El gato de Sèvres

This widely anthologized story by Mexican author Marco Almazán is humorous and also fun to act out.

We just finished reading this story in my heritage speakers class. I like that it is short but also has a good amount of vocabulary to explicitly play with throughout the week prior to actually reading the story. Students had a surprisingly good reaction to the story, with several chuckling aloud. I loved that!

At the beginning of the week I wanted to make sure that they knew the vocabulary so that they could get swept up into the story. Nothing ruins humor faster than having to pause to remember what a word means. We started with this list of twenty-three words and spent about thirty minutes talking (in Spanish) about the words. I would never give my non-heritage speakers such a long vocabulary list, but for my heritage speakers many of these words are not exactly new, but not always part of their active vocabularies either. The conversations that we have help activate prior knowledge (such is often the case with words like rabo, repugnante, and roñoso). Out of context my students stare blankly at me when I say the word roñoso, but a flash of recognition strikes across the room the moment I say something like No quiero que mi hija salga con aquel roñoso….

2 vocab sample completed 001As we talk we create our own definitions in Spanish, with my gentle guidance. Click on the photo to the right to see a copy of the definitions that we came up with this year; they are not dictionary definitions (for the most part) but rather generated from student ideas. This process helps me recognize which words I really have work on this week. The least familiar words will likely show up in a game of contacto at some point during the week. Starting with FVR and ending with a few minutes of a telenovela, I think this is enough for the first day.

On the second day, after our FVR period is complete, we use this power point presentation as a conversation piece, Although it is set up as a vocabulary presentation I definitely take the opportunity to discuss each photo, speculating and building little stories while finding as many occasions as possible to recycle the vocabulary in context. You could rush through this in 4 minutes, but I think it is better if you draw it out into a twenty minute activity. Afterwards, just for fun, we played boggle en español and then ended with ten minutes of telenovela.

On the third day I read and acted out the story. At first I projected the story against a screen, had a student sit at the computer and scroll down as I read, and I acted out the story with a few props and the help of one student actor (who played the part of the antiques dealer). Since I have students with vastly different reading abilities I like to act out and read aloud many stories. After we read the story I distributed copies to students and they answered the questions. I then pulled up the vocabulary power point presentation one more time and, as we saw each picture, I asked students to explain how that word was used in the story. For example, when they saw roñoso they just said something like el gato está roñoso.

Finally, on the fourth day of the lesson, we started with a longer FVR period and then I gave them this vocabulary assessment. On the back of the assessment I had them write about their FVR reading for the week. I like that, by the end of the week, even the students with a weak vocabulary can successfully complete this assessment and feel good about having read an interesting, authentic piece of literature.


  1. Great lesson plans! I like the progression of activities in prepping them for the story.
    This is one of my favorite short stories because I used to point out to students that some people may know more than others give them credit for knowing. Not everyone shows their full hand of cards at once.

    Before I taught with CI, I used this story regularly, but my students are non heritage speakers and it was too much of a struggle for them (much more obvious to me now). I tried acting it out first using more common words, but when we read the original, it still wasn’t successful. My compromise is to read/tell/act the story “Es mejor parecer tonto que ser lo” instead, and then I leave that phrase in the board for weeks and I point to it when appropriate.

    That also solved the problem of having to ask the French teacher how to pronounce Sèvres each time I told the story. 🙂

    1. Hahaha, when I taught it years ago in a non-heritage speakers class (pre-TPRS) I actually had a French exchange student who I asked to say the name of the city each time it came up. The look on her face whenever I tried to pronounce it was priceless. I think this story was anthologized in one of the major textbooks for level 4 back in the day, years ago, when kids were asked to leap from very little real reading in level 3 to authentic lit in level 4… craziness!

      I have not read the story “Es mejor parecer tonto…” and when I googled it there where lots of hits since it is a common saying… do you happen to know who wrote the story? Sounds like a good follow-up, even if it is an easier reading for the heritage speakers.

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