Coming of Age: Activities
"Look how far you've come already."
Esmeralda's high school teacher
Several Masterpiece Theatre films offer perspectives on the coming-of-age story. You may want to pair Almost a Woman with one or more of the following for a study of the genre: The Road from Coorain, The Song of the Lark, or Oliver Twist. Click for Masterpiece Theatre videos and ordering information.
- In many ways Almost a Woman is a classic coming-of-age novel and film. Discuss what is meant by the literary term "coming-of-age" story. What characteristics generally define the genre? Have the class brainstorm a list. What is distinctive about Santiago's story? What is familiar? You may want to use The Road from Coorain teacher's guide to help you connect Almost a Woman to other stories about growing up (see The Coming-of-Age Comparison Chart)
- Décimas are ten-line poems belonging to the Hispanic popular tradition dating back to medieval times. Their rhyme is based on the repetition of vowels rather than consonants. These poems are associated with the rural tradition of improvisation for particular occasions. Word and performance are closely associated in this poetic genre (declamation), and often décimas are put to song. An example of this is the poem Negi's father composes, "Oh, how long is the road I travel."
I had the conviction
that I was always right
in this imperfect world
But how mistaken I was
and how confused.
Today as I face my destiny
in my unsettling struggles
the questions are so many.
Oh, how long is the road I travel!
What do you think the poem means? How does it set the stage for Negi's story? How does it guide her as she comes of age? Ask students to choose a poem or a song that represents the question or advice they feel is relevant to their growth into adulthood. Have them copy the poem or lyrics and add a brief description about why it is meaningful. Ask for volunteers to read their selection to the class.
- The quest to separate oneself from the needs and expectations of one's family, which Negi faces in Almost a Woman, is often a theme in coming-of-age stories. Do you think that the process of growing up always means separating from your family in some way? Do you believe your family continues to influence you, even after you have grown up? If so, how? Have students imagine themselves ten or twenty years in the future. What do they think their relationship with their family will be? Have students write a letter to a family member from the future. Ask for volunteers to share their letters. What common themes, if any, emerge?
- After Francisco dies, Mami says to Negi, "So we'll go on, day by day, you and I together." Brainstorm a list of words that describe the relationship between Negi and Mami. Identify key scenes in the film between mother and daughter. Have students create a conversation between Mami and their own mother (or other female member of their family). What might they talk about? What would they say about raising teenagers? Have students role-play or write about the conversation.
- Toward the end of the film, Esmeralda says, "Our lives were filled with sorrow but we never gave up because joy came in equal measure." Ask students whether the story of the Santiago family emphasizes the sorrow or the joy. In what scenes do joy and sorrow coincide? How does Esmeralda deal with this conflict? Compare her story with that of other coming-of-age stories you have read or films you have seen. What patterns, if any, emerge? Create a Venn diagram or other graphic organizer to compare and contrast the two works.
- In an interview with WGBH, Esmeralda Santiago explained the appeal of her books: "It really has to do with an experience that is universal: the experience of being faced with something new in which your identity is challenged." Discuss how this statement applies to Almost a Woman. Does it also describe other coming-of-age books and films? If so, how? Have students elaborate in writing on the idea using an incident from a book, film, or their own life.
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