Jefferson Middle School fifth grade students applied their new knowledge about human rights through a case study of how a fictional character responds to a humans rights challenge by reading, Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan in their ELA classes. In addition, many of the students completed two activities with the unit: creating yarn dolls like the characters in the book and performing a Reader’s Theater.
The ELA module included the four primary language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. They also read informational texts related to the story’s historical content. The unit is designed to deliberately build students’ ability to write routinely to learn. Students write short informational pieces, they analyze character’s responses to challenges and analyze how Esperanza changes over time. Students also create a two-voice poem contrasting the way two different characters respond to a similar challenge.
As part of the novel, the characters, Esperanza and Isabel, also created yarn dolls. To give the students a hands-on activity and a way to connect with the character, students created their own yarn dolls from detailed step-by-step instructions that were included in the book. Making the yarn dolls in class gave the students the chance to create something that they had only read about. The teacher’s hope was that students would share the dolls, and the story behind them, with their families.
Students read through a Readers’ Theater about Esperanza Rising, also written by Pam Munoz Ryan. Reader’s Theater gives students an opportunity to participate in a discussion with their peers, compare and contrast a novel and a script, and share their opinions about different types of narratives. They are divided into small groups where they decide who will read each part, practice and then perform. Then, students do the same process with the novel, Esperanza Rising, which allows them to compare and contrast a novel to a script. At the end of the unit, students write their own Reader’s Theater based on connections they made between the novel and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which they studied in the first unit of the NYS ELA Common Core curriculum modules.