I have so many Day of the Dead activities for Spanish class to share with you, it’s not even funny. Día de los Muertos is the best time of year to be a Spanish teacher. A large section of my feeble school hard drive was dedicated to this beautiful rich tradition. Here are my best project ideas for Spanish class, high school activities, and digital resources for every Spanish teacher’s Día de los Muertos practically month-long unit!
Day of the Dead in Spanish Class
Day of the Dead in Spanish class is literally the BEST time of year to be a Spanish teacher. While all of your teacher friends in your other subjects are counting down the days till Navidad, we’re freaking out as soon as it hits October. I don’t know about you, but I used to extend the whole season for over 3 solid weeks of Día de los Muertos lesson plans! You can find my full lineup of lesson plans for Day of the Dead at the end of this post.
Dia de los Muertos School Activities
Dia de los Muertos was a great opportunity for a cross-curricular lesson with the culinary department at my high school.
It took me two planning periods (one to meet with the other department and map it out), and one 90 minute planning period to get all the project materials together.
Full investment? My kids’ most favorite lesson of the year and a week where I didn’t have to plan. Or really teach — just supervise and have fun with students in the kitchen! Check it out:
Some things to plan for — I did try this the year before, and asked too late. The department wasn’t able to accomodate me, since it does require a shift in moving students, materials, and things like that. Ask 30 days in advance at least if you work at a school of more than 1000 students like I did.
Budget is also important to consider. They made it really easy to work together, but we were also dipping into their ingredient budget. I did send some traditional recipes from Oaxaca hoping to offer the culinary students a learning opportunity as well. But the ingredients ended up being too expensive.
We decided to go with a cheaper and easier alternative where everyone could participate, even though it’s not as exciting. They made traditional pico de gallo and handmade spiced tortilla chips, quesadillas, and horchata to drink. Still delicious, and very doable over 3 days in the kitchen!
Dia de los Muertos Educational Activities
In order for all students to participate, they had to complete a Day of the Dead research project of their choice. You’ll see a full list of the Day of the Dead activities for Spanish class that I used at the end of this post. You’ll also see my lesson plan order.
They could complete a Calavera with some Dia de los Muertos terms and facts in Spanish (you know, for those who want to just do the bare minimum).
They also had the opportunity to research that year’s current desfile and celebration in a city of choice. I gave them some examples and guidelines. (2018 Oaxaca, 2018 Honduras, etc). They could make a travel itinerary in Spanish or a social post.
Create Altars for Day of the Dead in Spanish Class
In addition, they could create something like their own DIY altar de muertos for someone who had passed in their lives. They had to use traditional elements like cempasuchil, copal, etc. Many brought in photos and a shoebox decorated with pictures and stories of their loved ones, it was really beautiful! (I did silly one year(like a cancelled tv show), but it felt disrespectful so I stopped doing it. Best to lean in to the seriousness. If students don’t feel comfortable, they’ll choose a research or creative project.
More Day of the Dead Projects
Your very creative students will give you their own suggestions. One group wanted to do a makeup tutorial for the famous catrina face decorations. It was awesome – you’ll see some photos below. I asked them to research the symbology of each element to make sure they knew where the cultural piece fit. It was so cool to see all of their talents.
With all of these options, every one of my over 150 students had something they were happy(ish) to work on. They had to present their findings or final project to the culinary class.
Through this, the culinary class learned about the real meaning behind Day of the Dead from their Spanish buddies, and the Spanish students learned how to cook!
Day of the Dead Video for Spanish Class
To make sure students had plenty to work with for their Dia de los Muertos projects, we did almost a week’s worth of lessons in Spanish with authentic resources.
I used several Dia de los Muertos videos perfect for Spanish class. I searched for travel videos, short museum walk-through clips, parade clips from snapchat, and my final favorite — this film short.
If you spend hours looking for authentic videos, watch this free PD class on how to find them quickly. Both of these videos here are perfect for class. You can ask students to name in Spanish at least 10 Dia de Muertos elements they see.
Next, I also asked students to write a simple version of the story that happened in Spanish (she sees a skeleton – she is afraid – etc.) If you’d like this activity, check out the digital Dia de los Muertos Spanish activity I use here
Dia de los Muertos Activities for High School
And now, time for my absolute favorite Day of the Dead activities for Spanish class. I used these for years when Dia de Muertos came around and I hope you love them too! One also comes in printable and digital form to accomodate your remote learning class. I taught high school Spanish 1 and 2, so these activities are designed for high school. However, middle school students would also do well with them.
I used this Day of the Dead activity for Spanish class as my very first lesson, before introducing the projects, to both introduce the basic happenings and events of Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca and emphasize the most important high frequency verbs. It’s a reading rich in comprehensible input with 10 pages of follow-up activities for your students to choose from.
Day of the Dead Project Ideas for Spanish Class
Let’s address the most common project for Day of the Dead. If you googled and pinterested like mad how to do the DIY Altar de Muertos (such as the shoebox version) with your Spanish class, I highly recommend the activity. Versions that honor the original lively, solemn, and respectful intent of this cultural practice is best.
