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How does your book start? Playing literary games with the IB Spanish class

March 05, 2017
By Julieta Vitullo

Julieta Vitullo's IB Spanish class plays Ficcionario“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” The sentence opens Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of the best-regarded works of Western literature and by all accounts the single most acclaimed contemporary novel in the Spanish language. Like the first scene in a movie or the overture in a symphony, the beginning of a story has to be captivating enough for readers to want to keep spending time reading it. Those first words, images or ideas will set the tone for what will come.

There’s a game called “Fictionary” that builds on the importance of great first lines by turning readers into writers and giving them permission to have fun manipulating words. In this game, participants need to come up with a believable first sentence for a given novel based on a quick look at the book’s cover, and on some basic knowledge about the plot and the author. Participants write their sentences on a piece of paper and give the paper to the person who picked the book. Then that person has to read all the sentences out loud, including the real sentence from the book, which is slipped into the stash of sentences so that nobody can tell that piece of paper has the real sentence. Participants then get to vote: which one is the actual opening sentence? They collect points when they pick the true sentence but also —and this is where the enjoyment lies, no pun intended— when their fake sentences get picked.

Playing Ficcionario: Spencer Drewry, Ruby Gsellman, IB Spanish teacher Julieta Vitullo, Ben Browning, and Ryley MercadoI must admit that I’ve been waiting for years to play this game with my students. For as long as I’ve been teaching at West Sound I’ve been hoping for the time my Spanish learners would have enough skills to play this game. That means, enough skills to write sentences that are not just sophisticated but also sufficiently well constructed as to deceive others into thinking that they were written by a famous writer. The time finally came and on Friday March 3rd the IB seniors and juniors set themselves to the task of judging books by their covers and writing sentences as compelling as to cajole their peers—or at least good enough to make them laugh.

Books used for playing FiccionarioThis time also coincided with our reading of One Hundred Years of Solitude. No, students did not get to read the 500-page volume in full but they did read more than the first sentence. They spent several classes discussing the context of the novel, building the vocabulary needed to understand the action in the first few pages of the story of the Buendía family and familiarizing themselves with some of the characters. The reading was not without struggles but students got through it. After oral discussions and written exercises, they wrote a news story based on some of the fictional events narrated in those first few pages of the novel. We ended this unit introducing other works of Latin American fiction and expanding the imagination by playing Ficcionario.

Now if you care to play, here is a small selection of some of the opening sentences that students wrote. Do you dare guess which are real and which phony? *

(Click here to find the answers after you are done.)

1. El limonero real (The Royal Lemon Tree) by Juan José Saer – It is the last day of the year and a family living on the wild islands of the Paraná river deals with the absence of two of its members.

a) “El limonero mira furtivamente a través de la ventana a la cocina”. / “The lemon tree sneaks up on the kitchen through the window.”
b) “Amanece y ya está con los ojos abiertos”. / “The sun rises and his eyes are already open.”
c) “El limonero que está en el centro del campo es la mejor parte del verano”. / “The lemon tree that is on the center of the field is the best part of the summer.”

2. El lugar sin límites (Hell Has No Limits) by José Donoso – Life is not easy for Manuela, the drag queen who runs the brothel of a small town near Santiago de Chile.

a) “La Manuela despegó con dificultad sus ojos lagañosos”. / “Manuela pried open her crusty eyes.”
b) “Cuando tenía seis años Manuela oyó: ‘Algunos universos son más grandes que otros’”. / “When she was six, Manuela heard: some universes are bigger than others.’”
c) “Su obra era su casa y su pincel era el maquillaje que todas miraban con interés”. / “Her work was her home and her brush the makeup that they all regarded with interest.”

3. Las reputaciones (Reputations) by Juan Gabriel Vásquez - The life of a political cartoonist feared and revered by the most powerful people in Colombia changes after he receives an unexpected visit.

a) “Sentado frente al Parque Santander […] Mallarino tuvo de repente la certeza de haber visto a un caricaturista muerto”. / “Sitting across from the Santander Park […] Mallarino was suddenly certain that he had seen a dead cartoonist.”
b) “Las personas dicen que la política no es cómica: en realidad es la farsa más grande de la historia del ser humano”. / “People say that politics are not funny: in fact, they are the biggest farce in human history.”
c) “El se sentó en su oficina, con todo el poder del país en su mano”. / “He sat at his office with all the country’s power in his hand.”

* While most of the books we used have been translated, the translations I provide here are my own.

Tags: IB, spanish
Posted in Academics