Kwanzaa Day of the Dead Portable Collections Program

Portable Collections Program
Beth Alberty
Gloria Cones
Kayla Dove
Elizabeth Reich Rawson
Dawn Reid
Angela Yang
Emily Timmel
Graphic Design
Charita Patamikakorn
Case Fabricator
Ellen Leo
Special Thanks
Lisa Brahms
Keri Goldberg
Pearl Rosen Golden
Nicki Hoff-Lilavois
This project is made possible by a grant from
© 2008
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11213
718-735-4400 ext. 170
For information about renting this or other Portable Collections Program cases,
please contact the Scheduling Assistant at 718-735-4400 ext. 118.
Table of Contents
Checklist: What’s in the Case? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Information for the Teacher. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
How to Handle Museum Objects
Teaching Students How to Look at Museum Objects
About Day of the Dead
Information about the Objects in the Case
Activities to do with your Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Activity 1: Introduction to Day of the Dead
Activity 2: Day of the Dead Printmaking
Activity 3: Day of the Dead Poetry
Activity 4: Building a Day of the Dead Altar
Activity 5: Making Papel Picado
Activity 6: Making Calacas Puppets
Program Extensions
Resources and Reference Materials. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Vocabulary Words
Correlation with New York State Learning Standards
Where to Find Out More about Mexican Culture in New York City
Bibliography and Web Resources
What’s in the Case
Papel Picado
Day of the Dead
Jointed Papier-Mâché
Copal Incense
Paper Marigold
Votive Candle
Day of Dead Box
Tin Mariachi
Dog Skeleton
Day of the Dead | 4
What’s in the Case
Winter, Jeanette.
Calavera Abecedario.
Orlando: Harcourt Books, Inc.,
Lowery, Linda.
Day of the Dead.
Minneapolis: Millbrook Press,
Ancona, George.
Pablo Remembers.
New York: Lothrop, Lee &
Shepard Books, 1993.
Flickering Lights: Days of the Dead, DVD
Mexico Putomayo, CD
Day of the Dead Photos
Posada Prints
World Map
Day of the Dead | 5
information for the teacher
Title Here
he activities and resources in this case focus on how people celebrate Day of the Dead in general
and the rich folk art traditions of the holiday in particular. Day of the Dead is one of Mexico’s
most beloved holidays. The objects in this case are intended to introduce Day of the Dead to your
students and guide them in an exploration of the celebration.
he study of Day of the Dead can extend in many directions, including immigration, cross-cultural
comparison of Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations, artists of Mexico and of course,
more in depth study of Mexico and its people. We have included some suggestions on how to
make these curriculum connections to serve as starting points for following your own and your
students’ interests. Integrated classes were taken into consideration when developing these
activites, making many suited for students with special needs. For your convenience, you can
download this guide from our website:
he objects in this case are real, some from the Museum’s collection and others purchased from
stores that import Mexican products for Day of the Dead. Though they are not all antique and
some may look like toys, it is important to emphasize to your students that, like all museum
objects, these are to be handled carefully.
Day of the Dead | 6
information for the teacher
How to Handle Museum Objects
How to Look at Museum Objects
Learning to respectfully handle objects from
the Museum’s permanent collection can be
part of your students’ educational experience.
Please share these guidelines with your class,
and make sure your students follow them in
handling objects in the case:
Objects have the power to fascinate people
with their mere physical presence. Holding
an object in their hands forms a tangible link
between your students, the person who made
it, and the object’s place of origin. This sense
of physical connection makes it easier for
students to think concretely about the ideas
and concepts you introduce to them in your
Students may handle the objects,
carefully, under your supervision.
Hold objects with two hands.
Hold them by the solid part of
the body or by the strongest
area rather than by rims, edges
or protruding parts.
Paint, feathers, fur, paper, and
textiles are especially fragile
and should be touched as little as
possible. Remember that rubbing
and finger oils can be damaging.
Objects also have the power to tell us about
their origins and purpose, provided we are
willing to look at them in detail and think about
what those details mean. Encourage your
students to examine an object carefully, touch
it gently, and look at its design and decoration.
