Get discussion questions, extension activities, vocabulary boosters, a booktalk, and more ideas for teaching with Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Esperanza Ortega’s happy life as her father’s only, beloved child comes to an abrupt end when her father is murdered and her devious uncles seize his vast land holdings. Rather than accept one uncle’s proposal of marriage, Esperanza’s mother flees their home with her daughter and faithful servants. Abuelita, Esperanza’s grandmother, must stay behind because of an injury sustained when their home is burnt to the ground.
At the end of a difficult journey, Esperanza arrives in a California farm labor camp and, slowly, begins to grasp the harsh realties of her new life. When her mother falls ill, Esperanza takes over the role of breadwinner, working in the packing sheds and helping with chores for her new extended family at the camp. Esperanza undergoes a tumultuous, emotional journey from the pampered girl of her past to the hardworking and compassionate young woman she becomes.
Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the hardships faced by Mexican immigrants during the time, the novel is a testament to the power of hope and the triumph of the human spirit.
Pam Muñoz Ryan was raised in the San Joaquin Valley in California. Her Mexican grandmother lived around the corner, and her Oklahoman grandmother lived nearby in Lamont. “When I was with one, I often ate enchiladas, rice, and beans. When I was with the other, I ate blackeyed peas, fried okra, and peach cobblers.” Esperanza Rising is based on her Mexican grandmother’s immigration story from Mexico to California.
After college, Pam became a bilingual teacher and then left her job in education to raise her children. She went back to school for her master’s degree where a professor encouraged her to write. More than 25 books later, Pam Muñoz Ryan is the award-winning author of the novels The Dreamer, Paint the Wind, Becoming Naomi León, and Riding Freedom, as well as, numerous picture books. Today, she is a full-time writer and lives with her husband in San Diego County near the Pacific Ocean. Her four grown children frequently come and go.
To find more information about Pam Muñoz Ryan and her books, visit her website.
Esperanza means hope, and hope is what Esperanza needs as she goes from the life of an indulged daughter of a Mexican landowner to the hardscrabble life of a farm labor camp worker in California. This award-winning novel provides the opportunity to teach students to analyze character through text quotes and to use adjectives to describe character traits. Students will engage in researching the history of farm workers, writing a book blog, and creating a book of personal proverbs.
Theme Focus: Change
Comprehension Focus: Analyze Character
Language Focus: Adjectives Describing Character
Introduce students to Esperanza Rising with this anticipation guide based on Mexican proverbs found in the book. Display the anticipation guide on a whiteboard or chart paper and ask students to respond.
|Proverb||Agree / Disagree|
|The rich person is richer when he
becomes poor, than the poor
person when he becomes rich.
|There is no rose without thorns.|
|He who falls today, may rise
tomorrow. The person who does
not look ahead stays behind.
Ask students to explain why they agree or disagree with each proverb. Tell them to keep the proverbs in mind as they read the book and see if their opinion about them changes.
Guide students to find journal prompts, read the Author Questions and Answers, and complete crossword puzzles by visiting Esperanza Rising on The Stacks. Pam Muñoz Ryan also provides an excellent discussion of the personal and historical background of the book can be found on the From the Author page on The Stacks.
Discuss with students the title and cover of the book. Prompt them with these questions: What does the word esperanza mean in Spanish? What do you think the title means? Who do you think is the most important character in the book? Where do you think the book takes place?
Tell students that the author chooses words carefully to describe the characters in the book. These words create a picture in the reader’s mind of how the character acts, moves, and talks. The list below contains words that describe different characters in the book. Ask students to look for clues in the text to figure out the meanings of the words then check dictionary definitions.
Use the Esperanza Rising Vocabulary Cards printable and distribute copies to students. Ask them to write down the definitions of the words as they read them in the book.
Ask students to refer to the definitions they wrote on their vocabulary cards to answer the following questions.
Have students ask and answer more questions about the vocabulary words, applying them to the novel or to their own lives.
Read aloud the first six pages of the book, asking students to follow along. Then ask these questions: Where does Esperanza live? What is her life like there? How does she feel about her father and mother? How would you describe Esperanza as a character? Clarify any questions students have before they begin reading the book.
Assign students to read Esperanza Rising independently. Remind them to keep the Big Question in mind as they read.
