Day of the Dead Digital Altar Activity

What is Day of the Dead?

Day of the Dead is a Latin American holiday. It is Día de (los) Muertos in Spanish. People celebrate their love ones who have passed away. It’s not only in Mexico. And it’s not a Mexican version of Halloween. In fact, in all my time in Latin America, I’ve never seen any Day of the Dead parades. The ones like I’ve seen on television, and in travel ads.

The ones that I have been a part of were much more low-key. They included people visiting grave sites. They left flowers and other food and drink. Or made altars in their homes and places of work. I’ve never seen anyone put on the traditional skeleton makeup.

How We Celebrated

Last year, my father-in-law made the altar. He wanted to honor his father, who had passed away. I added a few items to the altar. For my own dad, I put a bottle of Pepsi light. He drank it every day. And some junk food that he ate. We told stories, and laughed. It’s not a happy day, nor a sad one either.

Sadly, earlier this year, my father-in-law also passed away. He was ill for some time. Also, the government here is urging people not to go out for Day of the Dead activities. Social media posts ask them to stay home. It is to try and curb the uptick in COVID cases. But even if they were letting people go to the grave sites, we still have bad luck. My husband and I both contracted COVID this month. We are in isolation anyway.

I started to think about it. How would one do Day of the Dead from their home? Without being able to buy flowers, pan de muerte, candles, etc.? Without an altar?

Watch the Example Video Here

Anything Can Be Recreated Online

I have this theory that any in-person activity can be made for e-Learning. Clearly, some things are easier than others. But, with a little bit of creativity and innovation, I truly believe this. Any in-person activity can be made successfully for a digital course.

Of course, it’s not always going to be the same. A digital Day of the Dead altar is not even close. The act of going in-person is deep. But for learning purposes, the activities that you can create online are just as effective. And many times they are better than ones in face to face classrooms.

The students that will try this activity don’t live where Day of the Dead happens. So, it gives them the chance to:

  • Get involved with it virtually.

  • Learn about the culture of Latin America.

  • Study in a way that makes a connection with the language.

  • Honor their love ones that have passed away.

And it shows off a really cool feature of Google slides. Maybe you did not know this existed. Users can insert an image and do a Google image web search. All without ever leaving the Google Slides tab.

How I Made It

I made nearly all of this project on my iPad. The only step I used my laptop for was to add the image as the slide background. Here are the steps that I took:

  1. I obtained a stock photo of the Day of the Dead altar.

  2. Then, I used the Adobe illustrator APP to empty the altar. So it would be ready for students to add their own unique touches to it.

  3. I took the two altar pictures and put them side-by-side on a Google slide.

  4. I changed the slide background to black and added a title with the text option.

  5. I then saved the slide as a PNG image.

  6. On a new slide, I added the PNG image as the background of the slide. (This is a trick that locks the picture in place so students don’t move the picture when they’re trying to add other ones on top.)

And that’s it. It took less than five minutes.

How to Use it with Students

There are a few ways that you can use this. For example, you can use as a cultural lesson to teach about Day of the Dead in English.

It can also be used in a Spanish language class for any level. For starter students, I would use it to introduce vocab. I would ask the students put the picture. And then to write the word in Spanish underneath. I would then have everybody share their alters. In one central location, they can see each others work. This lets them pick up vocabulary from their classmates.

For mid-level or advanced students, this introduces the imperfect tense. Because everything is a description or habit in the past - it works very well.

With my Spanish 3 class, we did more. First, we talked about what the people liked. But we also added what they were like. This reviewed traits. And even more, what they looked like. Again, being traits, they have to go in the imperfect.

This way, they had a lot of practice with the imperfect tense. They had never seen before. But, they also did a review of vocab. Words that they haven’t seen since the very first weeks of Spanish 1.

Download it for Yourself

Feel free to copy the altar from my Google Drive. Use it for your own classroom, homeschooling, or family purposes. You can watch the example video to see me adding pictures. On the Google Slides file, you’ll be able to see my finished example. As well as have access to a blank altar. You can duplicate it for as many students as you have.


Sara Tyler has 2 M.A. degrees, in Educational Technology and Curriculum and Instruction. Her B.A. degree is in ESL. She has worked online since 2014, and has taught languages since 2010.

Her company, Viva Online, L.L.C. provides Spanish language courses, immersion classes, and professional development teachers. She lives in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with her husband and 2 daughters.

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