Introducing Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha Novel

The novel Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha is a compelling drama about life and death in the MS-13 gang.  We read it in level 4 and I always like to do a lot of pre-reading activities to prepare the students for the novel.  I give them vocabulary that they need to acquire, background cultural knowledge, and I hook them.   Here is what I do to accomplish that.

  • Unit Hook from Kristy Placido:  “Recruiting Day”  Have an administrator come in and “remove” a couple students.  Read more about this hook HERE.
  • Background Info on El Salvador:  In order for the students to better understand the culture and history of the novel, I briefly talk about El Salvador and its civil war.  I make sure to talk about the FMLN and about the recruiting of 12 year old for the war.  I use the slideshow found on this site.
  • Film Study.  We watch Voces Inocentes before reading the novel.  It is a powerful film that shows the instability of El Salvador during the war.  It is a great lead in to the novel.  Kara Jacobs has great discussion questions on her blog.
  • Essential Questions.  I give them this essential questions sheet as a guide through out the unit.  They answer the questions as we discuss the film and the novel.
  • Pre-teach vocabulary.  I pre-teach a lot of the vocabulary structures from the novel using TPR.  I used this TPR story as a way to do that.  I had students act out the story as I read it.
  • After about two weeks of pre-reading activities, we are ready to start the novel.
  • The teacher’s guide has a lot of great activities for this novel.  It is a must buy!
  • Other resources for this novel:




  1. Hi Dustin
    Just want to thank you for the amazing resources and ideas that you share so freely. I have found your site very helpful this fall. I LOVE the “Beyond the Cloze” ideas -thank you so much for your time and for your willingness to share

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