Planning my “El Salvador Civil War” Unit for Spanish 4

One of my favorite units to teach is my unit on the Civil War in El Salvador leading up to my MS-13 unit. I teach this in Spanish 4 and it is generally really well-received by my students. I think it is important, prior to reading Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha, that students have an understanding of the background of these young men who eventually formed the most dangerous gang in the world. Because this unit has many components, and people often ask me about it, I decided it was time to detail it here on my blog. This unit takes 2-3 weeks to complete.

1. Romero movie

2 class periods. This movie is in English, however it provides a powerful view of the conflict and the affects on the Salvadoran people during the civil war. If you have Amazon prime, it is free to stream!

2. Romero reading

1 class period. Play quizlet with new Quizlet diagrams feature individually to introduce some key terms. Students read the 1-page biography of Father Oscar Romero either individually or in pairs/3s. Afterward, I am going to discuss the reading with the whole class, and then have students reply to my prompt (“¿Cómo era un amigo a los campesinos el Padre Romero?”) in FlipGrid. Students will be required to respond to at least 2 classmates’ responses as well.

3. Song

1/2 class period. Work with the song Padre Antonio y su monaguillo Andres by Rubén Blades. This song is the story of a fictional priest in El Salvador whose story has many similarities to that of Oscar Romero.

I start by handing out the sheets with the individual lines of the song to my students. Each student will get 1-2 lines depending on the size of the class. They must figure out what their lines mean (they may use a dictionary or for help). They then illustrate their line from the song on the sheet.

After all of the lines are illustrated, I give each student a magnet or a piece of tape. The class listens to the song and puts the lines from the song in order on my board as they listen.

Once all of the lyrics are up and in order, I have my students do a “Gallery Walk” in pairs with the illustrated lyrics and discuss with their partner what they think the song is about.

Finally, I hand them a set of the complete lyrics and they work with their partner to fill in the Venn Diagram comparing Padre Antonio to Padre Romero.

4. Infographic Project

1 1/2 class periods. The Civil War in El Salvador infographic mini-project is another reading and processing activity. I give my students the timeline reading, and in small groups or individually they are to come up with a way of visually representing the information.

5. Voces Inocentes Film Study

1-2 class periods. I begin our study of Voces Inocentes by introducing my students to the poem Ascención by Alfredo Espino. I created an embedded reading of this poem in order to make it more accessible to my students. I have my students read each level of the poem in small groups and we discuss each level together. I do a “dramatic reading” of the poem once we all understand it well. I don’t tell them it is part of the movie, and they are always surprised when they hear it! For more information on using the embedded reading technique, please visit Lauri Clarcq and Michele Whaley’s awesome website!

1/2 class period or less. Either before we start the movie or after the first day of viewing the movie, I introduce the song “Casas de cartón.” I give students a cloze-listening activity and we listen to the song 2-3 times as they complete the cloze. We then discuss the meanings of the lyrics (we translate it together).

2-4 class periods for movie depending on how much you stop and discuss. Next we watch the movie Voces Inocentes. This movie is rated R, so please preview and if needed, get parental and administrator permission before viewing with students. The R rating is for war-related violence and disturbing/violent themes. As we watch the movie, I stop frequently and discuss what we are seeing in Spanish. I occasionally clarify in English if students are confused.

1 class period. After viewing the movie, students complete the reading from the film study packet. This reading is fairly long, and will take 30 minutes or so depending on their reading skills. I have my students then complete the movie viewing guide (yes, I know, we do it AFTER the movie!). This reinforces the reading and reviews the key points.

1/2 class period. Next, I give the event cards out randomly to students. The class must work together without the use of their reading packet to put the events in the correct chronological order from the movie. Then, I have students take a quiz over the movie.

1 class period. As students enter the class I have the song “El niño soldado” by SKA-P playing. It is a very upbeat-sounding and fast song. We read an article from the Voces Inocentes film study packet about child soldiers. I want my students to know that this wasn’t an isolated issue in El Salvador, but that it happens all over the world and is happening today. Then, we look at the lyrics to the song “El niño soldado” and translate it together. Finally, we do the cloze activity and the students are surprised to find out it was the song they heard as they were coming into class!

1 class period. Finally, I introduce my students to the 30 universal human rights which we will be revisiting in other units during the year. I show them a quick video. Then, they read the universal rights (I modified the language to make them more comprehensible) and complete the writing prompt.





  1. Hi, these resources are great! I recently began teaching a class on Latin American history and use the film Innocent Voices – do you have some of your Spanish Resources translated to English? Not all of my students are Spanish Speaking as it is an history elective class. Also, I would love some info on the MS-13 unit as well. Thank you!

  2. Hello, Kristy,
    This will be my third time teaching this unit and each year I add more because of the wonderful resources shared by great CI teachers such as yourself! Tonight, I bought your “Voces Inocentes” film study and created a list of vocabulary words to go with it to help my students as they read the beautiful summary you prepared! If you are interested, I’d be happy to share it with you. I also found just a few typos in the summary. Let me know if I may share them with you.
    Again, thank you for generously sharing your ideas, lesson plans, and thoughts…bendición.

    1. Hello Mary Ann, I just finished watching the movie in class, we are ready to work with the packet. Can you please share your vocabulary. Thank you, I appreciate it.

  3. We all appreciate your work on this particular unit! I am in the middle of it right now. We just did two days with Casas de Cartón. Could you share a bit more about how you do the “dramatic” reading of Ascensión? That sounds interesting. Thanks!

  4. Just another example.
    , when you have time 😊, of a CI teacher combining history, authentic texts, songs, movies, w/a made for Spanish speakers “novel”. This is one kind of unit that I worked on this summer around the Spanish civil war. This is another example of the blogs I follow from CI teachers.

    Sent from my Windows Phone

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