Pupusas y Centers en la Mara Salvatrucha

In my Heritage Class, we got off to a rocky start. I started the year with gran plans and big dreams and they started the year wide-eyed, refusing to talk to me.

It sounded like this:

Sra. Chase: ¡Buenas Tardes! ¡Bienvenidos! ¿Cómo están?

Students: …

Sra. Chase: ¿Están bien? ¿Están cansados?


Sra. Chase: ¿Están…vivos?

Maybe they were shell-shocked, I was not who they were expecting to teach this course: an overly enthusiastic güera with far from perfect Spanish. Maybe it’s because they’re language shy and not very confident in their Spanish. Maybe a combination of both. After a few painful days, I did what any good, reflective educator would do:

I bribed them.

Every time time you speak to me in Spanish, I’ll add another marble to the jar. And when the jar is filled up, I will cook something delicious for you!

Probably not sound pedagogy. I’m sure the critics will say, “don’t force output-they need more input”. Yes, I agree…but it was just so rough…it was like teaching to an empty room…I just couldn’t do it any more.  And thankfully, it worked! They got real motivated and just last week, their jar was filled up and I owed them “something delicious”.

Currently,  we’re in the middle of reading Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha, a fabulously compelling novela published by Fluency Matters. Although the novela is set in Los Angeles, it is about Salvadoran immigrants who came to the US and started the Mara Salvatrucha gang. And since I wanted to make something new for my Little Darlings to try, what would be better than Pupusas, El Salvador’s national dish? And what would be more fun than bringing in pupusas? Making pupusas together in class! Logistically speaking, I needed to break them into small groups, so I could cook with 4-5 students at a time, while keeping the others focused and on task…so Centers!

I don’t do Centers a lot in my classroom…but every time I do, I wonder why I don’t do it more. If you haven’t tried Centers in your classroom, Martina Bex has some wise words and lots of ideas Proficiency Oriented Stations on her blog.

Generally we’re deskless, but I break out our folding tables for special occasions. I set up 5 centers and each group had 4-5 students in it. They rotated every 15 minutes, and all in all, things went surprisingly well.


If pupusas are not your jam, but you’d like some other easy things to cook in class…I’ve got you covered: Food Network: CI edition

And now, here’s the play by play of the Mara Salvatrucha Centers:

Center 1: A hacer las pupusas

Quick Commercial- all the Amazon links below are Associate Links, which means if you buy something (anything!) from Amazon by clicking though my link, I’ll earn a tiny commission and you’ll get your Amazon goodies at no extra cost! It’s an easy way you can support what’s happening here at SenoraChase.com. Now back to our previously scheduled programming 🙂

The main event!  If you’re new to making pupusas, here’s a step by step recipe to get you up to speed. This station took the most planning, but it was not too bad. I set up a big cooking table with:

    • Electric Hot Water Kettle with hot water
    • Electric Griddle
    • a great big bowl
    • a bag of Maseca Corn Flour (which you can find at Walmart, in the Hispanic Foods aisle)
    • Canned black beans, shredded white cheese and a few spoons
    • Curtido (the glorious cabbagey, oniony,  vinagery slaw that crowns the pupusas- I made this at home the day before and brought it prepared in a great, big Tupperware.)
    • Plastic Gloves– Don’t skip these,  unless you have a sink in your classroom! Mixing masa and forming pupusas is messy- the gloves are the key to success!
    • Can opener, spatulas, hand towels
    • Extension Cord
    • Paper plates, forks and napkins for serving

It worked best to have the masa already mixed before the first group came to me, so we could get forming the pupusas right away, because they take quite a while to cook. I gave each kiddo a wad of masa that they rolled into a ball, then opened up with their thumbs and stuffed with beans, cheese or both. Then carefully, they closed up the ball around their filling, then flattened it out and handed it back to me. I flattened it a bit more (don’t leave them too think or they’ll take FOREVER to cook!) and then I tossed it onto my preheated (don’t forget that step!) griddle.


While we waited for the pupusas to cook, I had them help me prepare more masa for the next group. They slowly add warm water to the maseca, while another student mixes it together with their hands.  A few tip- make sure to supervise this carefully, I gave them instructions: poquito más agua….poquito más…poquito más.  And be sure to set this set this station up next to an open door! You don’t want to be the teachers that sets the fire alarm off!

