Dia de Los Muertos is a very important cultural celebration in Mexico, a tradition which dates back three thousand years long before the Spaniards set foot on Mexican soil. Every November 1st and November 2nd, Mexican families visit loved ones who have died at local cemeteries, clean their tombs, celebrate, decorate with marigolds, and eat lots and lots of food. This celebration not only focuses on death as a natural part of life but also celebrates life.
There are many activities you can plan in your classroom which will link to this well-known Mexican holiday. These activities are learning tools for all your students, particularly for Mexican students in your class. These are a few ways in which your Mexican students will feel that their culture is being valued and appreciated. Some of the activities below are suited to ESL students, but they are also useful for middle school and high school students..
Feel free to adapt and differentiate the materials to suit your student's needs.
1. Historical Context
Show students this National Geographic video to understand the background and historical context of Dia de Los Muertos:
Activity: In pairs have them re-tell each other the main facts they learned from watching this video (verbal recount) or write 5-10 questions about the video that their partner has to answer instead.
2. Writing prompt or presentation prompt: Write or present a biography of a family member
Activity: Have your students write a biography of a family member who has passed away, such as a great aunt or grandfather, honoring their life and achievements. It may be someone they don't have much information about, so they will have to go home to conduct research and talk to family members. They could also include any personal memories they may have of him or her.
Students might want to bring in photographs to share with the class. In fact, the teacher could even have a display set up with the pictures or images of the different relatives and their autobiographical stories.
The other option would be to write about an existing family member if the student is more comfortable writing about someone who is still living. This could be a written assignment structure of a biographical account, or an oral presentation using PowerPoint or Prezi. Students may want to add images to either their presentation or their written biography.
3. Reading Comprehension and Analysis focusing on the movie “Coco”
Read the following articles about how the critically acclaimed Disney movie “Coco” uses the setting and backdrop of the Day of the Dead to tell its story. The first short article explores how the movie challenges stereotypes about Mexican culture; it also asks the reader to consider how this film has not only managed to promote Mexican culture in a positive light but also challenge stereotypes consistently shown in the media through film and television shows.
The second article is about how the film impacted its audiences with a universal message of love and acceptance and the importance of family.
Activity: Have the students complete a compare and contrast activity to practice analytical skills. Students will create and complete a chart with the headings: Point of View, Similarities, Differences, My Personal Response.
4. Cinematic Techniques Analysis using clips from the movie “Coco”
Have students watch these clips from the movie “Coco” two or three times
Activity: In small groups, students should analyze the following cinematic techniques and feedback to the class or give each group one specific technique to analyze:
● Camera Angles
● Use of Color
● Portrayal of Setting
● Visual Metaphors and Symbol
● Facial Expression and Gestures
● Characterization and relationship between characters
5. Paper Mache skeleton creative activity
Activity: Have students bring material to class to create a paper mache skeleton using the following instructions. Then let them have fun with it and paint it any way they want or look up images of typical Dia de Los Muertos skeletons.
6. Family Tree Activity
Activity: Have students do an illustration either digitally or on paper of their current family tree. They can also use this free online version. They will probably go home and ask questions, about each relative. They can illustrate their family tree with pictures or drawings or even icons and add a brief description of each member of the family tree.
Students can share this illustration with a partner and explain it to them, alternatively, present to the class with a brief explanation.
7. Research activity- Research how other cultures honor their dead
Activity: In groups, students will research the celebrations and rituals different countries or cultures have to honor their dead. Ideally, each group should research customs from distinct countries in each continent, e.g. Japan, Madagascar, India, and Scandinavia. They can present their findings to the class either as a presentation or a poster.
8. La Calavera Catrina Art activity
Investigate the work of the Mexican Artist and illustrator, Jose Guadalupe Posada, who is well known for his illustrations of the famous Mexican Dia de Los Muertos, and who is considered an icon. La Calavera Catrina was also a prominent figure in Mexican folk art.
Activity: Create a collage either in print form or electronically of the different illustrations and images students have found with significant history or meaning behind them; ask your students to provide details on how and why the artist create the illustration.
Below are two useful sites to start with: