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Top Ten Activities for Celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Functional Level Classrooms.

Updated on June 22, 2014

Bring Cinco de Mayo into the classroom - A teacher's favorite top ten, fun learning activities.

Super teachers know every holiday is a gift.

Holidays provide wonderful, fun filled opportunities for all kinds of academic exploration and growth.

Cinco de Mayo comes with the added feature of being a cross cultural holiday opening up even more lesson choices.

Don't waste the opportunity.

Embrace your inner desire to salsa and surround students in all things Cinco de Mayo.

For any classroom -

Professional educators know visuals can make or break the feel of the room.

Updating themes for holidays is always a good idea.

Before beginning your Cinco de Mayo activities, set the stage for the learning to come. Set up your basic color scheme on bulletin boards, the boarders, perhaps coordinated table cloths, if in a self contained functional setting. You get the idea.

Use one of the colors of the Mexican flag and you will be assured things will tie in well. Let the students do the rest.

First, present the students with choices you predetermine for the decorating theme. Remember to think about how you can tie them into your lessons before printing your graphically supported ballots and then let the students vote for the winner.

Well planned activities are the highway to student success. - That takes some organization and forethought.

Lesson Plan a La Carte: Integrated Planning for Students with Special Needs
Lesson Plan a La Carte: Integrated Planning for Students with Special Needs

When planning for special needs students, a whole lot more has to go into the lesson plan. From mods to behavior tracking, it's time to get organized.Use the resources here to save time and address a multitude of issues that commonly are presented within this population.


The basics every teacher needs.

Scotch Thermal Laminator 2 Roller System (TL901C)
Scotch Thermal Laminator 2 Roller System (TL901C)

For the first few years I taught, I burned through two or three laminating machines a year. This model is still working three years after I got it.

Bordette Decorative Boarder, 2 1/4"X50', Deep Purple
Bordette Decorative Boarder, 2 1/4"X50', Deep Purple

I like solid color boarders because they allow for much faster changing out of materials and things can still match. That cute dinosaur boarder won't go with much else.Tip: Laminate your boarders and you can use them over and over saving materials over time. File them by color. The next time you want to change it up, it will go up in a flash.


Theme ideas with hooks to the four core curriculum:

Think colors, concepts and culture.

1.) Chili peppers, Jalapenos and the like can set the mood.

* These can be used for counting, addition, and so on for math lessons.

* They work great as introductions to units on nutrition or plants in science lessons.

* Peppers can be spelled, spoken, and described in simple sentences for English Language Arts lessons.

* Peppers evoke a Latin feeling, making a great opportunity to do lessons about geography, the history of Mexico, famous mexican heroes and so on.

2.) Sombreros

* The same mathematical concepts applied above to chili peppers can be applied to anything, like sombreros.

* For science classes, sombreros offer opportunities for data collection as students count colors, various sizes, whatever designations you wish to make, charting as they go. This can be very easy to do for functional students, though it may sound complicated. Just make a form where the student places a check for a color block that is graphically supported. Each time he counts a red sombrero, he places a mark in the red box.

* For English Language Arts lessons, students can learn spelling of colors, descriptive words and work on site words associated such as hat, head and so on.

* In Social Studies, just as mentioned above, tie in famous historical Latin figures.

3.) Mexican Flags

* For math lessons, cover basic geometry with lessons on shapes and measurement.

* In science lessons, discuss where cloth comes from and how dyes work. It's also a good opportunity to talk about how buying local helps the planet.

* Social Studies can be tied in easily with lessons in geography and how the Mexican flag came into being.

* For English Language Arts, have students describe their favorite Latin dishes and why they are better than other dishes. Or, have have them bring in a favorite Mexican recipe from home. For those who eat out a lot, allow them to talk about their favorite Mexican dishes in the area and why they selected them, specifically. Whatever you do, always try to pull more information out of them. Offer sentence stems when needed.

4.) Cacti

* Math lessons can easily teach shopping and computational skills by having students find cacti in local sales circulars and compute the tax due using a calculator.

* Cacti are really good for introducing science lessons on deserts and water conservation.

* Social studies lessons can center around geography related to deserts.

