If you’re getting ready to teach an Esperanza Rising novel study, be sure to check out these Esperanza Rising activities that are sure to provide an engaging experience from start to finish!

Esperanza Rising Activities for an Esperanza Rising Novel Study

Esperanza Rising is a classic coming-of-age novel that will always have a special place in the upper elementary or middle school teacher’s classroom. Whether you’re venturing into teaching this novel for the first time or on the hunt for fresh, engaging ideas, rest assured you’re in the right place. I’m going to show you how you can create a balanced Esperanza Rising novel study that touches on vocabulary, writing, nonfiction, and literary analysis while also immersing your students in a multicultural journey that sparks curiosity and enthusiasm. Yes, it sounds ambitious, but with the right approach, it’s entirely achievable.

Understanding the Context of Esperanza Rising

Diving into an Esperanza Rising novel study requires a grasp of the novel’s rich historical and cultural backdrop. Set between the 1920s and the 1930s, the story starts with the Mexican Revolution, showcasing the divide between wealthy landowners and the impoverished masses—echoing real events and struggles of the era. Esperanza’s papa is killed by bandits, setting Esperanza’s life on a new trajectory.

Esperanza and her mama move to California, hoping for a fresh start. But what greets them isn’t quite the new beginning they hoped for—they land in the thick of the Great Depression amidst turbulent strikes in the agricultural fields.

Esperanza Rising has rich themes that touch on loss, social class, wealth and privilege, activism, and the importance of hope and resilience. All of this is what makes Esperanza a solid novel year after year!

My Esperanza Rising Unit Plan

Keeping the context of Esperanza Rising in mind, I wanted to create a unit that incorporated the rich historical and cultural aspects while addressing essential ELA skills.

My goal? Keep the novel study to four weeks max. So I started with breaking the novel down into four one-week segments.

Each day of the week, we tackled a daily reading session (about 20 minutes) and then an ELA strand:

  1. Vocabulary
  2. Journal Writing
  3. Paired Nonfiction Passage
  4. Literary Element Review
  5. Hands-on Project

Laid out, the four weeks look like this:

Sample Esperanza Rising Novel Study Unit Plan

I love using stations for novel studies because they give some kids the chance to work more independently and others to benefit from working in small groups. If you implement stations using the model above, students get to choose which “post-reading” task they do each day, but all five need to be done in the week. However, it’s not a must. You can do the activities together as a whole class or start them whole group and switch to stations later on once everyone knows the drill.

Jumping into Esperanza Rising Vocabulary & Writing Activities

Tackling vocabulary and writing early in our Esperanza Rising novel study sets the stage for a deeper understanding of the text.

I kick things off by focusing on context clues because it’s key for students to build this skill. At the beginning of each week, I give students a list of about 12 to 15 vocab words from the week’s reading. Students predict the meaning of each word based on its context in the sentence, then they look up the real definition. Afterward, they complete a graphic organizer in which they jot down the word and its definition, add a visual, and create a word web.

If anyone finishes early, I’ve got a crossword puzzle waiting in the wings or to tackle later in the week after wrapping up other station activities.

If you’d like to see my Esperanza Rising vocabulary activities, take a look here.

Writing prompts are another favorite of mine for digging into the novel. They are a fantastic way to process and reflect on what happens. Here are a couple of examples:

After finishing the first chapter, 1924, students read and respond to…

Pam Munoz Ryan begins the book with a flashback to a shared moment between Esperanza and her grandfather, when she felt the earths heartbeat. Think of a time when you felt a deep sense of connection with someone or something outside of yourself. It could be a moment spent with a family member, a pet, or at a special location. Describe what you experience.”

After Chapter 2, I’ll nudge them with another prompt:

When Esperanza was a young girl, she dreamed of marrying Miguel. But now that she is a young woman, she realizes that Miguel is the housekeeper, son, and she is the ranch owners, daughter. Between them, quotation mark a river runs deep. And quotation mark imagine you are Esperanza or Miguel. Rite Aid journal entry related to the scene, sharing your thoughts and feelings. How does this make you feel? How does it affect your relationship?

These prompts usually only need about 5 to 10 minutes of class time for responses, but if we have a moment to spare, I love using the time for a discussion using one of these protocols.

Head over here for a closer look at all my Esperanza Rising writing prompts.

