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

In last week’s En la Clase post, I shared with you one way to incorporate poetry into a lesson about Día de los Muertos.  This week I’d like to focus on expository writing.  But before we get to the lesson, I’d like to write a little bit about how I approach teaching about Día de los Muertos in the classroom.  If you’ve been with us awhile, you may remember the series of posts we did in August on multicultural teaching.  A lot of what we discussed there is relevant to these lessons on Día de los Muertos.

Too often our multicultural teaching never goes beyond holidays or heroes.  We present topics like Día de los Muertos as if we’re merely tourists on a short visit to an exotic place.  When we do this, we’re doing a huge disservice not only to our students, but to the people or places we’re trying to teach about.  Instead of presenting these things to our students as legitimate parts of our curriculum, they appear as ‘breaks’ from the real learning we do in school, or the ‘fun’ activity.  For this reason, I try to plan lessons around activities that I may have already introduced to my students–like 5 senses poetry or expository writing.  Then, the lessons don’t seem like that “break.”  Instead, they build on skills students already know.  This means they are perceived as relevant and authentic parts of our curriculum, and thus important knowledge or content.

Now, this isn’t to say I don’t do those ‘fun’ activities like making and decorating sugar skulls, creating life-size calaveras, or baking pan de muerto (those lesson plans are coming too!!).  I always incorporated those into my plans as well, but they were done in conjunction with literacy activities, like the one I’ve included below. I’ve also included a photo of one student’s essay from a previous year, just to give you an idea of how we “published”.

Expository Writing: The Compare and Contrast Essay

Introduction & Objective:

Students will take information acquired about Día de los Muertos and apply their knowledge of either Halloween or Memorial Day to create a Venn Díagram and Compare and Contrast Essay.  Oftentimes there is the misconception that Día de los Muertos is the “Mexican version” of Halloween.  In order to clarify this, students will produce a Venn Díagram that compares and contrasts the two celebrations.  This should reinforce the knowledge that the two holidays are quite different.  If your students are familiar with Memorial Day, this may be a way for them to understand Día de los Muertos in light of another U.S. holiday that is more similar than Halloween.  One way to extend this activity would be to complete 2 Venn Diagrams: (1) that compares Día de los Muertos with Halloween; and (2) that compares Día de los Muertos with Memorial Day.  Then, as a class or in small groups, have students complete a Three-Way Venn Diagram that includes all three celebrations.

This activity can be used at the beginning or end of a teaching unit on Día de los Muertos.  If it is used at the beginning, you will need to begin the activity by providing information and knowledge about Día de los Muertos.  You can do this through various children’s books, articles, or DVDs that discuss Día de los Muertos. This activity can also be used as a closing assessment for the unit. 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: brainstorm, rough draft, revising, editing, final copy and publishing.

Recommended Grades:
Adaptable for all grade levels.

 Estimated Time:
2-4 hours


  • Día de los Muertos vocabulary and concepts
  • Compare and Contrast
  • Same and Different


  • Pen or pencil
  • Copies of Venn Diagram
  • Paper for drafting
  • Final copy paper
  • Books, articles, photos, DVDs about Día de los Muertos


1.  Introduce information on Día de los Muertos through children’s books, articles or other resources.  Using large chart or butcher paper, keeping a running list of information and vocabulary related to Día de los Muertos that the students are learning.  This should be kept up throughout the unit to be used as class reference material for other assignments.  If you are using this activity as a closing assessment, then simply review the information and reference materials the class has already learned or created.

2.  Introduce or review the concept and purpose of a Venn Diagram.  If this is the first time your students are using a Venn Diagram, you may want to complete this as a whole group.  This can also be completed in small groups, pairs, and/or individually.

  • In preparation for the Compare and Contrast Essay, encourage students to think about items or information for their Venn in terms of how they relate to both celebrations.  For example, if a student writes “Halloween takes place on October 31st”, encourage them to think about how this compares to Día de los Muertos and then write “Día de los Muertos takes place on November 1st and 2nd.”   Here you want to guide students to compare ‘like’ things, so that they will then transfer this type of organized or ‘chunked’ information to their essay.  Often younger students will want to write something like “On Halloween children go trick or treating, but Día de los Muertos is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd.”  Begin modeling how to make appropriate comparisons during the Venn Diagram.

3.  Once the Venn Diagram is completed, students can begin to draft their Compare and Contrast Essay.  The next steps are largely dependent upon the grade level of your students.  With younger students or students who have never done this activity, templates and modeling are key to their success.

  • First, review the purpose of the essay—to discuss how Día de los Muertos and Halloween (or Memorial Day) are the same and different.
  • Next, discuss the format of the essay in terms of number of paragraphs, indentations, and topic sentences.  With younger students, this is typically a two-paragraph paper.  You may want to create the topic sentences as a class.  Modeling one broad introductory sentence and then two specific topic sentences.  For example: (1st Paragraph) Día de los Muertos and Halloween are two celebrations that take place in the fall.  Even though they are celebrated around the same time, they are very different holidays. . . .(2nd Paragraph) While they are very different, there are some things that are the same (OR that they have in common).
  • From here, students may begin writing their essays.  Again, if this is a new essay format for students, model how they should write comparative sentences.  For example, Halloween is _____________________, but Día de los Muertos is ____________________________.  Be sure to point out that they should be comparing or contrasting like things as mentioned above in the discussion of the Venn Diagram.  For very young students, you may want to provide a template for the entire essay, including sentence starters and transitional words.  For example:
  •  Día de los Muertos_______________________but Halloween ____________________.  On Halloween __________________________, but on Día de los Muertos __________________________.  People ______________________on Día de los Muertos, but on Halloween they _____________________________.  Last, Día de los Muertos _______________________, but Halloween _______________________________.
  •  Día de los Muertos and Halloween both _________________________________.  They also both _____________________________________.  Both ___________________________. Finally, they both ____________________________.

4.  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.  Publish essays by hanging them in a designated area.

I hope you find this helpful!! As always your comments and ideas are welcome!

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


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

  1. Pingback: En la Clase: Día de los Muertos, Sugar Skulls & Acrostic Poetry | Vamos a Leer

  2. Pingback: En la Clase: Día de los Muertos and Pictorial Input Charts | Vamos a Leer

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