Sharon has an Masters of Science in Mathematics and a Masters in Education
Cinco de Mayo
A popular tradition in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo, is a holiday marked to observe the victory of the Mexican army over the French on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla, or El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla. In Mexico, the celebration represents Mexican pride and patriotism, and involves dancing, parades, music, and parties. At Cinco de Mayo in the United States, we honor the Mexican culture with our own celebrations.
Teaching and Using Vocabulary
Before you roll out the party sombreros, familiarize your students with the rich words and language surrounding Cinco de Mayo. Dedicate a table, corner, or wall to Cinco de Mayo, and plan to house books and other authentic artifacts, such as maracas, sombreros, Mexican cloth, and any other object you find. Use part of this area to create a vocabulary word wall. For younger students, simply discuss the words and definitions, but only display the word. While older students are able to visually organize larger amounts of text, younger children become overwhelmed with too much. Use pictures to represent definitions if that works well for your students.
Here are some vocabulary words and their definitions you can use to familiarize your students with the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
- Amigo - a male friend
- Amiga - a female friend
- Bueno - good
- Castanets - a Mexican noise maker made of two pieces of wood
- Cinco - the number five
- De - of
- Fiesta - a celebration or party
- Maraca - a Mexican rattle or noisemaker that makes sounds when shaken
- Mariachi - a Mexican band of musicians who play music and dress in the traditional way
- Mayo - the month of May
- Piñata - a decoration made of paper mache, decorated with streamers and ribbon, and filled with candy; it is hit with a stick by children and candy is spilled for everyone to gather
- Pueblo - a traditional Mexican home built with adobe
- Salsa - a tomato, chili, and bean sauce used for dipping chips or putting on food, or a traditional Mexican dance
- Sombrero - a traditional Mexican hat
Depending on the age of your students, more or less vocabulary may be appropriate. This is a great time to teach basic Spanish language rules, such as gender-specific words in a very basic way. Remember, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration to honor and remember a victory so unless you're doing a whole unit on the subject, focus your time on the traditional games and activities. You can choose academic or game-based activities, or plan a fiesta to roll it all together.
Depending on your learning objectives, you may want to include some academic activities in your Cinco de Mayo celebration. If your students will be required to learn lesson vocabulary, consider creating cards with vocabulary words and definitions written on them and decorated in the traditional Spanish colors of red, green, and white. Children can play a matching game with them, like Concentration, or other games such as Go Fish or Old Maid.
Incorporate math games by focusing on the number five, cinco! Count by fives, use clock skills focusing on fives, rewrite numbers to the fifth power… any way you can squeeze it in.
Incorporate geography by finding Mexico on a map or globe. Identify surrounding countries, oceans, mountain ranges, and other geographical features. Find where the Battle of Puebla happened, and discuss what independence means.
Finally, read! Find books about Mexico's traditions and cultures and plan several read-alouds daily. Use material to reenact important customs, such as flamenco dancing.
Make it Crafty
If you're looking for craft activities to decorate your classroom, enhance your fiesta, or just reinforce Cinco de Mayo concepts, you have many to choose from. Here are a few suggestions.
Create your own maracas to play using a few simple objects. You'll need two egg carton sections for the outside, dry beans for the inside, and a craft stick for the base. After decorating the egg carton pieces, place the beans into the egg sections, insert the stick, and secure the carton sections with tape or staples.
Create your own piñata. Blow up a balloon and place on a cup, tie side down. Blend flour and water to a paste-like consistency. Dip strips of newspaper into the paste and layer around the balloon, leaving a small opening at the base. Allow to dry completely. Once dry, use tissue paper, ribbon, and other art materials to decorate. Pop the balloon, then fill it with candy, attach a string, and let the fiesta begin!
You can also create tissue paper flowers. Layer five square sheets of tissue paper. Fold like you're making a fan, back and forth, and then secure the middle with a twist tie. Carefully unfold the layers, slowly and gently, to reveal the petals. Once fluffed, add a green pipe cleaner to act as the stem.
Another activity for celebrating Cinco de Mayo in your classroom is to create a sombrero. Use a paper cup and paper plate to create this simple but cute place marker. Decorate the cup and plate, writing names on the cup if applicable. The cup will be inverted on the plate, so keep this in mind as you write! After decorating, turn the cup over and place in the middle of the plate. Secure with frosting. Place frosting around the edge of the plate and add M&M's, gum drops, or other colorful candy. Ole!
Bring on the Fiesta
Whether you're celebrating Cinco de Mayo for an hour, a day, or teaching a thematic unit, you'll want to culminate with a fiesta. Use the paper flowers, piñatas, sombreros, and maracas to decorate the room. To make yours a traditional Cinco de Mayo, include salsa music and dancing. If you have technology available, view a few how-to salsa videos and have students give it a whirl. For refreshments, set up a salsa station where students chop tomatoes, onions, and garlic to make a simple recipe. Use a plastic knife for safety. Serve lemonade with a lime wedge. Finally, find a safe place to hang the piñata and let the students take a whack at cracking the shell. With maracas, chips and salsa, and dancing, it will be a fiesta to be remembered.
Cinco de Mayo is a traditional Mexican celebration in honor of the memory of a great battle victory against the French in 1862. Because the United States is a border country and has a large Mexican population, many Cinco de Mayo celebrations take place here as well. You can celebrate the holiday in your classroom by hosting a fiesta, making arts and crafts, planning learning activities, and reading to students about the cultures and traditions of Mexico. Making the concept fun and active allows all learners to experience the Mexican culture without a passport. How bueno is that?
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