Alebrijes and Mardi Gras

Alebrijes and Mardi Gras
Danny Stock

Reports from LMS World Language Learning


By MS instructional coach Jana Rupp and LMS Spanish teacher Colleen Wealton-Mailander

Alebrijes are colorful sculptures with a mix of animal parts that inspire wonder and imagination. After having vivid dreams, Oaxacan artist Pedro Linares created the first alebrijes and took them to his hometown where Manuel Jimenez Ramirez and many other artists began to create the sculptures out of wood. On Monday, February 6, students in Colleen’s sixth-grade Spanish class explored her personal collection of colorful alebrijes. We worked together in planning the lesson and gallery walk. Both of us have lived in Mexico and shared our love of Mexican culture and the Spanish language with the 6th grade classes.

Using Harvard’s Project Zero thinking routine See, Think, Wonder (Veo, Pienso, y Me pregunto), the students used their prior knowledge, Spanish communication skills, and a healthy dose of imagination to describe the colorful figures. Their enthusiasm was palpable as they asked how to say different words so they could describe what they saw. The students also shared what actions they imagined the alebrijes might do. During subsequent lessons, students designed their own alebrijes and created a video to show and describe their creations. In the videos, students named their alebrije, described the combination of animals that make it up and what their bodies look like in terms of color and size. Students then talked about the powers they gave their alebrije and mentioned at least one form of protection. Many students chose their alebrije video as an artifact to demonstrate their growth in the communication of Spanish for their student-led portfolio conferences. 

Following the project our students were proud of their work. Here’s what they had to say:

Charlie ’29: I think the project with alebrijes was worth doing because it helped us think about symbolic objects that people have in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. As a spirit-guiding animal, an alebrije can help us understand what is valuable to another person. I didn't want to make something that other people were doing for my alebrije. Then I thought of how rhinos are strong and smart. I combined it with a butterfly and tried to make use of different patterns. 

Cassidy ’29: My alebrije is a mix between a butterfly and a fox—a mariorro [an invented word from mariposa (butterfly) and zorro (fox). I feel like foxes are noble animals and it felt regal with the magical elements from the butterfly. A typical trait of an alebrije is that it can fly. Also, I’ve always been story-oriented and loved the idea of dream guides. Personally, butterflies would guide me, especially through challenges. Finally, my sister [Amelia ’24] is one of the most important people to me and the fox has always represented her [to me]. My alebrije makes me think of her.

Naomi ’29: Designing alebrijes is an opportunity to make a creation from your own mind and put that on the page. That process is really what guides you and is important to the experience. I’m a bit of a stickler for my two cats, Artie and Apollo, who I got on the first day of school this year. I see them as mystical creatures, and I was able to incorporate these thoughts into my alebrije. I based my alebrije on them. It’s a gatopacornio (cat and potato-shaped unicorn) with a cat face, a single horn, and a tail plus wings. 

Mardi Gras

At the end of February, 3rd graders in Aicha Kacem’s French class learned about Mardi Gras traditions in New Orleans and Nice, France. They decorated mini masquerade masques and learned about parades. They cut up a traditional king cake, and the student who found the baby in their slice wore a crown for the rest of the period. They sang “Bonjour,” a greeting song and grinned as big as a parade float. And when looking back at the good times they’ve spent learning language and culture recently, it’s clear they’ve been letting them roll.

Alebrijes and Mardi Gras
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  • Middle School