Visual Arts: Dia de los Muertos / Day of the Dead

Lesson Plan: Dia de los Muertos / Day of the Dead
Grade level: 6-12
Duration: 5-7 (50 min.) class periods
Media Type: plaster cast strips, acrylic paint, various fabrics, etc.
Subject Integration: Social Studies
National Standards for Visual Arts: (see bottom of page)
Objectives: To create a personally relevant la calavera catrina, or “dapper skeleton” relating to ideas and concepts of hispanic culture.

(website for help with writing rubrics)


4 - Standards are exceeded
3 - Standards are met
2 - Standards may be met at a very low quality or with some exceptions
1 - Standards are not met

Vocabulary (elements/principles):

  • color
  • shape
  • line
  • texture
  • balance
  • unity
  • proportion
  • form
  • value
  • space
  • contrast
  • emphasis
  • movement
  • pattern
  • rhythm

Materials and Procedure:

Day 1:
Start discussion with students about the similarities and differences between Dia de los Muertos and Halloween. Ask students “What do you know about the celebration Day of the Dead?” Discuss cultural importance of Day of the Dead and traditions in Spanish speaking countries. Show short video “Dia de los Muertos” to share central ideas behind Day of the Dead. (3:07) CGI Animated Shorts by high school students

After showing animated short, ask students “What did you see?” “What did you notice?”
“What do you think the little girl in the video was feeling?” “What happened in the story?”
Continue discussion and when time permits, show the following PlayList videos: (1:05) (4:00) (5:53)

Mary Plaster is a Duluth artist who founded the All Souls Night celebration in Duluth. Discussion: “What did you notice about her work?”

Day 2:
Show students examples of calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls) created in honor of Day of the Dead. Demonstrate armature building and plaster casting technique.

Students start armature building. Cover tables with newspapers for easy clean-up.

Day 3-5:
Students create and finish plaster cast full body skeleton (about 12” tall).

Day 6-7:
Students paint bones on white plaster with black acrylic paint.

Day 8-12:
Students dress their plaster skeletons to emanate dia de los muertos and/or to honor a loved one. Various materials need to be made available: fabric, beads, plastic flowers, etc. It is helpful for students to be provided with some type of base to enable plaster figure to stand upright.



National Standards for Visual Arts:

VA:Re.7.2.6a: Analyze ways that visual components and cultural associations suggested by images influence ideas, emotions, and actions.
VA:Re8.1.6a: Interpret art by distinguishing between relevant and non-relevant contextual information and analyzing subject matter, characteristics of form and structure, and use of media to identify ideas and mood conveyed.
VA:Cn11.1.6a: Analyze how art reflects changing times, traditions, resources, and cultural uses.
VA:Cr1.2.6a: Formulate an artistic investigation of personally relevant content for creating art.

Sample National Visual Arts Standards link:

Sample Social Studies Benchmarks: Describe how groups are reviving and maintaining their traditional cultures, identities and distinctiveness in the context of increasing globalization. Exhibit civic skills including participating in civic discussion on issues in the contemporary world, demonstrating respect for the opinions of people or groups who have different perspectives, and reaching consensus.

Funding for this program is provided by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Click here for more information or visit the Minnesota Legacy website.

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