Teaching Multicultural Young Adult Stories

Gary Soto's "Broken Chain" in the Foreign Language Classroom

Term Paper, 2012

25 Pages, Grade: 13 Punkte (1-)



1. Introduction

2. Teaching stories to young adult in the foreign language classroom

3. Gary Soto’s “Broken Chain”
3.1. Summary
3.2. Main Characters
3.3. Narrative Situation
3.4. Stylistic Devices

4. Gary Soto’s “Broken Chain” in the EFL classroom
4.1. Presumptions
4.2. Pre-Reading Task
4.3. Detailed Description of one Lesson
4.4. While-Reading Task
4.5. Post-Reading Task

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

7. Appendix

1. Introduction

“One of the most significant qualities that draws young adults to reading is the existence of characters with whom they can relate in situations with which they are familiar” (Bushman/Haas 2006: 49).

The incorporation of literature in the foreign language teaching classroom should not only be of great importance for upper classes, but also for “Haupt- und Realschule”. Therefore, it is important to choose literature which on the one hand contributes to the enrichment of language learning environments whilst simultaneously providing motivating sources of authentic language use that encourage students to engage with them.

I chose the short story “Broken Chain” by Gary Soto, which focuses on a Mexican-American boy and the problems he as young adult has to face. Not only are students able to identify with the story and its protagonist, but it also presents situations which are instantly relatable for students in their own lives as well as themes that are of interest to young people.

As an introduction to the topic, the term-paper starts by providing an overview of how to teach stories to young adults in the foreign language classroom, presenting different positions and approaches to teaching literature in general and multicultural texts in particular. The short story discussed in this paper is subsequently presented by summarizing its content and providing a short analysis of its narrative situation, its main characters and stylistic devices.

A teaching unit appropriate for class 8, which concentrates on the short story “Broken Chain”, is then outlined. This proposal, which details the way in which to teach the short story, is structured according to pre-reading, while- reading and post-reading tasks, illustrating the teaching process in class and the intended learning objectives.

To conclude, the term paper provides an overview of further aspects which may be of interest through teaching this story, and suggests how the topic could be embedded into a wider context.

2. Teaching stories to young adults in the foreign language classroom

Nowadays, literature forms an essential part of the foreign language classroom, and is viewed as an important and enriching method for establishing learning objectives which are not only important for the development of foreign language skills, but also for the lives of the students and their active participation in a globalized community.

According to Ansgar Nünning and Carola Surkamp, one major benefit of dealing with literature in the foreign language classroom is the text’s potential to provide authentic situations in which foreign language skills can be practiced and enhanced via meaningful contextual connections. Thus, dealing with text encourages communication through learner-centered and action-oriented situations in which the students articulate experiences with the text as well as different opinions in the foreign language. Furthermore, they discuss individual attitudes and moral concepts (2006: 13) and develop a profound sense of communicative competence. This approach is highly valuable in foreign language learning and teaching, since well-chosen literary texts may offer a better opportunity to provide authentic material for language learning and using than short and thematically restricted texts in school books would. For this reason, these may be more interesting to students on a personal level, as by offering motivational content matter, students are doubtless more willing to engage and interact with it. This interaction between text and reader enables processes of understanding and interpretation, in which the student is considered to be an active subject, and is able to connect previous knowledge and experiences to textual content, which can therefore result in a new understanding of the world, of others and of oneself (2006: 13). In this process of developing new perspectives, young adult literature plays a prominent role. Conventional young adult literature contains language that parallels that of its typical audience, has protagonists with whom the students can identify, and provides situations with which they are familiar, marking “one of the most significant qualities that draws young adults to reading” (Bushman/Haas 2006: 49). I consider this approach to be very important especially for teaching English in “Hauptschule” where students may be less motivated or eager to engage with literature. As such, young adult literature can be used as a way to introduce literature to students in a simultaneously demanding, relaxed and motivating way and to facilitate their willingness to work with the text, since the themes are of interest to young people, and the stories deal with conflicts which students may find themselves facing.

This approach, highlighting the importance of interaction between reader and text, is further focused on by Ana Gonçalves Matos, who describes how “literature offers new perspectives, depending both on the text itself and on how the reader questions the text” (2012: 84). Literature does not only support reading and providing the opportunity for various oral and written activities, the potential of literature also resides in its “capability of stimulating a range of different faculties (cognitive, ideational and affective) in the reader” (2012: 39). I think Matos’ approach is extremely important given that it emphasizes the potential and benefits of working with texts. Dealing with texts can happen in numerous ways, all of which respond to the different “types of learners” and respective language levels of the students. In addition to the benefits of working with the literary texts stated above, Gonçalves Matos highlights the significance of intercultural learning. The incorporation of works and the perspectives presented by authors belonging to ethnic minorities are highly relevant for intercultural foreign language learning. This form of literature is therefore of major help with regard to intercultural learning. Gonçalves Matos emphasizes that these texts are “documents of the foreign culture which can easily be brought in to the foreign language classroom” (2012: 96), presenting experiences and conflicts relevant to foreign culture and encouraging different responses and interpretations.

“Conveying ‘an individual awareness of reality’ (Widdowson 1975, in McKay 2001: 319) of different cultures and ethnic groups i.e. their thoughts, ways of living and value system, literary texts represent a rich source for intercultural learning” (Müller- Hartmann/Schocker-v. Ditfurth 2009: 121), thereby encouraging learners to relate their own world views and values to those presented in the text. This initiates a process in which perspectives are altered, compared and questioned, thus resulting in a deeper understanding of other cultures and other people. “Anschaulich geschilderte fiktionale Einzelschicksale” contribute to this process (Nünning/Surkamp 2006: 14). Students are able to identify with the destinies of these individual characters which leads to the authentic examination and discussion of different cultures and values.

