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Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
Grappling with Identity in Latino Poetry
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for teachers is divided into three sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the lesson
Steps -- Conducting the lesson
Extensions -- Additional activities


Media Components

Computer Resources:
  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above. Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • Software: Any presentation software such as Power Point or Hyperstudio (optional).


Students need the following supplies:

  • Alvarez, Julia. THE OTHER SIDE, Plume/Penguin Press USA, New York. 1996.
  • Gillan, Maria Mazziotti, and Gillan, Jennifer, ed. UNSETTLING AMERICA: AN ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY MULTICULTURAL POETRY, Penguin Books USA, Inc. 1994.

    Bookmarked sites:

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    Introductory Activity:
    (1-2 class periods)

  • Ask students to freewrite at least a half page about what makes someone American. If they have trouble writing, you may want to prompt them with questions like:
    • Are you American by virtue of where you live?
    • What kinds of things do you have to do to be an American?
    • When someone says the word “America” what comes to mind?
    After everyone has a chance to write, come up with a class-wide, working definition of “American.” Afterwards, ask students to identify how they came up with their definitions. Were they influenced by what they see in the media, what they learn in school, or what they hear from family or friends?

  • For homework, have students watch an episode of AMERICAN FAMILY and list out all the ways the family conforms or doesn’t conform to their previous definition of "American." Check your local PBS station for air dates.

  • The next day, review the results of the homework. How is this family “American” or not “American?” Why do you think the producers decided to call the show AMERICAN FAMILY? What other titles could the producers have given the show?

    Learning Activities:

    Activity One:
    (2 class periods)

  • In this activity, students will gain further perspective on who Americans are, with a particular focus on the Latino population. Begin by having students look at the demographics of the United States. Distribute copies of the United States Demographics Organizer, then send students to to find answers to the questions listed in the organizer.

  • After finding the answers, have the class discuss whether the demographic information changed or confirmed their previous definition of “American.” Discuss how American society and culture does, or does not represent the ratio of ethnic groups, then read the essay on the history of the word Latino at

  • Find out more about how the growing Latino population is impacting media representation by reading THE NEWS HOUR: HISPANICS AND THE MEDIA ( As they read, ask students to note how the growing Hispanic population is impacting how Hispanics are portrayed in the media.

    Activity Two:
    (several class periods)

  • Students will expand on this theme by reading a series of poems written by Latino authors on the topic. The selected poems deal with the experience of being newly arrived in America or as a Latino negotiating within the dominant American culture. As they read they should look for the various views of this particular American experience to see if there are any similarities or differences in themes and view-points.

    This lesson can be used with a wide range of literature. The following are suggestions of poems which deal with the lesson's theme.

    Alvarez, Julia. THE OTHER SIDE, Plume/Penguin Press USA, New York. 1996. Although the entire collection of poems are worthy of reading, you may want to focus on poems from part I and III, which deal specifically with issues related to this lesson.

    Gillan, Maria Mazziotti, and Gillan, Jennifer, ed. UNSETTLING AMERICA: AN ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY MULTICULTURAL POETRY, Penguin Books USA, Inc. 1994. This anthology presents a collection of poems that deal with American identity from a multicultural perspective. Of particular relevance to this lesson are the poems of Pat Mora, Gary Soto, Judith Ortiz Coffer, and Luis Rodriguez.

  • Start by studying one poem together with the class as a whole in order to scaffold. Begin by reviewing the process for reading a poem.
    First Reading - Tell students that a poem is meant to be heard so that you can appreciate the rhythms and sound patterns. During their first reading they should focus on listening for pleasing sounds or phrases. This will help students appreciate the beauty of the language. Have students underline the phrases or words, then read them out loud to each other.

    Second Reading - In the second reading, students will start to focus on basic comprehension of the poem. They should re-read the poem to themselves looking for answers to questions listed in the Poetry Reading Organizer. After answering the question ask students to write a summary of the poem’s theme. After they come up with the theme summary, ask them which is more interesting and illuminating to read. Have them explain why.
    An excellent poem to begin with is Pat Mora’s LEGAL ALIEN accessible at

  • As students read through the series of poems, ask students to note lines and phrases that deal directly with the experience of being Latino in the United States. They will later use these notes to create a collage on the topic in the final assessment.

    Culminating Activity/Assessment:
    (several days)

  • Have students demonstrate what they’ve learned about the Latino perspective, by creating a mural/collage of images and words that depict what they have learned about the Latino experience of the United States. Along with the collage, students should provide a written statement that explains what they are attempting to show. Since students will be representing the viewpoint of other people, they should support every generalization with lines from the poems, articles, or census data read during the lesson. Students should also read an additional article or series of poems on the topic, and include those as well in their collages.

    These collages can be created digitally, or done with traditional supplies such as paper and other art supplies.

  • Have students present their work to the class, and then publish on line or post to a classroom bulletin board.


    Cross-Curricular Extension:

    Study the history of Latino immigration to the United States.

    Community Connections:

    Have each student ask a different member of your community to define what it means to be American. Write up the definition along with a portrait of the person. Create a collage or mural out of all the various definitions of Americans.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students