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NOW with Bill Moyers

Author Isabel Allende
Starter Exercises


The following adaptable classroom activities suggest various approaches for introducing and/or extending learning on the writing of Isabel Allende. They are inspired by a conversation between Bill Moyers and Allende from the 6/13/03 NOW with BILL MOYERS broadcast. (Note: A free transcript of this interview is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS.

1. Memory v. Make Believe
Allende talks about the power of memories and how her memories have inspired some of her greatest works. However, she also admits that she often invents details or information related to these memories to fill in the gaps and make her stories more interesting. Help students explore memory-based writing by first having them share their recollections of an event with another person who remembers the same experience. How do the memories of each person compare? Next, ask students to choose another memory of an event that is vivid in their mind and write it down the way that they recall it. Then, using their imaginations, have students add to the memory by fabricating or exaggerating details, events, characters, and other information. The goal is to use the memory as a basis for creating a story they can share. When stories are complete, break students into small groups and have them share their original written account of the event, and then the story they developed based on the memory. Finish the exercise by facilitating a discussion that addresses these questions:

  • What was more interesting to hear about, the actual memory, or the story created from the memory? Why?
  • Was it difficult to use your imagination to change the memory into a story?
  • What challenges did you face in writing the memory-based story?
  • Why is fiction often more exciting than fact?
  • Why is imagination important?
  • What role does imagination play in people's everyday lives?
Students will now be better prepared to read imaginative histories from Allende and others. Please see the Extension Ideas section of NOW's lesson plan related to Allende's work for recommendations.

2. Responding to Violence
After the September 11th attacks on the United States, Allende said she no longer felt like a foreigner in the U.S. because that day she felt the same vulnerability as other Americans. She then believed she had finally "gained a country." Other Americans have also felt stronger feelings of nationalism as a result of 9/11. Ask students to describe how their patriotism was affected by the September 11th attacks. Why did that shared experience do so much to unite Americans?

On a different September 11th, this time in 1973, Allende witnessed another violent event. She saw the presidential palace in Chile get bombed during a coup that ended the rule of her uncle, Salvador Allende. (She describes these events during her conversation with Bill Moyers. See also "September 11, 1973: The Day Democracy Died in Chile" from the BBC for more information on the 1973 coup.) How might Allende's experience on September 11, 1973 have influenced her reaction to the events of September 11, 2001? Have students share their ideas in a poem, song, collage, painting, or other creative piece and then share their work with the class.

3. Painting Word Pictures
Allende says she wrote her book, MY INVENTED COUNTRY: A NOSTALGIC JOURNEY THROUGH CHILE so people would fall in love with Chile. To help accomplish this goal, Allende makes specific word choices and uses imagery in an effort to influence reader perceptions. Help students explore how she does this by reading an excerpt from MY INVENTED COUNTRY that describes the geography and topography of Chile. Ask students to identify language that they feel paints a particularly vivid picture. Then, encourage them to try their own hand at creating "word pictures." Have students imagine a place that is meaningful to them. Then, ask them to describe this place by incorporating language that considers the five senses and the emotions evoked by the place. Their goal should be to have readers feel as though they are a part of the place, not an outsider looking in. Use the steps of the writing process to pre-write, write, revise, edit, and present their work. When students have completed the assignment, have them share and comment on one another's work in small discussion groups.

About the Author
Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught middle school and high school social studies, English, reading, and technology courses for twelve years. Prososki has worked with PBS TeacherSource and has authored many lesson plans for various PBS programs over the past five years. In addition to conducting workshops for teachers at various state and national conventions, Prososki has also worked as an editor and authored one book.