In The Time Of The Butterflies
Julia Alvarez

More Information About In The Time Of The Butterflies

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Reading Activities

Reading Strategies

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  • Writing a Personal, Historical Narrative

    Cochrane, Christie. “Writing a personal, historical narrative.” 22 Sept. 2008.
  • Writing a Personal, Historical Narrative

    The students will write about an important event in their life or history that changed the course of their future. This could be either from their own life or something from a family member or friend. The reason that I would have the students do this is to get them thinking about their own history and where they come from, and for them write one of those specific events or details down. In the Time of the Butterflies is a mixture between fiction and history, and I would like to explore the idea of historical fiction with the students through this activity, as well as open their eyes to connections they may have to the historical significance of this novel; part of the objective is to help them realize that our history is a part of our present selves. Another option for the narrative would be to write about someone that they know that has stood up against injustice. This will introduce the Mirabal sisters, who sacrifice their lives to in the battle for justice.
  • Dominican Republic: The Era of Trujillo
    This article is a great resource that shows how Trujillo came into power and how his presidency effected the government and country. This would help the students to understand the context of the book better, as the novel revolves his time as leader of the Dominican Republic. After reading it as a class or having the students read it as homework, an activity that could go along with it would be for the students to look up certain groups or ideas in order to understand the history in which this novel is set. For example, this article mentions Castro (a very current event that could be of importance is how he recently stepped down from his reign and gave the power to his brother, Raul), the Central Intelligence Agency, Dictatorship, Democracy, etc. It would be good to separate the class into groups, probably four if studying the mentioned subjects, and have each look up the general idea on Wikipedia and describe it in a two minute presentation to the class. This way, the history of Trujillo will be better understood by the students.
  • In The Time Of Butterflies Trailer
    I have heard that the movie version of In the Time of the Butterflies is terrible, but the trailer of it shows the bravery of Minerva toward the evil leader, Trujillo, and even shows a dramatic slap to the face that she gives Trujillo. This might be good to introduce the theme of standing up to injustice without giving away the entire plot—it’s just enough to hook the students! A good text-to-world connection would be that of the Mirabal sisters’ standing up against the injustice of the Dominican government paralleled to the Founding Fathers and their efforts to be freed from the unjust acts of England. Something that would be good to read in order to compare this to American revolutionaries would be documents such as Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence. These documents show the reasoning of the Colonists and the actions of England. A discussion could be held after to talk about the two situations. In order to prepare the students for the discussion, read the The Declaration of Independence in class and have the students research Common Sense as homework the day before the discussion. Since Common Sense is so long, in interest of time have them search on the internet to get a good feel for its themes and ideas of the documents, and make them aware of the next day’s discussion questions so that they can focus their search based on those ideas. Possible discussion questions are: “According to these two documents, what were the wrongs that England had committed against the colonies? What would you have done had you lived back in that time? Were there any other options available to the colonists? Were they just in their rebellion? How would a British citizen living at that time view the actions of the colonists?” After the discussion, tell the students that this idea of standing up for injustice is all throughout Alvarez’s novel.
  • Hero Worship

    There seems to be a lot of idols out there in the world today. Some are good role-models, others are not. An activity that I think would be interesting to the students and would connect to the novel would be to have all of the students bring in pictures or symbols of five heroes of today’s world. At the beginning of class they will post the pictures all around the classroom, as if the pictures are staring at and surrounding them. After a moment of taking it all in, I would ask them to consider each one for a moment, whether they are good or bad heroes. They may range from Britney Spears to Mother Theresa. After a moment of this, I will start a discussion about whether or not having heroes is a good thing. I will raise questions such as, “What are some benefits of having a hero? How can they influence us? Is there a point when having a hero gets out of hand? Can one person be considered a hero to someone but not to another person?” The reason for these questions is that in In the Time of the Butterflies, Trujillo makes himself out to be a hero and actually makes it a requirement to have pictures of him in every Dominican household. A lot of people consider heroes to be good things, but do not consider the ugly side that many good things often have. A good quote to possibly read with the students would be in the novel on page 17:

“ ‘Bad things?’ I interrupted. ‘Trujillo was doing bad things?’ It was as if I had just heard Jesus had slapped a baby or Our Blessed Mother had not conceived Him the immaculate conception way. ‘That can’t be true,’ I said, but in my heart, I felt a china-crack of doubt…At home, Trujillo hung on the wall by the picture of Our Lord Jesus with a whole flock of the cutest lambs.”

