Before We Were Free Julia Alvarez novel study curriculum, click HERE for lessons on TpT.
Teaching a new novel to a classroom full of students can be challenging, but also incredibly rewarding. By introducing them to new themes and concepts, you broaden their horizons, inspiring them to reflect on the world around them. One such novel that can help your students think deeply about identity, power, and freedom is Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez. Set in the Dominican Republic during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, the novel tells the story of young girl named Anita and her family, who must navigate a world of violence and oppression, leading to their escape to the United States. In this blog post, we will explore how to teach When We Were Free and engage your students in reflecting on and discussing the novel’s themes, and examining how these themes relate to their own lives.
Creating Interest: Introduce the Book to Your Students
The challenge here is to grab your students’ attention and get them excited about reading the book. One way to do this is by offering a brief overview of the novel’s plot, engaging them in a discussion about key themes and questions, and encouraging active participation in creating an open and non-judgmental classroom environment. In doing so, you can help them establish a personal connection to the story and its themes.
For the Digital Course above CLICK HERE.
Using Pre-reading Activities to Build Cultural Awareness
Before diving into the novel itself, consider using pre-reading activities to help your students build an understanding of the cultural and historical context in which the novel is set. These activities can help students think critically about issues of power, race, ethnicity, identity, and inequality in society. They can also support your students’ reading comprehension, and provide them with a better appreciation of the novel’s significance.
Digging Deeper into the Novel
While reading through the novel, encourage your students to highlight key quotes and passages that resonate with them, and use these as a basis for classroom discussions, debates, writing assignments, and other activities. For instance, you can give your students a character analysis project, where they articulate their understanding of the novel’s characters and plot, or ask them to write a reflection essay, focusing on their deeper understandings of unity, identity, power, and oppression in the novel.
Encouraging Active Participation and Role-Playing
Another effective way to engage your students is by encouraging them to participate in interactive activities, such as role-playing, debates, and discussions. You could introduce the students to debates about the book’s themes, or even host a mock trial to explore the legal aspects of the plot. This will make the story come to life, and create an atmosphere of excitement, learning, and engagement.
- Understand the Historical Context of the Novel
Before teaching the novel ‘Before We Were Free Julia Alvarez, it is crucial to understand the historical context of the story. The novel talks about the events surrounding the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Therefore, as an educator, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the political, social, and economic context. This will give you an idea of how the characters in the story relate to the events of the time. Understanding the historical context will help you make meaningful connections between the events of the story and the reality of the people. This will enhance the students’ understanding of the novel.
- Use a Multimodal Approach
Teaching a novel requires using multiple methods of teaching. In teaching ‘When We Were Free Julia Alvarez, it is recommended to use various methods such as visual aids, guest speakers, and field trips. The visual aids can include pictures, maps, and videos of the events of the Trujillo dictatorship. Teaching aids will help to illustrate the major themes and concepts in the novel. Guest speakers and field trips can give students a better insight into the themes of the novel. The multimodal approach will help to engage the students, enhance their understanding of the novel, and make the teaching more interesting and interactive.
- Encourage Discussions
Having discussions in the classroom is an excellent way to promote deep learning and critical thinking. In teaching ‘When We Were Free’, it is important to encourage discussions on the themes and events of the story. You can do this by asking open-ended questions that encourage students to express their views and opinions. Creating small group discussions or classroom debates will also help students understand the multiple perspectives of the story. Encouraging discussions will enable students to develop empathy towards the characters and will help them reflect on the themes of the novel.
- Use Interactive Reading Strategies
Teachers can use interactive reading strategies to help students understand the novel better. Interactive reading strategies include guided reading, reading comprehension strategies, and literature circles. Guided reading involves the teacher providing scaffolding for the students as they read the novel. Reading comprehension strategies involve teaching students how to identify different elements of the story such as characters, plot, theme, and setting. Literature circles involve students working together in groups to analyze and understand the novel. An interactive reading strategy will make the reading process more enjoyable and engaging for the students.
- Use Creative Assessments
The final step in teaching ‘When We Were Free’ is to assess how well the students have understood the novel. Creative assessments can include essay writing, book reviews, group projects, and presentations. Creative assessments will enable students to showcase their understanding of the themes and concepts of the novel. Group projects and presentations can also help to develop students’ teamwork skills and public speaking skills. Creative assessments will make the learning process more enjoyable and interesting for the students.
6. Understanding the Context of the Novel
Before teaching Before We Were Free, it is important to provide students with some historical and cultural context. The novel is set during the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, a period of political oppression and violence that lasted from 1930 to 1961. Educators should provide some background information on Trujillo and his regime, including his brutal tactics for maintaining power and the impact of his rule on the Dominican people. Additionally, it may be helpful to explore the cultural traditions and customs that are depicted in the novel, such as food, music, and language.
7. Utilizing Active Reading Strategies
Before We Were Free is a complex novel that requires careful reading and analysis. Encourage students to use active reading strategies like highlighting, underlining, and note-taking as they read. Consider assigning reading journals or response papers that allow students to reflect on the themes and motifs in the novel. Classroom discussions and small group activities can also be effective for helping students to understand and interpret the text.
8. Connecting the Novel to Contemporary Issues
While Before We Were Free Julia Alvarez is set in the past, the themes and issues explored in the novel are still relevant today. Educators should encourage students to make connections between the novel and contemporary issues like nationalism, immigration, and political oppression. Consider incorporating multimedia sources like news articles or documentaries that explore these topics and help students to see how the themes of the novel relate to real-world issues.
9. Exploring Family and Identity
One of the central themes of Before We Were Free Julia Alvarez is family and the importance of familial relationships. Encourage students to explore the complex relationships between characters in the novel and the impact of these relationships on their individual identities. Ask students to consider how cultural traditions and expectations shape their own families and identities, and to reflect on the ways in which these experiences relate to the novel.
10. Engaging in Creative Activities
Finally, consider incorporating creative activities into your lesson plans to help students engage more deeply with the novel. For example, you might have students write their own short stories or journal entries from the perspective of one of the characters in the novel. Alternatively, students could create visual representations of the novel through art projects or other multimedia presentations.
Teaching When We Were Free Julia Alvarez is a wonderful opportunity to help your students reflect on their own lives and the world around them. By engaging them with open discussions, pre-reading activities, and interactive learning, this novel can inspire deep and meaningful reflection on themes critical to our society. Remember, it is important to create an environment where your students feel comfortable sharing their opinions, and they feel that their input matters. Ultimately, by using these teaching strategies, you can help your students understand and appreciate the resilience, courage, and complexity of characters in When We Were Free, leading to a more complete understanding of identity and freedom in the 21st century.