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!
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.
We have a celebration in the gym. Our 1st and 2nd grade classes make ofrendas with their families as a At Home Family Project. We decorate the gym with artwork. A fellow teacher and I make a huge ofrenda on the gym stage with pictures and artifacts from our family. We invite families and serve juice and cookies. Some mothers have joined us and make a big ofrenda on a table. We have done this three years in a row and each year gets better.
In our Spanish 2 class we have all decided to celebrate El Dia de los Muertos we set up an altar in the back of our classroom and have done many little projects to decorate the Ofrenda.
Each one of my classes choose a teacher or administrator that they want to “honor”. We pretend that person is dead and give them a questionnaire to fill out about the things they liked while they were “alive”. Then we build an “ofrenda” in each class to honor the chosen person. We incorporate their answers on the questionnaire to help us decide what to put on the “ofrenda”.
In my Spanish 2 Honors classes we discuss Dia de los Muertos and what the components are of an ofrenda. The students then make a poster depicting what would be on their own ofrenda. They are also required to write a summary of why they chose the items on the poster. They must include the basic elements of an ofrenda as well. It is a good activity for this age group and it makes them reflect about the things that are important in their own life.
Students create a skeleton which resembles the traditional Day of the Dead skeleton. The skeleton is comprised of seperate pieces made from construction paper (arms, legs skull etc) each piece will contain an adjective pertaining to Dia de Los Muertos. Once the skeleton is put together you have your descriptive skeleton and students can create a narrative based on those words
For my Spanish II, I have them write a about a loved one (person or pet) and tell me about things they only did once. This helps me teach them the Preterite and Day of the Dead. I have my Spanish III students do the same. I also have a little competition with my Spanish III. They have to make an alter honoring someone or they can have a theme. It is always enjoyable to see a friendly competition between them and them actually research things that have to do with Dia de los Muertos without them knowing that they are learning about it.
I’m a parent volunteer at my daughters’ school. This year I am teaching Spanish (my native tongue) to our Kindergarten class. For “El Dia de los Muertos” we learned about the traditions of the holiday and then we made “skeleton necklaces” out of pasta. Since I only have 30 minutes to work with this was a quick and easy project (I provided the yarn and pasta & the kids strung the necklaces). They loved this activity and everyone wore their necklaces home.
We are doing a multidisciplinary project at my high school. We will transform the school library into a Mexican home and cemetery. Some Spanish classes will build an ofrenda and cemetery scene while others classes will do posters and dioramas. The advanced classes will do a PowerPoint presentation and do a news program on site from a Mexican city. The Art classes will be learning the skeletal body and create skeletons for our celebration. A pottery class will make clay objects for the ofrenda and another art class will make “nichos’. The Music department will teach Mariachi music to their students to play in the Library. Finally our Baking students will learn how to make the Pan de Muerto and the Calaveras.
Students will honor their deceased love ones on our Ofrenda.
Durfee High School
Fall River, Mass.
My students read a short story, entitled “Ghost Wings” and an informational text about the holiday. After reading, we discuss the different information and perspectives present in both texts. Next, I have the students create ofrendas; they can use items that honor a relative or represent themselves through objects and images. Finally, students mold calaveras out of Sculpi clay. I bake the skeletons, and then let the kids decorate them the next day. Make sure to buy safety pins and/or self-adhesive magnetic strips so that the kids can make their calaveras into pins or magnets.
In the past I’ve taught my Spanish classes about Day of the Dead. Then I invite them to think about a person they’d like to celebrate for Day of the Dead. We have honored Diego Rivera (my idea, the first time!), a teacher from our high school that died the previous year, a deceased brother of a boy in class (always with family’s permission), the people who were killed on 9/11. In each case (where applicable) the kids found out the person’s favorite foods, hobbies, got photos, etc. and that was incorporated into our ofrenda. The kids really get the idea of how warm, loving and refreshing Day of the Dead is. This year one class will remember one of my student’s grandfather who passed on earlier this fall.
Hola! In my classes I have the students do word searches and they really enjoy using the color PURPLE. I also have them make shadow boxes and sugar skulls. It goes over SO well! Enjoy!
