Just because Hispanic Heritage Month is coming to an end, doesn’t mean you have to cease all cultural education in your classroom. Take a break from the Halloween lessons this October and incorporate some cultural curriculum by discussing the amazing holiday of Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead
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Who? What? Where? and When?
A rich cultural holiday from Mexico, that is celebrated the day after Halloween. For those who don’t know, the Phoenix Symphony has made it easy on you with this amazing educator’s guide. I teach in a heavily latino school and so this lesson engaged my students more than Halloween (didn’t think that was possible) but so many were eager to share their prior knowledge! I use a short animated video to introduce the holiday, and then the first activity I always do is to compare and contrast it with Halloween. We use a double bubble, because it’s a great visual for my younger learners to see how the two are both connected and different. Feel free to draw in more bubbles if you need, but the big take-away I’m looking for is this: Dia de los Muertos is not a scary holiday like Halloween, but is supposed to be time spent with family remembering loved ones.
Skeletons & Skulls:
Both Halloween and Dia de los Muertos rely heavily on skeleton imagery. I talk about a spooky skeleton activity I did here, but this is different! We practice a few Spanish words like baile (dance) and then have a fun game of skeleton freeze dance using this song about skeletons dancing at midnight. I always tell students to pretend their skeletons, or ask “How would a skeleton be dancing right now?” You can get some pretty amazing moves! Another huge aspect of the holiday are calaveras or ‘sugar skulls.’ Depending on how much time you have, you could make thems or just print out some coloring sheets. These intricate pattern can hold students attentions for an astonishing amount of time.
No Spanish? No Problem!
I don’t speak Spanish and was a little nervous about doing a cultural lesson with so many students who do speak the language. However, as I mentioned earlier, give those students the spotlight and let them explain their personal connections to the class. For everything else, use videos! I included so many videos in this lesson, which not only engages the students, but also the information is now coming from a native speaker. I think it’s important for students to see their culture represented in the classroom and on the screen, and I specifically chose videos that accomplish this. The Book of Life, if you don’t know, is an absolutely amazing movie about this holiday, but at an hour and 35 minutes I didn’t have time to show it (just a clip) but I did finish the unit with this incredible award winning short, and encapsulates the themes and sentiments of this holiday perfectly: