Mi nombre: a Writer’s Workshop for Heritage Speakers

Sneak peek: Here’s how I taught a five-day writer’s workshop about names in heritage speaker class.

Do you know the story of how you got your name? Some people are named after family members, or distinguished social leaders. Some people are named after the favorite TV show characters of the soap opera their mother was watching during the pregnancy, their parents favorite athletes or musicians, and others aren’t named after anyone at all, their parents just liked the name. For me, my parents decided moments after I came into the world, that I did not, “look like a Whitney!”

Even if you aren’t named after anyone in particular, everyone has a few experiences to share relating to their name. Does your name reflect your culture? Can people pronounce it correctly? Do you have nicknames related to your name? Do you even like your name? Do you think someone can truly “look like their name,” or do you ascribe more to the theory that we grow into our names as the years stack up being called by our name?

Mi nombre worksheets

In this writer’s workshop, my heritage speakers and I spend five days of lessons on the concept of a name, and what it’s like to have their name. This series of lessons accomplishes many things at once: students reflect on their identity as it relates to their name, glean insight from mentor texts, write a personal narrative, and make revisions after one-on-one conferencing with the teacher. Seriously though, I love teaching these lessons because they are PACKED with cultural reflection and empowerment, while also teaching students practical writing skills. Who knew it could be so much fun to pull similes out of students!?

This writer’s workshop is actually part of my Identity unit which is part of my Year One Curriculum. The end project for the Identity unit is a Spanglish identity poem. So these lessons aim to prepare students for that summative task at the end of the unit. There are five days in this writer’s workshop section of the Identity unit.

Day One & Two: Spoken Word Bilingual Assignment

Spoken word bilingual assignment

Have you heard of Elizabeth Acevedo? She is a brilliant, current-day poet who actually has two spoken-word poems centered around names. Acevedo is the perfect person to showcase in my Identity unit, not only because the summative task is a poem; but we also cover afrolatinidad in the unit and Elizabeth is Dominican-American proudly representing that corner and perspective of the Spanish speaking world. 

This Spoken Word Bilingual Assignment is a Google Slideshow which can be assigned to students for completion either inside or outside of class. Personally, I chose to work on it in class with my students because they needed some rhetoric and writing guidance as we worked to identify similes together.

Spoken word digital assignment

There are six spoken word videos total. In the accompanying Slides, students are asked to identify similes, metaphors, imagery, and personification from the videos.

I call this a bilingual assignment because the spoken word poems are in English with some Spanish sprinkled in throughout, while the questions on the Slides are in Spanish. Full disclosure, some of the poems have some colorful language in them, but I personally had no issues showing it to my high school students because, for me, the power inherent to the message far outweighed the cost of exposing them to a few swear words. Truthfully, they didn’t even bat an eye when a swear word was mentioned here or there but they DID mention how much they liked the poems. Worth it? For me, definitely, but I will let you decide what you are comfortable showing in your classroom. 

Working through this assignment took us two class periods. We start every class with 10 minutes of FVR so when you factor that in, this assignment took us around 90 minutes to complete.

Day Three: Mentor Texts

La  Casa en Mango Street book by Sandra Cisneros

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The next few days are spent preparing students to write a 100-word-minimum essay about their name, and illustrating the margins to create a class gallery walk. So, we start by first reading examples from mentor texts that make the concepts easily digestible.

The mentor texts are not long, so we were able to read them both in the same day. I also present a slideshow about the difference between simile, metaphor, and analogy. Using what they just learned from the slideshow, students go back and identify those literary devices in the mentor texts we just read. Students work on a digital worksheet (printable as well) that prompts them to look for certain literary devices in the texts.

Métaforas, símiles, y analogías slideshow

The two mentor texts we read are:

An excerpt from La casa en Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, a vignette called Mi nombre

la casa en mango street

A children’s book – Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre by Juana Martinez-Neal 

Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre

Day Four: Writing & Conferencing

worksheets for mi nombre writer's workshop

This is a day spent writing in class. Students are expected to write at least 100 words about the origin of their name, how they feel about their name, or what their name means. Chief among the objectives of the essay is that students must include a simile in their writing. 

As students finish their writing, I begin conferencing with them one-on-one. Giving immediate feedback is SO impactful. I call students up to my desk, they pull up a chair and we go over the rough draft they have written out to that point. I prefer to write ideas down for them on a post-it-note while explaining my suggestions. It’s a great vehicle for takeaways as the post-its are less intimidating and don’t mark up their paper, while still helping them produce a better final product. When students return to their desk they begin writing out their final draft.

Student writing example in  heritage Spanish class

The class time used to work on the essay creates a golden opportunity for conferencing one-on-one with your students to give them feedback in real time. When students have a specific writing task they are working on, like writing a simile, and then get feedback on it, they are improving their skills! This forward motion is such a great feeling for both student and teacher. 

I also love that conferencing gives me the chance to connect with my students individually, and in the hustle and flow of a hectic school schedule, it can be difficult to orchestrate that organically. So, I look to manufacture that connectivity and this assignment does the trick!

Day Five: Final Draft 

Writing about my name in Spanish class

Next, some students begin working on their final draft, while others still need to conference with me. By the end of this day, I aim to have met with each student individually, so they can all begin work on their final draft, ultimately ending in homework for some. Finally, I hang the final writing pieces on the walls of the hallway outside my classroom for a gallery walk activity. Students love getting a chance to read about their classmates’ names and what they do and don’t like about them.

By the end of this writer’s workshop, students accomplish a lot! They learn to identify five different literary devices, write a personal narrative including simile, revise their writing, and create something worth sharing! This writing piece is a great item to have on hand for parent teacher conferences because it is a short, yet vibrant, example of their work in class on a topic to which the family feels deeply connected.

Hola me llamo worksheets for writing

I’m always a huge fan of promoting conversations between students and family members in the home! In fact, at the beginning of this lesson series, students were tasked with the homework of asking their family members about how they received their name in order to learn more details they didn’t know before. This project gets students conversing with their parents about the origin of their name as it relates to their family and why it was chosen for them.

Here’s where you can find the resources mentioned in this post:

Are you looking for a free community-building activity for heritage speakers class? Check out this post.

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Mi nombre: a Writer's Workshop for Heritage Speaker Class
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