Have them describe its shape, size, and color.
Ask them questions about what they see, and
what that might tell them. For example:
•How was the object made? What tools might
the artist have used?
•What materials did the artist use? Where
might he or she have gotten those materials?
•How does the object feel? Is it heavy, light,
smooth, or rough?
Do not shake objects or the
Plexiglass cases that houses them.
Temperature differences, direct
sunlight, and water can be very
harmful to certain objects.
Please keep the objects away
from radiators and open windows,
and keep them secure.
•How is the object decorated? What might the
decorations mean?
•What does the object tell you about the person or people who made it?
Day of the Dead | 7
information for the teacher
Day of the Dead
Title Here
ay of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos [DEE-ah
day lohs MWEHR-tohs], is a holiday celebrated
on November 1st (All Saints Day) and
November 2nd (All Souls Day) in Mexico, and
in some parts of Central and South America.
Day of the Dead is also celebrated by many
Mexican Americans in the United States. The
Mexican American population is one of the
fastest growing groups in the United States,
especially in California, Texas, and New York.
In Mexico, this festival is considered to be
one of the most important holidays of the
year. Although it is associated with the dead,
the holiday is not portrayed or thought of as
morbid or depressing, rather it is a joyous
celebration reminding us to enjoy life while we
can because death can catch us at any time.
It is a time to celebrate and honor the lives of
loved ones who have died. Death is not an end
but rather a beginning to a new stage in life.
People celebrate Day of the Dead constructing
and decorating ofrendas [OH-fren-dahs]
or home altars, to honor loved ones who
have died. Decorations may include copal
incense, candles, gifts, bright flowers, papel
picado [pah-PEHL pee-KAH-doh], pictures
of saints, and photographs and offerings of
the decease’s favorite food and drink. In rural
areas of Mexico, tombs and gravestones in
cemeteries are cleaned and freshly painted
and on November 2nd, family members
visit the gravesites of their loved ones. They
decorate graves with flowers, and enjoy
picnics consisting of favorite foods of the
Day of the Dead | 8
deceased. Most families will celebrate in
the cemetery all night, picnicking, singing,
laughing, and remembering their loved ones.
There are many special foods and decorations
that are prepared especially during this time.
Sweet breads called Pan de Muerto [PAHN
DAY MWEHR-tohs] (bread of the dead)—a
round bread decorated with shapes of skulls
and crossbones—and Mona bread (doll bread)—
shaped like a person lying with their arms
folded across their chests—are baked. Calacas
[kah-LAH-cahs] or skeletons made of papiermâché, clay, wood or paper wear modern
dress and depict subjects from everyday life
such as bicycle riders, brides and grooms,
musicians, even pets. These can be placed on
ofrendas to depict what the deceased used to
enjoy doing. Sweet skulls made of sugar, called
calaveras [kah-lah-VAY-rahs] are given as
gifts. It is common to find names of the dead,
or even the living, painted on the sugar skulls
as a funny gift. The traditional flower of Day of
the Dead is the marigold, which is spread on
paths and used to decorate ofrendas and the
cemetery. The pleasant aromas of foods, copal
incense, and marigolds help attract and guide
the souls home. information for the teacher
Calavera poems describe a person’s death
in a funny way. Literally, the term calaveras
refers to the skull or skeleton but is also a
literary form of satirical verse and a graphic
art form of caricature. Funny drawings of
skeletons were made popular by the engraver
and illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada
(1852-1913). His most famous drawing was a
satirical engraving of La Catrina [lah kahTREE-nah], a female skeleton dressed in fancy
clothes poking fun at the upper class (the rich
die too).
ay of the Dead is a cherished holiday
tradition because families celebrate with and
honor the deceased on this day. It is a holiday
when the whole family comes together, both
living and dead. It is a time for the departed to
join the living to celebrate life.
Words in boldface have been included in the
Vocabulary Words section on page 32.
