Sandra Cisnero’s “My Name” is a wonderfully short vignette, and I knew the moment I read it that I wanted to put it in front of my reading class. I love my reading class to death, but as the name suggests, sometimes getting them engaged in reading and writing can be difficult. These are students that have been burned by education before or just have not been able to focus on school for one reason or another.
Often times as I teach this class, I realize my students are often apathetic or disengaged because they feel that the education system is just not interested in who they are. It is something that is forced on them or that they just have to “get through” to become an adult.
So it becomes my mission to try and refocus them on what the goal is, and let them realize that while yes, education is sometimes a thing we don’t want to engage it, it can absolute center on them. And I do this by teaching Sandra Cisnero’s “My Name.”
Identity in Reading Classes
I find the easiest way to get my students reengaged in reading and writing is by having them look at their own lives as being worthy of recording. I usually start the week off asking students very low stakes questions as bell ringers.
For example, this week I asked my students for their favorite dinner recipes. And they had so much fun just discussing the nuances of bread crumbs on mac and cheese or if cheese was enough of a topping. They interrogated me on my own style of cooking, and it was a very fun, easy way to learn more about who my students are. While I engaged my students in discussion, I also presented the bell ringer as a Google Form so that students who weren’t comfortable talking could quietly have their moment with me.
I use that small bell ringer to pivot into discussions about their names and how our names can have complex emotions and memories tied to them. By this point, we have read an excerpt from Mark Mathabane’s “Kaffir Boy”, Jason Kim’s “Hello, My Name Is ____” and Santha Rama Rau’s “By Any Other Name.” Students are aware that I am prepping them to speak about themselves and their culture.
So when I present them with their assessment, a sweeping creative writing project on their names mimicking Sandra Cisnero’s “My Name”, they smile and tell me it is easy.
As always, I start students off with an anticipation guide. They start off telling me if they think their names define them, if maybe anyone has said their name wrong and they felt disrespected. It can be a vulnerable space to put them in, so I clarify our class norms from the outset and make sure to be present to correct any students who may be inclined to be tease.
We then read Sandra Cisnero’s “My Name” completely. You can choose to have students read it. But I usually put on my headset, dim the lights, and read it for them so they have a clear understanding of what is going on. I don’t interrupt myself, I just read it through completely. And then we take a moment to pause and discuss our thoughts on Esperanza, who she is as a character, and if they can relate to her.
Then we close read the portion of the text where she is commenting on her great-grandmother’s fate. How she inherited her name from her, but her great-grandmother was kidnapped and forced into a marriage. I always have to re-read this part for students. And I ask them what they think about the fact that Esperanza’s great-grandmother was forced into a marriage. It makes for great reactions when students finally process what I am saying and gets them more motivated to invest in the text.
Questions and Metaphor and Simile
This vignette is filled with great metaphors and similes. Most students often don’t remember metaphor and simile outside of early middle school. But this vignette presents students with a non-cheesey way to play with metaphors and similes in a way that isn’t cringey.
Mentor Essay Planning
Finally, we get to the real exciting part. I break down Sandra Cisnero’s “My Name” into paragraphs students can mimic, and guide students with several questions, asking them to create their own essay based on their own names.
Their faces usually light up at this.
They want to share with their peers and the important adults in their life about how they feel about all things. And allowing them to speak on their identity in such a raw and artistic way allows them a great outlet for it.
As students plan, I rotate the room and show them my planning so that if they get stuck on something I can show them how I workshopped through it by myself and I ask them for input on how to improve mine.
When students start composing their own essays, I sit with them in small groups and add detailed feedback on how to improve their essays, pushing them to use techniques we have learned in class throughout the semester.
I usually have great success having students compose TikToks, so this is an activity I sometimes complete with students. They tell me their essential understanding from Sandra Cisnero’s “My Name” or they record their own essay in a condensed TikTok. I have them fill out a planning sheet before they are allowed to film the TikTok itself.
Recording Videos or Podcasts
In lieu of TikToks, this year I am having students record their essays on video. We will be using the recording studio for our school’s news show and students will be reading their essay into the camera.
If students choose to not be on camera, they can go into isolation booths and record their essay as a podcast audio.
Presenting goes one of two ways: 1) they present to the class with a few going on the school news show with student permission, or 2) they privately show me their videos and audios. I grade their presentations using a 3-point rubric I provide to them ahead of time.