Strong Character in Leadership

Inquiry Learning Unit for Spanish Speakers in High School in a Community-Based School

Created by Joy Peyton, Coalition of Community-Based Heritage Language Schools

Strong Character in Leadership

This is an Inquiry Learning unit for a Spanish community-based heritage language school, grades 9-12, that meets every Saturday for 3 hours. The theme is the character of strong, moral leaders in Spanish-speaking countries. The unit will run for 15 weeks and close with a final presentation and an awards ceremony.

These Activities Will Done Throughout the Semester

(Ideas from Mike Peto (Ed., 2018), Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish: Essays by Classroom Teachers, pp. 250-261, An Independent Reading Course for Advanced Heritage Learners)

  • Have a library in the class with books for pleasure reading, focused on the theme
  • Each day begin the class reading (silently) or listening to a song together (10 minutes); read a quote about reading.

Students read 20-30 pages per day, in the class and during the week (tracking when they read outside the class)

Write in a journal, listing pages read and a brief description of what happened (3-4 sentences)

The teacher responds briefly to what is written

  • Writing assignment during the week -- write 1-2 paragraphs, and the teacher responds
  • Book club - not sure if this is possible. An informal, friendly conversation about the books they are reading. The teacher asks some questions (Peto, p.252)
  • Tutoring - Students lead a lunch tutorial for younger students in the school about reading books

Selecting a Theme

The class will work together to select a theme - one of these themes or another one. A survey will be given to the class in the ear or the semester, asking them to vote on these themes and to add other theme ideas that they have.

  Possible themes: 

  • Men, women, and children who have contributed to racial equity in the U.S.
  • Life in their country
  • Stories of migration (details below about how this theme might develop)
  • Changes in our lives - What changes have taken place, are taking place now, and might take place in the future? How is that for me/my family/my community?
  • Components of communal life

- Where we live

  - How we communicate

  - How we get along

  - How we stay safe

  - How we thrive

  - Who and what we're listening to

  - What we're reading

  - What we're watching

  - What questions we're asking

  • Equality/inequality (inequality - What does our life in the U.S. look like? How do we want to live?

  - Economic - jobs, income

  - Education opportunities

  - Places to live/housing

  - Health

  - Gender

  - Race/social group

  - Language

  - What other areas of equality/inequality?

Selected theme for this unit: How do individuals and institutions embody strong, moral leadership and change society?

  (This might include men, women, children, and organizations that have contributed/are contributing to racial equity in the U.S.; or someone in my life who embodies moral leadership.)

  (References: Leadership and Character in Chaos and Conflict, Michael Lamb & Robert Franklin, Trinity Forum talk, conversation-leadership-and-character)


1. Develop a list of questions to ask about these leaders: 

  - What challenges/systems did they address/are they addresing?

  - How did they address them/are they addressing them?

  - What impact did it have/ is it having?

  - What is the role of publications and the arts in this work?

  - Other questions to ask?


2. What are the qualities of effective leaders? Discussion - exploring students' knowledge and perspectives - Make a list

3. Read a brief biography (3-5 pages) of a moral leader, in Spanish or English (e.g., Michelle Obama, Kamala Harris, moral leaders in the U.S.)

Consider together: Qualities of moral leadership/effective leaders (continue to develop the list that was started above, and students will continue to add to the list as they proceed with the project). 

  • Wisdom
  • Desire for justice
  • Care for ___
  • Integrity
  • Courage
  • Trustworthiness
  • Love
  • Empathy
  • Humility
  • Inclusivity
  • Others?

Consider together: What they have done/are doing (develop a list, that students will add to as they proceed with the project)

  • Care about, speak and act, advocate for the least advantaged members of the community
  • Are in search of the common good
  • Are open to "the other'
  • Listen to and hear others
  • Teach others
  • Are willing to be taught by others
  • Are undaunted by failure; continue on 
  • Others?

4. Learning/finding out - Pick an individual or individuals or an institution/institutions to focus on - in small groups with different choices per group - or as indivduals - Spanish speaker, Spanish-speaking country (e.g., Evita Peron, Chile)

  a. Read pieces about them - obituaries, news articles, journal articles, books

b. Read quotations by and about them

  c. Read cartoons with different perspectives on the things they worked/work on

  d. Interview people who know them or know about them

e. Invite them to join the class in a Zoom meeting and interview them, discuss with them

  f. Write summaries that will help you develop your final product

Resources to Read and Use -- In Spanish

News articles



Personal accounts

Interviews about them with people who know about them or knew/know them

Programs (e.g., Bracero program)


TV shows


Short stories





5. Mini lessons/discussions -- Based on what they teacher sees in what students are reading/watching and student's summaries and plans, the teacher facilitates discussions about and gives mini lessons on vocabulary, grammar, text, structure, punctuation.

6. Open discussions -- As students continue to read, watch, and learn, occasionally stop and have whole-class discussions about -- What am I learning? What do I want to learn/know? What resources are helpful? What are my next steps?

7. Present what you have learned - Work together in a group to plan a presentation (Language of ideas) and give the presentation (Language of display)

  • Create a cartoon or cartoons about the person or organization
  • Do a skit or a play about them
  • Write a poem about them
  • Create a telenovela about them
  • Write and present a children's book about them, to teach qualities of moral leaders
  • Give a talk by them (put yourself in their shoes and play their role)
  • Give a talk about them
  • 2 students work together to conduct an interview with them

8. Closing reflection - What have I learned about this individual or organization? What qualities do I want to include in my life? What do I want to do to bring about positive change?