I was also really intentional to chat with my students in Spanish while we were waiting for their pupusas…about their plans for Thanksgiving, what they’re excited about, how their classes are going…you know, all the things. It was really nice to have time with small groups to get to know them better, strengthen relationships and marvel about how much things have changed since the beginning of the year when they refused to talk to me. Thank you, Jesus!

Center 2: A comer y a escuchar

Make sure to start the rotations with this center empty…since no one will be able to eat the first rotation! That will also ensure that the Pupusa Station will be empty  during the last rotation, giving you time to clean it up while they finish their last center. 

There’s this fabulously catchy, super annoying song called A mí me gustan las pupusas which I had ready on a Chromebook. Since the pupusas take 10-12 minutes to cook, I sent my Pupusa cookers onto their next station when the timer sounded, where they did the song activity while their pupusas finished cooking (and while the next group started forming their pupusas). Once their pupusas finished cooking, I called them over to collect their pupusas, top them with curtido, then back to their table to each and finish their song task.

While they listened, they completed this CLOZE activity with the song lyrics and then did a little Chromebook research on the bolded, underlined words in the song…words like garrobos and guanaco. Once they figured out what each bolded, underlined word was, they drew a line from the word to its corresponding photo. pupusas cancion

Center 3: A leer

At this station, they read chapter 7 of Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha as a group, then completed a Reading Quick Quiz, which they left of my desk at the end of their 15 minutes.

Center 4: A jugar parejas

Before class, I created a set of matching cards, on index cards, so they could play memory with their group. I focused on questions and answers from the prologue, about the Mara Salvatrucha gang, how it started and how it has evolved. One one card I wrote a question, on another I wrote the corresponding answer.  To play, they put all the cards face down, the one student picks a card, shows it to everyone, then picks another card. If they are a match, if the question and the answer go together, they keep it. If not, they put them both back on the table, face down, and another student picks 2 cards to try to form a match.

I made 22 cards (so 11 parejas) and this was the center that went too fast. They finished before the 15 minutes was up, so I had them play again. Next year, I will add in a few more questions and answers to make it last longer.

Center 5: A Responder

While everyone else was at ACTFL last weekend, I was cuddling our new puppy on the couch and binge watching Facebook Live Posts from the conference.  I watch an amazing presentation by Kristy Placido and Cynthia Hitz about a zillion extension activities to use with novels. I learned a new strategy called Take one please, which I thought was so amazingly brilliant!

It’s a game where students work in pairs and have a paper with a bunch of questions on it. Out in the hallway are all the answers, typed out and cut into strips (like the flyers in the grocery store, with the phone numbers cut apart and hanging at the bottom, so people can tear off one to take home). One student reads a question on their paper, zips into the hallway looking for the corresponding answers, tears it off, runs back into class and then glues it onto their paper, under the corresponding question. Then the partner picks another question, runs into the hallway in search of that  answer and so on. How brilliant is that?! Reading, reading and more reading!!! For my centers, I took out the running and game element, but I gave them a question sheet and an answer sheet. They cut apart the answers, read then and then glued them below the corresponding question. I was careful to not repeat names in the question and answer…I didn’t want to make it too easy for my little darlings. I wanted them to carefully read all the answers, not just skimming for names! For example: ¿Quién era Analía? Era la nieta de una dueña de un negocio. Cuando el narrador le dijo que la mujer le pagara, ella no quiso y se puso enojada. Entonces su nieta llegó y conoció al narrador.

(I can’t wait to try the game version when the snow melts and we can play outside! Thanks ladies for sharing your session with the rest of us!)


Here are the instruction sheets for each center, feel free to make a copy and edit them to make them work for you! This was the perfect way to spend the last period before Thanksgiving break. And speaking of Thanksgiving, I am very thankful for all of you! Thank you for reading my musings, for your kind words and encouragement , and for the little community you’ve fostered in this tiny corner of the internet. Blessings, dear friends!

If you’re planning on doing Comprehensible Online this year, use the code AnneMarie20 for a discount!


  1. Hi! I am unable to download the instruction sheets. For some reason I get this message in the URL line, with nothing on the screen: about:blank#blocked

    I am at home so I don’t think there is any filter on my internet. Strange…


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