It’s that time of year again! Día de los Muertos is a month away, so for the next couple of weeks we’ll be sharing various resources to help you teach about this cultural celebration in your classrooms.
Last week we had a wonderful professional development workshop on “Día de los Muertos: Skeletons & Cultural Literacy.” I thought I’d share a few of the activities we talked about that night and how you could turn them in to a mini-unit including Acrostic Poetry and Sugar Skulls. You can also access our entire guide on teaching about Día de los Muertos here. It includes background information and reading, lesson plans, an annotated bibliography divided by grade levels, and a glossary.
I always try to start any new unit like this with some great reading. When I taught elementary school I’d check out a number of books, both fiction and non-fiction, about Día de los Muertos. A week before we were going to start the unit, I’d leave the books out in the classroom so students could check them out during their free time. Then, I’d read one book a day, often during our read aloud time. Once we’d finished each book, we’d discuss what we’d learned about Día de los Muertos and take notes on a large piece of paper that stayed up through out the unit. This also provided the time for students who celebrated Día de los Muertos to share their own experiences and knowledge. Once we’d read a few books and students had some background knowledge on the subject, we could begin some of the literacy activities I’d planned. One of my favorites is Acrostic Poetry. It’s easy to teach, requires little if any preparation, and students seem to have a great time doing it. It can be done in English, Spanish or a mix of the two. If it’s a new activity for students, you may want to do an example as a class. I’ve included the directions below:
- Choose a word related to Día de los Muertos. If you’re also going to make sugar skulls, then you could choose a word connected to that, like Calaveras, Calacas, Alfeñiques, Esqueletos, etc.
- Write that word in all capitals down the side of a piece of paper (from top to bottom).
- Beginning with the first letter of the word, write a description of Día de los Muertos that starts with that letter. For example, if I used the word Calaveras I would want to write a word that began with C–calacas, candy-coated, candles, etc. Depending on the level of your students you can ask them to write one word, a sentence, or a multi-word description. Depending on the language arts skills you’re teaching you could focus on parts of speech, alliteration, consonance, rhyming, etc.
- Continue Step 3 with the rest of the letters of the word.
For the complete lesson click here.
Because the Acrostic Poetry activity is so simple, it’s a great one to pair with making Sugar Skulls. While many teachers think making Sugar Skulls is too complicated for the classroom, it’s actually quite simple. Click here for the complete recipe and directions. The simplest recipe is sugar, water, and meringue powder (which you can get at most craft stores like Hobby Lobby, or Wal-Mart). You mix this until it resembles wet sand. I use my standing mixer and the entire process takes less than 5 minutes. You can prepare this with your students, or do it at home and just bring in the sugar mixture. Then, using plastic sugar skull molds (which you can find online if not locally) you make the skulls. Students love doing this! It really isn’t difficult! Let the skulls dry for 24 hours. Then they’re ready for decorating with icing. Any age can do this activity!
I like to pair this with the Acrostic Poetry because students can be working on their poetry while I work with small groups of students to make their sugar skulls–that way everyone is engaged and has something to work on. When it’s time to decorate with icing, you can do that as a whole class or in small groups again.
I usually have this copy of a sugar skull printed out for students to color if they finish before the rest of the class. Cut out, these make a great garland to hang in the classroom.
For more ideas on teaching about Día de los Muertos check out the links below to posts from last year.