Carnaval is here!

The most fun is to be had with Carnaval! Know what Carnaval in Spanish speaking countries is?  It’s the Spanish version of Mardi Gras, but each of the twenty Spanish speaking countries has its own interpretation and cultural touches, or flourishes.  For a few days before the first Tuesday of February parades, parties, dances, and often costumes and masks take over.  Carnaval celebrants celebrate in a big way before the austere season of Lent begins and lasts until Easter Sunday.  Click this link for a Carnaval Lesson for secondary students.  Click this link for a Carnaval lesson for younger learners.

Here is some basic Carnaval Vocabulary

  • el desfile= the parade
  • la carroza= the float
  • los papelitos= confetti
  • la disfraz= costume
  • la máscara= the mask
  • el baile= the dance party

A great song performance about Carnaval

Spanish Day of the Dead- Free Spanish Vocabulary

Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is almost here.  Sound creepy?  Well, it’s not.  Some Americans, or really many people, mistakenly think that Día de los Muertos is a Mexican Halloween.  It’s not.  No lo es.

Día de los Muertos is the opposite of morbid and macabre.  It’s a spectacular, colorful, happy, but respectful time to honor loved ones who have passed away. Think Memorial Day to the thousandth power.

History of Día de Muertos

Día de Muertos is celebrated on November first and second.  When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in the 1500′s, they came upon the native peoples, the Aztecs as one group, celebrating their dearly departed and the after life itself in August.  As the Spanish Roman Catholic missionaries made headway in Mexico, they combined the native memorial celebration with their own All Saints’ Day.  The dates for Día de Muertos evolved into the first two days of November.

Celebrations, Imagery, & Symbols

Mexicans have an ingenious way of combining symbols and adding a distinct humor to the heavy concept of death, or La Muerte. La Muerte is both personified and humorized into the dancing, laughing skeletons. The colors used on decorations, pastries, and candles are bright and contrasting.  Here is a little vocabulary.

Día de Muertos Vocabulary

  • death= la Muerte
  • candle= la vela
  • bread of the dead= el pan de muerto
  • candied skull= la calavera
  • decorative crepe paper hangings= papel picado
  • decorative memorial= la ofrenda
  • parade= el desfile

Read more description and detail about Day of the Dead and learn and practice basic Spanish within the context of Día de Muertos

Spanish Back to School Activities & Lessons

un libro

It’s almost here, la aperatura de las clases, or the opening of school!  New or recycled school supplies, or unos materiales escolares, are on eveybody’s mind.

Hispanic Country Cultural Note

Spanish speaking countries have big-box stores that sell school supplies, but there still remains the small office supply or school supply store, la papelería.  Many people head there to get the following:

  • unos lápices= some pencils
  • unos bolígrafos= some pens
  • un bloc de papel= a packet of paper
  • unas carpetas= some binders
  • unos cuadernos= some workbooks
  • unas gomas= some erasers
  • unos marcadores= some markers

Gender & Articles

School supplies, unos materiales escolares, are perfect for teaching and practicing gender, definite articles, and indefinite articles.  Articles are used much more in Spanish than in English and the correct gender is required.  La, Las are for feminine things and El, Los are for masculine.  Un, unos, una, and unas mean “a” or “some.”

For more practice with materiales escolares click here.

For a simple, easy story with materiales escolares click here.

For a Classroom Phrase activity collection click here.

Spanish Summer Heat Phrases & Vocabulary

Hace mucho sol y hace calor

On here on the border of Texas and Mexico, New Mexico too for that matter, it is hot, or hace mucho calor. The heat, el calor, is all that everyone talks about.  Use some Spanish weather phrases and vocabulary while they are truly relevant. This is when you eat jícama sprinkled with chili powder and lime juice instead of chiles rellenos.

Jícama is a potatoe like root vegetable  from Mexico, but I somehow view it as more of a fruit.  You have to peel it, then dice it and sprinkle it with the lime juice and chili powder.  See the next blog post for a jícama, coconut, and mango salad my friend Alicia just told me bout.

Vocabulary & Phrases

  • hace calor- it’s hot (now)
  • está caliente- it’s hot (general description)
  • hace much sol= it’s really sunny
  • El sol quema- the sun is burning
  • está soleado- it’s sunny (general description)
  • está como un horno= it’s live an oven
  • se puede freir juevos en la calle- one can fry eggs on the street

When someone asks ¿Qué tiempo hace?,  or ¿Cómo est el tiempo? you now have a more varied list of responses for the summer, or el verano, only.  Click here for a Spanish Weather Forecast Activity.

