En la Clase: Día de los Muertos and Teaching about Cultural Celebrations

Vamos a Leer | En la clase: Día de los Muertos and Teaching About Cultural CelebrationsFor many classroom teachers, cultural celebrations are one of the easiest ways to address standards connected to cultural competence through introducing and studying different cultures and their traditions. Yet, just because we celebrate various multicultural holidays or heroes doesn’t mean we’re practicing authentic multicultural teaching.  If our teaching never moves beyond what many refer to as multicultural tourism, we’re not providing our students the opportunity to think deeply or critically.  I won’t go into more detail on the topic here, as we discussed the problems with multicultural tourism in greater depth in the post “Around the World in 180 Days Part IV: Holidays and Celebrations.

When I was in the classroom, Día de los Muertos was one of the first cultural celebrations I taught about each year. If you’ve seen our Local Event posts lately you know we do a lot of work around how to teach about Día de los Muertos in an authentic and meaningful way. Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing different lesson plans, books, and resources that you can use in your classroom to teach about Día de los Muertos.

For today’s En la Clase, I thought I’d share some ideas for how to frame any unit on a cultural celebration with specific examples related to Día de los Muertos. Many of the resources I share below are based on Project GLAD (Guided Language Acquistion Design) teaching strategies. For more information on the strategies, check out this excellent free resource book. While created for ELL students, I have found these strategies to be incredibly effective and engaging for all students. The examples I share below come from Project GLAD units created to teach about various cultural celebrations and traditions as part of one single unit done over a short period of time, but the strategies and lesson plans could also be used to frame a year-long study where each cultural celebration is its own unit taught at different times during year. For example, the Big Book and the Process Grid could be added to each time a different cultural celebration is taught, and the chants could be used with each unit. Using strategies like these to teach about cultural celebrations reinforces the idea that the knowledge learned in these units is a valuable and important part of the curriculum, countering the tendency to view these topics as ‘breaks’ or ‘vacations’ from real learning

In any unit on a celebration or cultural tradition such as Día de los Muertos, it’s important to communicate to students the big idea, so they understand the importance of and the objective for what they’re learning. One example that could be used is the following:

 What Are Traditions?

Traditions are activities or events that families, friends, and groups of people have done for many years. These traditions are passed down from generation to generation. Traditions are celebrated in order to remember ancestors and continue to pass on family values. Traditions are meaningful and special to people all around the world. [i]

This theme can then be explored in greater depth and reinforced through activities like those shared below.  All these activities can also be easily used in conjunction with our full Día de los Muertos Teaching Guide.

The Big Book:

A big book is a teacher created “book” that reiterates the theme and presents new content information. The book can be physically big if it is created using poster board, but a smaller version can be created using construction paper. In the big book content is presented on each page that reinforces the main idea. The main idea statement is the first and last sentence or paragraph on each page. To create the book, find an image to illustrate each page (using an internet search engine). Glue the image on one page, then the content information on the next page. Students should be able to see both the image and the content at the same time. As students become more familiar with the An example of the content page for Día de los Muertos is provided below. Each time a different celebration or tradition is taught, add a new page to the big book, by the last unit the book will be complete. Click here to see the entire big book written by Lorena Beifuss and Gloria Velarde. You may need to modify it based on the celebrations and traditions you teach. Here is an example of the page with an image.  We’ve also created a Big Book of Dia de los Muertos. Feel free to use it in your classroom.

Title: The Important Thing About Traditions

The important thing about traditions is that they are part of a culture and are passed on from generation to generation.

The festivals of Mexico are well known for their colorful decorations, energetic music, parades, and cultural significance. Los Día de los Muertos, (Day of the Dead) is festival which honors and remembers ancestors. Día de los Muertos is celebrated on November 2nd. It is one of the most important holidays celebrated during the year in Mexico.