This year I am going to start the kids off making offertory cans, decorated with the traditional decorations, skeletons, feathers, bright paper, etc.. then, we are going to sell the Golletes after mass to fill our cans with money, then as we collect the offerings we will use the money to adopt (child for child) a child through the Christian foundation for children and aging (www.cfcausa.org). When we have our party on Nov. 1st we will place the photo of our child on the can, the children can continue their offerings at home, and at bake sales, of course when we have our party and celebrate Los Angelitos, we will make our connection, with helping living children, and at the same time, recognizing young children who have died, respecting and remembering the past, yet, helping to create a brighter future for those less fortunate who are alive. I cant wait!!!
I incorporate body vocabulary with the Day of the Dead. First, we learn vocabulary for the body. Next, we make skeletons out of poster board and label the vocab. We use the skeletons for decoration for our fiesta.
This year for the celebration of the Day of the Dead, the local college, Longwood College here in Farmville, VA., decided to open its doors to the Hispanic population by commemorating the Day of the Dead.
I was called by a representative of the college and asked how we would like to participate. My Spanish I and II students went to the library and did research of the holiday and Halloween. They found poems and short stories written on the celebration, they learned the vocabulary and special recipes associated with the event and presented their information to the class. On that weekend, some of my students and I met at the Longwood Visual Arts Center to participate in the events there. There was an alter there created by another school system which was covered with flowers and poems written in spanish dedicated to the victims of the September 11th attack. It was very beautiful and fitting. There were different stations set up where the students could decorate a calavera, they could do drawings of calveras and esqueletos, they could make flores from paper to place on the altar.
There were many members from the community who spoke spanish which provided them with the opportunity to speak the target language. There was plenty of music and drink. The students really did have a great time.
Depending on the level of spanish that I teach next year, I would like to set up an altar in class and see how the students react to it.
We spend a week studying and discussing the customs of the Days of the Dead. I give students a list of basic vocabulary words to learn, and we explore various websites using a SmartBoard so that the whole class can see the pictures of calaveras, papel picado, etc. in color. One day after school I have volunteers stay to help make sugar skulls. They are raffled off in each class during a Day of the Dead party, which we have on Nov. 2. One day during the week, we talk specifically about the ofrenda. There is a website with pictures and explanations which we look at together, and I bring in items which I might put on an ofrenda to honor my deceased father, explaining each item’s significance to the class. Then, they are assigned to write an essay (in English), in which they describe an ofrenda which they would dedicate to a person who has been important in their lives (living or deceased) and what three items they would include on an altar to honor that person and why. The essays are usually beautiful tributes to people in the students’ lives. Most are written about parents or grandparents. Because of the timing of the assignment, I usually have them in time for parent conference day. I always suggest to the students that they share their essays with the person they wrote about, if that person is still living, since they might not think to say those things in person. It’s a good week.
My students research for information on the Day of the Dead. We have a class discussion and make a vocabulary list of the
items that people use to decorate with, either at the gravesite or in the homes, as on an altar. I then ask the students to think of someone they would like to honor and ask them to bring a photo and small memorabilia. They then bring shoe boxes, which they cover with either construction paper or tissue paper. I teach them how to make paper flowers out of
tissue paper or crepe paper streamers and Ojos de Dios. They can put these items in their “Memory Box” along with the pic-
ture and other small personal items. The boxes are then put on display for Nov. 1 and 2. The class has a celebration
with Pan de los Muertos and other special dishes. Each student then shares his box with the rest of the class. I also invite other students and teachers from the school to come and see our dis-
Sally Kaatz, Curlew School, Curlew,
Hi! I’m a Mexican teacher, so I have some suggestions.
if you want to have a day of the dead offering with your students you should consider:
The presence of the four basic elements: water, earth, wind and fire. No offering can be complete if one of those elements is missing, and their symbolic representation is a fundamental part of the offering.
for example: Water, the fountain of life, is put in a glass so that those who come thirsty can relieve their thirst after a long journey. Bread, made with products of the earth, is there to satisfy their hunger.
Wind, which moves the colored papel picado that decorates and brings happiness to the table. Fire, which purifies everything and for this occasion comes in the form of a candle that is lit in their name so that we can invoke our dearly departed.
Later, comes the banquet, with all its specially prepared delicacies, the most splendorous part of all the party. Depending on the resources and the geographical zone, there are tamales and buñuelos, coffee and atole, beans and corundas, mole and enchiladas
— all the food that the visiting loved one once enjoyed. It is a must to serve the food while it’s hot so that it puts off a stronger aroma.