Practice Activities

  • Try using the questions and the varied answers with a friend or class mate
  • Have one partner state the answer, and then the other needs to ask the question
  • Make a flash card for each weather question and phrase.  Play guessing and match up games with them.
  • Illustrated the weather description cards and then try to say its Spanish phrase
  • Go to to the Spanish language part of the site to check out weather phrases
  • Listen to a Spanish language weather forecast on TV and try to follow it.

Spanish Outdoor Activity- Un Picnic

Mayo brings us weather beautiful enough for a picnic, and a Spanish-speaking, Mexican style picnic at that.  The family picnic is a cultural institution in Mexico, and weekend family picnics are often multi-generational with abuelos (grandparents), tíos (aunts & uncles) and bebés.  Picnic y la familia go together like tacos and salsa.  Try a Mexican style picnic with some Spanish sprinkled in with friends, family, or students.

Teaching Tip & Spanish Material:  Introduce each item from the Mexican picnic with its Spanish name such as la naranja for orange.  Then ask learners to identify it by pointing or touching it.  Vocabulary is taught best with the real item, or a picture of it.  The visual and tactile support of a real orange, for examples, lends so much to the learners.  A delightful, simple bilingual book for foods is Mi Comida.

So here is some familia review:

Spanish Family Members: Pairs

  • abuelos = grandparents
  • papás= parents
  • hijos= children
  • nietos= grandchildren
  • tíos= aunts & uncles
  • primos= cousins

Conversation Fun

¿Quíenes van al picnic? Who is going to the picnic?

Mis abuelos, mis papás, mis tíos y mis primos van al picnic.

¿Qué traes para el picnic? What are you bringing for the picnic

Yo traigo . . . . I m bringing.

Cinco De Mayo for Spanish Learners

May 2, 2009 · Posted in Hispanic Culture, Mexican Culture, Mexico · 1 Comment 
La Bandera de México

La Bandera de México


¿Cuándo es el cinco de mayo?

Es el martes en 2009.

Most people who do not live in or near Mexico think that cinco de mayo is Mexican Indpendence Day. Well, it’s not- no lo es.  Cinco de mayo commemorates a unique and inspiring even in late 19 century Mexican history.  It’s more about what cinco de mayo represents that anything else: unity and patriotism.

Cinco de Mayo: the Battle of Puebla

On May 5th, 1862 The Mexican army under General Zaragosa was faced with the well trained, tricked out French troops sent to  support the current rulers of Mexico.  They were King Maximilian and his wife Queen Carlota who were puppets of France’s Napoleaon III.  Napolean III was sure of a victory which would make Mexico essentially dependent on France, almost as a colony.

The Mexican army thought fast. Mexico’s horsemen and cavalry were superb, and they knew the terrain in Puebla, Mexico beyond well.  When the French ordered their troops to chase Mexican Colonel Diaz’s cavalry, they sent their soldiers to their death.  Mexico out-rode, our chased, and out faught the French to win the Battle of Puebla, or la Battalla de Puebla.

Unity & Patriotism

Cinco de Mayo honors the victory of the Mexican army over the most elite army of Europe, the French.  The unity of the many indigenous groups and the energy of the young country came to vanquish the establishment French.  It’s a day for celebrating Mexican culture, the diversity of Mexico’s native peoples, and the drive of the Mexican army.

Teaching & Learning Ideas & Activities

A national holiday is the best way to bring several aspects of Spanish into the learning experience: language, culture (food, music, art) and one of our favorites, geography. So many tangential units can come form Cinco de Mayo: the history of Mexico, the French in Mexico, French cultural influences there, and most importantly the vast indigenous cultures of Mexico.

For a lesson for Spanish Students Click Here.

For a lesson for Beginning Spanish Students or Young Learners Click Here.

For activities for preschoolers click here

Link to Great 5 de Mayo crafts

Spanish Mother’s Day Make a Card

Feliz Da de la Madre! It’s almost here on May 10th, or el 10 de mayo.  I can say with experience and authority as the mother of three, that home-made cards are the ones that are kept in the keepsake shoe box.  And won’t your mom be impressed with a Mother’s Day card in Spanish? Ages preK on up can do this. Here is some Spanish vocabulary for a card:

Spanish Greetings for Your Mother’s Day Card2-04-08_07b

  • Feliz Día de la Madre – Happy Mother’s Day
  • para – to
  • de – from
  • Mi Querida- my dear . . .
  • Madre – Mother
  • Mamá – Mom
  • Abuela – Grandmother
  • Abuelita – Grandma
  • Tía – Aunt
  • Te quiero – I love you.
  • Pienso en ti – I’m thinking of you.
  • Te extraño – I miss you.
  • Eres especial- You are special.

