Pack Your Bags for Paraguay!

An Enrichment for the Third Grade

Stephanie Wasta

Imagine flowering trees with golden blossoms, a thatch-roofed two-room house, and red clay roads leading to small village stores, schools, and chapels. Imagine children dressed in white shirts with navy skirts or pants playing soccer and other games to Spanish rhymes and phrases in Guaraní, the indigenous language of Paraguay. Imagine getting your drinking water from a well and picking oranges from a tree outside your school window. Imagine sprinkling your classroom brick floor with water and sweeping out the dust each day before school begins. Imagine what life is like in a small rural village in Paraguay.


Enrichment Cluster Experience

For four class periods, a small group of second and third grade children in Missoula, Montana, were able to imagine life in Paraguay and much more. They viewed slides, listened to stories, practiced speaking Spanish, created Paraguayan-like artwork, and learned about unique animals from this intriguing, landlocked country in South America. The children were participating in an enrichment cluster experience in which they “journeyed” to Paraguay and caught a glimpse of life in this South American country. Enrichment clusters comprised seven to eight students from several second and third grade classrooms. All students selected a special topic to study from a list of many choices and spent one hour per week with their cluster leader and small group. Most of my students were eager to learn about other countries, and some had recently studied Argentina. But none knew much of anything about Paraguay, a country the size of California, home to five million people.


Guiding Student Learning Opportunities

Students began their study by brainstorming information they knew about Paraguay. Most thought the country was in South America, but weren’t sure of its exact location. Others thought the climate would be hot and humid, but weren’t sure about what crops were raised there. I listed students’ ideas under the K of our K-W-L (Know, Want to know, Learned) chart and then asked students what they hoped to learn about Paraguay.1 Common responses included what it was like to live there, what school was like, what kinds of animals one might find there, what stories the children knew and what Paraguayan children did for fun. We used these ideas to structure the lessons for the next several class periods.

The students’ ideas suggested that they wanted an integrated learning experience with social studies content as the main focus, but also were curious about topics related to science and literature. As I listened to the queries of the children, our focus of study became clear as it related to the social studies content standards 1 Culture; 3 People, Places, and Environment; and 5 Individuals, Groups, and Institutions.2 Because I wanted the students to have as much ownership of this learning experience as possible, I also wanted the lessons to be grounded in the inquiry philosophy. The students would research problem statements following such an approach.3


Where is Paraguay?

The students and I agreed that we needed to start our investigation by determining the location of Paraguay and researching general geographic information. In small groups of two or three students, the children perused a number of children’s atlases such as The Reader’s Digest Children’s Atlas of the World and National Geographic’s World Atlas for Young Explorers.4 The large format, easy-to-read keys and symbols made these works very appealing to young geographers. The students soon discovered Paraguay’s capital, Asunción, and neighboring countries, Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil. They noted the Paraguay and Parana rivers that determine its boundaries as well as aspects of its terrain, especially the swamplands. We added this information to our K-W-L Paraguay chart, and students each wrote at least two new geographical features they learned on their Paraguay analysis sheets. Students also completed a Paraguay map exercise in which they labeled Paraguay and its neighboring countries and drew pictures of three key Paraguayan features that they believed a Paraguayan map should include (that is, the names of rivers, crops and animals found there, and so on).

What is it like there?

A. Viewing Slides. The atlases included a number of beautiful photographs of South America, but none pertained directly to Paraguay. The students generated some ideas of what they might see in Paraguay based on these general images, but were eager to view actual scenes of this region, so we viewed slides portraying actual rural and urban areas of the country. I had acquired slides from my trips to Paraguay, but your school librarian may have books, audio/visual materials, or websites on Paraguay to recommend.

As students observed the slides, I prompted them to describe what they noticed about the countryside. “What are the buildings made of? What can you tell about the trees? What are the people doing? What do you notice about the landscape? What do these slides tell us about Paraguay ?” Students commented on the palm trees next to the colorful flowering trees, the modern skyscrapers next to the older Spanish-style buildings, the families enjoying a day at the river, and how green the landscape was! Many were surprised to find similarities between Paraguay and the United States. Yet, there were also some differences. Cows wandering down dirt roads in small villages and clothing hung out to dry on fences are not common sights in most of America.

B. Examining Artifacts. We continued our exploration by examining a few artifacts and agricultural products from Paraguay. We used items I had collected from my travels, but many of the agricultural products would be easy to acquire at a local grocery store. Each student pulled an item out of the Paraguay “suitcase” and became the expert for his or her item. Each student-researcher described the item and gave an interpretation of what it might tell us about Paraguay. After each expert shared ideas, other students added their own analyses. Some of the items included a traditional cotton shirt with colorful embroidery, a corn bread recipe (sopa paraguaya), a Guaraní seed necklace, a ceramic wall hanging of a typical Paraguayan house, a leather wallet, a pineapple, an orange, sugar, coffee, children’s school books, traditional weaving (ñandutí), an embroidered table cloth, a hand woven cotton bag, and a Paraguayan newspaper. The students enjoyed pulling the objects out of the suitcase and taking on the role of social scientist.

On examining all the items together, the students were asked to make conclusions about Paraguay’s geography from what they knew at this point. Students made statements about what they learned for our group K-W-L chart and added individual information to their own analysis sheet. Students made comments such as: “They have colorful artwork,” “They use cotton a lot,” and “They raise many fruits, so it must be warm some of the time.” Because students were analyzing the Paraguayan objects and making their own interpretations, they were following the inquiry process.


What kinds of animals live there?

