Inside: Day of the dead activities, crafts, videos, and lesson plans for the Spanish classroom.
Though not celebrated in every Spanish-speaking location, Día de Muertos has deep roots in many parts of Latin America. It’s most famous as a Mexican holiday, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd.
A mix of pre-Hispanic customs and Catholic traditions, Day of the Dead is a time for families to remember their ancestors. They welcome the visiting souls of their loved ones, with bright decorations and homemade altars.
After the wide success of Pixar’s Coco, celebrating Día de muertos is more familiar than ever to the average student.
The festivities are fascinating and deeply meaningful– the perfect chance for students to take a deep dive into Spanish-speaking culture.
DAY OF THE DEAD ACTIVITIES & IDEAS
There are tons of resources for learning about Day of the Dead, in both Spanish and English. Below, you can find all of my favorites organized into categories.
Day of the Dead Activities for Kids and School:
1. Crafts and Coloring Pages
2. Lesson Plans and Ideas for Teachers
3. Video Lessons for Day of the Dead
More Day of the Dead Learning Resources:
1. Books for Day of the Dead
2. Day of the Dead Songs
3. Authentic Infographs in Spanish
4. Videos with Info on Day of the Dead
Curious About Día de Muertos? Learn more:
1. Background Information on Día de Muertos
Day of the Dead Crafts AND Coloring Pages
Printable Sugar Skulls, Masks, and Coloring Pages
I created these coloring pages to introduce kids to different Day of the Dead celebration elements: calaveras, marigolds, altars, papel picado, candles, and more. They also include a page with a monarch butterflies as an alternative image.
Free printable for papel picado from Live Colorful.
Although real papel picado is made from tissue paper, in a pinch you can print out this little banner onto colored paper for some quick decorations.
Free color-by-number Calaveras from Spanish Playground.
Sugar Skull Luminaries
For Day of the Dead home decorations, this is a very simple and pretty sugar skull craft!
Stone Sugar Skulls from Alisa Burke
These teeny sugar skulls are painted onto rocks and look amazing!
Shoebox Altar from Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes
This is a lovely mini-altar that students could create instead of a full-sized ofrenda.
Mini-Altars in a Jar
This is another idea for a mini-altar alternative.
Skeleton craft for Day of the Dead
This is a simple idea for kids that involved gluing skeletons onto colored construction paper. Calacas are often shown playing music or doing other fun things, as shown in this craft!
Need an alternative to images of skeletons and skulls?
- Learn about monarch butterflies with crafts and reading passages in Spanish.
- You can do a papel picado craft simply by folding tissue paper and cutting out designs with scissors. Creating a banner like this is very festive and pretty!
- Make flores de Cempasúchil flowers out of paper tissue (Youtube tutorial).
DAY OF THE DEAD LESSON IDEAS
Here are some free resources to help you find ideas and get your lesson plans together!
Pre-teach key unfamiliar vocabulary:
- Here is a free Pear Deck slideshow for introducing the basics (in Spanish. from TpT).
- I have these simple editable outlines about ofrendas and their elements, for you to adjust as needed and print (English). It includes a blank altar, to have students draw and label.
- Here is a free, editable list of terms I created (click the link to force a copy).
- Click to download vocabulary words for a word wall.
- Use this digital Bingo game to teach and review important vocabulary.
Free reading passages about Day of the Dead:
- 2 levels of readings to introduce el Día de los Muertos, from Spanish Playground.
- ¿Qué es el Día de Muertos? printable text for A2-B1 students, with vocabulary and a word search.
La Profe Plotts has an amazing reading activity pack here.
- Two cute read-and-match activities, based on images of sugar skulls, also from Spanish Playground.
- Día de Muertos mini-book from TpT.
- Printable elementary-level reading passage with questions (free on TpT).
- This text takes a deeper dive into the origins of Day of the Dead, and includes information on Halloween, for students to compare and contrast (upper grades, free on TpT).
Watch a short non-fiction film.
I’ve linked to many videos below. Here are some ready-made activities that accompany free videos:
- TeachVid has a cool introduction to altars. activities: video 1. You can easily create an activity like a gap fill.
- Spanish Playground has a short video with printable listening activities.
Research and compare Día de Muertos traditions across Latin America.
- Most lesson only focus on how Mexico celebrates. This post has info, links, and YouTube videos for exploring other Latin American customs.
- Williamson CI & TPRS has 3 Embedded Reading in Spanish, with a follow-up activity comparing traditions across Latin America (high school).
Google Arts and Culture has some amazing resources as well, for exploring Day of the Dead. I really like the video that introduces the holiday with vivid images, and there’s even an interactive altar!
Movies and SHORT FILMS FOR DAY OF THE DEAD
Videos are a really good way to put students in touch with the vibrant sights of Día de Muertos.
Watch Coco on Disney+ (or buy the DVD). T
There are some great resources on TpT to go with Coco.
- I loved this free 41-slide PowerPoints presentation from Arianne Dowd, for the Coco trailer
- You can also extend the lesson by studying the song La llorona from Coco, with this TpT freebie.
