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" 'Magic' Pablo Lesson"

A basketball team of young Jamaican men and women pose with donate basketballs with volunteer Don Holly.

Students examine what goes into hero worship and establishing unlikely friendships.

Supporting resources

Building basketball court

'Magic' Pablo

By Mark Brazaitis - Peace Corps Volunteer: Guatemala (1991-1993)

About the story

"'Magic' Pablo" is taken from the book The Great Adventure, a collection of essays by Peace Corps writers inspired by personal encounters in their service abroad. "'Magic' Pablo" is a true story about imagination, determination, and cross-cultural friendship. It is about having a dream and working to make it a reality. The two characters in the story are Brazaitis, the author; and Pablo, one of his Guatemalan students. Although Pablo was just one of many students in Brazaitis's classes, the story helps us learn what made Pablo "magic"—and unforgettable.

About the setting

Guatemala is the northernmost and most populous of the Central American republics. Twelve million people live in an area about the size of Tennessee. Guatemala has coastlines on the Pacific and the Caribbean, and borders Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of Maya Indians. Many are of mixed Spanish, European, and Maya descent. Many Guatemalans live in rural areas. However, urbanization is steadily increasing as rural Guatemalans move into the cities seeking employment. Nearly 1.5 million live in the nation's capital, Guatemala City. Throughout the country, there is a contrast between the old and the new. In Guatemala City, home to major television stations and newspapers, there are skyscrapers, supermarkets, and streets crowded with cars and buses.

In contrast, Santa Cruz Verapaz—the town of 4,000 people where Mark Brazaitis served—was a remote farming community that lacked many of the conveniences of the urban capital. During the time he served in Santa Cruz Verapaz (1991–1993), Brazaitis noted that "electricity was so unpredictable that occasionally it would be off for three or four days in a row." At the same time, the town basketball court was "painted with the Coca-Cola logo," "American basketball games were broadcast on Saturday mornings" via a Mexican TV station that reached Santa Cruz, and "children could often be seen wearing Ninja Turtles T-shirt."

The Peace Corps program in Guatemala, which began in 1963, is one of the oldest in the agency. Since the agency's inception, more than 4,000 Volunteers have served in Guatemala. Today Volunteers are focusing their efforts on helping rural communities move from subsistence to small-scale commercial agriculture, manage and conserve natural resources, improve health and nutrition, and increase off-farm incomes. Peace Corps Volunteers live and work together with Guatemalans, enabling both to learn about one another's history, languages, and cultures.


Day One
To introduce students to the story "'Magic' Pablo."
To stimulate individual and group reflection about the story's meaning.

Day Two
To have students probe the deeper meanings in "'Magic' Pablo" through small group dialogue.
To encourage students to use a variety of ways to process the story's meaning.

Day Three
To encourage students to see the connections between Pablo's actions and their own lives.
To enable students to see the connections between "'Magic' Pablo" and "I Had a Hero."

Day Four
To encourage students to reflect on the promises and possibilities of unexpected friendships.
To allow students the opportunity to create an extended response to the text.


Day One

  1. Ask students to be prepared to explain at least six basketball terms and to give the name of three basketball heroes in class the next day. They can research the topic on the Web, in magazines, or in the newspaper; or they can interview friends or relatives.
  2. In addition, ask several basketball-savvy students (both male and female) to research the basketball careers of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, and prepare brief presentations to the class about them. Teach the class, if needed, the meaning of the following terms: "slam-dunk," "rebound," "jump shot," "reverse layup," and "block out." This will ensure that all students understand the names and terms they will encounter in the essay.
  3. Begin the lesson the next day by asking students to share with a partner the basketball information they've gathered. Then ask the pairs to share this information with the rest of the class. Finally, have the students you selected make their presentations on Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
  4. Tell students that they will be reading a story written by Peace Corps Volunteer Mark Brazaitis about his experience as an English teacher in a small town in rural Guatemala. The story describes one of his students, Pablo, who had a passion for basketball.
  5. Briefly describe the setting and life in Guatemala, based on the information provided in the Background section.
  6. Ask students to read "'Magic' Pablo," keeping this question in mind:
    • What made Pablo "magic" to the author?

7. Journal Entry. When students have finished reading, ask them to respond in their journals to the following prompts:

8. For homework, ask students to complete their responses to the prompts in #7. Let students know that their responses will form the basis of the next day's class discussion.

Day Two

  1. Have students number off from 1 to 4 and then form groups according to their numbers.
  2. Write the following questions on an overhead transparency or a piece of chart paper.
    • What was it about Pablo that made him seem "magic" to the author?
    • What questions and thoughts did this story bring to mind?
    • What do you imagine Brazaitis wanted readers to be thinking about as they read "'Magic' Pablo"?
    • What, if anything, is really important about the story "'Magic' Pablo"?

3. Assign one question to each group and ask students to discuss these questions in their groups.

4. Give groups five minutes to discuss their assigned question. Then ask each group to select a reporter who will summarize the group's responses to its assigned question for the rest of the class. After each summary, ask the class what other ideas they would like to add.

5. Finally, ask groups to discuss how heroes kindled Pablo's imagination, inspired him to dream, and influenced his life.

6. Give each group a sheet of chart paper and a set of felt-tipped markers of various colors. Explain to the groups that you would like them to construct an "ideagram." An ideagram is a device for summarizing information or responses to questions using pictures, symbols, graphics, and simple words or phrases. The ideagram is then used to explain clearly the group's summary to the whole class.