Use these expressions to create a special Spanish Mother’s Day card for Mom, Grandma, a favorite aunt, or a special friend.
Choose both greetings and your favorite quotes for your card.  Decorate with crayons, markers, photos, paints, and/or glitter.  She’ll love it

Click here for a few Spanish Mother’s Day card templates

Mexican Snack: Una Quesadilla

It’s always a good time of year to snack!  The best, or some of the best snacks, or meriendas, are Mexican.  The ingenious quesadilla is perfect.

The quesadilla (Keh-Sah-deeyah) is a staple of Mexican meals and snacks.  There are countless types of quesadillas depending on personal tastes, family recipes, and most importantly the region of Mexico.  A quesadilla can be a familiar combination of flour tortillas and Monterrey jack cheese in the northern, border area of Mexico, or it can be a hubcap-sized tlaluda with special cheese and poblano chiles from Oaxaca in southern Mexico.
A quesadilla is a blank canvas. It usually consisits of a tortilla, shortening, and cheese, but the possibilities for adding to it are endless, and encouraged.
The quesadilla can be eaten for breakfast, el desayuno, or for a snack, a merienda. The protein of the cheese and the carbohydrate of the tortilla are both filling and balancing.

Try to make Spanish sentences with the vocabulary and verbs below about making quesadillas.

VOCABULARIO de cocinar

  • La tortilla
  • La estufa    The stove
  • El queso    The cheese
  • La mantequilla    The butter
  • La margarina    The margarine
  • El sartén    The frying pan
  • La espátula    The spatula
  • El cuchillo    The knife


  • prendo= I turn on (the blender)
  • corto= I cut
  • unto= I spread (butter)
  • pongo= I put
  • doblo= I fold
  • volteo= I turn over
  • saco= I take out
  • organizo= I organize

Check  back tomorrow for a simple recipe in Spanish with some activities.

Making Cascarones-Spanish Confetti Eggs

I remember making and buying cascarones, or confetti filled eggs, at my elementary school’s Halloween carnival in El Paso, Texas. We loved running around the Mesita School gym cracking the cascarones over each others’ heads.
Origins of Cascarones in Mexico
This is the time of year for more traditional casacarones. In 19th century Mexico, one of the few ways that young couples could show public affection was to crack a cascarn or two over each others’ heads at dances during carnaval before Lent, or Cuaresma.
Over time, children adopted the custom during Lent. Now everyone is in on the fun right before Ash Wednesday, and some break them out again at Easter, or Pascua.

Making Cascarone

It’s easier to do than it seems; time and patience are the key. MATERIALS: 1 dozen eggs, large bowl, fork, knife, pyrex dish, glue, tissue paper, confetti, egg dying kit, paint, stickers, glitter glue
Part I.
1.  Gently tap one eag on the small tip of it onto the counter until an area is cracked
2.  Carefully peel away at least a dime sized hole of egg shell and membrane
3.  Hold egg hole side down over a large bowl to drain its contents
4.  Rinse the inside of the empty egg shell without breaking it.
5.  Place in a pyrex dish.
*Repeat for as many cascarones as you’d like to make.
6.  Let the emptied and rinsed, intact egg shells dry overnight or for several areas in a safe place
Part II.
1. Use the Easter egg dye kit and dye the egg shells slowly and carefully.  Let them dry for a couple of hours.
2.  Decorate the egg shells with paint, stickers, or glitter glue . . . use your imagination.
3.  Fill each decorated egg half way full of confetti
4.  Glue a small piece of tissue paper over the hole in the filled egg shell
You’re ready to crack your cascarones over as many heads as you have confetti-filled eggs.  See this link for directions with photos.

un cascarón

un cascarón

Spanish Activities for Black History Month: the Caribbean

Such a significant part of the world’s Spanish speaking population has African heritage.  Spanish is the first language of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. All three islands have strong cultural ties to Africa that came to the islands with African slaves brought by the Spaniards as early as the 1600′s.

Island Geography to teach Language

Spanish is learned best in a clear context, or background.  Geography is ideal because it is so visual and concrete.  Here are some of the Spanish components that can be learned:

  • higher numbers: demographic, population, & physical geography figures
  • directions: el norte, el sur, el este, el oeste
  • ecosystems: la selva (the jungle), las montañas, la playa (the beach), los valles (the valleys)
  • weather: el tiempo, hace calor (it’s hot), llueve (it rains), it’s sunny (hace sol)
  • descriptions: grande, peque
  • comparisons
  • water sports

So many possibilities!  Click here to see a Spanish Geography Unit: Cuba, La República Dominicana, y Puerto Rico

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