Day of the Dead | 9
information for the teacher
Information About Objects In The Case
Plastic Papel Picado (“perforated paper”) is the Mexican art of cutting
paper into elaborate designs. The designs are commonly cut from tissue
paper using a guide and small chisels, creating as many as forty banners at a
time. Common themes include birds, floral designs, and skeletons. They are
commonly displayed for Easter, Christmas, and the Day of the Dead, as well
as during weddings, quinceañeras, and christenings.
Day of the Dead Catrina Jose Posada created a famous print of a figure
that he called the Calavera de la Catrina (Calavera of the Elegant Lady), as a
parody of a Mexican upper class female. Posada’s image of the lady skeleton
and large hat has become associated with the Day of the Dead, and Catrina
figures often are a prominent part of modern Day of the Dead observances.
Jointed Papier-Mâché Skeleton A calaca is a figure of a skeleton used
for decoration during Day of the Dead. It is common to find the names of the
dead, or even the living, painted on the skull. What is this skeleton’s name?
Papier-Mâché Skull Artistic representations of the skull are prominent
decorations during Day of the Dead. This whimsical skull is smiling, as this is
a happy holiday.
Copal Incense Copal incense is made from the dried resin of the copal tree.
The incense is somewhat smoky when burned and has a pine like scent. The
incense has been widely used since Pre-Columbian times (before the arrival
of European influence in the 16th century). It is burned year round in Mexican
churches and is popularly used on ofrendas during Day of the Dead to help
attract the souls of the dead home. Please do not open or light the incense.
Paper Marigold Flowers Mexican Marigold flowers, known as cempasúchil
[sem-pa-SOO-cheel], are often referred to as the Flower of the Dead. They
are used extensively in alters for their pungent aroma. Throughout rural regions
of Mexico, there will often be a trail of its petals from the main thoroughfare
to the entrance of a home for the dead to follow home.
Day of the Dead | 10
information for the teacher
Vase A vase is used to hold the marigolds.
Guadeloupe Votive Candle Candles are lit on the ofrenda in memory of
the deceased. This candle features Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint
of Mexico. Her image has become a symbol of Mexican identity.
Miniature Day of Dead Box Calacas are often shown wearing festive
clothing, dancing, and playing musical instruments to indicate a happy
afterlife. Dioramas like these are a popular form of Mexican folk art.
Mariachi Tin Figure This calaca is a Mariachi musician. Mariachi is a type
of musical group, originally from Jalisco, Mexico. A mariachi band consists
of at least three violins, two trumpets, one Mexican guitar, one vihuela (a
high-pitched, five-string guitar) and one guitarrón (a small-scaled acoustic
bass). Mariachi trios are popular entertainment in Mexican restaurants.
Dog Skeleton Figurine Day of the Dead is a time to honor and celebrate
family and friends who have died. Beloved pets are not forgotten during this
holiday. This small figurine depicts a dog skeleton playing with a ball.
You can learn more about these and other objects from around the world by visiting our
Collections Central Online database at
Day of the Dead | 11
Activities to do with your students
Introduction to Day of the Dead
Grades: All
Related Objects
Papel Picado
Copal Incense
Miniature Day
of Dead Box
Tin Mariachi
Dog Skeleton
By watching an introductory video and comparing what they see to objects from the case,
students will become more familiar with the colors, symbols, and smells of Day of the Dead.
During the late fall just around Halloween, Mexican Americans are busy getting ready to celebrate
Day of the Dead. Many items for the festivities can be found in our City’s Mexican neighborhoods.
Bakeries prepare special treats and stores sell specialty Day of the Dead items. Your students
may see Day of the Dead items and imagery around the city but not realize they are for a holiday
other than Halloween because of their visual similarity.
Guiding Questions:
1. What is a ceremony?
2.What is death? Do you know of any one who has died?
.Every society has ceremonies or special things they do about death. Do you know any
traditions which honor or remember ancestors or people who have come before us?
.How does Day of the Dead compare with Halloween? Do you see any similarities?
Do you see any differences?
Day of the Dead | 12
Activities to do with your students
Blackboard OR chart paper
TV and DVD player
What Can Objects Tell Me? worksheet
Pencils and Paper
What To Do
1. Begin with an object study. Place objects out for students to
examine closely. Distribute the What Can Objects Tell Me?
worksheet and invite students to come up to the objects.
