Lesson Plan: A Cultural Tour of Mexico

By Cari Jackson 04.25.2017 blog

Mariachi is Mexico’s most famous form of traditional music. Channel One News provides a brief history of the genre and visits teens at Benito Juarez High School in Chicago who are earning academic credits — and cash — for learning the art of mariachi.


Students will:

  • discover the origins and development of mariachi
  • encounter American teens who are learning to perform mariachi music
  • explore several other cultural traditions from areas around Mexico

Opening Activity

OAXACA MEXICO - NOV 02 : Mariachis perform during the carnival of the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca Mexico on November 02 2015. The Day of the Dead is one of the most popular holidays in Mexico

  • Turn and talk: Students turn and talk to a partner and try to identify what is happening in the photo.
  • Introductory questions: Has anyone in class heard mariachi bands perform? How would you describe the music and performers?

Words in the News

Introduce these vocabulary words and key terms to students before viewing the video.

lyrics (noun): The words of a song.
Heard on the Air: “And when it comes to mariachi, the lyrics are just as important as the sound.”

heritage (noun): Something that is handed down from the past, as a tradition.
Heard on the Air: “Mariachi is also a way to reconnect with their heritage.

Watch “Young People Keep Mariachi Alive”

Original Air Date: September 15, 2016

Check for Understanding

  • Why does Michael call mariachi “a melting pot of music”? (Mariachi pulls from many different musical backgrounds and uses a variety of instruments, including European violins, German brass instruments and Spanish guitars.)
  • What have the students at Benito Juarez High School gained from learning the art of mariachi? (Students learn to play music, receive class credits, learn about Mexican culture, reconnect with their heritage and even make some money.)


Use these discussion prompts for whole-class, think-pair-share or small group discussions.

  • What are some elements of mariachi?
  • What might mariachi mean to Mexican-Americans?

Slideshow “A Cultural Tour of Mexico”

Image Credit: Mariachi: kobby_dagan/Bigstock

Mariachi originated in the western Mexican state of Jalisco (highlighted in the map) at least 200 years ago. Now this musical genre — which combines elements of polkas and waltzes with Mexican folk styles — is popular throughout the whole country. And for many Mexican-Americans, mariachi is a way to connect with their heritage. Here’s a look at some other thriving cultural traditions throughout Mexico.

Image Credit: kobby_dagan/Bigstock

Every year on November 1 and 2, Mexicans honor deceased family members with special foods, graveside parties, parades, carnivals and even skull-shaped candy. Rooted in ancient Aztec traditions, the Day of the Dead is a national holiday celebrated throughout Mexico. The most elaborate — and probably the most famous — celebrations take place in Oaxaca, in southwestern Mexico.

Image Credit: morganstudios/Bigstock

Nothing is more exciting than fight night at Arena Mexico in Mexico City — the world’s largest wrestling stadium. Wrestler Enrique Ugartechea developed Mexico’s version of professional wrestling in 1863. Today lucha libre is the country’s most popular sport after soccer. Masked fighters called luchadores dress as heroes or villains and perform high-flying moves. Some become folk heroes, starring in comic books and movies.

Image Credit: BILLPERRY/Bigstock

Legend has it that the Virgin Mary visited a peasant named Juan Diego in December 1531, asking him to build her a church in Mexico City. Today Mexicans from across the country visit the Basilica of Guadalupe on December 12 — the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Mexican children wear traditional costumes to be blessed during this religious festival.

Image Credit: kobby-dagan/Bigstock

Outside Mexico Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken for Mexico’s independence day. But the day’s festivities — which include parades, food and folk music — actually commemorate the Mexican Army’s surprise victory over bigger and better-equipped invading French forces in the 1862 Battle of Puebla in east-central Mexico. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has become a celebration of Mexican culture in general.

Image Credit: kobby-dagan/Bigstock

Banda is a brass-based form of Mexican traditional music established in the 1880s in the state of Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico. Like mariachi, banda incorporates elements of polka music and is most famous for traditional folk songs called rancheras. Along with rancheras and other traditional genres, bandas also play modern Mexican pop, rock and cumbias.

Image Credit: Mkm3/Bigstock

Son Jarocho is regional folk music from Veracruz. (“Son” is a category of folk music; “jarochos” are people from Veracruz.) It’s been evolving for at least 250 years. Bands play a variety of guitars along with the quijada — made from a donkey’s jawbone! — and the guiro. Every year in early February, Veracruz hosts the rollicking, three-day Son Jarocho Music Festival.

Check for Understanding

  • What do mariachi and banda have in common? (They both incorporate elements of polka music, both originated in western Mexico, both include Mexican folk music, both include brass instruments such as trumpets.)
  • Based on the slideshow, what can you infer about the importance of music in Mexican culture? (Four of the seven Mexican traditions featured in the slideshow include music and musical events; this indicates that music is a very important part of Mexican tradition).
  • Which Mexican tradition are you most likely to see while visiting southwestern Mexico? How about in Mexico City? (Elaborate Day of the Dead celebrations in the southwestern Mexcio; Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe festival and lucha libre wrestling in Mexico City)


Narrative Writing Prompt

Imagine you’re in the audience at a mariachi performance. You might be at a formal concert, a restaurant or a street fair. Write a blog post telling about the experience. Describe what you hear and see and what you enjoyed the most.

Media Literacy

Have students compare the Channel One News coverage of mariachi with this interview with an all-female mariachi band, “How an All-Woman Mariachi Band Is Owning the Genre” (NOTE: external link), published on nbcnews.com on May 23, 2016.

  • Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast these two different forms of media. Pay attention to the types of information provided in each source, the point of view each source presents on the topic of mariachi, the purpose of each piece and the techniques used to convey information.

Closing Activity

Ask students the following question and have them share their thoughts on an exit ticket:

  • Which Mexican tradition would you most like to observe and/or participate in? Why?

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