NOW with Bill Moyers

Author Isabel Allende
This lesson is designed for English classrooms, grades 9-12

  • Lesson Objectives
  • Relevant National Standards
  • Estimated Time
  • Materials Needed
  • Backgrounder for Teachers
  • Assumed Student Prior Knowledge
  • Teaching Strategy
  • Assessment Suggestions
  • Extension Ideas
  • Related Resources
  • About the Author

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
  1. Watch a video interview to learn more about an author.
  2. Take notes to help understand main ideas expressed in an interview and to develop a personal response.
  3. Understand that current events can inspire literature.
  4. Write a poem, short story, or other piece of creative writing that reflects an historical event.
  5. Think about and describe their preferences for writing.
  6. Analyze language techniques used by Allende to convey her ideas about Chile.
  7. Hypothesize about how geography and history have created distinctive "faces" in the United States.

Related National Standards
Language Arts Standards


Standard 1
Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.

Level IV, Benchmark 12
Writes in response to literature (e.g., suggests an interpretation; recognizes possible ambiguities, nuances, and complexities in a text; interprets passages of a novel in terms of their significance to the novel as a whole; focuses on the theme of a literary work; explains concepts found in literary works; examines literature from several critical perspectives; understands author's stylistic devices and effects created; analyzes use of imagery and language).


Standard 6
Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary. texts

Level IV, Benchmark 1
Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of literary texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, supernatural tales, satires, parodies, plays, American literature, British literature, world and ancient literature).
Level IV, Benchmark 6
Understands how themes are used across literary works and genres (e.g., universal themes in literature of different cultures, such as death and rebirth, initiation, love and duty; major themes in American literature; authors associated with major themes of specific eras).
Level IV, Benchmark 7
Understands the effects of author's style and complex literary devices and techniques on the overall quality of a work (e.g., tone; irony; mood; figurative language; allusion; diction; dialogue; symbolism; point of view; voice; understatement and overstatement; time and sequence; narrator; poetic elements, such as sound, imagery, personification).
Level IV, Benchmark 8
Understands relationships between literature and its historical period, culture, and society (e.g., influence of historical context on form, style, and point of view; influence of literature on political events; social influences on author's description of characters, plot, and setting; how writer's represent and reveal their cultures and traditions).
Level IV, Benchmark 10
Relates personal response or interpretation of the text with that seemingly intended by the author).

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson

Four 45-50 minute class periods. Can be adapted to two to three longer periods.

Materials Needed

Part I

Part II

  • Chart paper
  • Markers
  • Tape
Part III

  • Copy of the 6/13/03 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast and TV/VCR
  • Handout 2: Survey of Writing Preferences
  • Handout 3: Viewing Guide, Part II
  • Handout 4: Selections from MY INVENTED COUNTRY
Part IV

Backgrounder for Teachers

Best-selling author Isabel Allende (pronounced Ah-yen'-day) wrote her first novel, THE HOUSE OF SPIRITS, in the early 1980's. The book was a worldwide bestseller, and led to a series of novels and memoirs by Allende that have been translated into more than 25 languages and are still in print by the millions around the world. Often labeled as a "magical realist", Allende uses her writing to invite others into her memories and experiences as she sees and remembers them. For more information on Allende and her work, please read her biography and explore the Web sites in the Related Resources section of this lesson plan. In addition, see the Extension Ideas section for suggestions of how to use Allende's writing with students. (NOW has a complete bibliography of Allende's work.

The transcript of Bill Moyers' interview with Allende also provides interesting insights on a variety of topics, including the 1973 revolution in Chile, what it is like to be a foreigner in the U.S., Allende's method for writing, a description of her daughter's death and the subsequent book PAULA, and much more.

