Cinco De Mayo: Classroom Activities and Vocabulary

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Celebrating a range of cultures in your classroom teaches students not only about the people, places, and activities of other cultures, but also gives them a chance to travel without leaving the room. Cinco de Mayo, celebrated on the fifth of May, is a Mexican holiday with rich tradition that can be taught to any age group.

What is 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. On Cinco de Mayo in the United States, we honor the Mexican culture with our own celebrations.

cinco de mayo celebration

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.

Cinco de Mayo Vocabulary

  • 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 all to gather
  • pueblo - a traditional Mexican home built with adobe
  • salsa - 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 of 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.

Academic Activities

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.

pinata for cinco de mayo

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:

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