Novel Engagement: Esperanza Rising

Ten different engaging, fun activities and projects for students to engage them in Pam Munoz Ryan's novel, Esperanza Rising.

Create an uncommon learning experience and memorable moments with your students as you delve into the novel, Esperanza Rising.  Pam Munoz Ryan's award winning book is a powerful piece of historical fiction and a great read for your upper elementary class.  These hands-on activities are sure to engage your students in the learning process.
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1. Sample Esperanza's food

Food plays an important role in the novel, Esperanza Rising, both figuratively and literally.  Throughout the book, Esperanza's life is connected to the variety of crops that are harvested.  Each chapter represents a different fruit or vegetable that plays a significant role in the story.

Ten different engaging, fun activities and projects for students to engage them in Pam Munoz Ryan's novel, Esperanza Rising.


While you are reading, bring in the different foods that portray major events in Esperanza's life.  For example, bring in plums for students to try in the Las Ciruelas chapter.  Give students the opportunity to taste them (always check for food allergies first)!

2. Have a heated debate

An important topic that arises in the novel is whether Esperanza and her family should go on strike.  Marta offers up some powerful reasons as to why the workers should refuse to do their jobs.  Esperanza and Miguel's families, however, strongly believe that a strike would not be a good option.

Divide your class into two groups and have them debate whether or not the characters should go on strike.  Students should use examples from the book (and outside research) to back up their reasonings.

3. Simulate the Dust Storm with a STEM Challenge

Provide students with a variety of STEM materials (tape, cardboard, string, popsicle sticks, saran wrap, etc.) and have them create a cabin similar to the one Esperanza lives in.  The challenge is to construct a building that is strong enough to withstand a dust storm.

Students can work in groups or pairs to design their cabin over the course of a few hours or days.  Once all structures are completed, use a hair dryer to simulate the storm.  I recommend testing the structures outside!  Which cabin will be strong enough?

4. Design a scrapbook for Esperanza

As a culminating project for Esperanza Rising, have students create a scrapbook of her adventures over the course of the novel.  Each page of the scrapbook could represent one chapter of the book.
The illustrations, captions and wording that students use on each page should show their understanding of the events of each chapter.

5. Create a Reader's Theater for Esperanza Rising

What better way to engage students in what they are reading than having them get up and reenact it?  Create a few small groups in your class and have them each choose a scene to act out (or you can assign them specific ones).

Students can simply use the book or re-write the scene to make it easier to read.  Have them choose roles and practice acting.  They can even add props and costumes to enhance their performance!  Once they are ready, each group can perform in front of their class (or visit another class to share!).

6. Create a piñata

In the Los Aguacates chapter, Esperanza shares her piñata for Mama with the children in Marta's camp.  In the following chapter, she goes back to the camp with Miguel to discover that the piñata has been "...beaten with a stick, its insides torn out."

Bring in materials to create a piñata with your class (or get one from a party store) .  Allow students to (safely!) beat the piñata apart.  Then have a discussion about what it means to be "beaten apart" and how it connects to the characters in the novel.

7. Listen to Esperanza Rising on Audio

Audio books are an amazing way for students to experience a book, especially one that has a different language in it.  Your class will be able to hear the correct pronunciation of all the Spanish words and names with a beautiful accent.  The narrator portrays the raw and powerful emotions as she takes the listeners through the story.  I highly recommend listening to at least a few of the chapters of Esperanza Rising on audio!

8. Track the mountains and valleys of Esperanza's life

Abuelita tells Esperanza that "...after you have lived many mountains and valleys, we will be together."  As you read the novel, track Esperanza's obstacles and successes on a chart paper, illustrating it to look like mountains and valleys.  I used banner paper to create this visual for students, since it got quite long as we wrapped it around the classroom.

Ten different engaging, fun activities and projects for students to engage them in Pam Munoz Ryan's novel, Esperanza Rising.

9. Research the settings of Esperanza Rising

Both the geographical place and the historical time period are pivotal to Esperanza's experiences in the novel.  Keep a map on the wall for students to access while discussing the locations in the book - Mexico and California.  Bring in resources for students to learn about Mexico in the 1930s and the Mexican Revolution.  Discuss how the settings have a strong impact on Esperanza's life.

10. Create a figurative language quilt

Esperanza Rising relies on many instances of figurative language to capture Esperanza's complex emotions and the vivid settings of the story.  Have students search for examples of metaphor, simile, personification, idiom or hyperbole in the text.

Next, ask them to depict each example in an illustration to explain its meaning and significance.  Give each student a square piece of paper for their drawing.  On their paper, they should write the quote from the book and the type of figurative language, along with their illustration.  Once they are all done, stitch the squares together to form a classroom quilt.

Grab the Esperanza Rising Novel Study before you begin reading with your class.  By engaging your students in their reading, it will be a book experience they won't soon forget!

Ten different engaging, fun activities and projects for students to engage them in Pam Munoz Ryan's novel, Esperanza Rising.

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