Ideas for Studying Semana Santa & las Pascuas


As a public school teacher, semana santa and las pascuas are topics I typically tended to steer away from in Spanish class. I did this because I didn't want to worry about bringing religion into my classroom. This was so narrow minded.

When exploring the culture of the Spanish speaking world, to ignore Catholicism, its holidays, and cultural practices would just be ridiculous. 

We Spanish teachers know this, but how do we justify teaching these topics? 

Here are three simple rationales:

  • The VAST majority of Latin Americans are Catholic (see this Pew study for statistics). Catholic traditions and practices are central to Latin American and Spanish culture. Teaching culture is central to the World Readiness Standards for Learning Language.
  • Furthermore, learning about other cultures and religions is a great way to foster students' acceptance of diversity.
  • Learning about the culture behind the language makes Spanish class relevant for students. Understanding Spanish speakers makes the language come alive.

Here are a few ways to bring semana santa and pascuas to your middle or high school Spanish classroom. I hope you'll share your own experiences and ideas in the comments as well.

Make Cascarones

Cascarones are hollowed out egg shells that are filled with confetti. When they break open, the confetti flies. I love the idea of making cascarones with students because it is an authentic craft activity, kind of like why I love paper mache projects too!

This blog post details step by step how to make them. It is a cheap, relatively easy activity, once you are able to save up enough hollowed out eggs. In my experience, taking time for crafts like this is always particularly memorable to students, especially if prefaced with a short discussion of how cascarones are used in Latin American culture. Plus what middle / high schooler won't love to break 'em over each others heads for good luck!

Engage Students in Inquiry with Media Resources

I adore using video and podcast resources as a meaningful technology integration. I searched and searched, and there isn't much quality free media out there on semana santa / pascuas that would work well for very beginning students. However, I did find two resources that I love for upper level Spanish students, probably level 3 and up:

I let students view / listen independently on their own devices or in the computer lab, and then create a mind map to demonstrate their learning.

Take an Hour for a Purely Cultural Lesson

Semana santa and pascuas consistently fall right right around spring break or when you and your students are wishing for a second spring break (we can dream). If your students are like mine, everyone's desperate to change it up a bit. So around Easter time, I love take a class period as a "culture break". Pause the unit, ditch the typical routines, and do something different for the day that focuses on cultural celebrations for Easter and Holy Week. I have two ideas:

Idea 1: Estudia Feliz offers a TPRS Story Lesson on Semana Santa in Guatemala. They provide a lovely powerpoint and supplementary materials, completely free to download. I rarely do TPRS in class, and if I do, it would be called TPRS light, at best. I know some of you rock the TPRS. But others might be like me, a little scared, and in need of a little push to try something new. Well, give it a go with this lesson. It's completely free and nicely put together.

Idea 2: With my Spanish 1 high schoolers, I do a one hour Semana Santa & Pascuas lesson where we calendar out relevant events leading up to and during semana santa and semana de pascua. Students create their own calendars of fill in a xerox copied calendar, with key information regarding each of these events:

  • Martes de carnaval
  • Miércoles de ceniza
  • La cuaresma
  • Domingo de ramas
  • Jueves santo
  • Viernes santo
  • Sábado de gloria
  • Domingo de pascua

This could be set up as a teacher lecture or as an inquiry activity. Give students the list and their calendars, and they search for information online or in resources you've selected for them.

Class Easter Egg Hunt

This idea isn't cultural in nature, but it is fun, timely, and a great way to get students up and moving when many have spring fever. Get your hands on some plastic easter eggs to set up a class egg hunt. You could take lots of different angels with this - one idea is to place a task card inside each egg and when students find the egg, they must do the task in order to go on and hunt another egg. Students could work in pairs or alone. Don't have task cards ready to go?

