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Teaching Guide

Teaching Love in the Time of Cholera

Spoiler alert: it's contagious.

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If Love in the Time of Cholera prompts hate in the time of lit class, get yourself a healthy dose of our teaching guide.

In this guide you will find

  • lessons on magical realism.
  • an activity asking students to define love.
  • discussion questions on rejection, death, and war. You know, 'cause this is a love story.

Shmoop has the remedy for all that ails you…as long as it isn't actual cholera. Then you need to get to a hospital, stat.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Gabriel Garcia Marquez is often listed as a writer in the genre of magical realism (and a brilliant one at that). But that genre distinction comes with a bit of controversy. Is a book magical realism just because something supernatural happens somewhere in its pages? Does that mean supernatural occurrences MUST be "magical," that they can't possibly be "real?" What about writing from cultures that totally believe in the reality of the supernatural? Sticky stuff, right? Check out what Shmoop has to say in our genre discussion for the novel.

With a bit of research, a bit of discussion, and some text-to-text analysis, students will come to their own conclusions about the genre of the novel and how genre distinctions may influence our reading of it. This exercise should take about two class periods.

Materials Needed: 

  • Text of Love
  • Text of "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"
  • Computers with internet access

Step 1: Make the text of the short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" available to your students. Ask them to read the work with an eye toward any element that seems out of the ordinary for a short story—and not just old men with buzzard wings.

Step 2: D-Discussion! D-D-Discussion! Yep, that's us, cheering discussion onto the field. Time to lead the team in a discussion of the short story.

  • What was surprising, difficult, or unfamiliar about this story?
  • How is the story told?
  • What kinds of characters and objects populate the story?
  • Does this story remind you of any other story or category of stories you already know?

Step 3: D-Definition—you're right, too many syllables. But it is time to provide your students with a few definitions of magical realism. Although there is great debate about the genre's elements (and even debate over the appropriateness of the term), the definitions found in these links will be a good starting point. Be sure to discuss how these elements are at play in the short story.

Step 4: Break the students down into groups of three or four and assign half the groups to defend the idea that the novel does contain elements of magical realism and the other half to assert that it doesn't. You may direct them to Jacki Lyden's interview with the screenwriter Ronald Harwood to help them get started. As always, students should strengthen their case for or against the genre by providing evidence from the text of Love in the Time of Cholera.

Step 5: Once students have prepped their arguments, stage a debate, allowing the groups for/against to present their cases to the class. Allow the rest of the class to ask questions and make comments about which case is stronger.

Before this exercise is over, bring out the big guns: Discuss how participation (or lack of it) in this genre changes our understanding of the central theme of the novel. Why does the genre of a book matter? Or does it matter? Ooh, scandalous.

Feeling ambitious? Move students from this exercise into an essay assignment that makes use of their research and arguments.

Instructions for Your Students

So you've made it through Love in the Time of Cholera and you're thinking, "Is this the greatest love story ever told... or just the strangest?" Now is the time to find out. Today, you will be working with a short story by Garcia Marquez in order to learn more about his writing style, which is often put in the genre of magical realism. Once you study up on the elements of this genre, you will have a chance to apply it to Love in the Time of Cholera to see if you can make it stick. In the end, you will face off with your classmates in a debate that has been raging for decades: Is this magical realism... or not?

Step 1: Take a look at the short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Garcia Marquez. Keep your eyes open for anything out of the ordinary—and not just old men with buzzard wings. What makes this story different from others that you've read?

Step 2: D-Discussion! D-D-Discussion! Yep, that's us, cheering discussion onto the field. Time to talk about what you read.

  • What surprised you in this story?
  • How does Garcia Marquez tell this story? Consider point of view, how it progresses, etc.
  • What kinds of characters and objects populate the story?
  • Does this story remind you of any other kinds of stories you've read or heard before? What are they, and what are the similarities to this story?

Step 3: D-Definition—you're right, too many syllables. But it is time to take a look at a few definitions of magical realism. Heads up; there is great debate about the genre's elements, and even debate over the appropriateness of the term. Why? Like, it's just a genre right? What's the big deal?

Well, consider this: Is a book magical realism just because something supernatural happens somewhere in its pages? Does that mean supernatural occurrences MUST be "magical," that they can't possibly be "real?" What about writing from cultures that totally believe in the reality of the supernatural? To call that "magic" could be seen as dismissive and belittling. Sticky stuff, right? For more sticky questions, check out what Shmoop has to say in our genre discussion for the novel.

So take a look at the following definitions and decide for yourselves. Is the genre problematic? How do we decide if a book belongs to it? How are these elements at play in the short story?

Step 4: Time to fight for what you believe. Actually, no, this is just the prep step. In small groups, you will develop arguments to assert that either the novel does belong to the genre of magical realism, or that it doesn't. To help you get started, check out Jacki Lyden's interview with the screenwriter Ronald Harwood (who wrote the movie version).

As always, you must strengthen your case for or against the genre by providing evidence. You can use any of the following to support your claim:

  • The text of Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Definitions of magical realism
  • The text of "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings"
  • Any other materials your teacher provides

Step 5: Now it's time to fight—er—debate. Each group will present their arguments to the class, alternating for and against. The rest of you should ask questions and make comments about which case is stronger or ideas for how to make the case stronger.

Now for the big guns: Does participation (or lack of it) in this genre change our understanding of the central theme of the novel? Why does the genre of a book matter? Or does it matter? Ooh, scandalous.

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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