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ELA G5:M1:U2

Case Study: Esperanza’s Story

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The Foundational Reading and Language Standards Resources Package for Grades 3–5

Use this guide to build additional literacy blocks alongside the module lessons.


In this second unit, students will apply their new learning about human rights through a case study of how a fictional character responds to human rights challenges. This unit emphasizes the Reading Literature strand of the NYSP12 CCLS, with a study of the novel Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan (740L).

Students also read informational texts related to the story’s historical context. They will trace the journey of Esperanza, a young girl born into a comfortable life of privilege in Mexico in the 1930s who is forced to flee to California and must rise above her difficult circumstances. This unit is designed to deliberately build students’ ability to write routinely to learn. Almost daily, they will write short informational pieces in their reading journals, in which they record their interpretations of concrete details and quotations from the book. They will analyze characters’ responses to challenges and will analyze how Esperanza changes over time.

For the mid-unit assessment, students will independently read and analyze a new chapter in the novel, focusing on the challenges Esperanza faces, how she responds, and what that tells readers about her as a character. In the second half of the unit, students compare and contrast Esperanza to other characters in the novel, focusing specifically on how various characters respond to the challenges in their work camp and whether or not the migrant workers should strike. Students will create a two-voice poem contrasting the ways two different characters respond to a similar challenge.

They will then write a formal essay in which they analyze how Esperanza changes throughout the novel.

Note: This unit presumes that the teacher has carefully read Eperanza Rising in advance. This novel is at a 740 Lexile measure. However, it is quite complex on other qualitative measures of text complexity. See the Literary Text Qualitative Rubric (on for more on how to analyze text complexity.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What are human rights?
  • What lessons can we learn about human rights through literature and life?
  • We learn lessons about human rights from the experiences of real people and fictional characters.
  • Characters change over time in response to challenges (to their human rights).
  • People respond differently to similar events in their lives.
  • Authors conduct research and use specific language in order to impact their readers.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards. However, the module intentionally incorporates Social Studies content that many teachers may be teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below.


Texts to buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please refer to Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Cover Text Quantity ISBNs
Esperanza Rising
by Pam Muñoz Ryan
One Per Student
ISBN: 978-0439120425, 043912042x

Texts included in the unit

Texts that are included in the lesson materials.

Cover Text Quantity Publisher
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
by excerpts only



ELA G5:M1:U2:L9

Optional Activities

Invite a local poet to visit the class and critique students’ two-voice poems.




  • Invite students to explore children’s picture books that address similar themes to Esperanza Rising. See Recommended Texts lists:
  • Gleam and Glow, written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Peter Sylvada; 
  • Erandi’s Braids, written by Antonio Hernández Madrigal, illustrated by Tomie dePaola; 
  • Shin-chi’s Canoe, written by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Kim LaFave; 
  • Amelia’s Road/Camino de Amelia, written by Linda Jacobs Altman, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez, translated into Spanish by Enrique O. Sanchez
  • Have students learn more about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.
  • Consider issues of immigration and migrant farm labor in more recent times. 
  • Sarah E. Warren, Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, illustrated by Robert Casilla (Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2012), ISBN: 978-0-7614-6107-4
  • S. Beth Atkin, Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories (New York: Little, Brown, 2000), ISBN-13: 978-0316-056205, ISBN-10: 0316056200.
  • With the music teacher, explore traditional music of Mexico; folk music from the 1930s
  • Study Spanish vocabulary; explore Mexican customs and traditions

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