* English Language Arts lessons could be fun having students list adjectives to describe what a cactus looks like, how a prick from it might feel, how its environment looks and so on.

5.) People in traditional Mexican dress

* Math lessons on counting, multiplication, symmetry and others galore present with this one.

* Lessons focusing on science concepts can tie in anything related to the human body.

* People in traditional Mexican dress afford fun opportunities to talk about how things are done differently in different cultures, and places, and that all have value.

* English Language Arts is granted the chance to have students name each figure and develop an imaginary mini biography. It can be as simple as a name, age, and basic description to much more complicated, and often hilarious, biographies.

Now, it's really time to get busy.

After selecting your basic colors, having the children vote on the theme and then color the decorations. The mood is now set. It's time to get to the activities. There is virtually no limit to the lessons that could be done, but here are ten of my all time tried and true favorites.

1.) Let's all get cooking.

The students will cook Mexican food.

Always teach kitchen appliance safety before allowing students into the kitchen. Once there, do guided instructional modeling. Then, have the students role play and practice before actually cooking.

Start with something simple like pudding. Work your way up to the more complicated as children become more accustomed to the kitchen. Post plenty of visual reminders, like always use a hot pad and never use an electrical appliance by water. These must be done in pictures.

Board-Maker Plus is an excellent program to assist teachers with this.

Cooking is one of the best practical applications there is for functional level students.

Too many functional level classes incorporate cooking lessons, but the children don't get to do much of the cooking. The staff ends up doing most of the cooking and the kids watch. This is counterproductive.

I know it takes longer. It's harder and it uses more ingredients, not to mention may mess up every dish you have, but let the students do it. Stand right beside and walk them through the process. Do hand over hand instruction as a last resort if you have to, but they will only learn by doing it themselves.

Be sure everyone participates in some way. Granted, all children have varying levels of abilities but everyone can do something from tearing lettuce, to mixing salsa or measuring out bags of chips.

However you delegate, make it a festive time. Turn on some tunes and get your groove on while children begin their journey to independence. If they are having fun, they will want to learn.

It doesn't take much to pull off some amazing cupcakes for the party. - I have yet to meet a child that did not like cupcakes. I have never met a cupcake I didn

Cuisipro Cupcake Corer and Decorating Set
Cuisipro Cupcake Corer and Decorating Set

The corer is the coolest tool. It makes for easy insertion of yummy treats inside the cupcake. It's easy to handle and students get the biggest kick out of it.

Bella Cucina 13465 Cupcake Maker
Bella Cucina 13465 Cupcake Maker

For functional level instruction in classroom settings not fortunate enough to have access to a stove, this works well.

31 Gluten Free Cake and Frosting Recipes – Delicious Gluten Free Desserts (Gluten Free Cookbook – The Gluten Free Recipes Collection 10)
31 Gluten Free Cake and Frosting Recipes – Delicious Gluten Free Desserts (Gluten Free Cookbook – The Gluten Free Recipes Collection 10)

Always make modifications for all students. Many developmentally disabled students, especially those on the autism spectrum, may be on gluten free diets.

Hello, Cupcake!: Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make
Hello, Cupcake!: Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make

This has the best ideas with super easy to follow instructions. The pictures are high quality and large. Students love to try to copy the alien cupcake.

Wilton 2105-5038 Giant Dimensions Large Cupcake PAN
Wilton 2105-5038 Giant Dimensions Large Cupcake PAN

This is great for baking a cake that looks like a cupcake. Kids go gaga for big and colorful.


2.) Throw a party.

Seriously, for learning, it works.

I know many times parties are nothing more than fun fests for students. I do not agree with such activities. Parties are full of opportunities for learning. Teachers have students but for a short span. Have fun, but make every minute count towards learning while doing it.

To throw a functional level class party, you will need to consider a few things.

* Do I need written permission from an administrator? Chances are high that you do. It's easy to get by email, as long as you attach a lesson plan.

The lesson plan should reflect...

You will be doing cooking lessons using measurement and kitchen safety skills to prepare for guests.

You will provide the food or it will come out of your budget.

The party itself will be a lesson in social skills while happening.

Activities for the party will be fun, but also of an educational nature. A scavenger hunt where students have to read a very simple map and follow picture cues is fun and constructive.

