Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reading La Guerra Sucia in Spanish Class

I have read La Guerra Sucia, a novel written by Nathaniel Kirby, several times with my students.  Thanks to several teachers blogging about their lessons with this book (see Kristy Placido's lessons HERE and Carrie Toth's lessons HERE), I am quickly increasing the culture and connections when reading the book.    
Last year, Kristy posted a photo of herself with a gray wig and a white bandana which were the props she used when teaching her students about Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina.  When I realized that chapter 7 of the novel La Guerra Sucia was titled, "Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo", that photo came to mind and I was inspired. With my $5 off coupon in hand, I headed to the local fabric store in search of some white fabric. The only thing I needed was some basic sewing skills and, within an hour later, I had successfully cut and sewn 11 white bandanas for the total price of $1.04. 

The following day when students entered the classroom, I had this photo projected on my white board.  The previous day the students had researched information about Argentina's history, and one of the topics was Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo. We discussed what they had learned from their research and then I had them open their novels to chapter 7.  Then I pulled out the white bandanas and told them I created enough white bandanas for ALL the students to be able to wear one for the class - even the guys were included. 

I have great students, and even though there was a hint of hesitation at first, everyone took a white bandana and promptly tied it on.  I will share with you that after I finished tying on my white bandana, I looked up only to see the guys had tied their bandanas on "do-rag" style, but they obliged me and re-tied them the proper way.

They were so pleased with their white bandanas that immediately the cell phones came out and they were taking photos.  Before we could read they begged go down the hall to visit the Spanish 1 teacher and show off their new accessory.  I consented with the stipulation that they had to explain the significance of the white bandanas to her in Spanish and she then translated it to her Spanish 1 students. (A little promotion of upper level Spanish classes is always a good thing.) Then we returned to class and read the chapter.

Additional activities on this subject that we did or will very soon complete:
- Listen to a podcast - Notes In Spanish Advanced - Adopciones - start the Podcast at 5:00 for the discussion about Argentina 
- A Spanish article with questions that I had found last year
- Martina Bex's cultural activity 

Making the bandanas and wearing them for the reading was a minor change from previous years, but you can bet they are going to remember that part of Argentina's history better than they have in the past.  


  1. Hello, I am really excited about the novel La Guerra Sucia but feel I need to provide a little more support for some of my non-native spanish learners. Most of my native speakers and heritage learners are doing very well with the initial chapters, but non-natives need more support. We have worked through the vocabulary with various activities, but the text is still somewhat challenging. Do you have any intial activities that you would be willing to share to help get them started with the text? Meanwhile we are reading at a slower pace and trying to circle and personalize the events to make the text comprehensible. Best and thanks!

    1. It sounds like you are doing some of the pre-teaching vocabulary like I do. For example, in ch2 I would preteach (in a class story), "no podía dejar de...", "no debían quedarse a solas..." "no me cabe ninguna duda de que..."

      As far as the text being challenging, have you considered pushing reading this book back until later in the school year? By the time my students read La Guerra Sucia, they have read a minimum of 8 other novels, which builds up their abilities to eventually reach this level. I've found that if the book is too far above their level, they become frustrated and don't enjoy reading.

      I use this book for our Sp4+ level because when they read it they have only had, at the most, 420 +/- hours of instruction in Spanish class (which is the same amount of hours that students in other school have during their 3rd year of Spanish).

      I don't have the Teacher's Guide for this book, but I feel confident that it will have materials to help prepare the students for the text.

      This book of my favorites to read in class because there are so many interesting things to discuss and investigate when reading it.

  2. Hi, I'll start working with this book in a few weeks with my students and I was wondering which other activities did you do with your students, this activity is really interesting and I'll use for sure.

    Thank you

  3. Love the bandana idea and including the podcast in the unit. I'm in the middle of our Guerra Sucia unit right now so these are perfect. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. About how many days/weeks do you spend on reading the novel with your students? Do you have them read one chapter per day, or every other day, etc.?

  5. Hi Carrie
    When I read a novel with students, I aim for at least 1 chapter a day, but with this level sometimes it is 2 chapters. If after reading a chapter the students ASK to continue to the next chapter, I always oblige, because that is a sure sign they are enjoying reading and the novel.
    I preload vocabulary and background knowledge about the country and events that are mentioned in the novels before opening the book so by the time they read, it's an easy and enjoyable read. I aim for 10 days to 14 days, but as I said, it may be less than 10 days for the upper levels.

    However, I know teachers that have well-developed units based on the novel with lessons for a month or longer and it works beautifully for them and their students. I 'think' they intersperse the reading with other cultural activities.

    Both ways are successful but it depends on the teacher and student preference on which one works best for each situation.

    Hope that helps. :-)
    Cynthia H.

  6. I love using this book in my AP4 class! We incorporate several songs from that time and watch "La historia oficial" for another angle on the story.

    This year I will add the bandana idea, but I am also having them go to and find a person who they connnect with. I will have them learn some facts about their lives and their diappearance, and create a "pancarta" with the image of the desaparecido. They will share some of the desaparecido's story, as though they were at the Plaza de Mayo themselves as one of the family members of the disappeared.