Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Sor Juana the Nun and Writer: Las Redondillas and The Reply

Created March 28, 2011


The Lesson


Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

What is Sor Juana Wearing?

Credit: Portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera (painted in 1750), courtesy of Wiki Commons | Retrato de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz de Miguel Cabrera (pintado en 1750), cortesía de Wiki Commons

“Hombres necios que acusáis
a la mujer sin razón,
sin ver que sois la ocasión
de lo mismo que culpáis”

---from Las Redondillas, Sor Juana Inés de la Cru

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the first great Latin American poet, is still considered one of the most important literary figures of the American Hemisphere, and one of the first feminist writers. In the 1600s, she defended her right to be an intellectual, suggesting that women should be educated and educators and accusing men of being the cause of the very ills they blamed on women. Examples of her voice on these matters are present in Las Redondillas of 1689 (also called A Philosophical Satire, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed website LitGloss), and in her autobiographical letter, finished in March, 1691, La Respuesta a la muy ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz. (La Respuesta or The Reply is available through the Proyecto Ensayo Hispánico website.)

The Reply was written in response to attacks against her by a supposed friend, the Bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, using “Sor Filotea de la Cruz” as a pseudonym. In it, Sor Juana defends her right to intellectual freedom as a woman and as a nun while affirming her dedication to her literary duties. This lesson plan will help students study both Las redondillas, an arraignment of men for what Sor Juana believed was hypocritical behavior, as well as her autobiographical Reply to the Very Illustrious Sor Philotea de la Cruz. These two documents will help them to understand why Sor Juana has been called the first feminist of the New World.

(Click here for the Spanish version of this lesson plan)

Guiding Questions

  • Why is Sor Juana called by some “the first feminist” of the New World?
  • How do Las Redondillas and La Respuesta support calling Sor Juana “a feminist”?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to

  • Understand how gender has historically affected literary creation, particularly women’s writing
  • Identify and effectively analyze poetry of the Spanish Golden Age, in particular the redondillas
  • Read and comprehend autobiographical texts in Spanish
  • Analytically write in Spanish about literature using the appropriate language.

Preparation Instructions

  • For the first portion of this lesson plan, read thoroughly and study the Redondillas and the selected segments of La Respuesta included in this lesson. The Redondillas, or the Philosophical Satire, can be accessed through the EDSITEment-reviewed site, LitGloss.
  • La Respuesta or The Reply is available through the Proyecto Ensayo Hispánico website. For general vocabulary for this lesson plan, you can access general glossaries, available in both Spanish and English, through EDSITEment.
  • Ensure that students know that a redondilla is a word derived from the word “redondo,” or round in Spanish. In poetry, it is a series of stanzas (estrofas) that consist of cuartetas octosílabas (versos de arte menor, eight syllables) with the rhyme scheme abba, also called rima abrazada. (Worksheets for Activity 1 and 2 will guide students to analyze first the form of Sor Juana’s redondillas to then analyze the content and meaning, including the gender questions the poet raises in this work.). For basic poetic terminology, you and the students can access the Glossary of Poetic Terms available through EDSITEment.
  • Ensure that students are able to identify literary resources within the redondillas. Some of the most memorable quatrains in Sor Juana’s redondillas use the repetition of a grammatical structure in reverse order known as a chiasmus (el quiasmo). The definition and examples are available in the Glossary of Poetic Terms available through EDSITEment, or through the EDSITEment-reviewed site, Silva Rhetoricae, from Brigham Young University. (The worksheet for Activity 1 will provide students with the opportunity to point out any chiasmus and other literary devices they find in the redondillas on their worksheets.)
  • The following part of this lesson plan (Activity 3) will study a groundbreaking document, La Respuesta a la muy ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz  (La Respuesta or The Reply),  available through EDSITEment, which students can also use. The complete Respuesta can be accessed through the website of the Proyecto Ensayo Hispánico. Discuss with the students the passages you select for study.
  • La Respuesta a la muy ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz (La Respuesta or The Reply)is the autobiographical letter in which Sor Juana defends her rights as a woman and as a nun to intellectual freedom and literary pursuits. Give a solid historical background for this part of the lesson so that students understand the significance and the tone of the letter. Biographical information on Sor Juana can be found through the EDSITEment-created timeline of the life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. More information can also be found through the EDSITEment-reviewed site LANIC (Latin American Network Information Center) featured site, the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Portal, from the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. Students will work with a worksheet for this portion of the lesson to analyze one or two fragments of this letter.
  • The last activity of this lesson plan will direct students to work with the EDSITEment-created interactive “What Is Sor Juana Wearing?” This activity will give students the opportunity to interactively and independently learn more about Sor Juana and, particularly, about her life as a nun. This interactive will quiz students as they study the different parts of Sor Juana’s habit, and her surroundings in the featured painting. The students will be then asked to write a brief essay to underline what they learned. Note that students will require computer and Internet access to complete this activity.

