Using Multicultural Literature as Mentor Text

Learning about holidays and festivals celebrated in different countries is a great way to learn about different cultures and diversity around the world. I'm joining my friends with the Reading Crew to share some of our Multicultural Literature favorites. We'll share how we would teach reading skills with mentor text.

One of my favorite Mexican and Latin American holidays is Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on November 1st or 2nd. Families honor and celebrate the loved ones who have died. They focus on the joy and happiness of the deceased and not on the sadness of their death. Families build altars at their homes and visit the cemeteries where they have picnics and clean the gravesites.

The ancient tradition of the Day of the Dead dates back over 3,000 years to the Aztecs. When the Spanish arrived, they changed the date from summer to fall so it coincides with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.

About the Book

Día de los Muertos by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and illustrated by Charles Ballesteros is written in rhymes and filled with Spanish words which describe the holiday. The book is illustrated in a way that helps students understand more about the Latin American culture and the holiday. It's a great example of multicultural literature.

Día de los Muertos tells about children in a family preparing for the Day of the Dead. They decorate their altar with a photo of their dear Grandpa Padilla, sugar skulls, and other favorite things. Then, they go to the graveyard to decorate and clean his gravesite. The Day of the Dead celebration is filled with joy and remembrance and no sadness.

Introducing the Book

After showing the video and discussing the purpose of the holiday, you can introduce the book.
  • Students can look at the detailed illustrations and gain an understanding of the holiday and the joyfulness of the people.
  • Students can see how the Spanish words are in italics and the sentences in the story rhyme. 
  • At the end of the story, the author provides informational text about Día de los Muertos and a glossary of Spanish words.

Teaching Vocabulary in Context

Día de los Muertos is a great book to read in helping students learn Spanish words as they learn about cultures of other countries. There are several ways students can use context in learning what the words mean.
  • Use the context in the sentence - "And clay pots of Grandmother's fresh chicken stew, with mugs of atole, a chocolaty brew. (What words in the sentence give a hint of what atole means?)
  • Use pictures to learn the meaning of words - "And bursts of caléndulas, fragrant and bright - the color of sunsets and gold candelight." Marigolds are all over this page.
  • Look at the Spanish word to see if it looks like an English word? -"For today we will honor our dearly departed celebraciones - it's time to get started!" The Spanish word means "celebrations."
The back of the book has a glossary of the Spanish words. If a students is unable to figure out the meaning of the word from these three ways, they can look up the word in the glossary.

Extending the Lesson

I created Flippity Flashcards with the vocabulary from the multicultural literature book. With Flippity, you can add images to the flashcards and pronounce the words in Spanish. Click HERE to access the flashcards. There are so many options with Flippity. You can change to Hangman, Word Clouds, Matching Game, Memory, and more.

  • Design your own sugar skulls with Google Slides. Click HERE for step-by-step instructions and a FREE sugar skull template.
  • Calavera Photo Stickers App - Take photos of your students, then they can select the decorative skull (calavera) mask. This is also a great descriptive writing activity.

For more Day of the Dead activities, click HERE or click on the images below.


Using multicultural literature is a great way to bring diversity into your classroom while still working on engaging, rigorous content. Click to see how you can use a children's book with your elementary students to learn more about The Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos. You get ideas, activities, a FREE download, & more that will work perfectly with your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th grade upper elementary students. Great for All Souls Day or any time of year. (third, fourth, fifth, sixth graders)

Want even more multicultural literature? Check out the links below!


  1. Wow! So many great resources! I am going to share your post with my building Art teacher, and I am going to try the Flippity website!

  2. Wow! I love the variety of ideas you provided. Also, I'm a huge Flippity fan! We use it regularly in my classroom. Thanks so much for the helpful resources.


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