El Papel de las Fronteras en Nuestras Vidas

Grade Level: 12
Subject Areas: Spanish 3+, AP Spanish
Time Required:  3 Weeks (45 minute classes)
Prepared by: Cheryl Smith; Saydel High School; Des Moines, IA
Keywords: personal and public identities, global challenges, binationalism, culture, murals, self-expression, beauty and aesthetics

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C. Smith Saydel HeadshotCheryl Smith teaches Spanish and is the gifted/talented program coordinator at Saydel High School in Des Moines, IA. Before moving to Iowa in 2004, Cheryl taught Spanish in her home town of St. Louis, MO, where she began focusing on the issues of ethnicity and race and how our environment and personal experiences shape our identity. She has worked with both teachers and students in many roles in school communities, such as mentoring and coaching career teachers, supervising student teachers, collaborating with differentiated instruction, and mentoring and coaching gifted and talented students. When not teaching, Cheryl spends time with her husband and three teenage children. She is an avid reader, gardener, and walker. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and @SraCSmith.

Curriculum Vitae


People living in border communities often exemplify a duality of identity that is unfamiliar to students who do not come from these regions. By studying how people on the border experience dual identities and cultures, students can begin to understand how geographical location and historical events shape their personal identities. Focusing on intertwining the AP Spanish themes of Personal and Private Identity, Global Challenges, and Beauty and Aesthetics, this unit seeks to engage students in conversations about how where they come from shapes who they are.

Gina Valdés illustrates this concept of dual identity beautifully in her poem “Where You From?”

Soy de aquí
y soy de allá
from here
and from there

Students will explore a variety of narratives describing the challenges of living on the border through authentic texts, audio, poetry, art, and song. They will engage in discussion and debate about what it means to be binational and the challenges associated with biculturalism, Additionally, students will connect this learning with discussions about the roles of borders in their own communities--geographic, cultural, personal, and how lines and delineations shape us. 

Essential Question: How are our stories shaped and told by borders and walls?


  • What are the implicit and explicit functions of walls?
  • What societal changes result due to borders and walls?
  • What are the walls or borders (visible, invisible, tangible, intangible) that separate us from each other? 


Interpersonal Communication Standard:

IAWL.IPL: Express self and negotiate meaning in the target language by appropriately engaging in unrehearsed conversations and/or correspondence to actively participate in social interactions (face-to-face or electronically) as a global citizen.

IAWL.4.IPL2.IM2: Handle short social interactions in everyday situations by asking and answering a variety of questions.

IAWL.4.IPL2.IM3: Usually say what I want to say about myself and my everyday life.

IAWL.4.IPL1.IM1: Participate in conversations on familiar topics using sentences and series of sentences.

Presentational standard:

IAWL.PRE: Present information, concepts, and ideas in the target language through appropriately prepared oral and written discourse to inform, persuade, and narrate on a variety of topics to a diverse audience.

IAWL.4.PRE1.IM1: Make presentations on a wide variety of familiar topics using connected sentences.

IAWL.4.PRE2.IM2: Write on a wide variety of familiar topics using connected sentences.

Interpretive standard:

IAWL.ITV: Interpret authentic written/spoken/signed language by applying appropriate comprehension strategies to extract meaning and use information for personal and/or community enrichment.

IAWL.4.ITV1.IM1: Understand the main idea in messages and presentations on a variety of topics related to everyday life and personal interests and studies.

IAWL.4.ITV1.IM2: Understand the main idea in conversations that I overhear.

IAWL.4.ITV2.IM3: Understand the main idea of texts related to everyday life and personal interests or studiesPA State Standards, Social Studies Link

1. Poems:

“Where You From?”  - Gina Valdes

“English con Salsa” - Gina Valdes

2. Articles:

Vivir en El Paso cuesta más de doble que en Juárez

El viaje entre dos países que una estudiante tiene que hacer a diario para ir al colegio

Lin Manuel Sale en defensa de los inmigrantes

3. Film:

“Precious Knowledge” - Dos Vatos Films

4. Songs:

“La Frontera” - Juan Gabriel

“México Americano”  La Santa Cecilia -  (En Vivo) Ft. Rebel Cats."

"The Hamilton Mixtape: Immigrants (We Get The Job Done).” Hamilton Mixtape

5. Videos:

La huella latina en EEUU  

Niños cruzan la frontera cada día para ir a la escuela

6. Photos of murals from El Paso / Juárez

7. Maps of West Texas and El Paso / Juárez region

8. Bus for field trip to visit murals in Des Moines

9. Computer Access

10. Internet Resources

11. Laptop with Projector

12. Paper and Pen

See student processing packet for how to implement learning plan in the classroom.

Hook: Students will look at a map of their city with no school district lines removed. The students will be asked to work with a partner to create boundaries for the districts in the area based on their own understanding of where they might be. Students will then share out with the class about why they drew the lines where they did, explaining their thinking.

Next, students will compare the boundary maps that they created and compare them with the actual boundary lines. They will examine the question: Why are the borders where they are? What does this show us?

Students will read the poem “Where You From?” by Gina Valdés and analyze the theme and language use of the poem. Next they will listen to the song “La Frontera” by Juan Gabriel and analyze the theme of the song. As a formative assessment, they will compare the meanings and intents of each author regarding their experiences living on a border.

The elements of literacy are noted here:

  1. Knowing
  2. Listening
  3. Memorizing
  4. Noticing
  5. Observing
  6. Performing
  7. Questioning
  8. Reading
  9. Speaking
  10. Thinking (metacognition)
  11. readers, literati
  12. Viewing
  13. Writing (wonderment)          




Some students may consider learning more about border issues through the lenses of history, current events, art, literature, and oral history. Students wish to learn more through listening to narratives can examine podcasts and oral histories about people living on the border.