Fill the eggs with things like:

  • A slip of paper with a vocabulary word - Students write a sentence with the word or define the word to advance
  • Cut up a list of basic questions so each question is on a slip to hide in an egg - Students write the answer or tell the teacher their answer to advance
  • Scavenger hunt clues - Students write up a scavenger hunt using preposition words to provide clues to the next egg - this activity will take a few days to plan but students will have a ball.

How do you celebrate semana santa and pascuas in your classrooms?

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Teaching Día de los Reyes Magos in Beginning Spanish

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The first few days back to school after winter break are always a struggle. Luckily for us Spanish teachers, Three Kings Day falls on January 6th, right around when many of us are returning to school. I love to teach this one hour lesson during our first week back, as a way to ease students back into “learning mode” while exploring the cultural practices associated with the celebration of Three Kings Day in the Spanish-speaking world. The lesson is designed for beginning Spanish students (I teach mostly 9th graders at the beginning level), who have minimal prior knowledge of this holiday.

First, a Few Notes

I teach the lesson primarily in English, while highlighting key terms in Spanish, although you could easily teach it 100% in the target language. I decided to teach it in English because it allows me to discuss more complex cultural topics and nuances with students in their native language, rather than relying on more simple target-language structures. It also is a soft way for students to get back into the learning mindset, without bombarding them with 100% target language content on their first day back to class after the winter break. Culture is a great way to get students to buy into studying a language, so I want them to really understand and appreciate this holiday! That’s just my reasoning, as I said, the lesson could easily be done in 100% simple Spanish!

This lesson includes religious content. While I taught at a public school and do not value teaching religious content per se, I do value teaching students about other cutlures. Religion and culture are somewhat inseparable. I teach this content in a direct way, encouraging students to view the practice of Reyes Magos as sociologists, who aim to expertly understand the nuances of another culture, not to judge. I encourage students to embrace their own unique cultural and religious backgrounds and opinions, to be cognizant of how these beliefs and practices influence their unique interpretation of the lesson itself!


1. Students will be able to describe why and how Three Kings Day is celebrated in Spain and Latin America.
2. Students will be able to compare and contrast Three Kings Day as celebrated in Spain and Latin America with Christmas as celebrated in the U.S.

Part 1: Access Prior Knowledge

As a way to prime students learning with prior knowledge on the topic, I like to begin the lesson by asking students to write down as much as they can about what they know regarding the Three Kings and their connection to the Christmas story.
  • Students work individually or in pairs/small groups to brainstorm what they know about 3 kings, the holiday, etc. 
  • Encourage students to write in bullet form or draw their responses.
  • Invite students to share what they know about 3 kings, the holiday, etc. (call on students to share verbally to the whole class OR to come up and write an idea on the board OR to share verbally in small groups).
  • You might give them each a sticky note to write on, and post on the board.

Part 2: Presentation of Content

I start presenting new content relating to reyes mags by showing this video of día de reyes magos at Disneyland. This clip is 1 min, 25 seconds. It’s pretty fascinating that Disney has taken this on, starting in 2012. It is absolutely a sign of the Hispanic influence in US culture today.

Next, I deconstruct the term “los reyes magos” by defining the two terms:
  • Reyes = Kings
    • Technically the 3 wise men were not kings, but magi, or scientists from the East (think Asia) who came to Jerusalem to welcome the baby Jesus.
  • Magos = “Magi” = Magicians = Apothicarians (scientists or astronomers)
    • In ancient times, scientistis, astronomers, and magicians would have been somewhat synonymous. These were “wise men” who studied the stars.

Then we go through and discuss reyes magos in terms of when, where, why, and what. I have students take notes on a graphic organizer like this. You could also have students create mind maps or knowledge webs, keep their own notes in their own preferred format, or treat it as an open discussion with no note taking needed.

When: Celebrations start the night of Jan 5th and proceed on Jan 6th, which is Epiphany.

Where: Where is it celebrated?
Really, el día de los reyes magos is celebrated all over the world, anywhere that people chose to celebrate it. Predominantly it is celebrated in the dark blue regions as well as the US (where it is becoming increasingly popular due to Hispanic culture in the US).

