Cinco de Mayo: 5 Activities for Teachers to Use in Their Classrooms
Warm smiles and bright colors. Festive music and friendly gatherings. These are just a few positive things that happen every May 5th on Cinco de Mayo. Teachers who bring the celebration into their classrooms with learning activities can anticipate big grins from young students.
To celebrate this year’s Cinco de Mayo with winning smiles, we’re recommending five activities teachers can adapt for their classrooms that will shed meaningful light on this popular holiday.
Activity 1: Sing a song
Grade levels: K-2. Most kids enjoy singing, and Mexico loves festive music. Put the two together, and you get an idea for celebrating Cinco de Mayo in the classroom that doesn’t require much preparation.
Jessica Ponce’s free music and social studies lesson plan is perfect for teachers searching for ways to celebrate the day with mindful learning activities. There are four songs with lyrics and melodies. Titles include “Today’s a Day to Celebrate” (sung to “London Bridge”) and “Today’s the Fifth of May” (sung to “The Farmer in the Dell”).
Ponce provides teachers with comprehensive explanations about how these songs are valuable to students. Check out the lyrics.
Here’s an even simpler singing activity for teachers looking for a quick way to make music on Cinco de Mayo. “Mi Cuerpo | Kids’ Songs” is a video teachers can play in their classrooms. It features a singer and guitarist who lead students in a singalong.
Activity 2: Make a mask
Grade levels: 3-5. Colorful masks of all kinds are a cultural favorite in Mexico. Teachers who are looking for Cinco de Mayo crafts to incorporate in their classrooms on May 5 should consider Mexican wrestling masks.
The alluring masks are spooky enough to intrigue kids without scaring them.
The masks are relatively easy to make, too. The website offers a list of necessary supplies and detailed instructions to create the masks. Supplies include printable cardstock paper, Crayons, elastic string, a hole punch and scissors, a pencil and optional glitter glue.
As a bonus, there is a trivia blurb about lucha-libre freestyle wrestlers, who wear masks to intimidate opponents and add mystique to their identities in the ring.
Additional activities include making plastic-spoon maracas, crafting paper-tissue flowers and creating papier-mâché sombreros. See them all at Free Kids Crafts.
Activity 3: Create a piñata
Grade levels: 3-6. Kids love piñatas because they’re filled with surprises. Cinco de Mayo gives students a chance to make a piñata with their teacher, and then break it open.
Kid Activities, created by Barbara Shelby, guides teachers in the steps to create piñatas, beginning with papier-mâché ingredients (flour and water) that hold all the goodies inside a balloon. The secret is to use newspaper strips, and then cover the piñata with colorful festive crepe paper.
Because this is a relatively messy and time-consuming project, teachers may want to divide it into two parts over two days. Allow about an hour to make the piñatas and to clean up, plus overnight drying. Schedule additional time for the fun activity of busting the piñatas open while wearing a blindfold and scrambling for treats. To safely break open the piñatas, schools should supply lightweight plastic bats, like those used to play Wiffle ball. Pick a piñata at Kid Activities.
Activity 4: Read a book
Grade levels: K-6. Books are terrific resources for educating students about cultural events. “Cinco de Mayo,” by Mary Dodson Wade, for example, helps students learn that the holiday is celebrated by Hispanics to recognize the heroics of a relatively small Mexican army that defeated an invasion force nearly twice its size in the Battle of Puebla.
“Cinco de Mayo” is a Rookie Read-About Holidays book written for students ages 5-7. It covers everything from mariachi bands to piñatas, as well as the cultural significance of Mexican festivals. The book, published by Children’s Press/Scholastic, has plenty of pictures that will interest elementary school students.
Two additional books that are valuable resources for classroom reading activities are “The Piñata Maker” by George Ancona (published by Harcourt, ages 6-10), and “Colors of Mexico” by Lynn Ainsworth Olawsky (published by First Avenue Editions/Lerner Publishing Group, ages 8-12).
Quizzes, trivia questions and various games are great learning exercises to engage students after reading.
- Ask students to draw their favorite characters or events.
- Lead them in a skit, game or singalong session.
- Have students act out their favorite part of the story.
- Stage a game show in which students score points for answering questions correctly.
Activity 5: Watch a video
Grade levels: 5-6. Perhaps the best way for students to learn about Cinco de Mayo is to watch a video explaining the May 5 celebration. It’s a touchy subject for K-6 students because the celebration commemorates a brutal battle in which soldiers died fighting for their respective causes.
“Cinco de Mayo” illustrates the Battle of Puebla without glorifying war. For fifth- and sixth-grade teachers who want to educate their students about Cinco de Mayo, this video explains key facts without covering too many details that might bore or confuse elementary students.
- The Battle of Puebla marks a significant event for Mexico.
- The battle took place on May 5, 1862 and preceded the Mexican Revolution.
- The battle is considered the turning point in the country’s struggle for independence, which Mexico celebrates in September.
Teachers can supplement the video with another activity to explain history lessons about Cinco de Mayo. Skits are popular critical thinking activities to help students demonstrate learning. After watching “Cinco de Mayo,” have the students write a brief play to act out parts of the video, such as the decisive battle, followed by a victory parade with marching band and cheering amigos.
Lessons for mañana
On May 5, elementary teachers can keep their Cinco de Mayo festivities lighthearted and educational with one of these classroom activities, or a combination of the five. Whether you go with a book reading or singalong, or select a more elaborate arts-and-crafts lesson, have fun and enjoy your Cinco de Mayo celebration.