To my mind, the idea of intercultural learning plays a major role in the foreign language classroom, since in addition to developing linguistic and communicative competence, the focus of English Language Teaching should be on the acquisition of intercultural communicative competence, concomitant skills and stock of knowledge. Combined with the formation of “Perspektivenwechsel”, “Empathie”, “interkulturelle Handlungsfähigkeit” and “Fremdverstehen” (Surkamp/Nünning 2009: 33), which can be achieved by dealing with (multicultural) literature, this subject matter is of great importance not only for the individual, but also for living in a globalized and multicultural society.

3.1. Gary Soto’s “Broken Chain” - Summary

The short story “Broken Chain”, written by the Mexican-American author Gary Soto, features a boy’s struggle to look grown up, to develop his own sense of identity and to be accepted by girls.

Alfonso, the protagonist, is a seventh grade student of Mexican-American origin who does not like the way he looks like. Therefore, he cuts his hair to imitate a style he observed in a rock magazine, and does daily sit-ups to develop muscles in order to attract the attention of girls. Because his family cannot afford braces for his teeth, he even tries to straighten them himself, as he desperately wishes to look more handsome than average.

Arriving home, Alfonso’s older brother Ernie explains how two girls were supposed to meet him and his friend; unfortunately, they did not arrive, leaving Ernie feeling disappointed. Later that day, when Alfonso cycles through the neighborhood, he finds a little boy hanging upside down from the top of a barbed-wire fence, unable to free himself. Alfonso successfully rescues the child, and subsequently meets the boy’s sister, Sandra, who is grateful and agrees to Alfonso’s suggestion to go cycling with him a few days later.

After returning home, Alfonso asks Ernie if he can borrow his bicycle for Sandra to ride, but Ernie, jealous that his younger brother might have found a girlfriend while he was rebuffed, refuses. After Alfonso accidentally breaks the chain of his bicycle while cleaning it, he becomes desperate, not only due to having no bike for Sandra, but also because he now has no bicycle for himself to ride. On his way to Sandra’s house, worrying how she might react, Ernie appears and lends his bike to Alfonso. Now overjoyed, Alfonso fetches Sandra, and they happily ride together on Ernie’s dirty bicycle.

3.2. Gary Soto’s “Broken Chain” - Main Characters

The main characters of the story are Alfonso and Ernie, two Mexican-Americans, and Sandra, a beautiful girl in the seventh grade just like Alfonso.

Struggling to find his identity and to establish self-confidence, Alfonso is depressed by his outward appearance and does everything possible to look grown up. Alfonso’s attempts to improve his appearance are neither supported nor noticed by his parents. While his caring mother, who strives to save money wherever she can, tells Alfonso that they cannot afford to buy braces for him, his conservative father simply does not recognize Alfonso’s effort to look like a popular musician whose photo is printed in a rock magazine.

Although Alfonso and his older brother Ernie seem to argue frequently, they also talk about each other’s sorrows, for instance Ernie’s experience of having been rejected by two girls. Despite their disputes regarding the use of Ernie’s bicycle in the morning, it is Ernie who nevertheless finally lends his bicycle to Alfonso, showing that they can rely on each other when necessary.

Sandra, a rather attractive girl whose younger brother has been rescued by Alfonso, agrees to go cycling with Alfonso. The behavior of Sandra shows that she likes Alfonso just as he is; it is his helpfulness and his character rather than his outward appearance that awakens her attraction to him.

3.3. Narrative Situation

“Broken Chain” is told from the perspective of a neutral, omniscient and heterodiegetic narrator, who describes the experiences of the characters that appear in the story while being located outside the narrated world. Not only does the narrator recount the events of the story, but he is also able to provide the reader with detailed information about the characters that appear in the story and their experiences.

The story is characterized by internal focalization, since the focus of perception is on Alfonso, and the narrative is presented through the perspective of the protagonist (Nünning/Nünning 2009: 122). Thus, one perceives how the character feels and simultaneously gains insight into Alfonso’s thoughts and feelings. The thoughts, perceptions and feelings are mediated in different modes of presenting consciousness; they shift between psycho-narration and narrated monologue. Moreover, parts of the story are told in direct dialogue between the characters.

3.4. Stylistic Devices

The author uses vivid descriptions to tell the story and to mediate the actions and thoughts of the characters. This is achieved by using a combination of adjectives and the incorporation of similes and metaphors.

For instance, the simile “his teeth were crocked, like a pile of wrecked cars” (Soto 1990: 2) does not only show Alfonso’s discontent with his appearance in an exaggerated way; it also helps the reader to build up an image of what the protagonist looks like and feels towards himself. Another example, namely the simile “the chain lay in his hand like a dead snake” on page 9 (Soto: 1990), emphasizes the complications occurring in the plot. The broken chain could be interpreted as symbol for Alfonso’s shattered hopes to meet a nice girl and to impress her. The protagonist’s desperate mood is further demonstrated via the ironic sentence “Alfonso couldn’t believe his luck” on the same page.


Excerpt out of 25 pages


Teaching Multicultural Young Adult Stories
Gary Soto's "Broken Chain" in the Foreign Language Classroom
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Institut für Anglistik)
Multicultural Literature in the English Foreign Language Classroom
13 Punkte (1-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
830 KB
Englisch, English, Unterrichtsentwurf, Unterricht, Kurzgeschichte, Short Story, Multicultural, Foreign Language Classroom, Fremdsprachenunterricht, Gary Soto, Young Adult, Foreign Language, EFL, classroom, Lesson Plan, Stundenverlauf
Quote paper
Anne Volkmer (Author), 2012, Teaching Multicultural Young Adult Stories, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/205536


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