A few years ago the science teacher at my school approached me with an exciting idea. It was September, and she started the year off teaching about the Monarch butterfly migration. She wanted to create a cross-curricular connection and shared with me the idea of joining a symbolic butterfly migration through an organization called “Journey North.” It was the best idea ever! She taught the butterfly life cycle in her science class, which included raising the butterflies in her classroom. She also taught the Monarch migration and why they are important connectors of ecosystems and landscapes.
In our Spanish class, we learned about the butterfly migration traveling from north to south because it was the fall. These are some of the questions we used and might help you start a conversation in class. Having a map and a paper butterfly helps a lot! ¿Dónde vivimos? ¿Vivimos en Colombia o en Estados Unidos?
¿Cuál es la estación? ¿Es el verano? ¿Es el otoño?
¿Qué animal es? ¿Es un perro? ¿Es un gato? ¿Es una mariposa? ¿Es un gato o una mariposa?
¿Qué clase de mariposa es?
¿Por qué van las monarcas al sur?
¿Adónde van las monarcas?
¿Adónde en México van las monarcas?
¿Cuándo van las monarcas a Michoacán?
¿Qué se celebra en México el 1 y 2 de noviembre?
¿Qué representan las monarcas para las personas en Michoacán? Each student decorated small paper butterflies and wrote basic information such as:
Yo me llamo _________.
Yo tengo ______ años.
Yo vivo en __________.
Mi color favorito es___________. We also decorated a bigger butterfly the size of a filing folder and added a picture of our class in the middle. We also needed to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (10” X 13”) in order to get our butterflies in the spring. I uploaded a picture of a big butterfly to the Journey North website and shared it with parents. On the map, we were able to see the schools that were participating in the country, as well our big butterfly.
We also read a story called “Monarca va a Michoacán” to introduce and review high-frequency vocabulary.
We made a connection with the homeroom teachers. During their reading time, students had different books related to butterflies and also to “El Día de los Muertos.” It’s believed that Monarchs are the souls of the departed and loved ones, and they arrive in Michoacán to join the celebration. Students read “Uncle Monarch” in their classrooms, and that helped us make a connection to explore the Day of the Dead celebration.
We also got to say “adiós” to our real butterflies before they embarked on their journey south.
In Spanish class, we read a bilingual book called “El Día de los Muertos.” It led us to make a comparison between Halloween and this beautiful celebration for them to understand the meaning of the Day of the Dead and why it’s important to the Mexican people – and how it differs from Halloween.
This beautiful video is also great to support this unit!
When the spring came, we had an awesome surprise! We got mail from Journey North with beautiful paper butterflies made by children in Mexico and other parts of the United States. This was an amazing experience not only for the teachers who got to work together but also for the children who were excited about their paper butterflies. This is also an opportunity to raise awareness about Monarchs and what could happen if they go extinct. Thinking about joining the journey this year? Click here to visit the link to learn how to participate and download the “Teacher Packet” with all the steps to join the symbolic migration. The deadline to join is around the first week of October, so make sure you don’t miss the date. Last, but not least, I recorded this song with some friends in 2012 to use in my classes. I am not the best singer but had a lot of fun recording this song.
I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about “El Día de los Muertos” until I moved from Colombia to the United States. In the first Spanish program in which I taught, cultural traditions and celebrations were not part of the curriculum. This was mainly due to the limited time we had with our students. Without the ability to engage deeply, we were afraid of passing down wrong information or stereotypes of other cultures to them. After a few years of teaching in this school district, I moved to another school district where the program was richly infused with cultural celebrations. “El Día de los Muertos” was an important feature, and the children were really engaged in various aspects of it in ways that made it a comprehensive cultural exploration for elementary level students. And yes, it took me a while to get comfortable with this celebration, but I still wasn’t 100% excited to be teaching this to my students.
And just as life changes and people move, I moved to a different neighborhood and changed schools again. This time, I was at a school where a big part of my job was to help create the K-3 Spanish curriculum , but still El Día de los Muertos wasn’t my top choice to include in it. I also felt that, being Colombian, I had an obligation to teach and share about my own culture. After about two years in this program, I heard conversations of students explaining El Día de los Muertos as simply the way Halloween is celebrated in Mexico. My heart sank, and then it jumped with adrenaline as I had a flashing thought that I was missing an awesome opportunity to share with students the real meaning of this celebration. Not to blame them, but everywhere they go, many of the icons such as calacas, catrinas and catrines are displayed in the Halloween aisles in many of the big stores. They are now part of Halloween costumes and even an excuse to have “Day of the Dead” fiestas. I am also guilty of buying the decorations and bringing them to my classroom, and of course, hiding the label that shows that they were made in China, not in Mexico.
The celebration deserves room in the curriculum of Spanish teachers. We, the community Spanish teachers, have a responsibility to educate our school community about the importance of this beautiful celebration, especially given the fact that it was just recently included in the “List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.
We also have to remember that as world language teachers we should help our students (and each other) to understand other cultures are well prepared to be good citizens of the world!
As a good starting point, I put together a PowerPoint that I use to introduce the celebration to my 2nd and 3rd grade students. I am now sharing it, and you are welcome to download it and adapt it to your needs. Please note that I don’t own any of the pictures in the PowerPoint. If you share the resource, I would appreciate if you give credit to my blog.
Click here or on picture to download presentation!
Have a wonderful celebration in your class!
¡Hola! I am Carolina, a Colombian elementary Spanish teacher based in Boston, MA. Fun for Spanish Teachers is the result of my passion for teaching Spanish to children and my desire to inspire collaboration and creativity in a vibrant teaching and learning community. It’s the perfect stop if you are looking for songs, games, teaching tips, stories, and fun for your classes.
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