated..." (xi).

However, Cisneros's work primarily follows a female character. One issue that may come up for teachers that have not presented Cisneros before is how to incorporate and engage their male students. Jago makes it very clear throughout her book that if we use Cisneros to teach our students important skills while exposing them to multicultural literature, the goal is accomplished. Our male students will hopefully make connections with Cisneros's themes that affect all humankind, such as poverty, fitting in, and relationship issues, but it is our job to help them see those connections by way of discussions and lessons like the ones found in Jago's book.
My questions for Ms. Jago are:
  1. What are things you have done in your own classroom to help motivate male students with a book that has primarily female characters?
  2. Do you pair the reading of The House on Mango Street with another book that males might better identify with? For example Salinger's Catcher in the Rye?
  3. In your book you talk about the importance of deepening students' knowledge of a single author versus exposing them to many authors in hopes that they find one that they enjoy. In your experience, have you ever had students that do not enjoy one of the authors you choose, such as Cisneros? If so, how do you still keep them motivated to learn the skills you are teaching?
  4. What other kinds of multicultural literature do you incorporate in your classroom?

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Lisa Muñoz is currently in her third year of teaching at Elkhart Central High School in Elkhart, Indiana. She is also currently working towards her master's degree in English with an emphasis in teaching from Western Michigan University.

Page created by Lisa Munoz