Un Mundo Ideal

UTEP Institute of Oral History

These students could put together a brief 3-5 minute presentation about how individuals and communities are divided by the borders between them and how those divisions are manifested in their personal identities.

Students who are Spanish-speakers can interview a family member or friend about their experiences with binationalism and borders. How has their geographical location affected their sense of identity and belonging?




Formative Assessments

Summative Assessments

Presentational Speaking:

In groups, students will analyze and examine photos of murals in El Paso and Juárez. As students examine the murals they will consider the following questions:

  1. ¿Cómo escogieron los temas para los murales?
  2. ¿Qué representa los murales para los artistas y las personas de la comunidad?
  3. ¿Qué conexión tienen el movimiento muralista con la identidad cultural de una

Students will present a short 3-5 minute presentation about the mural to the class.

Presentational Writing Assessment:

After reading and discussing the articles about El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, students will complete a guided presentational writing activity to answer the question: ¿Dónde vivirías si pudieras escoger? ¿El Paso o Ciudad Juárez? Students will use a variety of processing strategies to understand how to select specific supporting information and evidence from the articles that they have read to fully support their argument.

Presentational Speaking Assessment:

Students will embark on a field trip through Des Moines, in which we will examine murals in our own community. As students examine the murals, they will consider the same questions that were presented in the formative assessment. Students will then be asked to complete a presentational speaking assessment, in which they are given 4 minutes to prepare a two minute comparison of the following theme:

Compare and contrast the meanings of how walls  reflect culture in our community with the walls in El Paso, Ciudad Juárez. Focus on either explicit or implicit meaning of literal and/or figurative walls in these communities.

Interpersonal Speaking Assessment: (formative)

Students will participate in a class debate.

After watching the video and completing a graphic organizer in order to more fully comprehend the topic, students will participate in a class debate regarding the following topic: ¿Se debe permitir enseñar clases sobre la identidad cultural en las escuelas públicas?

Interpersonal Speaking Assessment:

Students will answer the following questions weekly speaking assessment questions:

  • ¿Cuál es la función de una frontera? (explícita e implícita)
  • ¿Cuáles cambios entre sociedades se resultan a causa de los muros?
  • ¿Cuáles son las fronteras o muros (visibles, invisibles, tangibles, intangibles) que nos separamos?

Various Interpretive (reading and listening) Assessments

Various Interpretive (reading and listening) Assessments



  • Teach using multiple input/output strategies — visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic.
  • Use several learning channels simultaneously (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and mnemonic devices for memory). Research findings suggest that hearing, seeing, and saying a word (concept) simultaneously enhances memory.
  • Use visual aids when appropriate.


  • For reinforcement, provide ample time to discover, practice, and use meaningful mnemonic devices, such as songs with specified grammatical sentence structures or special rhythms; reinforce concepts by using acronyms (for example, USA = United States of America), drawings, and gestures.
  • Provide additional practice as necessary.


  • Create outlines or study guides for the students to fill in or follow along with as the concepts are being taught.
  • Teach concepts in a logical progression and help the student categorize concepts.
  • Provide structured, explicit overviews of the material covered. Examples include study guides of the day's activities, summary sheets, graphic representations, and semantic maps.


  • Help the student think about the concept to be learned and to explain the concept in his/her own words.  Knowing why assists the student in learning to develop self-confidence in identifying and correcting his/her own errors.



Carlson, Lori M., and Oscar Hijuelos. Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States. New York: Square Fish, 2013. 4-21. Print.

Chaparro, Luis. "Vivir En EP Cuesta Más Del Doble Que En Juárez." Nortedigital. Norte Digital, 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 21 July 2017.

Gabriel, Juan. "La Frontera." Musica De La Frontera: Archivo De La Música Mexicana-Americana = Archive of Mexican- American Music. UCLA Library, Digital Collections, n.d. CD.

Ganschow, Leonore, and Elke Schneider. "Assisting Students with Foreign Language Learning Difficulties in School." Assisting Students with Foreign Language Learning Difficulties in School | LD Topics | LD OnLine. LD Online, n.d. Web. 23 July 2017.

"The Hamilton Mixtape: Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)." YouTube. YouTube, 28 June 2017. Web. 23 July 2017.

"Lin Manuel Sale En Defensa De Los Inmigrantes." Revista TVyNovelas. Revista TV Y Novelas, 29 June 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.

La Santa Cecilia VEVO. "La Santa Cecilia - México Americano (En Vivo) Ft. Rebel Cats." YouTube. YouTube, 26 June 2017. Web. 23 July 2017.

McGee, Kate. "The Two-country Journey One Student Takes Every Day to Get to School."Public Radio International. N.p., 5 Nov. 2015. Web. 23 July 2017.

Precious Knowledge. Dos Vatos Films, 2011. DVD.

UnivisionNoticias. "Niños Cruzan La Frontera Cada Día Para Ir a La Escuela." YouTube. YouTube, 09 Oct. 2016. Web. 23 July 2017.Anzaldúa, Gloria. (n.d.): n. pag. To Live in the Border Means You. Web.





Des Moines, which is located almost in the middle of the country, is about as far from a border as you can get. As I considered what I want students to understand about U.S.-México borderlands histories and experiences, I was mindful about not focusing solely on immigrant experiences. Rather, I wanted to illustrate the divide and internal conflicts that accompany binationalism and a deep longing to belong to two separate cultures.  

By experiencing these narratives through song, poetry, and news stories about adolescents’ desire to belong, students will understand that the concept of dual identity is not limited to binationalism but can reflect their own human desire to be understood in multiple contexts.

Download the Microessay



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R. Joseph Rodriguez &
Ignacio Martinez
UTEP NEH: 2019 Summer Institute for Teachers
(915) 747-7054

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