Discuss the ways we can learn from objects just by examining
them closely. What kinds of objects are these? What do you see?
What do they depict? How are they decorated? What colors are
used? Are these happy or sad objects? Why do you think they
are used? For what kind of occasion?
2. Introduce these objects as belonging to the Mexican holiday
Day of the Dead. Explain that the class is going to learn about
the holiday and have a Day of the Dead classroom celebration.
(If this case is not part of a greater unit on Mexico and Mexican
Americans, this may be a good place to introduce where
Mexico is and how people from Mexico live in the United States
including right here in New York City. Show a map and pin point
Mexico and New York).
3. Play the DVD. Remind students that they may see things in the
video with similar colors, shapes or designs as the objects on
the table. (Younger students or students with special needs may
be more receptive to a class reading of Pablo Remembers, by
George Ancona instead of the video).
4. After watching the video (or reading the book), invite students
to share their impressions of Day of the Dead. Ask them if it is
what they expected. Did they notice how any objects were used
during the Day of the Dead? (Younger students may benefit
from the video being paused when something similar is on the
screen so you can point out an object and how it’s being used
or the pause can indicate when students should try to “spy” an
object similar to one on the table).
Special Considerations Talking about death in a celebratory way may be challenging for
students who just experienced a personal loss or for students with special needs. For students
having difficulty, ask them about happy memories of their pet, friend, or family member
who died. Encourage these students to verbally express themselves or draw a picture of how
they feel.
Day of the Dead | 13
Day of the Dead
What Can Objects Tell Me?
Look at each object closely. What kinds of things can we learn about an object just by
examining it closely? What do objects tell us about the people who made them? Use this chart
to record everything you discover.
Describe the colors,
shapes, and patterns
you see.
What things does the
object remind you of?
© 2008
How do you think
someone might use
this object?
Day of the Dead
Describe the colors,
shapes and patterns
you see.
What things does the
object remind you of?
© 2008
How do you think
someone might use
this object?
Activities to do with your students
Day of the Dead Printmaking
Grades: 3-5
Related Objects
Jose Guadalupe Posada was a Mexican printmaker known for his playful skeleton etchings. His
calavera prints were meant as social commentary, poking fun at the powerful and wealthy as
well as the poor. Posada’s etchings and his style of prints are still a staple in Day of the Dead
imagery and decoration. By viewing examples of the Mexican artist’s work, students will explore
the differences between the Mexican or Day of the Dead concept of death with their own and that
depicted during Halloween. Students will create a Posada style etching.
Guiding Questions
1. Describe La Catrina? Is it a man or a woman? How can you tell? What else can you tell me about
La Catrina? Do you think she’s stylish? How so?
2.What do you think is funny about La Catrina? Does this object make you laugh, why?
3.What is unique about Posada’s illustrations? What do all of his illustrations have in common?
Day of the Dead | 16
Activities to do with your students
Sample Posada prints (supplied)
Sample activity etching
(to be prepared by teacher to use as demonstration)
Printing black ink
Printing rollers for children
8” x 5” foam boards
8” x 5” color construction paper
What To Do
1. Set up the room so that students sit in groups to share
art supplies.
2. Introduce the artist Jose Posada to your students while showing
a series of Posada prints (including the famous Catrina) to your
students. Tell your students that these were meant to be funny
and ask them to look closely and point out what is funny to them
about the skeleton drawings. Remind them that Day of the Dead
is a joyful celebration.
3. When you show the Catrina, explain who she is and how popular
she is for Mexicans at this time of year. Hold up the Catrina
from the case and explain that Posada’s images are so popular
they have been reproduced in many forms for Day of the Dead
decorations. Pass the Catrina around for all to see.
4. Tell your students that they will be making their own calavera
print in the style of Jose Posada. Demonstrate how to create an
etching plate by drawing with pencil on foam to leave or make
indentations. Pass around a sample for students to examine.
Suggest students draw a sketch or sample of their design on
scrap paper before etching their design into the foam. Remind
students that their prints will be backwards, so words should be
avoided. Guide students by telling them that the indentations
they can feel will show up in their prints.