  • Julia Alvarez, An Interview with Julia Alvarez
  • Julia Alvarez Interview (continuation from the above link)
    This interview introduces the class to Alvarez through a very informal, yet realistic video interview of her on YouTube. After, show them a very fun website which is written by and about her. It is a great way to get to know the author and her inspirations. Something fun to do as a class would be to split it into four groups (can change depending on class size.) They will choose one person to be Julia Alvarez for a class interview with “Alvarez herself.” They will all have to prepare this person to portray her by doing specific assignments that come from the website. One of these assignments is to read and turn in a summary of the “About Me” section. Next would be to pick an interview that interests them about the author. This is what they will role-play as a class. The group will rotate, asking her the questions, and “Alvarez” will answer. They are to act and dress as they believe that Alvarez would.
  • The Three Sisters, Avenged: A Dominican Drama
    Even though this story takes place in the Dominican Republic and most of the readers have never been to the country, it is important to recognize that there are many connections that American readers can make to their own lives from the text. This article talks about how the Mirabal sisters are respected and honored in the country, but that it was not always so. It was not until a certain president was forced out of office that they were officially recognized as heroes in the country. There are now monuments being built in order to honor their sacrifice. (Be sure to not do this activity before the plot tells of their death… it will give away the ending.) A thought that occurred to me is that there are many monuments that we have in our own country and many high school students know nothing about them or their importance. A good way to get them thinking, researching, and writing would be to have them read this article about this monument in the Dominican Republic and have them research a monument in our country that catches their interest. They would then write a two-page report about who or what it is honoring, who built it, when, why it is important to them, etc. They would then present it to the class.
  • Dede Mirabal
    In my Latino Literature class, Professor Hickman showed the class a clip of one of the surviving sisters, Debe Mirabal. At the beginning of the novel, a reporter goes to Dede for an interview by Dede appears to be reluctant to do so. I found it interesting that there is an interview on-line with Dede.

It would be good to show this interview to the students when reading this introduction to give them an idea of what she is like, what she sounds like, and that she does, in fact, give interviews. It is interesting to hear a first-hand account and will hopefully make the story hit home for the students because they will be able to place a real person in the context of it. After watching the clip, ask the students if they think Alvarez accurately represented Dede Mirabal. What are the traits that they saw in the video as well as in the novel? The differences? What do they think that it would be like to live as the only surviving sister?

  • The Mirabal Sisters: Three Women Killed by a Dictator
    The Create Commons Attribution-Share Alike website gives the idea that the Boston Latin School is useful for students to explore on their own. The website suggests, “The website contains different sections for the sisters, their role in the fight, and a section about their assassination. It is full of facts, but it is presented in a narrative form that students can click through. Along with In the Time of Butterflies the website is very useful for gaining a cultural context for the novel, especially if the facts are difficult or confusing for some students when imbedded in Alvarez’s text.”

This is very self-explanatory, but as an afterthought, this idea would not only show the students images of the characters in the book, but give them a tour through the Dominican country and culture. It would place them in the context of the text and make the allusions and inferences from the novel more understandable and meaningful. For each section, the students must write a half-page, single spaced summary of the section. For the first section, they must describe who the sisters are, summarize the role of the sisters in the fight for the second section, then finish off the paper by describing their assassination. Again, this is something that should be done toward the end of the novel as to not give away the ending.