While examining the atlases, some students noted pictures of a few of the animals from Paraguay and wanted to know about others. I located a number of books on mammals, reptiles, and birds, and each student selected one animal to briefly research. Our list included toucan, crocodile, jaguar, wild boar (peccary), capybara, tapir, anteater, and armadillo, none of which lived in Montana, so all were mysterious and intriguing. The book Mammals was an excellent resource, as it included beautiful photographs and interesting text.5 Students eagerly described their animals, what they ate, and other interesting features. Then we all examined the photographs together and made group interpretations. Students were encouraged to note what they could discover about the animals from examining the photographs and reading short passages. While Mammals was a useful resource, teachers would need to select specific excerpts to assist students with this material. Because many of these animals were unfamiliar to the students, follow-up matching games such as concentration (when shown photographs of animals, could students name them?) served as fun shortactivities.

For assessment, the students drew a picture of their favorite animal in their Paraguay journal and wrote several interesting facts about it. By examining the animals of Paraguay, students were able to enrich their geographical understanding of the country. Learning what animals eat, and how they survive and take care of themselves also provided insight into climate, vegetation, and the general terrain.


What is school like?

To gain understanding of the daily life of children, we investigated the average school day. Students made predictions about school activities in Paraguay and once again they viewed slides to gather some information about what school is like in rural areas. They were surprised to learn that most elementary students went to school only four hours a day and wore uniforms. My second and third graders also commented on the ways children celebrated a number of holidays in their schools and were quite interested in the languages they learned, both Spanish and Guaraní. However, they also discovered that Paraguayan students studied many subjects in common with their own curricula: social life and communication (social studies and language arts); mathematics; and nature, health, and work are the three main areas students study in the elementary grades.

My students also liked the idea of planting a school garden and learning cultural dances that their Paraguayan peers enjoyed. However, sweeping the classroom floor, cleaning the outhouse, and making fresh squeezed orange juice for the teacher were not appealing aspects of school life to these American children!

Following the viewing of the slides, the students participated in a simulated Paraguayan school experience that included reading simple phrases from a first grade Spanish textbook. For example, students repeated the phrases amo a Mamá. Mamá me ama (I love Mom. Mom loves me) in unison and copied it in their journals, a typical practice in many Paraguayan schools. Students also learned Spanish greetings and other basic phrases. In addition, they studied a few greetings in Guaraní. At each step of the lesson, students were actively involved in directing the focus of instruction.


Art and Folktales

During another class period, students examined a traditional form of embroidery. Following the inquiry model, students noted the color and design of the thread work and speculated on what the weaving might represent. Then I retold a Paraguayan folktale related to the artwork. The story tells of a poor peasant lad who longs to marry a rich princess. The princess would consider suitors based upon the gifts they brought her. The poor lad who had no money was distraught about what gift he might bring her. Relaying his dilemma to his mother, she assured him she would think of a solution. And one early morning, with dew glistening on a spider web, an idea struck her; she would duplicate the beauty of nature in her embroidery work. She created her own colorful version of a spider web, known in Guaraní as ñandutí. Unfortunately, no one knows if the peasant won the princess’s heart, but the artwork lives on today.

After hearing the folktale, students reflected on their original speculations about the artwork and the new information they had learned. Then the students created their own ñandutí, making spider web designs out of yarn and gluing them to felt backgrounds. We also discussed comparisons between this story and folktales we tell in our culture. Some students thought the Paraguayan folktale was similar to Cinderella except that the focus was on the young man and not the woman. A number of students also questioned the notion of marrying someone based on the type of gifts the future spouse could provide. One young girl emphatically stated that such practices were wrong; marriage should not be based on wealth, but on love. Thus, we had a lively discussion on culture, how beliefs influence our lives, how stories convey culture, and how culture changes over time.



Four class periods do not provide enough time to study another culture or country in-depth, but it is enough time to encourage students to begin their own explorations. By following an inquiry process, students investigate their own questions and become actively involved in the learning process. By using resources such as slides, artifacts, maps, and folktales, students make their own interpretations about what they are learning and become connected on a deeper level to the content they are studying.6 When you “pack your curriculum bags” to visit another country, make sure the students help navigate. Both you and your students will be glad you did!7



1. D. M. Ogle, “K-W-L: A Teaching Model that Develops Active Reading of Expository Text,” The Reading Teacher 39 (1986): 564-570; D. M. Ogle, “K-W-L: The Know, Want to Know, Learn Strategy,” in K. D. Muth, ed., Children’s Comprehension of Text: Research into Practice (Newark, DE: International Reading Association, 1989).

2. National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (Washington, DC: NCSS, 1994).

3. James J. Zarrillo, Teaching Elementary Social Studies: Principles and Applications (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2000), 120-125.

4. Colin Sale, ed., The Reader’s Digest Children’s Atlas of the World (Westport, CT: Reader’s Digest Young Families, 1998); National Geographic Society, National Geographic World Atlas for Young Explorers (Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1998).

5. Edwin Gould and George McKay, eds., Encyclopedia of Mammals (2nd ed., Sydney, Australia: Weldon Owen Pty, 1998).

6. Monica Edinger, Seeking History: Teaching with Primary Sources in Grades 4-6 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2000).

7. Photos of the city of Asunción and the tablecloth by Idelin Molinas; dancing children by SW.

Internet References

Library of Congress. Information can be found on Paraguay at the Library of Congress Country Studies website,

Lonely Planet Destinations. Information about Paraguay can be found at

Ultima Hora. A newspaper from Asunción printed in Spanish can be found at


Book References

Haverstock, Nathan. A. Paraguay in Pictures. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner, 1995.

Jermyn, Leslie. Paraguay (Cultures of the World). Tarrytown, NY: Marshall, Cavendish, 2000.

Morrison, Marion. Paraguay (Major World Nations). Broomall, PA: Chelsea House, 1999.


Stephanie Wasta is an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education at the University of Montana in Missoula.