This space is intended for the exchange of classroom activities, projects and ideas for the Day of the Dead, submitted by teachers. We sincerely thank all the teachers that have sent in their ideas!
Every year, we assign our Spanish 2 students (with a partner) to create an ofrenda in dedication to either a family or friend who has passed on that they have in common or a deceased celebrity they both respected. With 14 Spanish 2 classes, we completely take over our Media Center! It is a big competition at our school–around 500 kids compete. Some years we are publicized in the local newspaper and one year the winners were portrayed for a month in a local art museum.
To avoid possible controversy with parents, we start from day 1 explaining the importance of knowing about the holiday for sociological purposes.
after also watching a video and explaining the history to it, I emphasize that although it is a holiday where there are a lot of skulls and skeletons and death is being poked fun at, it is equally a holiday about remembering loved ones passed. When I say that everyone everywhere deals with grief differently, and for them it is comforting to think that loved ones have come back for that short period of time, everyone seems to understand.
In our Spanish 1 class we did ofrendas over a person in our family, or a hero, or someone famous. We put their favorite food, their picture, what ever kind of music they liked, favorite color, and flowers, in a shoe box that we decorated.
I have been celebrating Dia de los Muertos since becoming a Spanish teacher 5 years ago. Instead of fussing with making enough sugar skulls for all of my students to decorate, I started buying those big, chocolate Archway cookies and “drawing” the shape of a skull on them in white frosting. Students sit in groups of 3 or 4 with a “pallet” of colored frosting in the center, and they use the frosting to decorate them using tooth picks. I judge the cookies and take lots of pictures… I tell them that once everyone in their group has had a picture taken, they can eat their cookie. It has been fun :)
Each year after learning about ofrendas and cleaning the gravestones, my students in Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 make skeletons out of 6 milk jugs (It’s a McCall’s pattern #15184, from about 1995. They paint them with fabric paint and we hang them from the ceiling. Unwanted skeletons get donated to the Elementary School’s Halloween Party. It’s a project that they all look forward to and remember!
I teach Spanish I and Spanish II. I have steered away from making ofrendas, as I have heard horror stories about teachers who have been accused by parents. Many parents feel threatened when the child is asked to participate in making an altar for a deceased person. So… I find alternative ways to teach Day of the Dead. I usually spend an entire week on the topic. The first lesson is a basic introduction on the history of the holiday and a short video. The second day, the students complete a “Who, What, When, Where, Why” graphic organizer on Day of the Dead. The third day, we make sugar skulls. The fourth day, we paint the sugar skulls. The last day, we have a Day of the Dead celebration with the other Spanish I, II, and III classes. Each level of Spanish is responsible for bringing different items to the celebration.
Laura White To help Teachers educate parents about the Day of the Dead we have an excellent article: Common Misconceptions About the Day of the Dead
The celebration of the Days of the Dead is my favorite holiday in my high school classroom. My Spanish One students create decorated skulls using the plastic skulls that are available wherever Halloween items are sold, acrylic paints and silk flowers. My Spanish Two students create and decorate a tombstone using wood or cardboard, paint and silk flowers. They dedicate the tombstone to a deceased family member and they attach to it a short story that they have composed about the life of the deceased. The skulls and tombstones surround a large ofrenda in our classroom. On November 1, students are greeted by a trail of marigold petals (they are really
cut pieces of orange and yellow construction paper)on the floor starting at the door and leading up to the ofrenda. As the students leave, the “petals” do end up in the hallways (and even the student parking lot!). Everyone always knows when we are celebrating this wonderful holiday. And our custodians smile and are very understanding. I also read them a related story, and we eat pan de muertos baked by volunteers. We also make our own “sangria” using grape juice, punch and fruit slices.
Stoney Creek High School
Rochester Hills, Michigan
After studying the traditions of El Dia De Los Muertos and viewing a slideshow of skeleton figurines, Advanced Art students create their own calaveras figurines in honor of their ancestors, a hero, or loved one that has passed away. They study human proportions, draw skeletons, create a proportionate wire armature and then build up their calaveras with Sculpey clay. They mount them onto wooden boards and decorate with extra detail to create a setting. Students add the title by imprinting into metal tooling foil. They love this project! Then they decorate their display in the cafeteria or library with handmade papel picado banners.
I teach Day of the Dead to my 6th grader art classes. I focus on two aspects the holiday and the skeleton artwork. A 1/3 of our students are Hispanic so this is a great cultural lesson. We watch a movie on it. We discuss the holiday and the Mexican view of death. I show them artwork created for this holiday. Then I teach them how to draw a skeleton. I tell them that all good artists have to know how the human body is put together or they can’t draw a human correctly. I discuss the skeleton studies of Leonardo Da Vinci. This makes it an art study for those who are uncomfortable with Halloween. We do very simple skeletons, I use the drawing basics from the book Rattle Your Bones (Scholastic). They each then draw 2 skeletons on black paper using white pencils and other color pencils, markers & crayons that color on dark paper. They have to show 2 skeletons doing something that they like to do, like skate boarding, sports, cheer leading, etc. They enjoy this lesson. I do it year round because I have 4 rotations of 6th graders each year.
Lakeview Middle School
Winter Garden, FL
I have students create tombstones. Students will write their future story on them, how they want to be remembered. I can teach future tense, and glimpse at their expectations as well.