Folk Art, Upper Elementary

Papel Picado

This fall, I’m at Lincoln Elementary School in Warren as a half-time student teaching intern. For the first lesson I designed and taught there, I shared the Mexican folk art of papel picado (lit., “cut paper”) with the students. A second grader had given my mentor teacher something that looked like an attempt to emulate the overall look of papel picado, and given the craft’s association with Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead,” a celebration of ancestors around November 1st), I figured the timing was perfect.

After an introduction to the holiday and the craft, and a brief Math Class Moment as we talked about symmetry, students created their own papel picado designs.

Students hard at work creating their designs. I used the document reader to do a demonstration in real time that all students could see despite the small materials.


The first class that did this was a 4th/5th split. Their work was hung up in the hallway and served as excellent examples and motivators for the other classes.

When are we gonna make those?

Below are some examples I made for the lesson’s introduction.

As Dia de los Muertos spreads out from the Mexican and Latin community, more and more people will see papel picado. This year, the Detroit Institute of Arts even has an exhibit for the holiday featuring ofrendas, altars honoring the deceased. While doing this lesson I was a bit surprised to learn that so many of the young students thought Halloween had something to do with the devil instead of being more closely related, originally at least, to holidays all over the world like the Mexican Day of the Dead, or Obon in Japan, which celebrate the lives of lost loved ones. I would like to do this project again with older students, and with more time, so that we can really dig into the meaning of these types of festivals.