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South American CulturesSouth-American-Cultures

  • Subject: Geography
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. People in South American cultures celebrate many festivals.
2. Some of the festivals are similar across national boundaries, but some are unique to one country or people.


For this lesson, you will need:
Chalkboard, overhead transparency setup, or computer and computer projection device
For older students, access to printed reference sources about festivals


1. To demonstrate the importance of festivals not only in South American cultures but in all cultures, announce that everyone in the class will have a chance to conduct, contribute to, and write up a cross-cultural survey of festivals celebrated by people in the class, the school, or the larger community. (You may need to include the whole school or the larger community if your class is culturally homogeneous.) Begin by eliciting from students the reasons that any cultural festivals exist. What purposes do cultural festivals serve? Here are a few purposes:
  • To give thanks to supernatural or mortal beings (e.g., Thanksgiving, harvest festivals)
  • To ask for help or good fortune from supernatural or mortal beings (planting festivals, fund-raising bashes)
  • To celebrate "the best" in a category (e.g., film festivals and jazz festivals)
  • To celebrate personal milestones or life-cycle events (birthdays, rites of passage)
  • To keep traditions alive out of respect for ancestors and future generations (festivals built around religious holidays)
2. Using the preceding list, other lessons you have conducted, and the personal experience of class (or school or community) members as background, students should (a) list on a chart the names of specific South American festivals and (b) for each festival, fill in chart columns that have the following column heads (and other heads that you may add):
  • Purpose of the festival
  • Main event(s) of the festival
  • Guests or positions of honor at the festival
  • Music and dance associated with the festival
  • Colors associated with the festival
  • Foods associated with the festival
  • Offerings or sacrifices associated with the festival
  • Time of year of the festival; length of the festival
3. Now, based on the ethnic makeup of your class, school, or larger community, add to the chart the names of festivals of other nationalities and religions. For each festival, invite the students in your class to volunteer the information to fill in the columns, or guide your students in creating an oral or written survey of people in the school or community who can provide the information for the columns.
4. Whenever possible, ask students to bring to class artifacts or symbols used in the cultural festivals—for example, special clothing, food samples, and ritual objects.
5. Once the survey is complete, lead the class through the writing process to produce a communal essay comparing and contrasting South American festivals and festivals from other parts of the world. Begin by listing prewriting thoughts that occur to students as they review the raw data.
6. Then group the prewriting notes into two categories: (1) ways in which festivals from other cultural groups are like South American festivals; (2) ways in which festivals from other cultural groups are different from South American festivals.
7. Ask for volunteers to compose the essay orally—sentence by sentence—as you take their dictation and write on the board, an overhead transparency, or a computer connected to a visual-projection device. Coach students to generate a thesis statement and topic sentences as necessary.
8. On the following day, return to the communal first draft by asking students to make revising, editing, and proofreading corrections or changes.
9. Ask for suggestions on where to publish the final essay about festivals—perhaps in the school paper, on the class or school Web site, or in some other format so that students' friends and parents can read it.

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Instead of guiding the class through the research phase and the writing process for a compare-contrast essay on cultural festivals, tell students to organize themselves into small groups and to figure out for themselves how to conduct surveys, where to find reliable printed information about cultural festivals, and how to produce group essays by writing, revising, editing, and proofreading collaboratively.

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Discussion Questions

1. Think of a traditional celebration in which you have participated. Compare and contrast this celebration to the Cuasimodo procession. Consider the following:
  • How the traditions of the celebrations passed from one generation to the next
  • What symbolic meanings do the food, costumes and decorations have in the celebrations?
  • What is the meaning behind the activities and events that take place during the celebration?
2. Today, it is probably no longer necessary for a procession of "huasos" to protect the priests from bandits during the Cuasimodo procession. Why do you think that the Chileans in the video have chosen to continue to train their sons and grandsons to serve as protectors in the procession?
3. Think of a parade or procession that you have witnessed. Compare and contrast this event with the Semana Santa procession you observed in the video. Include the following considerations:
  • What is the purpose of the parade or procession?
  • What preparations took place for the event?
  • What were the main attractions of the parade or procession?
  • What was the attitude of the crowd observing the parade or procession?
4. In the video we learn that the Peruvian town most famous for its Holy Week celebration is Ayacucho, an Andean agricultural town. Based on the video, describe your impression of life in this small town. Why is this celebration not held in a major metropolitan center?
5. Imagine that you are a member of a city council in a city where the Fiesta of San Juan is observed with dangerous games such as those you saw in the video. The council is discussing the possibility of making these dangerous games illegal. Are you in favor of making the activities illegal? Debate the issue with your classmates.
6. You observed many people walking across hot coals without seeming to suffer. Can you think of some other similar activities that you have observed or learned about which defy logical explanation? In your opinion, what are some possible explanations for these events?
7. Bio-Bumba is a combination of a sporting event, a fiercely competitive talent show, folkloric presentation, and a huge party. Form a group with some of your classmates and brainstorm to make a list of as many events that you have attended that have some similarities to this festival. Compare these events to Bio-Bumba in terms of the preparation, the activities, the attitude of the fans, etc. What are some characteristics that are unique to Bio-Bumba?
8. Do you ever become emotionally involved as a spectator of a competition? Describe your feelings when the person or team you are rooting for wins. And when they lose? It seems that throughout the world, wherever there is competition, there are very serious fans who treat the outcome of the competition as if they themselves had won or lost. Why do you believe that the emotional attachment of the spectators is a common characteristic of so many different cultures?