5. While students are planning their design, give each table
a set of rollers, printing ink, construction paper, and a pile of
foam boards.
6. Demonstrate the next steps of painting and stamping
their designs.
Day of the Dead | 17
Activities to do with your students
Instruct students to first cover their rollers in the black ink and
then roll to cover their foam board print.
Show students how to place their construction paper onto their
painted board and then using a clean roller gently roll on the
back of the construction paper to transfer their print.
7. Once students have completed their printing, have students put
finished pieces aside to dry.
Day of the Dead | 18
8. After prints have dried, display them. Have students look at
each others’ prints and talk about the similarities they have with
Posada’s La Catrina.
Activities to do with your students
Day of the Dead Poetry
Grades: 3-5
Related Objects: None
Students will write a calavera poem. The poetic verse that often accompanies calavera prints are
also called calaveras. They add a sarcastic and funny context to the print. Calavera poems are
a staple during the Day of the Dead holiday. By reading various calavera poems, students will
explore the differences between the Mexican or Day of the Dead concept of death with their own
or that depicted by Halloween.
Guiding Questions
1. How do calavera poems make you feel? Are they funny to you? Why?
2.Why do you think people started writing calavera poems?
Sample Calavera Poems handout
What To Do
1. Introduce calavera poems: short funny poems about a person’s
death. Give students the Sample Calavera Poems handout.
2. Read the poem “Death Went and Sat Down One Day” to the
class. Have a classroom discussion about the poem: What is
funny about this poem? What does the poem tell you about the
person it was written about?
3. Help students become more comfortable writing a calavera
poem. Write one of the sample calavera poems on the board and
underline parts of the poem (such as “sat down”, “cold tortillas”
etc). Have students change the underlined words to alter the
poem. Ask volunteers to write their version of the poem on the
board for others to see.
4. To begin writing their own calavera poem, ask students to think
about something special about themselves (What sports
do they like to play? What is their favorite toy? What is their
favorite food? etc). Using this special trait as a theme,
encourage students to write a calavera poem about themselves.
Dead of the Dead | 19
Activities to do with your students
5. When students have completed their poems, ask for volunteers
to read their poems aloud. Or, compile student poems into a
class book.
Reflection Questions
How did it feel to write a poem about death?
What did it feel like to write a calavera poem about yourself?
Try these alternatives
• Instead of or in addition to writing a calavera poem about themselves, ask students to write
one about a famous person or character in a book.
• Ask students to draw a funny scene about death and then write a calavera poem about
what’s happening in the drawing.
• Create a class mural of a funny scene about death.
Day of the Dead | 20
Day of the Dead
Calavera Poems
Death went and sat down one day,
sat down in a sandy place,
and ate lots of cold tortillas
just to try and gain some weight.
Roses are dead and violets are too
If you kiss me you will be too
George ate ice cream
He never stopped
He ate and ate and ate
His body froze off
Here comes the water
Down the slope
And my skull
Is getting wet
© 2008
Activities to do with your students
ACTIVITY 4: Classroom Day Of The Dead Fiesta
Making Papel Picado
Grades: All
Related Objects
Papel Picado
Colorful paper banners, called papel picado can be found hanging in homes and stores during
any Mexican fiesta or celebration. Usually made of tissue paper but sometimes of more durable
plastic, the cut banners are hung together like a string of flags. For the Day of the Dead, the
designs feature skeletons, skulls, crosses, and tombstones.
11” x 14” colored sheets of tissue paper
Sample papel picado to be done by teacher before class (see
instructions on following page)
Scissors (safety scissors for special needs students)
String or yarn
Glue (or tape)
Day of the Dead | 22
Activities to do with your students
What To Do
1. Display papel picado from the case and introduce papel picado
to your students. Explain that they’ll be making papel picado
decorations to decorate the classroom. Ask students: How do
you think the artist made these?
