Day of the Dead Classroom Activities

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Day of the Dead is a holiday native to Mexico, but it's popularity has been spreading into other countries. These in-class activities can let your class participate in some of the traditions associated with Día de Muertos.

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated on November 2 (as part of a wider holiday that stretches from October 31-November 2). The holiday, which has roots in both Catholicism and in the traditions of the Aztec Empire, is seen as a chance to celebrate and honor deceased loved ones and to interact with them through rituals, food, and celebration. These activities will give your students an introduction to Day of the Dead and Mexican folk traditions, but can be easily adapted to classes of higher grade or experience level. It would also be easy to add language components to these activities as part of Spanish-language education.

Day of the Dead Activities

Papel Picado

Papel picado, intricately cut tissue paper, is a folk art that is often associated with Day of the Dead in Mexico. Provide students with small, colorful squares of tissue paper (or something sturdier like card stock) and craft knives. Students will draw designs onto their squares, and cut them out. You can either provide students will stencils, or ask them to create their own designs. For Day of the Dead, ask students to create designs focused not only on skeletons and skulls but also family. Ask students to think about symbols or objects that are important to their family, and create images around those. For example, if the family all enjoys music together, make a design focused around guitars. If food, board games, or sports are a big part of family traditions, make those the focus of the designs.

  • Materials: Medium-small squares of colored paper (tissue, card stock, or other), pencils, rulers/straight edges, precision craft knives, stencils and reference images

Ofrendas

The centerpiece of any Day of the Day celebration is the ofrenda, an altar dedicated to deceased family members. Show students examples of ofrendas for reference, and provide them with a large collection of decorative materials to choose from. These could include craft-store marigolds and roses, votive candles, fake or real loaves of bread, and skulls (depending on time, these can be pre-decorated skulls or blank ones that students can paint). Colored tissue paper would also be useful. Ask students to bring photos of family members from home. Give each student a shoebox and let them design their own small ofrenda for their family, decorating it with the materials provided.

  • Materials: Shoeboxes (or larger box if desired), decorative items for the ofrendas, art and craft supplies as desired

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