  • Transitioning the Students into a Dominican Setting
    Various Artists. (2000). Colors of the world: Dominican Republic [Musical Recording]. Portland, Oregon: Allegro Corporation, 2000.
    The Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike website gives the idea that this Compact Disk could be played to help the students get a feel for the culture of the Dominican Republic. They suggest, “The Mirabel sisters are often seen happily in the presence of music, and how can that play a role in coping with oppression? What couldn’t Trujillo destroy when we see that enjoyment? How do students feel about the use of music to feel a particular way? A teacher could also use this music to examine the lyrics against the music as well as music in another country as a way of discussing diversity.”

I like this idea, but as I read it I though that it would be fun to play the music as the students enter the classroom rather than dedicate an allotted time to it one day. Every day they would be able to walk into the classroom and feel like they have walked off a plane and into the Dominican Republic. Okay, so not quite, but it would be a good transition for them from the crazy high school society to a Dominican environment. Ideally, it would open their minds to learn about the plan for the day and change their mind-set. As an extra perk, it would not take up extra time, it would just be playing as the students settle in and prepare. It could possibly be a form of classroom management as well because the students will listen rather than socialize. Also, each day as the students come in, they could sit down, pull out their journal, and write about the music. At the front of their journal, questions such as the ones in the previous paragraph could be written in order to give the students ideas of how to connect the music to the novel.

  • An Insight into the World Beyond Our Own
    Neimoller, M. “First they Came for the Jews.” Holocaust Poetry. Ed. H. Schiff. New York: Harper Collins, (1995).
    “First they Came for the Jews” is a poem about how some people do not act until the situation directly affects them. Creative Commons suggests that “such a poem is also important to help students think beyond their own worlds, which is a common problem for adolescents in secondary education.” This is an important thought, and it is true that many adolescents have a problem seeing beyond their own world. This could even be made into a whole unit with In the Time of the Butterflies at its core. There are many instance of oppression that goes on in the world. For example, I lived in Argentina and learned of some terrible oppression that happened in the 1980s. Students could learn about instances that happen in the world in order to raise awareness and instill in them a desire to act rather than wait until it comes to their neighborhood. A journal entry could accompany the reading in order to help them internalize it. A prompt could be something such as, “How has this poem changed your perspective of the world? Or What am I going to do in order to not stand idly by?”
  • Poetry Café

    In the Time of the Butterflies is an emotional read and will hopefully touch many of the students. Students show their emotion through many different mediums, and I would like to give them the opportunity of expressing themselves through poetry. After reading the novel, I would immediately have them write about how they felt, what they learned, what they want the world to know, etc. and put it in a poem. It can be free verse or rhyme, depending on the experience level of the students with poetry. I would like to make this a big deal and give them a time to write a poem, memorize it, and perform it in a “poetry café” type setting. As some students are musically inclined, if they would like to perform it as a rap or song, that would also be welcomed. They can do it in pairs or individually. A day will be dedicated (or at least a morning) where other classes will be invited to come watch as the students perform their original works. If at all possible, it would provide a great setting to get a spotlight, microphone, and stool. Perhaps if the school auditorium is available that would be best. The students would have a lot of liberty as to what they would like to write about, but they must turn in a copy to the teacher to be approved beforehand (to make sure that it is appropriate for performance) and will tell before the performance how it connects to the novel. The objective is that the students would be able to sort through their emotions after reading the novel and express those emotions through poetry. This may make students uncomfortable that are naturally shy, but it will be good for all to participate and learn to perform in front of an audience.
  • Extra, Extra! Read All About It!

    This assignment would appeal to students that are interested in journalism, but will hopefully be fun for all. Students will be divided into groups of 5. They will be a newspaper company (their team.) They will imagine that they were living in the Dominican Republic at the time of the events in the novel, and will write the newspaper for the day after the assassination of the Mirabal sisters. (The assassination took place on November 25, 1960.) As a group, they will be in charge of writing an interesting, informative paper. Each student will write one article, including text and at least one picture for the paper. The articles should be about different things, but must relate to the events of the day. For example, one student may report on suspicions that the government was involved in the incident while another may focus on a party that Trujillo threw that night (that was made up, I don’t know if there really was one. Even an obituary would count as an article. The students can choose what they want to write, but the students should be creative and they must relate the articles to the events in the novel. A name of the paper and usual newspaper format is required. Class time would be good to give them, perhaps half-an-hour over the course of a week and then out-of-class group work if not finished. When finished, the students will make a copy for each student in the class so that all can have newspapers from each company to have and read as they are presented to the class on the due date.
  • Museum to Commemorate the Mirabal Sisters