Here are the examples of the projects and activities for Spanish class my students did in order to earn their culinary adventures:
Fun & Collaborative Activities for Día de los Muertos
- Collaborate with the media center to do a Dia de los Muertos research project. Your librarian can help you find tons of resources
- Make an Altar de Muertos depicting a loved one. Label at least 10 traditional items and what they represent in Spanish
- Research the current year and write a travel itinerary with 10 stops/events in Spanish on a certain city or country’s Day of the Dead celebrations
- Take students on a virtual field trip to Oaxaca to see and explore the most famous city for Dia de Muertos – check out the one I use here
- **if you like the idea of a virtual field trip but would like to create your own, see how I create mine & use them in this post here
- Have students design a Calavera and explain the significance of each design element and color. Students can design their own Calavera in this Day of the Dead activity
More Dia de los Muertos Activities
- Have students choose a tangible result of their understanding of the festival. Ideas include a makeup tutorial, a poster, create a brochure or social media post
- Offer to heritage students the opportunity to teach about their personal practices if they would like to
- Write a Día de Muertos cuento in Spanish 7-10 simple phrases using the vocabulary of the festival describing what happens. (you’ll be surprised how many students will take you up on this option. Just be sure to provide them with 2 starter sentences to show them the structure)
- Read a great CI novel about Día de los Muertos like Pancho y las Momias* and write a summary or do a follow-up project *(this is an affiliate link)
- Create an Altar de Muertos replica with craft items, flowers, etc and label it
I made this easier this year for your class with a digital version, where students take moveable pieces and make their own DIY Dia de Muertos Altar with the traditional pieces and name them in Spanish. Check out the full features of these Day of the Dead Activities for Spanish Class here
Dia de los Muertos Unit Lesson Plan Breakdown
Lastly, here’s the lesson plan breakdown. Now that you’ve seen all of my Day of the Dead activities for Spanish class, here’s the final breakdown of my 3-week lesson plan for both Spanish 1 -2 ( I would always adjust to save my prep time)
Introduction to Dia de los Muertos
- DAY 1 – introduce Dia de Muertos with a short clip, ask for prior knowledge (get flooded with Coco quotes and songs yassss), start High Frequency verb reading in groups (or go for digital Dia de los Muertos version with more activities)
- DAY 2 – watch another Dia de Muertos clip with food, history, or previous year’s festival footage, start doing Clipchat for film short, do another activity from high frequency reading
- DAY 3 – write clipchat story or do dialogue scramble with film short and finish digital high frequency Dia de Muertos activities, either independently or as a class
- DAY 4 – introduce calaveras, swap stories with other classmates and read them, give time for students to design their own
- DAY 5 – do another clip in Spanish and cognate/writing activity such as write 5 cognates, and describe what you see in 5 sentences, picture talk, etc, then start virtual field trip to Oaxaca
Day of the Dead Activities in my Spanish Class
- DAY 6 – virtual field trip to Oaxaca, start watching Coco
- DAY 7 – virtual field trip to Oaxaca, watch more Coco
- DAY 8 – virtual field trip to Oaxaca, introduce project guidelines and options, Coco
- DAY 9 – project time, Coco
- DAY 10 – new Dia de Muertos clip (maybe from current year) project time, Coco
- DAY 11 – finish projects
- DAY 12 – present project to cross-curricular (mine was culinary)
- DAY 13 – culinary day!
- DAY 14 – culinary day!
- DAY 15 – finish Coco (while I graded all this ish)
- DAY 16 – back in classroom, review high frequency verb reading for a quiz
- DAY 17 – quiz and essay
Adjustments for Spanish 2 — during this time of the year, it was almost always the family unit, so students would be working on the Coco family tree and I would swap out Dia de Muertos clips with family tree lessons and CI vocabulary demonstrations since this was their 2nd time celebrating Day of the Dead in Spanish class. We also did the movie El Libro de la Vida for those who had already seen Coco.
Next, I also included some independent FVR or free voluntary reading with some great books like Pancho y las Momias. * (this is an affiliate link) Fluency Matters in particular has amazing Day of the Dead books for students. You can see my full list of FVR and CI novels for Spanish class here .
Resources for CI Spanish Teachers
And that’s a rap! If you’d like more resources for Spanish teachers, here are some more lessons, PD, and ideas for your comprehensible input classroom:
- Virtual Field Trips for Spanish Class
- Día de la Raza Ideas
- 7 Free Spanish Resources for Teachers
- Songs for Spanish Class | Hispanic Heritage Month Activities and Music
- Afro-latinx Leaders for Spanish Class
- How I Started A Spanish Classroom Library for Free
Learn how to transition to proficiency
Last but not least, I have my favorite free resource for Spanish teachers. This lovingly crafted guide has everything the modern world language teacher needs, including steps on curriculum mapping and how to transition to proficiency.
Now that you’ve seen over 3 weeks (a month basically) of my favorite Day of the Dead activities for Spanish class, I hope you have tons of ideas! How are you celebrating Día de los Muertos with your Spanish class this year?
Free Conference for World Language Teachers
If you’re ready to jump in and get started with proficiency and teaching with comprehensible input, I have another resource to help you on your journey below:
Sign Up for the Next Practical & Comprehensible Free Virtual Conference! Every year, I gather together the best and brightest in the field of world language to share with you how to switch to proficiency through comprehensible input. All with practical ideas that you can use tomorrow. It’s a FREE virtual conference – join the waitlist and find out more about the speakers here.