Ask students to think about this question as they read and be ready to answer it when they have finished the book. Write the question on chart paper or have students write it in their reading journals. Will Esperanza rise to the challenges of her new life?
Esperanza Rising is a novel about a young protagonist who deals with challenges and changes in her life and finally rises above self-pity to become a strong and resilient person. Help students identify how the author expresses this character change through key dialogue in the book. Remind students that a reader can get to know a character by paying close attention to how he or she speaks, thinks, and acts. These pieces of evidence are clues to the character’s traits or personality.
Use the graphic organizer on the Esperanza Rising Analyzing Character printable to model for students how to use Esperanza’s words as text evidence to analyze her character. Project the page on a whiteboard and pass out copies to students.
We’re going to think deeply about things that Esperanza says in the story and what they tell us about her character. A trait is a quality or habit that a person has. The first quotation is from page 67. Esperanza is getting on the train to leave Mexico. She says, “Mama, we cannot travel in this car. It . . . it is not clean. And the people do not look trustworthy.” Esperanza’s words tell me that, even though she has lost her home, she still thinks that she is above other people in Mexico. She does not yet understand what has happened to her life.
Have students fill in the rest of the organizer, analyzing the remaining quotes for what they reveal about Esperanza’s character and how she has changed. Discuss students’ answers as a group and encourage them to support their answers with other evidence from the text.
Lead students in a discussion of these focus story elements.
By the end of the book, Esperanza is united with her mother and grandmother. What do you think is next for Esperanza? Will she become rich again? Will she marry? What do you predict about her future? (Sample answers: Abuelita might not be able to get her money from the bank, so they may remain poor. Esperanza might marry Miguel because of the scene between them at the end of the book.)
The novel ends with these words, spoken by Esperanza: “Do not ever be afraid to start over.” What do these words tell us about Esperanza’s character at the end of the book? How has she changed? What has she learned? (Sample answers: She has learned that riches in life consist of family and love. Strength comes from believing in yourself. With those things, a person can triumph over life’s challenges.)
What adjectives would you use to describe Esperanza and the other characters at the end of the story. Which of the vocabulary words apply or no longer apply to them? (Answers will vary, but should be supported by text evidence.)
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
Do you think that Esperanza and her mother made the right choice to leave Mexico? Might they have had a better life in Mexico than in California?
Compare the conditions of the Mexican immigrants in the novel with immigrants from Mexico today. How have things changed? How have they stayed the same?
What other young characters have you read about who had to adapt to a different place or different circumstances in life? Compare one of the characters to Esperanza.
Give each student an opportunity to answer the Big Question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Tell them there is no one right answer. Will Esperanza rise to the challenges of her new life?
Pam Muñoz Ryan begins Esperanza Rising with two Mexican proverbs that reveal their truth in the story. In this activity, have students create their own “Book of Proverbs” by listing old proverbs that have been passed down to them by their parents or by researching proverbs that they think are true for themselves. Print and distribute copies of the Esperanza Rising Big Activity printable. Lists of proverbs can be found at many websites including: the Santa Monica College Reading Lab, Proverb Hunter, and The Phrase Finder.
Challenge students to learn what happened to the farm labor camp workers in California after the Great Depression. Suggest that they research the life of Cesar Chavez, the celebrated Latino leader of farm workers. Ask students to report on how Chavez achieved results for the workers through nonviolent means. Guide students to the PBS website to research Cesar Chavez.
To engage students in a language activity based on the novel, download the crossword puzzle from the Scholastic website, by visiting. Questions on the puzzle challenge students’ comprehension of the book, as well as, their language skills. Distribute the Answers PDF when students have completed the crossword.
The author titled each chapter of the book with the name of a fruit or vegetable that plays a role in the story. Ask several students to report on the life cycle of these fruits and vegetables and find out how they are planted and harvested.
Guide interested students to create a paper donkey and cart like the one that helped Esperanza escape from the ranch. Help other students who are inspired by Esperanza learn the zigzag pattern of crocheting taught by Abuelita. Direct them to refer to the instructions of the alternating mountains and valleys, found on page 14 of the book. If students want to make Mama’s Yarn Doll, refer them to the unnumbered back pages of the book to find instructions.
Ask students to review the book by giving it a star rating (one through five), stating their opinion, and then backing it up with at least three text-based reasons.
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