2. Demonstrate how to begin making papel picado. Refer to the
following step-by-step instructions:
A. Fold a sheet of tissue paper in half five times.
B. Cut shapes away from the edges of the folded sheet.
C. Unfold to reveal the final design.
Day of the Dead | 23
Activities to do with your students
3. Provide templates, tissue paper, scissors, string and glue at each
work station.
4. When students have completed their designs demonstrate how
to fold the top edge down and glue a string in the fold so that
the decorations can be hung.
5. Once glue is dry, hang the papel picado around the classroom
(they can be tied together to make one long banner or hung
individually around the room).
Try this alternative Colored Xerox paper or wrapping paper are good alternatives to tissue
paper for younger children and students with special needs.
Day of the Dead | 24
Activities to do with your students
ACTIVITY 5: Classroom Day Of The Dead Fiesta
Building a Day of the Dead Altar
Grades: All
Related Objects
Papel Picado
Copal Incense
Miniature Day
of Dead Box
Tin Mariachi
Dog Skeleton
The most important and central aspect of Day of the Dead is remembering those who have
passed away. By exploring the objects in the case, students will learn about the main components
of an ofrenda and then design a classroom altar for a person or group of people that they want
to remember. Students will build this altar using the objects from the case and additional objects
that they make or bring from home.
Guiding Questions
Do you know what an altar is? Where have you seen one?
Dead of the Dead | 25
Activities to do with your students
Chalkboard or Chart Paper
What To Do Part I: Introduction and Dedication
1. Before class, designate a place in the classroom where the altar
can be located. (This can be a flat surface like a table or a place
that has shelves like an empty bookcase.)
2. Introduce the concept of la ofrenda and its importance and
prominence in Day of the Dead festivities.
3. Lead a discussion on who the class would like to dedicate the
altar to. Let them know they can choose an important person
in history (George Washington), a group of people (soldiers who
have died in war), or lost loved ones (beloved pets). Let the
class come up with ideas and list them. Have the class vote on
who they would like the ofrenda to be dedicated to.
Part II: Homework
4. Give students time in the library or at home to bring photos or
drawings of the people they would like to dedicate the altar to.
Part III: Creating the Altar
5. Ask students to gather around the altar area.
6. Beginning with the objects in the case, have students place
items one by one on the altar area. Review the importance or
meaning of each object when it’s placed (alternate: if you’ve
done a good review of parts of the altar, you can make riddles
as to what object to place: I help guide the dead home because
of my sweet scent (copal incense or flowers). Remind students
that they need to keep in mind where they would like to place
their drawings/photos.
7. Once all the objects are in place have each student place their
drawing or photo on or around the altar. (If not enough room
on altar area, drawing/photos can be hung on the wall around
altar area.)
8. Things may be added to the altar such as a glass of water, papel
picado, and calacas from the subsequent lesson. On the day of
your fiesta, food may be added as well.
Special Considerations Making a personal altar dedication may be difficult for students who
just experienced a loss or for students with special needs. Instead guide your class to dedicate
the altar to a group of people (soldiers who died in war, Holocaust victims, etc)
Day of the Dead | 26
Activities to do with your students
ACTIVITY 6: Classroom Day Of The Dead Fiesta
Making Calacas Puppets
Grades: All
Related Objects
Miniature Day
of Dead Box
Tin Mariachi
Dog Skeleton
A calaca is a figure of a skeleton used for decoration during Day of the Dead. Students will make
their own skeleton decoration.
Calavera Abecedario by Jeanette Winter
Heavy card stock paper
Long wood sticks (chopsticks or skewers)
Brass fasteners
Skeleton template copied and hole punched for students
Scissors (safety scissors for special needs students)
Craft supplies: Feathers, puffballs, and metallic papers
Dead of the Dead | 27
Activities to do with your students
What To Do
1. Read Calavera Abecedario by Jeanette Winter.
2. Talk about how during Day of the Dead skeletons are often
modeled after real people engaged in every day activities such
as riding a bike, playing music or working at a profession such as
a doctor or fireman. Tell them that they are going to make their
own skeletons. Ask them to think about who they want their
skeleton to represent: La Catrina? The President? A doctor? A
fireman? A favorite TV character?
