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June 9th, 2008
Gang Violence from L.A. to El Salvador

Media Components

Video: WIDE ANGLE: “18 with a Bullet”

Web Resources:

(The list below is a representative list of appropriate Web sites for the lesson. It is also suggested that the teacher encourage the students to do their own investigation using a search engine such as Google. A short tutorial on Web searching can be found, along with links to several search engines, at

Materials Needed:

Copy of “18 with a Bullet”

  • TV/VCR or TV/DVD player (depending on format of video the teacher uses)
  • Available computers with Internet access and printer capability
  • Lined paper

Preliminary Teacher Preparation:

Prior to starting the lesson, the teacher may wish to ensure that desired Web sites are bookmarked on computers with Internet access and may also want to check that all necessary plug-ins (such as Flash, Shockwave, RealPlayer, and Adobe Acrobat Reader) are installed. It’s also recommended the teacher preview the Web sites selected for age-appropriateness. While the URLs were accurate at the time the lesson was published, the teacher may also wish to check Web address in case sites have changed location, or if the site is no longer available. In addition, the teacher may wish to have available any print or other video components desired for the lesson.

In this lesson, students will demonstrate their understanding of the concepts and stories included in the film “18 with a Bullet” by writing letters in which they take the role of one of the principal characters in the film, or a hypothetical gang member or government official (see below for suggested roles). The type of letter or statement written will generally depend on the role the student selects or that the teacher assigns. However, the written assignment should include the following components:

1. In most instances, the letter will be written to a hypothetical friend or family member, for example, if the student is role-playing a gang member, he/she might write a letter to a family member who was not deported from the US back to El Salvador. If the student is taking the role of a police officer or Salvadoran government official, they might use information in the film as the basis for a status report on the police and government’s efforts to curb gang violence.

2. The letter should include facts and quotes from the film.

3. Students should also add information from resources included on the “18 with a Bullet” Web pages as well as Web resources included in the lesson.

4. The student should also pay special attention to issues in lifestyle and life events which caused them to select a gang lifestyle.

5. The student should speculate as to possible different “life-scenarios” that possibly could free them from the “gang lifestyle” and provide them a more fulfilling life, as well as for their families.

6. The letter should be written in regular letter style, with a salutation to the recipient, correct grammar and spelling, as well as a realistic narrative.

7. Letters should be evaluated by following an assessment tool comfortable to the teacher, meeting whatever state and local standards needed. A sample rubric for letter evaluation can be found at the end of the lesson. The teacher may wish to adapt or edit the rubric to meet their own requirements.

If the teacher determines that the best course might be to have students take “hypothetical roles” of people not specifically included in the film, the following general “roles” may be assigned:

  • Member of the “18” gang
  • Member of the rival “MS-13” gang
  • Spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend of a gang member
  • Parent of a gang member
  • El Salvador police officer or government official speaking on attempts by the government to reduce gang activity and violence
  • US State Department official or US Ambassador to El Salvador writing a report on the “gravity” of the current situation in El Salvador in relation to gang activity
  • “Ordinary citizen” in El Salvador who is writing with concern about what gang activity has done to their nation economically, politically, or socially.

As an alternative, the teacher may elect to have students select certain roles from the film and use that character as the basis for the letter. In that case, suggested roles to assign include:

  • Ricardo Pollack, writer and producer of “18 with a Bullet” (in this instance, the teacher may wish to have student(s) write a letter or editorial piece explaining the significance of the film as well as impact of gang violence. The “filmmaker’s notes” on the Wide Angle Web site’s “18 with a Bullet” page, might be especially helpful.
  • “Slappy” is an18 gang member who is featured throughout the film. “Slappy” is 30, married, and has three young boys. At the beginning of the film, he is hiding out from police who want to arrest him for the murder of a member of MS-13
  • Erika, who is “Slappy’s” wife
  • Charlie, neighborhood leader of 18. He is 16 years old
  • Traveieso, a member who operates the gang’s small-time extortion racket, collecting “rent” from city buses.
  • Sochi, a gang member whose mother left him to go work in America when he was six months old.
  • Diablo, an 18 member who is one of the leaders also held in Chalatenango Prison
  • Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, former US Ambassador to El Salvador (in this instance, the teacher may elect to have a student or students assume the rule of Assistant Secretary Patterson writing a report to either Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or President Bush detailing the gang situation in El Salvador, what steps are being applied there to solve the gang warfare issue, and whether those steps are effective. The teacher may specifically guide students completing the assignment as Ms. Patterson to the transcript of the interview with Ms. Patterson and WIDE ANGLE host Daljit Dhaliwal. Students may either read the transcript of the interview or view the video feed of it on the WIDE ANGLE transcript page for “18 with a Bullet”

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