Why? Here we focus on the history and philosophy behind the holiday. It is rooted in the Catholic tradition of the Christmas story. The kings were astronomers, who studied the stars. They followed the star of Bethlehem to the site where baby Jesus was born. They believed Jesus was the son of God. They brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

What? What happens during this celebration?  We highlight 6 key terms in this lesson:
  • Desfiles: Parades happen on the night of Jan 5.
  • Zapatos en la ventana: Children leave out their shoes to be filled by the wise men when they visit on the night of the 5 (like stockings for Christmas). Nowadays, like Christmas, the Kings place their gifts under the Christmas tree like Santa does. 
  • El heno para las camellos: Children leave hay for the camels in their shoes, kind of like leaving milk and cookies for Santa.
  • La Rosca de Reyes: This is the Kings Cake. It is often more oval shaped than round, so it can feed the whole party. Candies symbolize the crowns of the kings. The tradition started in 1300s in France, then transitioned to Spain, who transitioned it to Latin America. It is still used in France as part of mardi gras (Fat Tuesday – happens 40 days before Lent, in the spring each year).
  • El muñequito: The rosca has a muñequito hidden somewhere inside (also known as el monito). This refers to baby Jesus – hidden in the cake like Jesus had to be hidden from King Herod in the biblical story. In Spain, whoever finds the baby is “king for the day” and has to pay for next year’s Epiphany party (or roscón). In Mexico, whoever finds it has to bring the tamales for the next party… see next slide.
  • Tamales: According to tradition in Mexico, whoever finds the muñequito is responsible for throwing the party for el día de la candelaría on Feb 2. That person has to bring the tamales. With my smaller and upper level classes, I always bring a rosca and when students agree to take a slice, they agree that whoever gets the muñequito will bring tamales for the class on Feb 2. Excellent tamales are easy to get here in AZ, so it has worked out beautifully in the past.

Part 3: Show What You Learned

With any leftover time, students work individually, in pairs, or small groups to complete a Venn Diagram, comparing Kings Day and Christmas. This is a way for them to summarize what they’ve learned over the lesson. It can also easily be assigned as homework if the other portions of the lesson take longer than expected.

I organize my lesson using a PowerPoint and set of student graphic organizers, to keep me organized, they're for sale in my TpT store, but you can easily make your own. Would love to hear your thoughts on how you might modify this lesson to fit your students' needs and teaching style.

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Glyphs in High School Spanish Class

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What’s a Glyph?

Glyphs have become popular in elementary classrooms as a way for students to practice reading and data visualization skills in a fun way. The idea is that students create their own unique "glyph" or visualization, based on their individual responses to given prompts. Here are some examples of all sorts of glyphs made by elementary students, from Kids Count 1234. 

Haunted House Glyphs by Elementary Students from

Students’ glyphs make an adorable bulletin board and many elementary teachers then use the glyphs to help students practice interpreting data and graphing - as students count student responses for given prompts and then display the results in a graph. I’ve found that glyphs actually have a place middle and high school foreign language classes too.

This turkey glyph slide share is an excellent outline of how students could be guided through the process of making a glyph. It would be super easy to translate this to Spanish, too.

Glyphs in the Foreign Language Classroom

I love using glyphs for foreign language students as a fun but meaningful reading activity, which also can also be used to prompt target language conversation after the glyphs are made. Plus, just like in elementary classrooms, these make a beautiful bulletin board. I’ve enjoyed using them for Día de Muertos, Día de Acción de Gracias, La Navidad, y San Valentín. I sell these in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, but the activity will be relatively easy to put together on your own.

My Spanish Thanksgiving Glyphs

Glyphs are a great way to give students lots of comprehensible input. They are also fun for holidays as a break for students from our typical instruction patterns. On those crazy school days like Halloween, the day before Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, etc. this is an easy activity that will keep students engaged in the target language but doing something a little more low key and fun. They’d also be a fun extra credit activity, fast finisher activity, or even a substitute teacher activity. To make mine feel less "elementary", I created a full page "legend" which students read through to identify what colors to use on a simple coloring sheet. For the coloring sheet, I found cute black lined clipart that was holiday themed and just added numbers to different sections for students to color.

