After spending adequate time reading and discussing each biography so that the students come away with a real understanding and appreciation of each subject, it is time to begin activities where they can compare and contrast these three women.
An initial activity that will serve to help them effectively gather information from the three biographies will be through the use of a multi-columned graphic organizer with such headings as life span, family, country of origin, occupation, obstacles, and accomplishments. By skimming the texts they will be able to ‘plug in’ the particular pieces of information required in each column. This becomes a good starting point for more in-depth study.
As students will realize as they read more biographies, this genre, in order to be appealing to both young and old, depends on providing the reader with a good and interesting beginning that will grab them and motivate them to want to read on. I have deliberately started each of my three biographies in different ways. One starts with a dialog between the subject and her parents when she was little. Another starts with a very decisive event that was to become a pivotal point in the subject’s life. And the third biography begins with the birth of the subject and goes on to tell her story in a very chronological order from birth to death. I will ask my students to reread the beginnings of each biography and describe how they differ and then decide which beginning they found most appealing. Later, when they go on to read other biographies, we will return to the subject of how they begin and properly analyze this aspect.
In a good biography one can easily find incidents in the subject’s life that really serve to illustrate the type of character the person is and the beliefs he/ she has. I will ask my students to explore this device and describe the subject’s character and what their beliefs were, supporting their answers with incidents selected in the text. These activities can easily take both oral and written form and may prove to be a great way to debate about and defend one’s view. One activity that could serve as a way to organize one’s thoughts would be to have a multi-circled web in which the student would write various adjectives to describe the subject’s character ( such as stubborn, fearless, unconventional, etc.). Lesson Plan II offers more detail in how to set up this lesson.
We often read how certain people or historical events have played an influential role in the subject’s life. This is certainly true in the three biographies presented here. My students could begin by identifying and exploring the ways in which, each subject was influenced by people and events. For example, Frida Kahlo was influenced by the Mexican Revolution, Riboberta Menchú by the activism of her parents and Gabriela Mistral by the children she worked with in Mexico. I plan to use another graphic organizer designed with pairs of boxes labeled cause and effect to help my students organize information. I would ask them to locate and list important events or people in one set of boxes and after considering their impact on the subject, describe the effect in the corresponding boxes. This completed graphic organizer could then be used as a springboard for discussion and for future writing activities. After this in-depth examination I would call upon my students to reflect on the people or events that have played a significant role in their lives. Such an activity could lead to the beginnings of writing an autobiography!
Because these truly fascinating female figures were authentic heroines of their time, I have no doubt that they will inspire boys and girls alike. I expect, however, that our study of Latin American figures will expand in later months and cover important male heroes as well, thus providing further appreciation of Latin American cultures and the women and men it has produced.
When we are inspired by the lives of others and are able to witness their bravery and the creativity they use in meeting the challenges set before them, we can begin to try harder to overcome the often very formidable obstacles that we face in our own lives. Children need heroes and heroines that they can imitate. Such figures possess many admirable qualities to which they may choose to aspire. Equally important, learning about the lives of people who used their unique talents to make significant contributions to the world may provide the necessary impetus by which a child acquires a renewed belief in his/ her own ability to reach their full potential. If they can do it, so can I! Frida Kahlo, Rigoberta Menchú, and Gabriela Mistral, three remarkable Latin American women, can set us on our path toward self-realization.