by Analia Wells, M.A. TESOL, NBPTS
“Blake’s Secret” by J. V. Torres i s not only a story about being popular in High school, but also a story about friendship, trust, betrayal and disappointment. Even though the plot is simple, there’s so much that can be taught with this book. The central message is a message that can resonate with most students no matter their age. If you are looking for a short, easy story to discuss the relationship between friendship and being popular in high school, this might be a great book. In addition, it provides your learners with pre- reading, during- during and post- reading activities for students to clarify comprehension as well as to participate in discussions. As I was reading the story, I was making all sorts of connections in ways I could incorporate this text into my lessons and also in ways I could link it to previous content. This story has a lot of potential to have the students do a lot of interdisciplinary activities. With a great instructional unit, Blake’s Secret could be used as the basal text to develop effective lessons.
Since this text was created with the ELLs in mind, I think it is appropriate to mention a few cultural aspects about the story that can affect its comprehension.
Most of our ESL students come from collectivistic cultures. Unlike America’s culture, which is extremely individualistic, the concept of being popular is not a common idea at all. Even more, being popular, egocentric and high profile, is not considered a good trait to have in most of the cultures that are not individualistic. People from collectivistic cultures values more working together as a group than trying to stand out alone.
For ELLs new to the American culture, it may not be very relevant the concept of popularity.
On another note, it’s not clear by the character of the mother and by Blake’s words whether they are homeless by choice or because they have lost everything they had. It seems that Blake has somewhere else to go, but he chooses to stay with his mother sometimes because he is worried about her.
For some ELLs coming from refugee camps that look like that tent or even worse, it may seem like no big deal to be homeless. It has been part of their journey and it makes them stronger because they were able to survive.
I find these two the main cultural considerations to take into account when introducing the text to ELLs.
I think these two concepts could be used to develop lessons to teach students about the importance of being proud of who they are and where they come from. In that sense, I feel the book has a lot of potential.
One of my students was wondering if this was an autobiographical story or not. He said: “I wondered if this happened to the author,” which I thought it was a good question to ask himself that.
When I introduced to the text, I started by asking them what makes a boy popular at school? Their answers were hilarious. One boy said: “You are popular if act cool, dress cool and don’t cry”. Another one said: “You are popular is you are a youtuber.”
I think in today’s world with the influence of social media, being popular has a different meaning from what it used to be. That’s an important consideration to take into account in our regular practice.
If I had to develop lessons using this book, I’d start with the quote at the beginning. “Being popular and being loved are not the same.” I’d would try to have a discussion about this and then dive into the story.
In terms of language and teaching I would include activities that are more rigorous. The pre-reading activities can be a more about character traits that the actual sequence of events. I am thinking about using the story to develop critical thinking skills. In other words, using the easy text to develop more challenging thinking and new concepts.
As a student, I think it would be really hard for me to guess what’s going to happen or what the book is going to be about if I don’t know much about the characters.
Also, I’d would teach the difference in meaning between “laughing at someone” as in “making fun of someone”, is different from laughing with someone or laughing at something.
For the questions on p. 8 I’d use some graphic organizers to teach cause and effect.
I think this text is a great choice to teach a lot of concepts to ESL students. The language is clear and the plot is easy to follow. With the proper planning and resources it could be linked to a lot of other disciplines. If this story is used in addition to other lessons, it has the potential to be an amazing tool.
Even though the book provides the students with reading activities, it could be supplemented with additional tasks, graphic organizers and extension activities.
I really enjoyed reading this story and thinking about how I’d use it in the classroom or what I’d do with it.
The story is perfect for ELLs in their early stages of reading development because is an easy read that portraits a situation that could really happen to anyone.