"Too Many Tamales," by Gary Soto, is about Maria, who loses her mother's ring on Christmas -- and all the things she does before finally telling the truth. The book offers both an inspiring message about honesty and insight into Latino culture and traditions. Classroom activities for kindergartners to second-graders focus on understanding the story's theme, improving creative writing skills, learning vocabulary words and exploring different cultures.
Advice to Maria
In the story, Maria hides the truth about losing the ring from her mom. To help students understand the importance of honesty and exercise their writing skills, have them write a letter to Maria telling her what she should have done differently. For example, students may write that Maria should have told her mom right away when the ring went missing, because being honest with her mother is even more important than the ring itself. This activity is ideal for second-graders to encourage them to become more comfortable with writing longer text.
The story's cultural references make it an ideal platform for cultural discussion. Point out some of the cultural elements in the story, such as tamales, a traditional Latin America food; the Christmas traditions; and the Spanish terms. Have students share their own cultural backgrounds, the ways they celebrate holidays and some of their favorite foods. Have students learn about the different ways holidays are celebrated around the world by having a Culture Day, when each student will pick a country and do a presentation about it. The cultural discussion can be done with kindergartners to second-graders, while the Cultural Day is best suited for second-graders, because it requires a bit of independent research.
New Vocabulary Words
Highlight some of the interesting words used in the story to help students expand their vocabulary. Words that students may not know might include "tamales," "piped up," "chattered" and "batch." Write these words on a poster and then have students guess what they mean. Then, give them the definitions and examples. For example, in the story, "batch" was used to refer to the batch of tamales that was made, but you can use "My mom made a batch of cookies" as another example. This activity is ideal for kindergartners and first-graders who are still learning the basics of vocabulary.
In the story, Maria and her cousins ate a lot of tamales while trying to find her mom's ring. As a math activity, have students make pretend tamales out of clay or play dough, and use them to solve basic math problems. For example, "If Maria ate two tamales and her cousin ate five, how many did they eat all together?" or "If Maria has two tamales and she eats one, how many does she have left?" This activity is ideal for first-graders, who are just beginning to understand math, as the activity introduces them to basic counting, adding and subtracting.