3. Distribute scissors, brass plated fasteners, glue, glitter, crayons,
and other craft supplies to each work area for students to share.
4. Give each student a skeleton template and ask them to cut out
the parts of the template and assemble with the brass fasteners.
5. Once students complete assembling their skeletons, ask them to
write the name of the person on the back of the skeleton. Have
students decorate their skeletons using the supplies provided.
Remind them to consider how they’d like to reflect the person
they’ve chosen to represent.
5. Assist the students in taping the back of their skeletons to a
wooden stick.
Day of the Dead | 28
Day of the Dead
Make a Calaca!
© 2008
Activities to do with your students
Activity Extensions
Social Studies
•Have students research the history of
Halloween and Day of the Dead. Have the
students write an essay or draw two pictures
to show the differences and similarities.
•Have a Day of Dead Celebration:
•Teach students basic Spanish sayings:
Buenos Dias, Gracias, etc. See:
•Visit 4th and 5th Avenues in Sunset Park,
Brooklyn and have lunch in this largely
Mexican American neighborhood.
•Introduce other famous Mexican artists to
your class such as Frida Kahlo and Diego
Rivera. Have them write a short biography
about one of these Mexican painters. See:
•Have students interview their parents or
guardians about someone special in their
lives who has passed away (parent, pet,
friend) and write a report of their interview.
•Have students illustrate their calavera poems.
Day of the Dead | 30
The altar is complete, the room is decorated,
and students have their very own calaca. It’s
time to celebrate Day of the Dead. Consider
making Pan de Muerto and Mexican hot
chocolate to serve to the students or having
a Pan de Muerto or Mexican hot chocolate
making demonstration. Play music and enjoy
the sweets and don’t forget to give some to
the dead who will be visiting (place on altar).
If the altar is for a cause (children who have
died with cancer, people who have died from
aids, or lost pets) consider having children
raise money during the unit (can drive, penny
drive, etc.) and then present your class’
donation on the fiesta day. Enjoy!
Resources & Reference Materials
Vocabulary Words
Dia de los Muertos Spanish for the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead.
Ofrendas Altars constructed to honor loved ones during the Day of the
Dead holiday.
Copal Incense Tree resin that when burnt produces a sweet smell believed to
guide spirits of the dead back home during Day of the Dead.
Papel Picado Mexican colorful cut paper (can also be plastic) banners used
to decorate homes, shops, and streets.
Pan de Muerto A round bread for Day of the Dead decorated with bone shapes
and sprinkled with sesame seeds or sugar.
Mona Bread A special bread for Day of the Dead shaped like a person lying
with their arms folded across their chests and decorated with
red sugar.
Marigold The traditional flower of Day of the Dead.
Calacas Skeletons depicting subjects from everyday life.
Calavera Literally means “skull” in Spanish, but it is also used to refer to a
lot of things relating to the dead: songs, poems, drawings, candy
skulls, and more.
Calavera Poems A satirical or funny poem describing a person’s death.
Jose Guadalupe Posada Famous Mexican engraver and illustrator known for his skeleton
drawings and prints.
La Catrina Artist Jose Guadaloupe Posada’s most famous engraving
depicting a female skeleton dressed in fancy clothes.
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Resources & Reference Materials
Correlations with New York State
Learning Standards
The activities in this guide meet the following
New York State learning standards:
The Arts
Standard 2: Students will be knowledgeable
about and make use of the materials and
resources available for participation in the arts.
Standard 4: Students will understand the
cultural contributions of the arts.
Social Studies
Standard 1: Students will demonstrate their
understanding of major ideas, eras, themes,
developments and turning points in the history
of the United States and New York.
Standard 3: Students will demonstrate their
understanding of the geography of the
interdependent world in which we live—local,
national, and global—including the distribution
of people, places, and environments over the
Earth’s surface.
ELA (English Language Arts)
Standard 1: As listeners and readers, students
will collect data, facts, and ideas; discover
relationships and concepts; and use knowledge
generated from oral, written and electronically
produced texts.
Standard 2: Students will read and listen to
oral and written texts from American and world
literature and relate texts to their own lives.