My Spanish Thanksgiving Glyph Handouts
Glyph "legend"


Interpret Spanish questions and identify appropriate responses that are true for you individually.


Students are given a Spanish language “legend” and a glyph coloring sheet. They read the prompts in the legend and identify which answer(s) are most accurate for them. They then find the corresponding part of the glyph for each prompt #. They use the color that matches their answer to color that section of the glyph. At the end, each student has a unique glyph that visually represents their answers to the prompts.


  • Markers, crayons, and/or colored pencils in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black
  • Dictionaries or dictionary apps
  • Copies of handouts for each student

* I avoid copying double sided, so students don’t have to flip back and forth between the legend and the glyph coloring sheet.


I take a full class period for this activity, so about 55 minutes. That way students aren't rushed and its a relaxing, fun experience, as I intend it!

STEP 1. I display the vocabulary list, objectives, and directions on my projector throughout the whole activity (but you could also print one for each student). 

STEP 2. Distribute copies of the glyph coloring sheet and legend for each student.

STEP 3. Before letting them start independently, we go over any vocabulary (e.g., “pavo”, “día de acción de gracias”), color words, and instructions.


When I wrote the "legend", I intentionally created some items to say, “use all colors that apply”. This makes the activity a little more fun and complicated. Sometimes there isn't one true answer for the questions you pose, so its nice for students to have more than one option.

I also encourage students to do decorations (polka dots, stars, stripes, etc.) with the colors, rather than just coloring in solid shades, if they want. Look at my pavo example above to see what I mean.

When students finish coloring:

  • Consider sharing students’ glyphs with the class on your document cam.
  • Ask the questions verbally about a given glyph, and have students infer responses about the “artist” based on the colors drawn. Can they guess who’s glyph it is?
  • Consider a subsequent activity in which each student is assigned a classmate’s glyph. Using the legend, they decode the color choices to write sentences describing the “artist”.  They could also present a verbal description of the “artist” in small groups / pairs, or even record a spoken narration describing their assigned “artist”.
  • These make a beautiful bulletin board!

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Day of the Dead 5 Mini Activities for High School Spanish

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Day of the Dead 5 Mini Activities for High School Spanish 

Día de los muertos seems like it is everywhere in pop culture in recent years - skull figurines at Target, in the movies - think James Bond's Spectre scene, and on the fall cookies they sell at Starbucks too. I love teaching a formal cultural lesson on Day of the Dead with my high school Spanish classes, but this holiday is so fun, it also warrants some fun mini activities that would be great for extra credit, homework choice options, etc. Here are 5 of my favorite short Day of the Dead activities for high schoolers:

1. Day of the Dead Me App

Students download the fun, FREE Day of the Dead Me app on their iPhones or iPads and can decorate their own selfies to look like a  Día de Muertos calavera. If you use a class Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook account, you might ask students to share their photos and tag your teacher account, or use an original class hashtag, like #CraneCalaveras to see them all together. Here's mine:

2. Explore the Controversy Regarding Disney’s Effort to Trademark “Day of the Dead”

I love pushing students to explore the 2013 controversy, when Disney set forth to trademark the term “Day of the Dead”. With beginning level students, I use authentic English texts like those from CNNThe Flama, LA Times, etc. (lots more via Google search!). I am ok with using English texts because it is a cultural activity and students can get through the material more quickly in English, this is a "mini" activity after all. I've had students work in small groups to read the articles collectively, or each individually, and then summarize together with a jigsaw structure. This activity is especially fun, as the Disney movie Coco is slated to come out next year.