9. Hold an awards ceremony (for parents, friends, other classes, or the whole school), and present each leader studied with an award, with a different student or group of students giving the award speech for each one. 

Another Possible Theme: Migration

Talk about the theme in class: What do we know about migration of different groups? Interview their friends, parents, other relatives and collect their stories. Make an publish a book of migration stories. 

Tell the students about books about migration at their levels -- See Peto, pp. 262-269, for a list of books in Spanish

They read 5 books and make comments about them.

The teacher and students, in pairs or small groups of students, read the books together. 

Students say what they think about a book and write what they can about it. 

Develop a persuasive essay on migration, following the format in Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish, chapter by Barbara Davis, pp. 283-287.

Present the main points of the essay to the class or to a small group.


Peto, M. (Ed., 2018). Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish: Essays by Classroom Teachers. My Generation of Polyglots.

Bibliography of Fiction on Migation - July 2020 -- We would want books in Spanish, but this is just a sample of books on this topic in English. 

Abouelea, Leila (2005) Minaret. A Novel, London: Black Cat.

Adiga, Aravind (2008) The White Tiger. A Novel, New York: Free Press.

Arnold, Mary-Kim. Litany for the Long Moment. USA: Essay Press.

Aslam, Nadeem (2008) The Wasted Vigil, London: Faber and Faber.

Badani, Sejal. 2018 The Storyteller's Secret Seattle: Lake Union Publishing. 

Bala, Sharon. (2018) The Boat People. New York: Penguin Random House.

Bohjalian, Chris (2013) The Sandcastle Girls. A Novel, New York: Vintage.

Boochani, Behrouz. 2018. No Friend But the Mountains. London: Picador. 

Cherian, Anne (2009) A Good Indian Wife. A Novel, New York: Norton.

Davies, Martin (2009) The Unicorn Road, London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Eggers, Dave (2008) What Is the What. The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. A Novel, London: Penguin Books. 

Ejersbo, Jakob (2011) Exile. Book One of the Africa Trilogy. London: MacLehose Press.

Faulks, Sebastian (1999) Charlotte Gray. London: Vintage.

Faye, Gaёl (2018) Small Country. London: Hogarth. 

Ghosh, Amitav (2009) Sea of Poppies. London: John Murray.

Gilbert, Elizabeth (2007) Eat Pray Love. One Woman's Search for Everything. London: Bloomsbury.

Guterson, David (1995) Snow Falling on Cedars. London: Bloomsbury.

Hofman, Corinne (2006) The White Masai. London: Arcadia Books.

Indridason, Arnaldur. (2008) Arctic Chill. London: Harvill Secker.

Kaysen, Susanna. (1990). Far Afield. London: Vintage.

Kelman, Stephen (2011) Pigeon English. London: Bloomsbury.

Kristof, Agota. (2014). The Illiterate. London: CB Editions. 

Lahiri, Jumpa. (2003) The Namesake. New York: Houghton Mifflin. 

Lambert, Shaena (2007) Radiance. London: Virago Press.

Lewycka, Marina (2006) A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. London: Penguin Books.

Mankell, Henning (2009) The Dogs of Riga. London: Vintage.

McCarthy, Cormac (1995) All the Pretty Horses. Volume One. The Border of Trilogy. London: Picador. 

Nasrin, Mithun B. (2017) Chief's Cafe. Amsterdam, UK Book Publishing.

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. (2013) The Sympathizer. New York: Grove Press.

Penney, Steff (2007) The Tenderness of Wolves. London: Bloomsbury.

Rawlence, Ben. (2016) City of Thorns. Nine Loves in the World's Largest Refugee Camp. London: Portobello Books.

Rich, Katherine Russel (2009) Dreaming in Hindi. Coming Awake in Another Language. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Sahota, Sunjeev (2015) The Year of the Runaways. London: Picador. 

Scherm, Rebecca (2015) Unbecoming. London: Penguin Books.

Seierstad, Asne (2004) The Bookseller of Kabul. London: Virago Press. 

Skyhorse, Brando (2011) The Madonnas of Echo Park. A Novel. New York: Free Press.

Tan, Amy (1992) The Kitchen God's Wife. New York: Ballantine Books.

Tan, Shaun. (2006) The Arrival. London: Hodder.

Tanner, Haley (2012) Vaclav & Lena. A Novel. New York: Dial Press.

Taseer, Aatish (2011) Noon. London: Picador. 

Tearne, Roma (2010) Brixton Beach. London: Harper Press.

Trapido, Barbara (2003) Frankie and Stankie. London: Bloomsbury.

Verghese, Abraham (2010) Cutting for Stone. A Novel. London: Vintage.

Ward, Amanda Eyre (2015) The Same Sky. A Novel. New York: Ballantine Books.

Wieringa, Tommy (2015) These Are the Names. New York: Penguin Random House.

Wolfe, Gene (2013) The Land Across. New York: Tor.


Books in Italian

Catozzella, Giuseppe (2014) Non dirmi che hai paura. Milano: Feltrinelli.

Geda, Fabio (2011) Nel mare ci sono i coccodrilli. Milano: Baraldi e Castoldi.

Mazzantini, Margaret (2011) Mare al mattino. Torino: Einaudi.

Norek, Olivier (2017) Entre deux mondes. Neuilly-sur-Seine Cedex: Michel Lafon.

Scego, Igiaba (2015) Adua. Firenze: Giunti.

Scego, Igiaba (2011) La mia casa e dove sono. Milano: Rizzoli.

Scego, Igiaba (2008) Oltre Babilonia. Roma: Donzelli













Published: Friday, October 16, 2020