¿Quién soy? Riddles as vehicle for English learners’ language development
Integrating students’ cultures and languages into instruction is no simple task. One must be willing and able to relate to students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds. How to do this, though, when we our exposure to cultures or languages different from our own may be limited at best?
In the case of English learners whose native language is Spanish, one way to relate to their cultures and language is by integrating elements of their oral tradition into instruction. Traditional nursery rhymes in the Spanish language, as well as circle games, proverbs, tongue twisters, folk storytelling, and riddles are elements of the Hispanic oral tradition that generations have passed on through the spoken word and that encourage language development in an authentic fashion. In this post, I will introduce adivinanzas (riddles) as a culturally and linguistically authentic instructional resource for language development.
What is an adivinanza?
An adivinanza is a riddle; a puzzling question, often presented in verse that may integrate rhyme, and which is posed as a problem to be solved or guessed. Recently, I had the opportunity to share a few adivinanzas with second-grade students whose native language is Spanish. My adivinanzas were meant to be used as a transitional activity. However, my plan did not work. The reason? My students found adivinanzas so intriguing and engaging that all they wanted to do after attempting to guess the answers to my riddles was create their own adivinanzas and challenge each other guessing the right answers. My transitional activity inevitably turned into an introduction to adivinanzas, so I modified my lesson and had students work in pairs as they brainstormed and designed their own adivinanzas around academic science vocabulary we had just reviewed. Students were engaged (some even over-excited!) as they challenged each other to guess their riddles, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience. More importantly, all through this process, students used academic Spanish vocabulary with a purpose. With a real purpose.
Resources for adivinanzas
In the last 20 years, the Hispanic oral tradition has had a slowly-growing, but steady presence in instructional materials in print in the U.S. Some resource books with a focus on adivinanzas for grades PK-5 include:
- Adivinanzas, poesias y predicciones andinas de Bolivia/Peru/Ecuador by Luis Morató Peña (2018)
- ¿Qué tiene el rey en la panza? by Alejandra Longo (2014)
- El libro de las adivinanzas by Jose Emilio Pacheco (2014)
- 365 adivinanzas (Grandes Libros) by Susaeta Publishing (2010)
- Folklore portorriqueñ Cuentos y adivinanzas recogidos de la tradición oral by Rafael Ramírez de Arellán (2009)
- Adivinanzas mexicanas (Libros del alba). ¿Qué tiene el rey en la panza? by José Antonio Flores Farfán (2007)
- Adivinanzas mayas y yucatecas. Naat le baala paalen: Adivina esta cosa el ninio by Fidencio Briseño Chel (2006)
- Adivinanzas en mixteco, la lengua de la lluvia by Margarita de Orellana (2005)
- El gran libro de las adivinanzas by Mario Calderón (2006)
- Tito, Tito, Rimas, Adivinanzas y Juegos by Isabel Schon (1998)
Also, a popular website featuring a variety of riddles classified by theme is El huevo de chocolate available at http://www.elhuevodechocolate.com/adivina1.html
Examples of adivinanzas
The Hispanic oral tradition has coined a some adivinanzas that consist of a word puzzle where the answer is embedded in the letter of the riddle itself (see the words in bold below).
|Blanco por dentro,|
verde por fuera.
Si quieres que te lo diga,
|White on the inside,|
green on the outside.
If you want me to tell you what it is,
What is it?
|Oro no es|
plata no es.
El que no lo adivine
listo no es.
|It’s not gold.|
It’s not silver.
The one who cannot guess this
is not smart.
What is it?
In the case of most adivinanzas, however, the answer is not in the letter of the riddle itself. Although most adivinanzas are free form and follow no specific rules regarding rhyme or the number of verses in a riddle, young children especially enjoy adivinanzas that integrate rhythm and rhyme.
A popular structure for adivinanzas is the quatrain (4-line stanza) where the second and four lines rhyme. The quatrain is followed by a question starting with Who or What, which invites the listener to guess the answer. Notice the quatrains in the adivinanzas below and the rhyming Spanish words in bold for the second and fourth lines in each riddle. The English translation of the adivinanzas is provided as a reference only. Note that the rhyme and rhythm are lost in the English translation, which lacks the cultural and linguistical relevance the original Spanish riddles possess.
|Los dedos muy separados.|
Las ropas de mil colores.
Van veloces y ordenados.
Los buscan los cazadores.
|Their toes are separated from each other.|
Their clothes are colorful.
They go by fast and in an orderly manner.
Hunters look for them.
Who are we?
Un convento bien cerrado,
sin campanas y sin torres
y muchas monjitas dentro
preparan dulces de flores.
A well-closed convent,
with no bells or towers
and a lot of nuns in there
prepare candy from flowers.
Who am I?
|Tengo cabeza redonda|
sin nariz, ojos ni frente,
y mi cuerpo se compone
tan sólo de blancos dientes.
|My head is round|
I have no nose, eyes, or forehead,
and my body consists
of only white teeth.
Who am I?
(A head of garlic)
|Llevo mi casa al hombro,|
camino sin una pata
y voy marcando mi huella
con un hilito de plata.
|I carry my home on my shoulders,|
I walk without a foot
and I mark my path
with a silver thread.
Who am I?
|Ojos enormes yo tengo|
que cierro durante el día
y por las noches los abro.
Soy el que canta y vigila.
|I have huge eyes|
I close them during the day
and I open them at night.
I am the one who sings and watches.
Who am I?
Preliminary considerations for the integration of adivinanzas into instruction
As a rich resource for instruction anchored in the Hispanic oral tradition, adivinanzas lend themselves to a variety of activities for students who are taught in the Spanish language. Whether students speak Spanish as their native or second language, adivinanzas serve as an authentic cultural and linguistic vehicle for language development.
How to integrate this resource into instruction? Looking back at my failed transitional activity and students’ enthusiasm when experiencing adivinanzas in class for the first time, I think I would do things differently the next time around. Instead of using three random adivinanzas to gather students’ attention during a transition, I would use one adivinanza as a warm-up activity for new lessons. For example, in the case of a second-grade science lesson, I could use the adivinanza below to have students guess the topic of the day (sea animals).
|Adentro vivo y adentro juego.|
Adentro no hay quien me alcance.
Adentro me quedo y adentro sigo,
porque si salgo, sufro un percance.
|Inside I live and inside I play.|
Inside, no one can reach me.
Inside I am, and inside I’ll continue to be,
because if I get out, I will suffer a mishap.
Who am I?
Continued student exposure to adivinanzas and their structure (quatrains, rhyme) could be a routine in a given subject matter where students solve a riddle at some point during the lesson (during the warm up, presentation, guided practice, independent practice, etc.). Riddles can also be interspersed across subject areas as appropriate and presented at some point where “the adivinanza of the day” is featured.
To prepare students to create their own riddles, students must first get a sense of the structure in adivinanzas (how many lines in the stanza, which lines rhyme). This is accomplished through continued exposure to riddles over time, explicit identification of their attributes, as well as modeling and guided practice of the steps to follow for creating an adivinanza.
In my next post, I will share ways to have students in elementary grade levels create their own adivinanzas around academic vocabulary. I hope you stay tuned. Also, if you live in Texas and would like to learn about riddles and other playful ways to encourage students’ use of academic vocabulary, you might be interested in one of two workshops I will be co-facilitating in September and October 2018. For more information, go the page of our workshop Three Steps to Review and Master Academic Vocabulary with ELLs. How about I see you there?
Thank you for reading! Claudia
Claudia Sánchez is a bilingual curriculum writer, conference presenter, and professor. The focus of her work is the practice of teaching and learning with ELLs.