3. Watch “The Book of Life”

This 2014 animated feature is so beautifully done and a great way to informally learn about the holiday in a fun way. Consider offering an extra credit opportunity outside of class for students to watch the movie and submit a 1 paragraph written review of the film. Or offer an after school movie showing in your classroom - make pop corn, move the desks out and lay down blankets, so students can watch the film together. Or if you have time to show the film in class, or even to show the trailer, it could prompt a meaningful discussion about the nature of this holiday, important practices, symbols, and the history.

4. Make a Day of the Dead Glyph

Glyphs are a fun way for students to read in the target language, while creating their own unique “glyph” or symbol that conveys unique information about a given student in a purely visual form. I have students create their own glyph using a simple Day of the Dead image that one of my (artistically gifted!) old students drew for me (see my pic below). They read through the Spanish-language prompts to select the colors that best describe them and then color in their glyph accordingly. These make for a really lovely bulletin board! I’ve also extended the activity on a second and even third day with another "mini" activity - having students work in pairs to interpret their peers’ glyphs. What does your glyph say about you? They then describe their peer in the target language verbally or in writing. I sell these in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, but you can easily make your own versions using simple language prompts!

5. Day of the Dead Word of the Day

For the 10 days leading up to November 1st and 2nd, I highlight a “word of the day” relating to Día de Muertos. For example:
Día alegre
Los angelitos
Pan de muerto
Calaveritas de azúcar
Students are responsible for writing their own definition and/or creating a visual to accompany each term. They can submit these at the end of the 10 days for extra credit or as a graded assignment. This is an easy bell work prompt, fast finisher activity, or way to fill in if you find you have extra time in a given class period. I’ve had students get quite creative with these, taking funny photos to depict the words, using creative handwriting to draw out the term, etc. Consider offering even more points or an extra incentive like an award for the most creative submissions, in order to inspire unique work. Have students submit work in a notebook, digitally, through your class' social media page or by using your hashtag, or even have them make larger visuals and use them to create a bulletin board. Lots of possibilities!

How might you modify these activities to work for your students and classrooms? I always love to hear your ideas!

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Teaching Mexican Independence Day through Authentic Mixed Media in Beginning Spanish Class

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Fiestas partrias mexicanas are one of my very favorite holidays to celebrate with students. Maybe its because we live in Arizona so close to the Mexican border, because I typically have so many students of Mexican descent who are interested in the holiday or celebrate at home, or because of the amazing Mexican friends I have who are just so full of patriotic pride and have taught me how to really celebrate a holiday.

Because Mexican Independence falls so early in the school year, I prefer to keep things simple. For my beginning level students, I do a 1 hour lesson, primarily in English, with Authentic Spanish language media that uses simple language structures.


1. Students will be able to describe key events in the Mexican independence movement of the 1800s.
2. Students will be able to describe key parts of the Mexican culture including who the president is, how Independence Day is celebrated, what the zocalo is, and what the cathedral is.
3. Students will be able to listen to a traditional Mariachi song to identify Spanish words they understand in writing and by listening.

Part 1: Pre-Quiz

I use a short quiz to access prior knowledge and engine engagement. We go over the answers immediately after all students finish, as a way to introduce main concepts about the holiday.

Part 2: El Grito Concept Map

I show a Youtube clip of this year’s “El Grito”. Here’s the 2015 version. Then students fill in the notes on their concept maps as we discuss what they saw.

We talk about Pena Nieto and some of the controversy surrounding him. In early 2015, his wife Angelica Rivera came under scrutiny for a series of real estate holdings in another name that were linked to conflicts of interest on the part of Pena Nieto. He was absolved in August 2015, but this scandal was a blow to his public perception. We also talk about the drug war, cartel violence, and slow economic growth that are currently frustrating many mexicans. Lots of current issues!

Part 3: Viva México Song Activity

Once concept maps are complete, students listen to one of my favorite mariachi songs, “Viva México”, through Youtube. They listen through several times to identify simple Spanish words they hear. I do cloze activities throughout the year with my beginning students, and this is the first one, so I keep it simple!