(Click here for the Spanish version of this lesson plan)

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Las Redondillas: Let’s Analyze!

In this activity students will analyze the internal structure of Las Redondillas, available through EDSITEment, using the EDSITEment created worksheet. The Redondillas, or Philosophical Satire, can be also accessed through the EDSITEment-reviewed site, LitGloss. The students will be asked to use the worksheet provided and will be asked to count the syllables of the verses and register them in the chart provided, as well as the rhyme scheme. The students will be asked to note the meaning of words they are not familiar with, paying attention to the literary resources used, including similes, metaphores, and chiasmus. Students and teachers can use the Glossary of Poetic Terms (in Spanish) available through EDSITEment. This is an essential activity before students move on to Activity 2 for the essay writing assignments.

Activity 2. Las Redondillas: Misguided Men, Let’s write!

In this activity, students will have the opportunity to analyze the content and message of the Redondillas. The worksheet for Activity 2 is divided in two parts, with part one asking students to fill in the blanks as to the characteristics of Las Redondillas, while the second part will ask students to analyze the content and message of this work and to write two essays. The students can further be tested on their comprehension of Las Redondillas by working with the worksheet on gender in Las Redondillas, and the Gender Worksheet. Here, the students can categorize different words from the verses of Las Redondillas according to gender.

Activity 3. The Reply to the Very Illustrious Sor Philotea de la Cruz: Answer to a Traitor

This activity will have students study one or two fragments from  La Respuesta a la muy Ilustre Sor Filotea de la Cruz and select from the key segments included in the corresponding EDSITEment-created worksheet. Either cut out each fragment separately and give each student one for analysis or give students a copy of the worksheet to have them select a passage or two, if a selected one is a brief segment. The students will be asked to think about the circumstances surrounding Sor Juana’s life when she wrote this letter and to discuss what the fragment or fragments are communicating. The students will then be asked to analyze the selected or assigned fragment or fragments and to write an essay. Students will be asked to consider these questions following their study of the historical background: To whom is this letter really being directed? How would you characterize Sor Juana’s tone and attitude? Is the letter effective in communicating the author’s attitude and feelings? Discuss with the class how this text could support the title some have given to Sor Juana as the New World’s first feminist writer.

Activity 4. What Is Sor Juana Wearing?

Using the EDSITEment-created interactive, “What Is Sor Juana Wearing?”, direct students to go through all the different parts of the habit that Sor Juana is wearing and the highlighted details of her surroundings with their mouse. Ensure that the students read all the information carefully, and ask them to answer all the questions and to take notes. When the students have completed the activity, they should have their work printed (their answers to the questions and their notes). To finish, you can ask students to write a brief response about what they learned.


Ask students to do research and to create their own timeline of the life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, covering events and historical moments in Mexico. They can use the EDSITEment-created timeline on her life as reference. Have students research and make a chronology or a timeline with at least 10 key years that cover important events happening in Mexico, New Spain, that involve or affected Sor Juana’s life or world. Have them create a parallel timeline that shows events occurring within the same century anywhere else in the world. Students can be creative with their timelines, using different colors, images, or create a collage.

Extending The Lesson

Students have now become familiarized with the last years of Sor Juana, and most importantly, they have read some of her written work from this time of her life. As an additional activity, ask students to imagine this scenario: Think about what you love most and what you use every day for communication and entertainment: your phone, iPod, mp3, the television, the shows or films you like, the books you might read, the video games you play, and the email you send. Then imagine that all these things have been taken away and your room is now empty. How would you feel? This begins to give you an idea how Sor Juana lived out her last years. Write a one-page essay in the form of a journal entry or a letter in the first person to those who have authority over you.  Make sure to use the proper verb tenses throughout your essay, which must include the use of the subjuntivo. Speak of why it is unfair to take your precious things away from you. Write as if you were Sor Juana. To do some research, use the EDSITEment-created resources available, including the timeline of Sor Juana’s life and the EDSITEment-reviewed website, LANIC (Latin American Network Information Center) with its featured site, the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Portal from the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. Use the EDSITEment-created worksheet for this activity to start your essays. This worksheet suggests a few opening sentences for them.

(Click here for the Spanish version of this lesson plan)

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Grade Level


Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > Modern World
  • Foreign Language > Modern > Spanish
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Poetry

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