Allende's book MY INVENTED COUNTRY: A NOSTALGIC JOURNEY THROUGH CHILE was inspired in part by two violent events that both took place on the date September 11th. The first was in 1973, when Allende witnessed firsthand the bombing of the presidential palace in Chile during a military coup that removed her uncle Salvador Allende from power. The second was in 2001, when Allende — now an American citizen — watched the September 11th attacks on the United States unfold. These experiences prompted Allende to make sense of her deeply ingrained relationship with Chile from the vantage point of her adopted home, the United States. This lesson uses an excerpt from MY INVENTED COUNTRY to explore Allende's use of imagery, word choices, and other stylistic devices in her writing.

For a detailed account of the 1973 coup in Chile, please read "September 11, 1973: The Day Democracy Died in Chile" from the BBC.

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

It is assumed that students know of the events of September 11, 2001 in the United States. Also, that they have a general understanding of the geography of South America. Finally, that they have developed proficient note-taking skills and understand writing terminology, such as "imagery".

Teaching Strategy

Part One: The Interview, Part I

1. Give students two to three minutes to write a response to this question: What changes have occurred in the United States as a result of September 11th? Take a few minutes to discuss answers.

2. Give a second brief writing assignment: How did the events of September 11th affect you and your life? Ask students to share their answers with the class.

3. Talk to students about the fact that throughout history people have responded to crises by writing about them, from the Trojan War to Vietnam and beyond. Introduce Allende and tell students they are going to watch an interview with her that will show, among other things, how the attacks on the United States affected her. Provide enough background information about the revolution in Chile (see Backgrounder for Teachers) so that they will be able to understand her comments about it.

4. Show students a map of Chile and point out its location with relation to the rest of South America and to the United States. Maps of South America and one of Chile can be found at the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Web site.

5. Interviews, because they are less structured than an essay, often include several main ideas. To help students to focus on the interview, provide them with a copy of the Viewing Guide on Handout 1. Ask them to listen carefully to the interview and fill in Column 2, "Allende's Ideas" on Sept. 11, the Chilean Revolution, and feminism. Show the interview up to 15:19:12:15, ending with "That would be great." [N.B. To differentiate for younger or struggling students, you can stop video as appropriate to allow them time to write.]

6. After viewing the video, give students time to fill in Column 3 with their own thoughts, memories, or questions inspired by the video. Let students share their questions and comments with a partner; if time permits, open discussion to the whole class.

7. For an assignment, ask students to write a journal response to these questions: How did external events in Isabel Allende's life affect her perception of herself? How do you think they would affect her writing?

Part Two: Writing about History

1. Review with students the idea that historical events have often inspired writers. You might mention, for example, Homer's ILIAD, Shakespeare's HENRY IV, Tolstoy's WAR AND PEACE, and the sonnets written by soldiers in the trenches of World War I.

2. Ask students to share their journals from the previous day about how external events might have affected Allende's life and writing.

3. Ask students to name events of the last two or three years that might inspire writers. List each at the top of a piece of chart paper. Some possibilities include the Iraq war, the crash of the space shuttle, the bombings of the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the rescue of the Pennsylvania miners, and the D.C. sniper case.

4. Carousel brainstorming: Post the pieces of chart paper around the room. Divide students into groups (as many groups as you have pieces of chart paper) and give each group a marker. Station each group next to a chart. Ask them to brainstorm some way that the news event could be used as a basis for writing. (For example, a poem written by an American army soldier in Kuwait, the night before the invasion of Iraq began.) Have them add their suggestions to the chart paper. After 3-4 minutes, have groups rotate clockwise to the next paper and begin brainstorming again. Continue for two or three more stations.

5. Give student groups a chance to cycle through one more time to read what others have written. They should now have a good idea of possible writing projects.

6. Assignment: Choose a news event from recent years and write a first draft of a poem, short story, diary entry or other piece of creative writing based upon it. Try to show the reader both the event itself and the feelings of someone who might have been involved in the event or observing it closely. (Allow several days to complete this draft.)

Part Three: The Interview, Part 2

1. Begin by reminding students about the creative writing project they have started. Ask: Have you ever considered how and when you write best? Give out the survey on Handout 2 and ask students to complete it.

2. Go through the questions and ask students to show by standing or raising their hands which answers they chose. Discuss preferences with them. Is there a "best" way to write?

