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How to Tutor Spanish Literature

In the first instalment of our series on "How to tutor Spanish", Yasmin shares her tips to help you tutor Spanish literature like a pro!

Tutor reading Spanish literature

Did you study languages at university, and want to make a difference with your literary expertise when tutoring Spanish students? Here’s 10 simple steps for how to tutor literature (of the Spanish variety!)

1) Make a list of all of the novels, short stories, poems and plays that you have read and enjoyed. Maybe include some other forms of writing such as Spanish newspapers or magazines. You’ll be surprised, the list is probably longer than you think!

2) Don’t be fooled at this stage though; in order to impart enthusiasm for your subject, you need to have a solid grounding yourself. How many of those books would you actually feel comfortable tutoring in a one-on-one session? Whether you loved Isabel Allende in your final year of university, or perused Lorca while lying in the sun in Granada on your Erasmus exchange, how much do you really know? Can you recall the exact cultural and historical context in which the author was writing? Which literary techniques have they employed, and what effect, if any, has this achieved? What was your emotional reaction to this piece of literature? These are all questions which you must ponder and brainstorm before you can begin to interrogate a student on their own thoughts.

3) Once you have decided on a piece of literature you wish to teach, and feel sure of your own knowledge, it’s time to start preparing for the tutoring lesson. First, you will need to ascertain your tutee’s current subject knowledge, so why not prepare a 5-minute quiz (in Spanish)?

For Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, my quiz would consist of the following questions:

  • Which pieces of Latin American literature have you already encountered? Did you enjoy them? If so, why?

  • What do you think the differences between Latin American and Spanish literature might be?

  • Márquez is widely known as being the most celebrated Colombian author. What do you know about Colombia already? Which words, images or people spring to mind?

  • Keeping in mind the novel’s title, what do you imagine its plot to consist of?

4) A quiz like this will start to open up the conversation and help the student to consider new ideas surrounding the piece of literature. It may even prompt them to start asking you some more specific questions, so come prepared!

5) The next stage would be to focus on an excerpt from the text, and where better to start than the opening passage, where most authors keenly attempt to define their tone, style, structure and content.

6) Ask your student to read the passage aloud in Spanish, double checking if there is any vocabulary they have not yet come across and if they understand the overall message. N.B. Try not to dwell on vocabulary too much, as reading any literature of this high level will prove difficult and the most important thing is for the student to grasp the overall meaning and tone of the passage.

7) Provide a clean copy of the passage for the student to annotate and mark features which they find noteworthy or interesting. This may include (but not be limited to): syntax, particular word choice, structure (of both sentences and paragraphs), content (which characters/settings/moods are we introduced to?), any visible techniques (such as simile, metaphor, alliteration, sibilance, hyperbole, allegory, metonymy), and whether at first glance it appears to belong to a particular style or genre.

8) This process may well be a prompt for a more general discussion of what to look for in a piece of literature, and probably a good time to focus more specifically on the requirements and mark scheme for that student’s level and exam board.

9) A fun way to wrap up the first session may be to turn your gaze towards the reaction of other people to this particular piece of literature. This may include book reviews, interviews, film or Netflix adaptations or even tweets! Discussing the wider reach of a particular work is a great way for the student to situate their own thoughts in the broader literary landscape.

10) Finally, don’t forget to set that all important homework! When studying a piece of literature this will often consist of reading the next couple of chapters of a novel, or the next act of a play, but be sure to combine this with setting the student a written piece. This can either be a more informal response to particular elements which they found interesting or focus on a specific question to do with technique, character or context. Writing their own response is the best way for students to demonstrate their understanding using examples from the text — in Spanish, of course! — and provides a handy starter exercise for you to discuss next time you meet.


Blog Post Crafted by Yasmin

Yaz read Spanish and History at Edinburgh University, where she juggled directing Spanish plays and singing in the jazz orchestra. She then completed an MPhil in Latin American Studies at Hughes Hall, Cambridge, writing a thesis on the relation between violence and mental illness in contemporary Colombian literature. She spent a year living in Madrid and has travelled to South America, where she enjoyed a whistle-stop tour of Peru's Machu Picchu. Yaz is often found exploring London's lively jazz scene (when she's not buried in a new novel from a budding Latin American author).


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