Something I think students with siblings might be able to relate to is competing with each other to please their parents or be the best. In some cases it’s all in good fun, but other times young teens might feel pressure to match their sibling’s grades, experiences, or behavior. 

In I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, the main character Julia feels the (not-so-fun) expectation of being just like her older sister Olga (who is perfect in their mother’s eyes). When Olga is killed in a tragic accident, Julia tries to pick up the pieces of her family, which only adds to that pressure. As Julia starts trying to understand her sister’s life, she finds out that Olga wasn’t as perfect as they all thought. Should she continue to strive to be like Olga, or was it all just a façade?



Julia finds school boring overall, but loves her English teacher Mr. Ingman because “he treats us like we’re adults, like he actually cares about what we think and feel.” (28) One lesson he creates involves choosing favorite English words and explaining why. 


This lesson is taken directly from Mr Ingman's in the book, and can be replicated in your own classroom. Use the passage below, how Mr Ingman closes his lesson, as the starting point for your lesson. 


"The words you choose can tell us a lot about yourself,” he says. “In this class, I want you to learn to appreciate—no, wait—I want you to love language. Not only will I expect you to read different texts and learn how to analyze them in smart and surprising ways, I expect you to learn hundreds of new words. See, I’m teaching you standard English, which is the language of power…It means that you will learn to speak and write in a way that will give you authority. Does that mean that the way you speak in your neighborhood is wrong? That slang is bad? That you can’t say on fleek or whatever you kids are saying these days? Absolutely not. That form of speaking is often fun, inventive, and creative, but would it be helpful to speak that way in a job interview? Unfortunately not. I want you to think about these things. I want you to think about words in a way you’ve never done before.” (30–31).


  • Set your purpose for the lesson by reading the passage above to your students. Ask them:
    • Why do you think words are important?
    • What are a few words you think would be appropriate to use with your friends, but not with a teacher or principal?
    • What about a word or phrase that would be fine with friends, but not with your boss at work?
    • Discuss the importance of words overall to break the ice for this activity.
    • Hand out or have students take out a piece of lined paper (it could even be a half sheet).

  • Hand out or have students take out a piece of lined paper (it could even be a half sheet).

  • Ask students to write down words that they would call their favorites—at least five.
    • Julia wrote down “dusk, serenity, flesh, oblivious, vespers, serendipitous, kaleidoscope, dazzle, wisteria, hieroglyphics, sputter.” (29)
  • After students have had time to create their list, have them turn to a shoulder partner (someone to their right or left) and share their words and reasons why they identified them as their favorites.
    • Julia chose to share “wisteria” because “It’s a flower, and it…it just sounds beautiful. Also, it rhymes with hysteria, which I think is kinda cool. And maybe this sounds weird, but when I say it, I like the way it feels in my mouth.” (29)
  • Bring the class back together and have each student share one of their words and why it is their favorite. If students are shy to share, they could choose to share one of their partner’s words and their reasoning. Start the conversation with your own favorite word and why. This creates an open classroom environment where you are also a part of the conversation and comfortable sharing your own opinions.


Download the lesson below to easily print or save!


Jennifer Epping is a high school English and journalism teacher in Des Moines, Iowa. She has a passion for reading, writing, and making lame jokes to her students just to see them laugh or roll their eyes. She just concluded her ninth year teaching. Epping graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in journalism and mass communication (2010) and BA in English Education (2013). She attended New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (2010), and spent some time in children’s book publishing in New York.