En la Clase: Cultural Literacy and Día de los Muertos~Part One

En la Clase is back! I’m so sorry for the recent lapse in posting–we’ve been incredibly busy the past two weeks here at the Latin American and Iberian Institute, planning both a teacher workshop on Día de los Muertos and creating our own ofrenda for the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Hopefully we’ll get to share more photos later, but for now, check out our snapshots below!

Given our recent activities, I thought now would be the perfect time to start our series of posts on ways to teach about Día de los Muertos in the classroom. We’re putting the final touches on the thematic unit pictured above.  It includes all kinds of literacy and art activities to help you teach about Día de los Muertos.  As soon as it’s ready we’ll post a link so that you can check it out in its entirety.  This series of posts on Cultural Literacy and Día de los Muertos will give you a sense of the curriculum unit to come.  To get you started, I thought I’d share one of my favorite lessons that incorporates 5 Senses Poetry.

Dia de los Muertos and 5 Senses Poetry:

Introduction & Objective:

Students will learn about or review the five senses and how they can be used to write engaging and descriptive poetry within the context of studying Día de los Muertos.  This activity is best implemented after students have some understanding and knowledge of Día de los Muertos.  The expectations for the assignment are easily adjusted to meet the needs of your grade level.  Students will go through the different steps of the writing process: brainstorming, rough drafting, revising, editing, final copy and publishing.

There is also an excellent poetry activity for older students included in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s curriculum guide “Calaveras and Conjuring with Words: Poems and Art Activity for Día de los Muertos.  It can also be found at http://www.sbma.net/uploadedfiles/Dia%20de%20los%20Muertos%20Jr.%20High%20and%20HS%20lesson%20plan.pdf

Recommended Grades:
Adaptable for all grade levels.

 Estimated Time:
1-1.5 hours


  • Poetry
  • Rhyme
  • Adjectives
  • Synonyms
  • Similes and metaphors
  • Alliteration
  • Descriptive writing
  • 5 Senses: Hearing, Sight, Smell, Touch, and Taste


  • Pen
  • Paper for drafting
  • Final copy paper


1. As a whole group, review or teach the concept of the five senses.

  • Activate students’ prior knowledge by asking them to list all of the five senses.  Write these on the board or chart paper for students to refer back to throughout the assignment.

2. Once students have an understanding of the five senses, ask the class to volunteer objects or things related to Día de los Muertos that they could use in the poetry.  Write their suggestions on the board or chart paper.  This would be a good time to review any vocabulary or concepts already covered.  For example: ofrendas, calaveras, sugar skulls, candles, papel picado, etc.

3.  With the vocabulary the class has generated, explain and model how to write descriptions based upon the senses.  For younger students, you may need to offer guiding examples appropriate for their ability level.  Highlight various aspects of descriptive language (such as adjectives, metaphors, and similes) appropriate for your grade level.  Some examples:

  • “The flickering candle light cast shadows on the ofrenda” OR “I see the candles glowing on the ofrenda.”
    • The warm atole runs down my throat, warming my whole body, wrapping me in a blanket” OR “I feel the atole going down into my tummy.”
    • “The smell of the zempasúchil permeates the air, as if it were a path, guiding the spirits to the ofrendas” OR “I smell the zempasúchil in the air.”

4. At this point, students are ready to write their own five senses poem.

  • For younger students, you may want to provide a template for them to fill in as they create their rough draft.  See the example provided below.  You can include as many stanzas as you would like.

I see __________________________________

I feel __________________________________

I taste _________________________________

I hear _________________________________

I smell ________________________________

I see __________________________________

I feel __________________________________

I taste _________________________________

I hear _________________________________

I smell ________________________________

    •  For older students, encourage them to be creative, moving away from the “I feel. . ., I see. . ., I smell. . .” format, and instead, incorporating the sensory description into the various lines of their poem.  You may even want to have students incorporate a rhyme scheme or alliteration. 
    • When students have finished their rough draft, follow your classroom procedure for editing and revising.  One approach would be to use the following procedure: rough draft, read out loud to self and revise, read out loud to partner and revise, meet with teacher for final editing and revising.  Students then write their final copy on some sort of “special” final copy paper—perhaps paper with a special border then glued onto construction paper.  If time allows, ask students to illustrate their poem.  Publish poems by hanging them in a designated area.  You may also want to create a class book of their poetry.

Visit the LAII’s website to view and download our complete thematic guide on Día de los Muertos.

6 thoughts on “En la Clase: Cultural Literacy and Día de los Muertos~Part One

  1. I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not, but azcentral has a lot on Day of the Dead. Here’s the link.


    There’s also a place on the website for teachers. There is a lesson plan available and a template for making calacas (whimsical skeletons). The calacas are almost 3-4 ft tall after you put them together. My kids at school decorate them and make them cheerleaders, football players, nerds, teachers, etc. We hang them in the hall and make a “parade” of skeletons. It is so much fun!

    • Thanks for the tip! We’re tuned in to azcentral such that we’ve been making our own gigantic skeletons, though I can’t say that we’ve been so cool as to create a “parade” of them. That sounds really neat. Ah, the hard life of the Día de los Muertos educator. 😉

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