Día de los Muertos is a feast day and not a sad affair. Families remember their ancestors and honor them by visiting cemeteries. Día de los Muertos is a celebration for people in which they remember the memory of their relatives.

The important thing about traditions is that they are part of a culture and are passed on from generation to generation.[ii]


Chants are a fun way to engage students while encouraging language fluency and reinforcing important ideas or concepts. Two examples for Día de los Muertos are included below or click here for a pdf.

Traditions Here There
By Regina Rosenzweig and Kate Wyffels

Traditions here, traditions there
Traditions, traditions everywhere

Dynamic traditions celebrating creatively
Meaningful traditions influencing quietly
Symbolic traditions inspiring hopefully
And spectacular traditions gathering excitedly

Traditions in Soviet Union and China
Traditions from the Pueblo Nation
Traditions around Ghana, Africa
Traditions throughout Mexico
And traditions from all over the world!

Traditions! Traditions! Traditions!

(Sung to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching”)
By Gloria Velarde

Traditions are important to us. . . .Hooray! Hooray!
Traditions are important to us. . . .Hooray! Hooray!
We practice them day to day,
From them we have a lot of say,
They shape our culture. . .today, today!

Traditions and culture integrate. . .Hooray! Hooray!
Traditions and culture integrate. . .Hooray! Hooray!
From them we learn to celebrate
And observe important holidays,
And traditions unite us. . .today, today!

Traditions teach diversity. . .Hooray, Hooray!
Traditions teach diversity. . .Hooray, Hooray!
We learn about how people live
The more we learn, the more we give,
It makes us a better world, in which to live. . .
Today! Today! Today! Today!


This is a great way to chart and review the information learned in a unit, and a resource students can refer back to when completing assignments. It can be created on large butcher paper, or projected onto a smart board or screen. Once all of the content information has been taught for a celebration or tradition, in a whole group setting have students provide the information to fill out the grid. Below I’ve provided a sample grid. Click here for the editable word document. The headings can be changed so that they focus on the content taught in the units. The headings then become the organizing units that allow students to compare and contrast the various traditions or celebrations they learn about.

Process Grid_Dia de los MuertosTHE PICTORIAL INPUT CHART:

This activity is adapted from a GLAD strategy where the teacher creates a large poster with important information overlaid on an image relevant to the unit or topic of study.  Typically, in preparation for the activity, the teacher would lightly trace the image and the information on a large sheet of white butcher paper.  When it was time to begin, the teacher would hang the white butcher paper on the board and begin coloring in parts of the image and tracing over the information she or he had already written in, while presenting the information to the class.  When used as part of a GLAD unit, this strategy is combined with the the concept of 10:2 teaching–for every 10 minutes of direct instruction, students are given two minutes to discuss with the class, a partner, their table group, etc., the information that has just been presented.  It may take a few class periods to color in and trace the entire image and all the relevant information.  Included here are three different versions of a pictorial input chart: a hand drawn sketch that can be re-created on large butcher paper, a digital image with the content headings but no information, and a digital image with the content headings and information.  If you don’t have time to create the sketch, the digital image can be projected and used for this activity.  The digital image can also be used to create a larger poster that can be laminated and then filled in with vis-a-vis marker which allows you to reuse the poster in subsequent classes or years.

Once you have completed making the posters with your class, keep them hanging somewhere in the room for teh rest of the unit, so that student can use them as informational resources.

Feel free to share any questions, thoughts or ideas in the comment section below!

[i] Quoted from the GLAD unit “Celebration Traditions From All Over the World (Level 3)” written by Jocelyn Mitchell, Kelli Richardson, Regina Rozezweig and Kate Wyffels.

[ii] Taken from the GLAD unit “Cultural Traditions from Around the World” written by Lorena Beifuss and Gloria Velarde.

One thought on “En la Clase: Día de los Muertos and Teaching about Cultural Celebrations

  1. Pingback: En la Clase: Literature for Teaching about Las Posadas | Vamos a Leer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s