This is a Coco spin to a lesson I created several years ago while working with dropout prevention students. The activity came out of an extensive trauma therapy training to reach students with emotional barriers due to various traumatic events. Students wrote a letter to someone they had lost and created a calaveras to celebrate them. It was a great way to get guarded students to open up and build trust. Since I had worked with students who had lost loved ones due to gang violence, suicide, and drug addiction, I did not force anyone to participate in this activity (there will be students who do not want to participate). I was actually surprised how many students wanted to participate, and they were happy to have the opportunity to share stories about someone they’ve lost. The result was that they did not feel as isolated in the classroom as they felt before the activity.
If you have any great tips or anything to add that would make this lesson plan better, please feel free to comment below. The best lesson plans come from sharing and collaborating with others!
Overview & Purpose
To help students who have experienced a stressful or traumatic loss express their loss through writing and art.
- Students will be acquainted with Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos).
- Students will learn how loved ones are celebrated in other cultures.
- Students will have the opportunity to celebrate someone they have lost.
- Understanding visual arts in relation to history and culture.
- Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
- Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- Small poster boards (14” x 22” works well)
- Variety of art supplies (markers, colored pencils, glue, glitter, etc.)
- Printouts of sugar skulls
- Construction paper
- Notebook paper
- Students will create an in-class ofrenda (altar) to share their projects.
- Teachers may choose to select a few scenes from Coco and play the song, “Remember Me.” Either printout or display the lyrics in a prominent place in the classroom. Select clips that are most relevant to the following discussion prompts about family, remembrance, and cultural traditions:
- Who is Coco, and why is this the movies’ title?
- What holiday is Miguel’s family preparing to celebrate? What is the purpose of this holiday, and how do they celebrate it? Where (what country) is this holiday celebrated?
- What role does music play in the film? Why does Miguel’s family forbid it? What happens when Miguel plays “Remember Me” for Coco?
- Give a brief Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) overview (see “Resources” below). Emphasize that it is a celebration of loved ones.
- Ask the students to think about how they remember and celebrate someone they have lost. They do not have to answer out loud. Alternatively, if this is too sensitive of a subject (or if the students are too young) ask students what they would like people to remember about them.
- Students will write a letter, poem, or song to someone they have lost. They may also write a letter, poem, or song about themselves.
- Show students pictures of calaveras (sugar skulls) or bring in some examples (if possible). Ask the students if they have seen them. Where have they seen them? What do they think the purpose of the calaveras is? Ask them why they are so bright and colorful.
- Explain to students that calaveras are placed on ofrendas (altars) on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Instruct students to create their own calaveras. They may do this from scratch or teachers could print out coloring sheets of calaveras (see “Resources” below). Explain to students that different colors have different meanings. They should pick colors that best represent the person they are remembering and celebrating. If they chose to do this activity about themselves then they can pick colors that they feel represent them.
- Once completed, students will glue their art project (calaveras) and writing project (letter, song, poem) next to each other on a small poster board. Designate a wall space to be the ofrenda where they will display their projects to share them (if they would like to share, some may not want to share).
History and facts about Dia de los Muertos
Colors and their meanings