Standard 3: Students will listen, speak and
write about their experiences and respond to
those presented by others.
Standard 4: Students will participate in group
meetings in which the student displays
appropriate turn-taking behaviors, offer their
own and solicit another’s opinion.
Day of the Dead | 32
Resources & Reference Materials
Resources & Reference Materials
You can supplement your unit on Day of the Dead with a trip to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.
We offer programs on a variety of cross-cultural topics. For a listing of programs currently
available, please see our website at, or contact the Scheduling Assistant
at 718.735.4400 ext. 118.
Other Places to Visit
Bibliography and Web Resources
The following museums and organizations
have exhibits or programs related to Day
of the Dead and/or Mexican and Mexican
American culture.
The following books and websites have
provided source material for this guide
and may also help you to enrich your
experience with the objects in the case.
El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), Manhattan
National Museum of the American Indian
One Bowling Green, Manhattan
Check their online exhibition schedule to see
what is on display in New York and look
for the annual Day of the Dead celebration in
early November.
The Hispanic Society of America
613 W. 155th Street at Broadway, Manhattan
Don Paco Lopez Panaderia
4703 4th Avenue, Brooklyn
Mexican bakery that bakes Pan de Muerto,
Mona bread and sells Day of the Dead holiday
treats. The bakery also features an ofrenda
in their store during Day of the Dead. The
bakery may visit to do demonstrations or
allow a class visit to watch the bakers bake.
Carmichael, Elizabeth and Chloe Sayer.
The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the
Dead in Mexico. Austin: University of Texas
Press, 1991.
Explores Day of the Dead through popular
culture and folk art.
A fun site providing background information
on the history and symbols of the Day of the
Dead. The site provides photos of different
altars, a teacher’s curriculum guide and lists
of recommended books.
Lists numerous helpful web links to artists and
other websites focusing on Day of the Dead.
Website with information about the celebration
in different regions of Mexico including,
Oaxaca, Puebla, and Morelos. Also includes
regional recipes, poetry, and photos.
Offers a description on the history and cultural
traditions of the Day of the Dead with a special
focus on foods commonly used during the
Day of the Dead | 33
Resources & Reference Materials
The North Texas Institute for Educators on the
Visual Arts offers suggestions for classroom
activities focusing on the Day of the Dead
including the creation of classroom altars.
This site includes children’s recipes, arts
and crafts, and a list of teacher suggested
classroom activities.
Offers information on Posada’s life and artistic
career with a gallery of some of his work.
Contains Day of the Dead curriculum
information, objectives, activities, and
resources for different grade levels.
Day of the Dead | 34
Resources & Reference Materials
Pan de Muerto
Mexican Hot Chocolate
1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F degrees.
2.Grease a large cookie sheet.
3.Mix the following ingredients in a large
bowl until smooth:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 10 drops anise extract
4. Mold most (7/8ths) of the dough into one
large round shape. With the rest of the
dough, mold the bones for the top: a round
knob to represent the skull and strips of
dough rolled in between your fingers to
make bones. Place the skull in the center
with the strips of bones laying across it.
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
3/4 cup water
2 cups milk
• Cinnamon sticks
1. Combine chocolate, sugar, cinnamon, salt,
and water in a medium saucepan over low
heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate
is melted and mixture is smooth. Heat to
boiling; reduce heat and simmer uncovered,
stirring constantly for four minutes.
2. Stir in milk, heat through but do not boil.
Remove from heat and whip chocolate
mixture with a wire whisk or molinillo (The
molinillo is the Mexican chocolate “whisk”
or “stirrer.” It is made of turned wood and
it is used to froth warm drinks such as hot
chocolate until foamy).
3.Pour into mugs and place cinnamon stick in
cups for a tasty stirrer.
Makes 2 to 3 servings.
Large supermarkets or specialty stores often
carry powdered Mexican hot chocolate already
sweetened and flavored with cinnamon.
5. In a smaller bowl, mix these ingredients
for the topping:
• brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon melted butter
6.Sprinkle the topping on the dough.
7. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
8.Serve warm.
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