* Who is allergic to what? Who, if anyone, is on a gluten free diet?

* Send home a permission letter to parents for the deviation in school menu, beforehand. Be sure to Include a printed permission slip with signature line for you to take pictures for the class and to send home. Start this at least a week ahead of time. Your chances of getting the letter back in timely fashion will drastically increase, if you precede it with a phone call to moms.

* Where is the money coming from? Is the staff pitching in? Is there a budget? Will you be doing a fundraiser? Consider calling a few trusted parents to help out. Parents like to be involved.

* How many students will there be? Are you inviting other classes? I loved to do this. Inviting administrators works really well, too. There's nothing like seeing the principal doing the Macarena.

3) Let's go shopping.

Do a Community Based Instruction (CBI), trip to get the party supplies.

Districts have policies regarding these. They typically love to see functional level students go on them, but they require copious amounts of paperwork. Knowing this ahead of time, download or scan all the required forms if not already on your computer.

Next, fill out the first set and save it. Usually, it's the same information required over and over on multiple pages. Let copy and paste be your time saving friend. Check your district's time lines for CBI instruction. Some can take four weeks for approval, so super teachers know to always be thinking ahead on the calendar.

When taking the students on a CBI, be sure to teach every step of the way. Getting on the bus is an opportunity to discuss and do guided instructional modeling on parking lot safety.

Provide printed shopping lists that are graphically supported to each student along with a hand held calculator and a pencil.

Having them locate items and check them off teaches real world shopping skills. This can be done as large group instruction, but it is difficult. I always found it better to take smaller groups of students in rotations of no more than four students for one staff member.

The register offers other learning experiences. Students can use coupons, and compute sales tax owed. Further, they can learn valuable sorting skills such as what things to put together in bags, and which ones not to.

Upon return to school they are afforded lessons in sorting food for storage. Teach such things as putting the eggs in the refrigerator, not the freezer and so on. Functional level students require these exact type real life skills to be able to reach the highest level of independence possible.

4.) Have a parade.

Have a parade of people that is.

During the week of Cinco de Mayo, invite guest speakers to visit your class. Always get approval from administration beforehand for any guest on campus. Some districts require visitors be run through a back ground check first. If this is the case in your district, to save time get on this at the first of each school year for the guests you will want to invite for the entire year. It can take some time to complete the process.

Invite someone that grew up in Mexico, or someone who specializes in Mexican cuisine to talk about the job. Invite someone from the local Hispanic League or perhaps even have a student's family member come talk, if they have some ties to the holiday or culture. Consider inviting someone from the local pet shop that could bring an iguana.

Let your imagination explore the possibilities for communication with the adult world for your class.

5.) Plant an Aloe Vera.

Planting is always popular with children.

What could be easier than planting a small succulent? The activity lends itself to fine and gross motor skills training. It's a constructive, productive way to introduce some science about plants and weather.

Since we are still focusing on all things Cinco de Mayo here, teach the students about indigenous plants in Mexico. Let them look online for pictures and print them. Use the printed pictures for students to make posters about what they have learned. Provide good sentence stems for those who need them.

Examples of sentence stems that are good for this activity:

Mexico is known for ____________________.

Cinco de Mayo is fun because ____________.

I learned _____________ about plants today.

Plants need __________________________.

6.) Do the Macarena.

Sorry, if the song is stuck in your head now. The kids will love it.

Functional level classes can use this as a fun physical education activity or for recreational leisure. I like it because children love music, so they want to participate.

Better than that, the dance itself allows for the easy participation of wheelchair bound students because it has so many arm movements, unlike other popular children's dances, like the chicken dance.

Whenever doing any kind of dance in a functional level class, always find a way to involve wheelchair bound students. Even if they can't dance, they still love to participate, though they may not do so without prompting. Go get them from off the wall and spin them around the dance floor, too. Have volunteer and helper, higher functioning students assist with this. Everyone will be all smiles before you know it.

Sonic and friends do the Macarena!

Let the kids utilize technology to access this online. If you have a classroom TV, throw this up using an Aver Key. If you don't have these resources, check with your school librarian. They can often check them out to you. If they don't have them, collaborate to do a fund raiser! Many local businesses will donate such items if you give them a kind thank you on the school web site and perhaps a quick blurb in the school paper.

