As 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.
To 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,