Paired Nonfiction Passages to Build Background Knowledge

Because of the rich historical context of Esperanza Rising mentioned above, pairing nonfiction passages with Esperanza Rising is a very valuable use of time. You can read more about the benefits of using paired passages here, but for now, dive into what this looks like with Esperanza Rising.

Paired nonfiction passages make great Esperanza Rising activities

The first week of our Esperanza Rising novel study is a good time to explore the Mexican Revolution so that students better understand why Esperanza’s papa was killed. We read about the series of struggles and challenges faced in Mexico during this tumultuous period.

Week two brings us to the California Agricultural Strikes of 1933. Students grasp the stark realities behind Marta’s words in the novel, understanding that these were real issues that affected many migrant workers in the mid-1930s. We read about the migrant living conditions, why unions are formed, and how things escalated to the point that the federal government got involved. It’s a powerful moment for text-to-world connections as students recognize that unions and strikes are still used today.

By the third week, our focus shifts to the Dust Bowl, exploring the consequences of Manifest Destiny and the harsh farming conditions that led to the “black blizzards.” Students learn about the government incentives to settle and farm the Great Plains… and why it went awry, forcing many to migrate and resettle in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

In our final week, we tackle the Mexican Repatriation of the 1930s, shedding light on the complexities and injustices of that era. It’s a crucial lesson in understanding the varied historical narratives of America and the impact of policy on real lives.

While somewhat dense, these topics offer an interesting glimpse into the past. They help bridge connections to the present and encourage students to think critically about ongoing issues.

Check out my Esperanza Rising paired passages and question sets here.

Exploring Literary Elements with a Flipbook

As we make our way through Esperanza Rising, I like to weave in a review of key literary elements using a flipbook. It’s easy to prep for me, and it lasts for the entire novel study.

Esperanza Rising Activities that review the literary elements

Setting: The first flap is about the setting, pinpointing the story’s two main backdrops and using text quotes to bring these environments to life. Students then explore how the setting affects the story’s outcome.

Characters: The second flap shifts to characters, specifically Esperanza. We describe what she was like in the beginning and compare it to her evolution by the end.

Conflict: The third flap discusses the different types of conflict in the novel: person vs. self, person vs. person, person vs. nature, and person vs. society.

Plot: The fourth flap dives into the plot, and we complete a plot diagram, then discuss the point of view and significance of crocheting and Papa’s roses.

Themes: Under the final flap, we unpack the novel’s theme.

This flipbook brings the literary elements in Esperanza Rising to life in a structured, interactive way. You can check it out here.

Engaging Hands-On Esperanza Rising Activities

One of my favorite things about teaching upper elementary or early middle schoolers is how much they still love hands-on activities. Here are the projects I recommend to keep the energy up while reading Esperanza Rising.

Esperanza Rising activities and projects

Create a Yarn Doll: A memorable scene early in the novel features Esperanza and Ramona on the train to California. Esperanza’s reaction to a little girl’s interest in her porcelain doll leads Mama to create a yarn doll to comfort the child. This activity ties back to a poignant moment in the story and is surprisingly simple. With just a skein of yarn, students can create their own yarn dolls. For a step-by-step guide, this wikiHow page is a great resource.

Crochet a Chain: In the second week, we explore crocheting, a skill that relates to the novel’s themes of perseverance and grit. Armed with crochet hooks and yarn, each student creates a crochet chain.

Build a Dust Storm Shelter: The third week introduces a STEM challenge. Students design shelters to protect migrant workers against dust storms, reflecting the environmental challenges from the novel. Using common recyclable materials and Makerspace supplies, students put their engineering skills to the test, making the historical context of the story tangible.

Host a Jamaica: During the last and final week of our Esperanza Rising novel study, we have our own Jamaica, a celebration inspired by the story’s rich cultural elements. We enjoy the fruits of each chapter and Jamaican flower punch or Hibiscus water.

These Esperanza Rising activities make the novel fun and help students connect with the story. If you’d like to know more, you check them out here.

Making Your Esperanza Rising Activities Memorable

Esperanza Rising shows students the power of resilience and hope that many of our classrooms desperately need. With the right blend of reading, writing, hands-on activities, and thoughtful discussions, you’ll offer an Esperanza Rising novel study that will stick with your students long after they’ve turned the last page.

If you’d like to see my complete Esperanza Rising Novel Study, click the link below.

I hope this blog has given you some ideas, resources, and structures to guide you through your Esperanza Rising novel study. Questions? Comments? Drop them below! Happy teaching!