7. Give groups 10 minutes to work on an ideagram that clearly summarizes their responses to the topic in #5. Have groups select one or two group members who are skilled at drawing to be the primary recorders of group members' ideas. However, all group members contribute orally to the summary and help the "artists" clearly depict the information that will be shared with the rest of the class.

8. Have each group explain its ideagram to the rest of the class.

9. Journal Entry. For homework, ask students to reread "'Magic' Pablo," underlining the parts of the story that have special meaning to them. Suggest to students that as they are rereading the story, they should imagine that they are having a conversation with the author. They should ask him: What is your message? Also suggest to students that they try to use the same comprehension strategy when rereading "'Magic' Pablo" that they used when they were reading "I Had a Hero," i.e., that they try to form detailed mental pictures of the author, of Pablo, and of the events in the story. Finally, ask students to respond to the following journal prompts, using examples from the text:

Day Three

  1. Prior to students' arrival, write each of the following quotations in large letters on a separate sheet of chart paper. Post each sheet in a different corner of the room.
    • "If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it."
    • "The only thing that stands in the way of people and what they want in life is simply the will to try and the faith to believe it's possible."
    • "To achieve a goal, nothing can take the place of persistence. Talent cannot. Genius cannot. Persistence and determination can accomplish the impossible."
    • "Your mind can amaze your body if you just keep telling yourself: 'I can do it, I can do it, I can do it.'"

2. When students arrive, revisit core ideas from the previous day's discussion and invite new ideas, based on students' journal entries. Ask students to share with a partner the various mental images they formed while rereading "'Magic' Pablo." With another partner, have them discuss their thoughts about the story's message. Then conduct a class discussion.

3. Ask students to think about the phrase that is repeated throughout the story: "Let's imagine…" Then ask them what "Let's imagine…" is an invitation to do.

4. Call students' attention to the four quotations in the corners of the room. Ask students to reflect on each and then to move to the corner of the room with the quotation that has the most meaning for them. When groups have formed under each quotation, ask students to discuss why they selected this particular one. Then give each group a sheet of paper on which you've reproduced the questions below. Ask students in each corner to appoint a discussion leader, who will lead the group's discussion on each question, and a reporter, who will summarize the group's responses for the rest of the class.

5. Give students five minutes to discuss the three questions. Ask each group's reporter to summarize for the rest of the class the group's responses to the questions.

6. Suggest to students that both "I Had a Hero" and "'Magic' Pablo" are stories about unexpected and unlikely friendships. They are about friendships that left a lasting impression on the authors of these stories and, in some ways, changed or enriched their lives.

7. Ask students to think about the following questions:

8. Allow time in the remainder of the class period for a discussion of these questions.

Day Four

  1. Ask students how likely they think it was that a Guatemalan teenager and an American young man would become such good friends. Not all "unlikely friendships" have to be with someone from another culture. They could be with someone from another part of town, someone with a different background, someone with different interests, someone who isn't inside the circle of one's usual friendships or group. Try to give an example from your own experience.
  2. Suggest to students that in order to develop an unexpected, unlikely friendship, one first has to be open to having this kind of experience. Ask why any of us would want to bother being open to unlikely friendships. What does being open to a friendship mean?
  3. Ask students to respond in their journals to the following idea:
    • Think of someone very different from yourself with whom you might want to become friends. What promises or possibilities might this new friendship hold for you? How would you go about beginning this friendship?

4. Conduct a class discussion on the reasons we might want to begin a friendship with someone very different from ourselves.

5. Journal Entry. Ask students to respond in their journals to these prompts:

Frameworks and standards

Enduring understandings

  • Heroes can kindle our imagination, inspire us to dream, and influence our lives.
  • Hard work and strength of character can bring dreams to life.
  • Friendships sometimes develop unexpectedly, in unlikely ways and places.
  • Unlikely friendships can leave a lasting mark on us and influence our view of the world, ourselves, and others.

Essential questions

  • How can heroes influence our lives?
  • How can dreams become a reality?
  • How do unexpected friendships begin and develop?
  • What does this story teach me about the world, myself, and others?


National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association
Standard 1: Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world.
Standard 2: Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions of human experience.
Standard 3: Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
Standard 5: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

National Council for the Social Studies
Theme 1: Culture. Social studies programs should provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity so that the learner can explain how information and experiences may be interpreted by people from diverse cultural perspectives and frames of reference.


  1. Imagine that you and Pablo begin corresponding with each other. Write four or more letters (e.g., two from you to Pablo and two from Pablo to you) that describe major events in each of your lives—and that also illustrate how your friendship develops and grows stronger over time.
  2. Write a sequel to this story describing how you think Pablo's life evolved in the years following the time the story ends. In what ways does his imagination help him? In what ways does his determination help him? In what ways does his friendship with Brazaitis remain with him even after Brazaitis returns to the United States?
  3. Step into the shoes of Pablo. In the first person, as if you were Pablo, describe how you felt and what you did after Brazaitis left Guatemala. Describe the impression Brazaitis has left you with. Then describe how your life unfolds over the next two years. What goals do you pursue? What dreams do you follow? How does your strength of character help you?
  4. Have students write and do some role-playing in which they assume the roles of the author and Pablo in a meeting that occurs several years after the end of the essay. Assume that Brazaitis returned to the United States shortly after the essay ends and is now returning to Guatemala to visit Pablo.
  5. Have students illustrate key events in "'Magic' Pablo" in a series of drawings or in a six-block cartoon.
  6. Have students write and present a poem, song, or rap composition that captures the events and main ideas in the essay "'Magic' Pablo."
  7. Have students assume the role of Pablo and write a diary entry in the first person that describes some aspect of his friendship with Mark Brazaitis and the impact it had on him.