Part 4: History of the Independence Movement Reading Activity

With any leftover time students work independently or in small groups to complete a simple reading activity. This is a summative assessment of sorts, wrapping up their understanding of the holiday. I love doing this part last because if we run out of time, it can easily be assigned for homework.

I organize my whole lesson using a Powerpoint and a packet of student handouts, just to keep me on track.

How do you celebrate Mexican Independence day with beginning students?

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Pacing ¡Avancemos! 1 for High School Spanish

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I love the ¡Avancemos! curriculum for both books 1 and 2. I was fortunate to teach with that curriculum for 5 years and over time developed a pacing guide that worked for me. I’m happy to share that with you all, just click on this link to download the pacing guide for free.


This pacing is what has worked for me at a large Title 1 public high school in Arizona, USA, with class sizes of 35 – 40 students, on 55-minute daily class meetings. My pacing is for a first year Spanish class (novice level), with predominantly 9th grade students. I hope you can use it to inspire your own planning. 


I try to offer different summative assessment options each chapter – a mix of quizzes and tests (which incorporate a reading, writing, and listening), as well as projects (which incorporate interpersonal and presentational speaking, listening, and writing). Personally,  prefer speaking assessments at this level to be formative and informal. The only summative speaking assessments I use are in the midterm and final exams.

A Note on Pacing

As a new teacher, I remember getting wrapped up in the "how much do I need to get through" issue, and more recently have really changed my thinking on that. I would argue that we should take our time to be sure that our students meet our learning goals, acknowledging that pacing will be different for each teacher and each class. I absolutely believe it's great to have rough guidelines and to keep the class feeling like you're moving forward, not just regurgitating the same concepts over and over, but also, I don't ever want students to feel rushed or pressured to memorize just for the test, like they're racing through the class only to retain nothing. It is a fine balance!

Would love to hear your thoughts and details on how you pace the ¡Avancemos! Book 1 text for beginning students.

Note that this pacing guide and any of my resources relating to the Avancemos textbook are my own original ideas and materials. They have in no way been reviewed or endorsed by HMHCO.
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Incorporating a Frase de la Semana in the Spanish Classroom

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Incorporating a Frase de la Semana is a great way to introduce students to fun, useful Spanish terms that they may not get much exposure to otherwise. 

Over the last two years, I’ve slowly collected my favorite colloquialisms, slang terms, and generally useful Spanish phrases and put them into cute posters that I print off to hang in my classroom. Check mine out or you can easily make your own!

Here’s how I incorporate a Frase de la Semana in my Spanish classes:

1. Class challenge

At the start of the week, I introduce the “Frase de la Semana” to my class, practice pronunciation, and go over a few example uses. Students then try to incorporate the phrase into their speaking that week. When we hear each other using it, we yell out an “¡aye, sí!”. I of course try to fit the phrases DRAMATICALLY into my speech throughout the week.

2. Create beautiful bulletin board or word wall

Print out each phrase on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet and post all of them to create a colorful bulletin board where all the Frases are posted. Students will see the terms on a daily basis, reinforcing vocabulary acquisition. Print in color or in black and white on colored card stock.

3. Vocabulary list or flash cards

Print out 16 phrases to a sheet, cut them up, and you have instant flash cards! Give each students a set to keep in their notebooks throughout the year or create sets for small groups of students to use as a quick flash card review activity.

4. Skit prompts

Distribute one or two of your Frase de la Semana flash cards to each student. Students work in pairs (or 3s) to act out a short skit in which they have to use their assigned Frases. Establish a location and relationship between actors. Give students 10 minutes to practice and play with ideas, then select a few or all to share in front of class. No scripts, no writing, just speaking on the fly!

Going Beyond…

You might also consider having students brainstorm a list of Spanish phrases they really wished they knew. Use that list to generate your own unique set of Frases that will be super relevant to your students. Could be fun to have each student take a Frase and create their own mini poster for it.

What other ways have you incorporated a Frase de la Semana into your Spanish curriculum? Would love to hear from you!

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