Other key items are the picture of grandma, uncle’s hat, the rattle that the baby never played with. Sugar calaveras or sugar skulls with the deceased’s name on the forehead, and little pumpkins are all typical of this time of year. Images of saints are also
present to guide and accompany our beloved back to their new home.
For the children there are candies and fruits; for the adults, cigarettes and tequila.
it was a pleasure!
One week before October 31st students color and cut calaveras puppets; during language arts they write a rhyme about their own calacas; the calacas are placed next to their rhyme and with construction paper as background. We hang them from the classroom’s ceiling so children can see the final product. Students eat pan de muerto and taste atole made by the teacher; We set up our altar in preparation for the angelitos with ofrendas, one day before the 31st. The next day is a preparation to welcome the adult souls. It is important that students understand this is a religious and social “tradition” celebrated mostly in the southern mexican regions.
I read a short version of Don Juan Tenorio and have student-actors pantomime the actions. I allow them to dress up for the parts. It is great fun!
I also allow my students to make traditional recipes for bonus points. We had a great treat of calabaza en tacha and pan de muertos.
The foreign language teachers write calaveras in English about all members of the foreign language department. These are on large size poster board and are placed on the outside of the classroom doors. We also do one for each of our administrators. The students enjoy reading these calaveras since they are poking fun at the teachers and administrators.
My students cut out skelton theme papel picado banners and we sting them around the room.
I also construct a large Ofrenda and place it in front of the room on Nov 2nd.
and teach with the lights off. Students may wish to bring in a photo of a decreased love one to place on the altar.
The Foreign Candy Co. has some skull suckers made in Mexico. They are grape and strawberry favors. They are also available now at Walmart in the grocery section. They students love them!!
I also have a couple of students to made Panes de Muertos and bring them to class. I bring milk and the students sample the bread. Some of them love it, but some don’t!
I also decorate my room with commercially made skeleton items. Check for them after Halloween!!
Some years my student made papier mache skulls using a balloon as a base. They paint them and decorate them as they wish. We hang them from the classroom ceiling. You may want them to make them at home since it can be messy!
This year, my students are purchasing Day of the Dead T-Shirts to wear all day on Nov 2nd. We are using black shirts with a white Catrina Skull on the front with the logo El Dia de los Muertos above her head and “el 2 de Noviembre” beneath her. If you check around, you can get these for about $6.25, if you have a local silk screen shop. If you don’t want to purchase them, have your students to make them own and have a contest!
Hope some of my ideas help you in planning your Dia de los Muertos activities.
I have my students cut out a skull mask using a piece of white paper. I then have them decorate with things they supply from home such as glitter, feathers, sequins, and construction paper.
I make ground rules such as no WWF, nothing Satanic, nothing evil. I ask my colleagues to judge the masks, and give bonus points for most original, funniest, scariest, etc.
I also have a paper folding exercise where I give the directions in Spanish, and they fold and cut on the lines. The end result is a skeleton paper chain. The folding instructions in English come from the book, Un Poco de Todo.
Maureen Hoffman-Wehmeier, FL Dept. Chair
Mooresville High School
Along with studying the holiday customs, learning a short Day of the Dead vocabulary list and making bread, I do the following projects. In Spanish I, each student makes a paper “calavera” which is decorated and has the student’s name on the forehead.
For a number of years now I have had my Spanish II classes make shadow boxes like the ones you can buy in the Mexican markets. The class divides up into groups (2 – 3 per group). Each group chooses a theme (skeleton teachers, skeletons at the beach, etc.), brings in a shoe box and creates the shadow box with colored paper, etc. They can use other materials that they bring in if they want. The kids really get creative. I display them in the display case near my room and the students vote on their favorite. I generally bring in some sort of theme-related prize (skeleton suckers,
etc.). It’s a fun project for the kids as well as a break for me Spanish III makes actual sugar calaveras. I purchased the molds for last school year. The kids loved it!
Jody Reif Ziemann
Berlin High School
Construct an all-school or in-class altar. Dedicate it each year to a famous Hispanic. Last year, we studied the life and art of Diego Rivera. This year we will study and dedicate the altar to Frida Kahlo.