Watch El Libro de la Vida.
For The Book of Life, you can use:
Instead of choosing a feature-length movie, there are some brilliant short films you can show. If teaching Spanish, use them as a MovieTalk. You can find my favorites embedded below.
If you teach various levels, make it easy on yourself by choosing one film to use for all the classes and adjusting the language for each group.
Día de Los Muertos
This is a beautiful little film about young girl who visits her mother in the afterlife. Elena López has extensive resources for using La niña que recuerda with older Spanish learners.
Día de Muertos
Similar to the video above. this Día de Muertos short film follows a young boy who journey to the afterlife with his grandmother.
Elena Lopez has wonderful resources for this one, too, complete with questions, textivate activities, Kahoot, and more. (For Spanish leaners.)
Again, Elena Lopez to the rescue with tons of comprehensible free activities for “La Cena de Dante.”
Danza de los muertos
Williamson CI & TPRS has some great reading and comprehension activities to go this video!
Infographs are a great way to use authentic language in short bits (with illustrations and graphic for support) while learning about Day of the Dead. These are fun to to prompt discussion and give the students a chance to see what they can understand from an authentic resource.
Credit: Xoximilco blog
Credit: Enter to the Matrix
Image Credit: El Comercio
Visit my Día de Muertos page on Pinterest to find lots more Día de muertos realia!
BOOKS FOR DAY OF THE DEAD
Here are some titles in English and Spanish for learning more about Day of the Dead traditions:
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Day of the Dead Books
SONGS FOR DAY OF THE DEAD
Here are two songs that work for different levels. You can also see my entire post on Day of the Dead songs, for more options.
Calaverita by La Santa Cecilia is a fun song that would work well for older students.
- Kara Jacobs and Elena Lopez put together an amazing slideshow and activities to go with the song Calaverita.
- Producing Polyglots has a song lyrics activity you can use.
This classic song could work for younger students, with kid-friendly illustrations and music. I have an activity pack on TpT for $3 that goes with this song as well!
Informational VIDEOS About Day of the Dead
Introduction to Day of the Dead (English) from National Geographic
Get a quick overview of the Mexican holiday with this 2-minute video.
Celebración de Vida – Celebración del Día de Muertos
From Google, this video is in Spanish (you may need to slow the speed of the audio to make this more comprehensible). The 5-minute video takes a more artistic angle, using the voices of everyday people to explain what the day means for them.
Ofrenda de Día de Muertos
This video doesn’t have audio– with a music background, it shows the step-by-step process of creating an altar. It does have some text, for identifying ofrenda elements like cempasúchils, pan de muerto, chocolate sugar skulls, favorite foods, and more.
El Día de Muertos, en México
This video was created for Spanish students. It features audio with slower, more comprehensible language.
Día de Muertos
This is a 53-minute film from PBS that explores Día de Muertos on a more in-depth level, in English.
From their site: “In contrast to all the glamorous fanfare Dia de los Muertos now receives, Artbound offers a more intimate look at this ritual through the story of artist Ofelia Esparza, who continues the tradition of building altars to remember the dead. Journey with her as she travels back to Mexico in search of her ancestral roots.”
10 Datos Interesantes del Día de Muertos (Spanish):
Cómo Vestir Una Catrina (Spanish)
Learn about Las Catrinas, through this craft tutorial.
Sugar Skull Tutorial (English)
Here’s a thorough Sugar Skull makeup tutorial.
What other ideas and resources do you love for teaching about Día de los Muertos? If I missed a favorite activity, let me know in the comments below!
Background Information on Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead began with the Aztecs, Toltecs, and other groups across Mesoamerica. These groups viewed death as a normal part of the cycle of life, and the afterlife as a joyous continuation of existence.
At the time, it was believed that after dying, the departed souls must travel to the Land of the Dead. This was a difficult journey, and families would aid their relatives by offering food and drink. This ritual, Miccaihuitl, was related to harvest festivals and took place in July/August, following the Aztec calendar.
After the arrival of the Spaniards, Catholic beliefs and traditions slowly mingled with these indigenous customs to form the modern holiday we now know as the Day of the Dead. The dates also moved to November 1 and 2 (the dates or All Souls Day and and All Saints Day).
On the Day of the Dead, it’s believed that the border between the spirit world and the real world dissolve. During this brief period, the souls of the dead awaken and return to the living world to feast, drink, dance and play music with their loved ones. In turn, the living family members treat the deceased as honored guests in their celebrations, and leave the deceased’s favorite foods and other offerings at gravesites or on the ofrendas built in their homes.History.com
Some of the Day of the Dead customs were beginning to slip out of fashion in the 20th century. The Mexican government saw a chance for tourism, however, and began promoting the holiday in the 1970s. This coincided with the Chicano movement in the United States, which sought to revive indigenous practices.
As we share these traditions with our students, we can invite them to think about how different cultures view life and death. Since its origins, Día de Muertos has evolved to reflect the culture around it. It will most likely continue to do just that!
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