Handy Teacher's Guide for Esperanza Rising

Handy Teacher's Guide for Esperanza Rising
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Esperanza Rising (1)

If you’ve chosen to read Esperanza Rising with your class, you’re in luck. Not only is it a fantastic read for students, but there are a wealth of ideas and resources for teachers to explore. The good news is that finding that wealth of ideas and resources is now a whole lot easier.

Journal questions, themes and symbols from the novel, literary elements for focus, and topics for projects, research, or interdisciplinary study are available for your use with this Esperanza Rising teacher guide. It’s a busy teacher’s dream come true!


Before you read this novel, it is important to provide students with some background information so they can visualize the events in the novel and the reason things happen. Rather than simply introduce the information, create a KWL chart (Know-Want to know-Learned) with your class. You will be learning about the Mexican Revolution, the Great Depression, and migrant workers in America, so you will need three separate charts.

After you’ve listed what students Know and Want to know, provide books, pictures, posters, movies, or whatever other resources you can get your hands on so that they can discover information for themselves. You can ask them to work in groups to compile what they’ve learned, or you can compile the information all together as a class using websites for more information about the Great Depression, the Mexican Revolution, and migrant workers in America.

Journal Questions

  1. If someone is different from you, is it okay to treat them differently? Why or why not?
  2. What do you value most in life? If you could only choose three valuable items, what would be on your list?
  3. Is it more important to have a goal and/or dream in life or is it more important to live day by day?
  4. Would you rather be wealthy and unhappy or poor and happy?
  5. Are you a patient person? If yes, give an example of when you displayed patience. Why is it important to be patient?

Themes from the Novel

Which quotes from the novel could be used as evidence for the following themes?

  • change
  • appreciation
  • stereotypes
  • strength in unity

Symbols from the Novel

  • 393px-Red rose

    Roses — Love, like a rose, takes time to grow. Thorns can be painful, but when the rose blossoms, it is beautiful and worth the pain of the thorns. Also, rose petals can symbolize the loss of love, sadness, or life is losing its bloom. Finally, drinking rose hip tea symbolizes how memories of the past will always be cherished and kept.

  • Zig-Zag Crochet Pattern — This pattern symbolizes life’s ups and downs, conflicts and resolutions.

  • The trunk at the foot of Esperanza’s bed — The trunk used to symbolize Esperanza’s future. With the fire, her future plans have been destroyed. Now she must start from the ground up with nothing.

  • Piñata —When Esperanza fills the piñata with candy, it symbolizes the reward for working hard. When Esperanza finds the piñata later with the insides torn out, it symbolizes a stolen reward, a loss of motivation.

Literary Elements

  • Conflict
    • Man vs. Man (the men who kill her father, Tío Luis and Tío Marco’s pressure, Marta harasses Esperanza when she arrives in California).
    • Man vs. Nature (the fire that destroys her home, the dust storm, the cold).
    • Man vs. Society (the separation of class in Mexico, the prejudice against migrant workers in California, the strikers who are sent back to Mexico).
    • Man vs. Self (Esperanza is embarrassed by her mother’s behavior on the train, Esperanza is torn between being Miguel’s friend and acting like a rancher’s daughter, Esperanza must swallow her pride and ask Isabel to teach her how to take care of the children).
  • Foreshadowing
    • “You will regret your decision, Ramona. You must keep in mind that this house and those grapes are on my property. I can make things difficult for you. Very difficult.” (p. 32) Tío Luis’ statement forewarns of a change for Mama and Esperanza if Mama does not comply with his wishes.
    • “I will pray for you, Esperanza. That you can be strong. No matter what happens.” (p. 138) Mama knows their future is uncertain, so she prays for the unknown challenges Esperanza will have to face in the future.
  • Irony
    • When the twins, Lupe and Pepe, get sick from eating plums, Esperanza knows how to help them feel better. She feeds them rice water. This situation contrasts with Esperanza’s need for instruction when it came time for her to care for the children on her own. Esperanza had to be taught how to complete basic chores around the house. She knew this remedy without having to be taught.
    • The strike was set for the day of the dust storm. They were going to strike to not pick cotton. After the dust storm, the cotton was buried in dirt and there was nothing to strike over. They also had no jobs.
    • Miguel, when asked why anything can’t be done about the strikers, says, “It’s a free country.”(203) The irony is that even though it is a free country, Mexicans were being repatriated at this time. Strikers might have thought they had the right to free speech, but when their voices became too loud, they were piled onto buses and sent to Mexico, even if they were born U.S. citizens and had never set foot in another country before.
    • Josefina asks, “How could anyone starve with so much food around…?” (p. 204). It is an ironic statement because while there is food everywhere, it does not belong to them. Also, some of the hungriest, neediest people in the country at the time tried to find work in one of the most bountiful regions of the country.
  • Characterization
    • Since the entire novel is about Esperanza’s journey to accepting the changes in her life, students should be able to describe the protagonist from the beginning of the novel and note the changes that take place as she encounters conflicts and finds resolutions. What is Esperanza like in the beginning? How does she act? What do other people think of her? What are the things Esperanza might say or think in particular situations? Compare this information to Esperanza at the end of the story.

Research Ideas

  • Literature:
    • Identify famous California writers and poets.
    • Create a list of works or famous quotes about roses.
    • Read about the phoenix and other mythological creatures. Which one would you choose as a symbol of your life?
  • History: The Great Depression, the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights, migration in America.
  • Science: Dust Storms, pneumonia.

Project Ideas

  • 800px-Piñata in San Diego

    Grow a vegetable garden

  • Create a yarn doll

  • Crochet a blanket

  • Make your own piñata

  • Make a class-sized paper quilt with pictures of fruits/vegetables, characters, settings, and symbols from the novel.

  • Learn a set of sentences or helpful phrases in Spanish. If you already know Spanish, try French, Italian, or any other language that interests you.

  • Try making one of these foods from the novel.

    • coconut, lime, and papaya salad
    • salsa
    • flour tortillas
    • pepinos (sliced cucumbers with lemon juice sprinkled with chile powder and salt)
  • Esperanza means ‘Hope’ in Spanish. What does your name mean? Does your name’s meaning represent your personality?