7.) V.I.P. Spotlight

Shine a light on people that are inspiring.

The idea is simple. Select famous figures from Latin American and Mexican history, pop culture, TV, sports and movies. Two or three times a day, introduce the students to a new figure. Have a large picture of the person selected, already mounted, and laminated. Make sure to include the person's name on the picture.

Each time an new VIP is introduced, place them prominently on the wall.

The next time you go to introduce a new person, start by asking who was learned about last time. This will help increase student retention. Encourage students to ask questions. Do it up like a news report or something. Make it short but fun.

At the end of the week of Cinco de Mayo, be sure to take all those pictures of your V.I.P. personalities and place them in a binder. Do this for all of your important visuals from lessons past. They are perfectly reusable. Further, students love to look at the book. Insert pictures from all of your better activities and parties.

By the end of the year, you will have a photographic record both you and the children will be proud of.

8.) Make a Pinata

Use it for the party.

The materials required are cheap. The sticky mess that is making them is always well received. They are easy to make. What could be better?

For directions on how to make a piata, see my lens on crafting for children. Basically, the short version is paper mache over balloons allowed to dry. Then, the balloon is covered in glued on colored tissue paper.

For the price of some balloons, ribbon, paper and flour, this project can't be beat.

The activity lends itself to teamwork, following directions in sequence and fine motor skills practical applications.

9.) Make place mats and name cards for party guests.

Use the Mexican flag theme.

This is so easy. For place mats, have students cut construction paper into two inch wide strips. Of course, paper should be the colors of the Mexican flag.

Then, simply have students do a simple weave pattern with the strips creating a square. When it is the desired size, simply trim to a straight edge all the way around and paint over with glue.

Be sure to use glue that dries transparently.

For long lasting place mats, laminate the mat after the glue dries.

Use your imagination, and more importantly, let them use theirs. Everyone will be learning while creating the perfectly coordinated table accessories for the party.

10.) Have the students write a letter, as a group, to Mexico.

If you're hesistant to do international mail, consider a local mexican eatery or any business you can tie in.

Functional level students will need assistance with this. A super teacher could use sentence stems to facilitate this learning experience, but I propose a different tool. Let technology assist. Give the group a digital tape recorder to record all of their thoughts. After a few discussions, led by the teacher implementing Socratic questioning, the students will have more than enough to compose a simple letter.

If all students are non writers, have a volunteer student who is higher functioning do the writing, but he has to follow what they say. Obviously, functional teachers know we may have to lead students to certain conclusions at times. However, given enough time and supportive prompting, their conclusions are sometimes way beyond what we expected.

Give them the chance to impress you.

All acrostic art, word art and dividers were American made by Vix at cooltext.

Please, do not copy in whole or part.

I would love to hear what you think.

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    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 

      4 years ago from GRENADA

      Excellent, comprehensive and varied ideas, poetvix!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Wonderful ideas. Thank you for publishing this lens. I hope many see it.

    • Rhonda Lytle profile imageAUTHOR

      Rhonda Lytle 

      5 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      @BarbsSpot: BarbSpot - Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I always found in all my functional level classes, hands on is to the only way to go. Learning and retention go up, behavior and classroom management issues go down so it's a win win for me. God bless you and happy squidding!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      @Lensmaster...Some great creative ideas for classroom functionality! Our kids many timse will respond to such stimuli as this -- so it's all good!

    • Rhonda Lytle profile imageAUTHOR

      Rhonda Lytle 

      5 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      @PinkstonePictures: Go for it! :)

    • PinkstonePictures profile image


      5 years ago from Miami Beach, FL

      I want to make a Pinata

    • Rhonda Lytle profile imageAUTHOR

      Rhonda Lytle 

      5 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      @Fran Tollett: Thank you so much. I'm new to Squidoo, but this was as much fun to write as it is to do. Have a most awesome weekend.

    • Fran Tollett profile image

      Fran Tollett 

      5 years ago

      You are an awesome teacher who is very involved in the success of her students! Thanks for doing a great job with the kids and this lens. It would be wonderful if there were more teachers like you <3


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