En la Clase: What My Calavera Did at Night


skeletons 2As many of you  already know, literacy is one of my favorite ways to integrate cultural content, like Día de los Muertos, into a standards based curriculum.  Not only does it reinforce the reading or writing skills that we work on throughout the year, it’s also a way to help ensure that we don’t fall into that trap of the “Tourist” approach to multicultural education.  Too often when we teach this kind of cultural content, it appears to our students that we’re taking  a break from our ‘real’ curriculum to do something fun.  While these units can and should be fun, it shouldn’t appear that they’re not authentic and important parts of our curriculum.  By combining this content with types of literacy activities done throughout the year, students don’t see these projects as less important than any others.

For today’s En la Clase, I’ve adapted a unit I typically used with my students when we returned to school in January.  Many of you may be familiar with the book Snowmen at Night.  In this story, a boy imagines what  his snowman does at night while he’s sleeping.  My students would make their own very large snowperson, then write a story about what their snowperson did at night.  For my younger students, this was a project where I could introduce how to use a brainstorming web for a multi-paragraph paper, with each section of the web representing a different paragraph.  For older students, it was practice for skills that they’d already learned.  Hesitant writers were often excited and engaged by creating their snowperson before any of the writing began.

skeletons 1To adapt this lesson for Día de los Muertos, instead of snowmen, students will create calaveras.  Our Día de los Muertos Thematic Guide has a number of patterns for calaveras.  If you have time, I’d suggest using the over-sized one found on pages 39-44.  Students seem to love anything that’s big.  I’ve included two pictures to give you an idea of what students could make.  If you don’t have time for something that big, we’ve got other smaller patterns in the guide starting on page 45.  As students cut out the different parts of the skeleton, encourage them to brainstorm how they’re going to decorate or design their calavera.  Provide as many different types of art materials as you have available–construction paper, crepe paper, tissue paper, sequins, glitter, yarn, fabric, ribbon, etc.  Allow students to be as creative as they want in decorating their skeleton.

Once you’re ready to begin writing, explain to the students that they’re going to write a story about what their calavera did the night of Día de los Muertos.  This will require students to have some background information on the celebration and an understanding of what people do when they observe Día de los Muertos.  From here you can use whatever writing process you’re teaching your students.  We usually started with brainstorming and creating our web, then moved on to rough drafting, editing, revising, and creating a final copy.

I always gave students the first few sentences from the book to start their story.  Adapted for Día de los Muertos, you could use the following sentences: “One fall day, I made a calavera very long and loose (you could substitute other adjectives).  The next day when I saw him (or her), he was not the same at all.  His hat had slipped, his arms drooped down, he really looked a fright–it made me start to wonder: what do calaveras do at night?”

Once the stories and skeletons are completed you can display them in the room both to provide a sense of ‘publishing’ and decoration for the fall.

I hope your students have as much fun creating calaveras as mine did creating snowpeople!

Until next time,


11 thoughts on “En la Clase: What My Calavera Did at Night

  1. Great lesson, Katrina. I liked your point about the “tourist” mentality that sometimes exists when teaching multicultural content. Your lesson comes closer to real life issues than much of what passes for curriculum gets these days.

    • Thanks for the kind words Jeff. The state of curriculum today is quite depressing, along with what passes as multicultural education. The issues surrounding multiculturalism and diversity in curriculum is something that we have to be very aware of with the work we do at the LAII. It’s easy for this content to become superficial in its presentation, which is the last thing we want.

  2. Pingback: Jeffster Awards: Week 3 | Deconstructing Myths

  3. Día de los Muertos is a GREAT way to introduce some latino culture. Hats off to you. What kids don’t love skeletons…and cool teachers for that matter?

    I recently was tickled reading an Eduardo Galeano book that was illustrated, wonderfully randomly, by the mischievous calveras figures.

    Power to the Teachers!

    • Thanks Glenn! I agree, I think Día de los Muertos is a great way to bring more multicultural knowledge into the classroom. I’m going to have to check out Eduardo Galeano now–especially the one with the calaveras. So appreciate you stopping by our blog. I’m looking forward to reading yours now too!

      • Hi Katrina,
        Galeano is a Uruguayan who fled various dictators in Latin America and was expelled from his country and maybe Argentina. He lost friends to torture and disappearances, but is able to see poetry and beauty in the world as well. The world is lucky to have this fellow, who was also an economic/political technocrat, to recount what happened during the madness of dictatorial “Operation Condor” style rule and to comment on modern events.

        You must check out “Open Veins of Latin America” by Galeano for a history of European and American ravaging of Central and Southern America. The book was one of the more eye-opening and powerful I have ever read. Hugo Chavez gave Obama a copy of it when they met, which is hilarious. He also did a wonderful trilogy “Memory of Fire” which is the history of Latin America told in a nearly poetic, image-heavy, short story style. “Children of the Days” is his latest and includes 365 stories that he felt “must be told”. I hate to go on-and-on, but I think the Calveras images were from “The Book of Embraces” or “Upsidedown World”…also wonderful.

        Keep up the great stuff and, on behalf of the kids you encounter, I scream “THANKS!”


      • Thanks for all the great information Glenn! Now I’m really interested in checking out Galeano. Adam (one of our other writers) really likes his writing too and is going to let me borrow one of his books. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I teach 4th grade, as well as support my colleagues with incorporating the identities of our students into their day-to-day lessons, and I think this lesson would be great for our upcoming Dia de Los Muertos Celebration. I also am right there with you about disrupting the tendency to approach multicultural education from a ‘tourists’ lens.

    • So glad you found our blog! I hope the lesson plans will be useful to you and your colleagues. We have an entire guide of background information, lesson plans and an annotated bibliography on Dia de los Muertos that may be helpful to you all–you could mix and match materials to put your own units together. It’s linked in the post. I think it’s so important that our students see themselves reflected in the curriculum in real and authentic ways. I’ve found that it’s often a key part of success in the classroom. I taught elementary and middle school and the unit on Dia de los Muertos was always a class favorite. I hope your upcoming celebration goes well!

  5. Reblogged this on She's Got The Mic's Blog and commented:
    Looking forward to sharing this awesome Dia de los Muertos lesson with my students, as well as with my colleagues. I also want to echo the author’s disruption to the “tourist” approach that is often used with multicultural education. Incorporating curriculum that reflects the identities of our students should be an ongoing, rigorous process- not a break from the “real” curriculum. Our students must be reflected in the “real” curriculum!

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