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Taking Sides

Gary Soto

Theme: Finding Your Identity
Grades: Grades 8-9

Lincoln Mendoza is a star basketball player for Franklin Junior High in the barrio of San Francisco, but when his house is broken into, his mother decides they should move to a better neighborhood—the prosperous white suburb of Sycamore ten miles away. Lincoln likes the change at first, but soon he begins to miss his old friends and school. There's more to Lincoln's plight than being homesick, though. He has a fight with Tony, his best friend from the barrio; his divorced mother has a white boyfriend whom Lincoln dislikes; his basketball coach doesn't like him; he hurts his knee; and his new house is broken into. What else can go wrong? Well, he has a fight with Monica, a girl from his new school whom he really likes, and his coach benches him for the big game between his new school and his old one. When the big game finally takes place, it forces Lincoln to figure out who he is and where he belongs.

  1. Making Personal Connections.
    Ask students to think about what it means to be a "new kid" in school. Have them individually brainstorm a list of words and phrases that describe how the experience feels. If they've been new to a school, encourage them to recall how they felt. If they have not been a new student, urge them to draw upon experiences they have had when they were new to a situation or thrown in with a group of people they did not know. Then invite students to tell about their experiences and how they felt. Did their experiences help to shape or confirm their identities? Encourage them to keep these feelings in mind as they read the novel.
  1. Linking to Today: Ethnic Boundaries.
    Invite students to name ethnic neighborhoods that they are familiar with, know about from the news, or have seen on television or in movies. List their answers on the chalkboard. Have students choose one of these neighborhoods and create a comparison-and-contrast chart showing how this neighborhood is similar to and different from their own neighborhood. In a follow-up class discussion, ask students whether they think the similarities or the differences are greater. Ask students if they feel their identities are tied to their own neighborhoods. Urge students to keep their conclusions in mind as they read the novel and to decide how Lincoln would respond to this question.
  1. Moving On.
    Have students write a poem from Lincoln's point of view expressing how he feels about living in Sycamore by the end of the novel.

  1. Break a Leg!
    Challenge students to work in pairs or small groups to select a scene from the novel to act out. Suggest they look for a passage that is rich in dialogue, but allow them to add lines if necessary to develop the scene. Have the students choose roles and rehearse their parts before they act out the scene for the class.
  1. Many Faces.
    In this project, students will research a culture that particularly interests them. The purpose of the activity is to increase students' awareness of the benefits of a multicultural society.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Guide a discussion of the cultures represented in Taking Sides and in the related readings. You might draw cluster diagrams on the chalkboard for Mexican Americans, African Americans, Anglo Americans, etc. and invite students to give examples of contributions these diverse cultures add to American society. Also have students brainstorm a list of cultures represented in their community or in the United States.
  • Ask students to pick a culture that interests them and to research that culture using the library, the Internet, and other resources. Encourage them to talk to people they know who are familiar with the culture they're researching.
  • Have students organize their research into a short report, which they will present to the class. Encourage class discussion after each report.
  1. Write A Biography.
    Discuss with students the fact that Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the United States. Their stories are as varied as the immigrant Ernesto Galarza's and the American-born Gary Soto's. Have students choose a Hispanic person that they know personally or that they have read about or seen on TV. Students then research information on that person's life either by interviewing people or by reading books and articles. Finally, have students write a short biography of the person. Ask students to think about what events or characteristics helped shape their subject's identity.