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Evaluate individual students on their contributions to the communal essay:
Three points: constructive prewriting thoughts that focus on the topic of the essay; thesis statement that clearly states the essay's main idea; a topic sentence that clearly states the main idea of each paragraph; thorough revising, editing, and proofreading
Two points: moderately useful prewriting thoughts; moderately clear thesis statement and topic sentences; incomplete revising, editing, and proofreading
One point: unfocused prewriting thoughts; unclear thesis statement and topic sentences; incomplete revising, editing, and proofreading

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Journal of Tradition
Ask each student to identify and interview someone he or she knows—ideally, but not necessarily, a South American—who has participated in one of his or her traditional or religious observances or celebrations for several years. Then the students should present the results of their interviews to the class. Encourage them to ask the following questions of their interviewees:
  1. How did you learn about this observance?
  2. Did you have to go through any special training?
  3. What are the most important symbols, costumes, food, and so on associated with the observance?
  4. What is being done to pass the tradition on to younger generations?
  5. Has the event changed over the years? If so, how?
  6. What does the event mean to you?

Leap of Faith
Some religions include a test of faith, in which the believer undergoes a difficult, sometimes dangerous, task to prove his or her faith. Ask students to identify a faith in which believers at one time participated or even now participate in such tests. Tell students they should report on the following:
  • The general background of the faith and its main beliefs
  • A description of the activity that tests or tested the faith of the believer


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Suggested Readings

Martin Hintz, Children's Press, 1993
The Indian legend of how Chile was formed indicates the interesting way that Chile's history and social customs are covered in this "Enchantment of the World" series.

"Searching for Easter in Peru: Class, Culture, and Evangelization"
Curt Cadorette, Cross Currents, Summer 1996
This article offers a close look at the Holy Week celebrations of two Peruvian cultural groups, both of which reflect distinct cultural interpretations apart from traditional Christian practice.

"Peru Begins Again"
John McCarry, National Geographic, May 1996
This feature article presents a geographic profile of Peru, with explanations of its status as a developing country and its social life and customs.

"Enduring Echoes of Peru's Past"
Michael E. Long, National Geographic, June 1990
Peruvian Native Americans maintain pre-Christian religious customs and beliefs, which are profiled in-depth in this feature article.

Marion Morrison, Children's Press, 1993
This "Enchantment of the World" series' beautifully illustrated section on Paraguay's art and cultures balances nicely against the sections on its history and geography.

Why is This Country Dancing?: One-man Samba to the Beat of Brazil
John Krich, Simon & Schuster, 1993
This critical study of Brazil's popular culture offers an excellent view of Brazilian social life and customs, with a special emphasis upon its music and festivals.

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The Latin American Mercado: Who Made This?
The marketplace has held a very important postion in the lives of Latin Americans throughout history. It is here that they came to socialize, learn the latest tidbits of their area, and the basic foundation of their economy.

Part of the Geopedia Online group, and contains information that would help any student prepare a report on the country.

Rainforest Facts
Detailed explanation of what the rainforest is, how its products help humanity, and how it is in danger of extinction.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    Cuasimodo
Definition: A religious procession that takes place the Sunday after Easter in Chile.
Context: Cuasimodo is a religious procession that takes place the Sunday after Easter.

speaker    Communion
Definition: The sacrament of the Eucharist received by a congregation.
Context: The local priest is escorted and protected by thousands of people, who follow him as he delivers Holy Communion to the sick and injured who cannot make it to church.

speaker    huasos
Definition: Escorts to a priest during the ceremony of Cuasimodo originally intended as guards to protect the priest from bandits.
Context: The priest was escorted by these "huasos."

speaker    motif
Definition: A recurrent thematic element in an artistic work.
Context: On this area they're going to design some religious motifs.

speaker    resurrection
Definition: The act of rising from the dead or returning to life.
Context: What's about to come through those gates right there is the culmination of all the religious festivities this weekend. It's the throne of the resurrection.

speaker    mestizo
Definition: A person of mixed racial ancestry, especially of mixed European and Native American ancestry.
Context: Today most Paraguayans are mestizo, a mixture of the Guarani and the Spanish who came here in the 1500s.

speaker    purity
Definition: Freedom from sin or guilt; innocence.
Context: By boldly facing these fiery elements, Paraguayans hope to showcase their strong faith in St. John the Baptist and prove their purity and courage.

speaker    steeped
Definition: Infused or thoroughly saturated with.
Context: The Amazon is steeped in folklore, and every June, at the end of the flooding season, the Bumbodramo explodes as jungle stories come to life.

speaker    witch doctor
Definition: A healer, sorcerer, or prophet; not in scientific use.
Context: The farmer wanted revenge, and in order to save his own life, Francisco found a Paje, or witch doctor, to resurrect the farmer's bull.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: foreign language
Demonstrates knowledge and understanding of traditional ideas and perspectives, institutions, professions, literary and artistic expressions, and other components of target culture.
Knows cultural traditions and celebrations that exist in the target culture and how these traditions and celebrations compare with those of the native culture (e.g., holidays, birthdays, ?coming of age' celebrations, seasonal festivals, religious ceremonies, recreational gatherings).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands the physical and human characteristics of place.
Knows the human characteristics of places (e.g., cultural characteristics such as religion, language, politics, technology, family structure, gender; population characteristics; land uses; levels of development).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions.
Knows the ways in which culture influences the perception of places and regions (e.g., religion and other belief systems, language, and tradition; perceptions of ?beautiful' or ?valuable').

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: behavioral studies
Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior.
Understands that each culture has distinctive patterns of behavior that are usually practiced by most of the people who grow up in it.

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Emily Perez, former Spanish teacher, Mt. Vernon High School, Alexandria, Virginia.

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