3. Explain to students that they are going to see the rest of the interview with Isabel Allende. In it they will find out a surprising detail or two about how she prefers to write.

4. Distribute the viewing guide on Handout 3. Ask students to fill in the blanks in the second column while they are watching.

5. When the video is finished, allow students time to write reflections, memories and questions that are triggered by the video, in the third column.

6. Give students time to share their responses in small groups.

7. Assignment: Distribute copies of Handout 4, a selection from MY INVENTED COUNTRY. Students should read the book excerpt carefully, annotating it as they read.

Part Four: Examining MY INVENTED COUNTRY

1. Remind students of the section of yesterday's video in which Bill Moyers says to Allende, "You didn't write this so that I could learn about Chile. You wrote this so you could learn about yourself." Allende disagrees, "No. I wrote this so that you can fall in love with Chile."

2. If possible, have a discussion of Allende's book MY INVENTED COUNTRY.

3. Ask students to take out their copies of Handout 4, "Country of Longitudinal Essences" and then distribute the discussion questions on Handout 5.

4. Arrange students into groups of four and allow them 15 minutes or so to work through the discussion questions. Circulate among groups to be sure students understand questions five and six. Make sure that they understand that these "faces" are aspects of a national character, not individuals.

5. Give each group a piece of chart paper and some markers. Ask them to draw a representation of one of the "faces" of the United States. Representations may be actual faces or symbols.

6. Ask each group to tape their chart paper to a wall and explain the "faces" to the class.

7. Conclusion: Discuss with the class as a whole: How are these "faces" the result of our geography or history?

8. Use the remainder of the period for peer editing of creative writing assignments in preparation for writing a final draft.

Assessment Suggestions

Students may be assessed through:

  • student journal responses.
  • student responses to the video interview as reflected in Handouts 1 and 3.
  • the original creative writing piece inspired by an historical event.
  • discussion of the selection from MY INVENTED COUNTRY.

Extension Ideas

1. Be sure to review NOW's Starter Activities related to this lesson's topic.

2. For additional reading, your more sophisticated students might be interested in some of Allende's novels, stories and nonfiction, such as:

  • EVA LUNA (1985)
  • PAULA (1994)
(NOW has a complete bibliography of Allende's work online.)

3. For younger students, Allende has written an adventure novel, CITY OF THE BEASTS, in which the 15-year-old protagonist journeys down the Amazon and finds himself in El Dorado.

Related Resources
"The Amazon Queen" by Isabel Allende
This site features a vivid Allende essay about a trip to the Amazon to cure writer's block.

HarperCollins: The Work of Isabel Allende
Students who wish to read some of Allende's work will find useful resources at her publisher's Web site, such as chapter excerpts and reading guides for all her books, including MY INVENTED COUNTRY.

THE HOUSE OF SPIRITS by Isabel Allende has been made into a film starring Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, and Vanessa Redgrave. It is available in video and DVD formats.

This site publishes the Introduction to CONVERSATIONS WITH ISABEL ALLENDE in full. The selection gives an insightful overview of how Allende tends to invent herself during interviews.

Isabel Allende
Allende's own Web site is very extensive. It includes a set of questions and answers about her work and a wonderful and expressive gallery of family photographs.

Love at First Sight for My California Dream
This site features an Allende essay that deals with meeting her husband and learning to get along in the United States.

What is Magical Realism, Really? Much of Allende's writing has been characterized as "magical realism." If students are interested in magical realism as a literary trend, Bruce Holland Rogers gives a clear definition of it at this site.

About the Author
Eileen M. Mattingly has been teaching English and social studies since 1968. She currently teaches and chairs the English department at McDonough High School in Pomfret, Maryland. She holds a B.S.F.S. degree in International Studies from Georgetown University and has received master's degrees from St. John's University and the Johns Hopkins University, as well as two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She has developed teaching materials for multicultural literature for Charles County, Maryland and has presented a workshop on Native American literature for the National Council of Teachers of English. Her teacher's guide to the novel Ceremony has recently been published by The Center for Learning.