    A similar museum project was done in Shauna Eddy-Saunders’s American Literature class at Brigham Young University inspired me in my own adaptation of her vision. Students will be divided into groups of about 6 students. Each group is to create a visual representation of the events and characters of this novel. They are to strive to create emotion in the viewer through their art. They do not necessarily have to create the art, although they can if so inclined. They can take pictures, sculptures, objects, etc. and put it into a museum piece of art that we can see or even walk through. They can use lighting, music, whatever is needed to bring the mood desired. Each group will sign up for a day at least two weeks after the project is assigned and will set up their museum before class. That way, when the students walk in on that particular day, they will walk into the museum. The group will act as a guide to move the groups through the museum, telling stories, explaining, etc. This may take a while considering only one group will go each day, but it would be a reminder at the beginning of every class period of what they have learned. At the end of all of the project presentations, the class will vote for the best museum (not being able to vote for their own group.) The winning group will receive an incentive, possibly extra credit on the assignment or something of that nature.
  • Soundtrack to In the Time of the Butterflies

    This idea is also inspired by someone that I knew. She was a student teacher for my 10th grade English class. I don’t even remember her name…but she did a similar assignment with A Tale of Two Cities. The students will create a soundtrack to the novel. It can be, but does not have to be, Dominican music. Since kids love their I-Pods so much, it would be great to get them excited by letting them use them for an assignment. They will pick a minimum of twelve songs to go along with different sections of the novel. They will make a CD or tape of their “playlist” and bring it to class. A written paper must also accompany it, with the song name, artist, and reason for being on the soundtrack. The reason must include where in the novel it would fit. It could be explained to them this way: they are the musical directors to the new movie coming out of In the Time of the Butterflies. The students are in charge of finding music that sets a tone for the scenes, as well as the movie as a whole.
  • Women Thrive Worldwide
    This is perhaps the activity that the students will struggle with the most, but my hope is that it would be the most beneficial. Women Thrive Worldwide is a website that inspires action. Too many times we are moved by art, yet fail to act on our emotions. This assignment is about helping others and fighting against oppression. There is a lot of reading and PDF files that can be downloaded from this site, but it would be better to be more specific in the assignment. There are contacts for various civil rights groups. As Creative Commons Attribution suggests, “Students could contact various groups as well as organize events to raise money and/or awareness for specific causes related to human and women’s rights.” This is something that I would like to do as a class. We will read the post on the website talking about The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) and also the look at the links on the bottom right corner of the website. These links are about how we can act. Examples are: the IVAWA action sheet: a road map for taking action, sign the petition, write your Senators and Representative, write a letter to the editor, blog About IVAWA, host a movie night, or send a postcard. These are great ideas, but I believe that these ideas could kick off a great brainstorming session where the students can all think of ways to get involved. One thing that could even be fun would be to have them make a slide show to music about the Mirabal sisters and other events going on in world to post on to help with awareness. Many musicians can be used as examples of spreading awareness, such as Bono of U2’s activism, “Face Down” by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Good Charlotte’s “Hold On” video, Chris Daughtry’s “What About Now” video, Martina McBride’s “Concrete Angel” video, Fall Out Boy’s “I'm Like A Lawyer With The Way I'm Always Trying To Get You Off” video, etc. This would hopefully help them to realize that awareness is the first step, but action is needed to make any of it worth it. The ideas for how they would like to act would be best coming from the students. The idea behind this is to help them act, and in doing so, become active members of the community who act against injustice rather than feel sad, then simply move on with life. Once the idea is decided upon, the action is key. Let them do it! Get funding from the school if necessary. Help them to make a difference, starting within their own school.

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