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How Other Teachers Study The Cemetery

About ten years ago I started taking my high school American Literature class to the local cemetery just down the road from our school. We would be studying the turn of the century poetry of the Modern Poets, and I planned a trip where we could read the poetry of Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. This too was first met by strange reactions. I send home letters of permission and explanation. We have one or two days of preparatory classes in cemetery etiquett (where to walk and sit) and expectations of the entire unit (reading the dramatic dialogues and writing a fictious epitaph poem and even making a sketch or rubbing of selected tombstones.

Students or their parents who say no are given the text reading assignment in the library. Most of my students go because I stress that we are respecting the dignity and beauty of the cemetery as we learn what other poets have said about living and dying.

My students have been very good about following the rules and enjoying this field trip lesson. Because we are a small rural town and local high school (Palisade High in Palisade, Colorado) most of the kids know people and have family buried there. We read respectfully and talk respectfully about the epitaphs and share stories about the known grave yard residents.

They have to come back to the classroom and produce a fictious epitaph about one of the tombstones or about any celebrity--living or dead. We share them outloud and appreciate each one's effort. Then we read and study Thorton WIlder's OUR TOWN, and the kids comment about how now Act 3 really effects them.

I don't take them every year, due to our changing curriculum. usually every spring. But this last spring, just as we had our trip planned and permission slips back, a parent of one of our popular seniors died and it affected our entire community. We didn't go, but the students asked if we went again this spring to let them go then.

So I too feel that a cemetery field trip is quite educational as well as fun.
Brenda Evers

I used to take my Nebr. history students to the cemetary too. We would do grave stone rubbings. THe trip started questions discussions about dying, funerals, etc. So then I started having the local mortician come in to talk about his job. He gave us some films, about why all living things die, funerals, mortuaries, cemetaries, and the last one is based on the book- A Taste of Blackberries- where a young boy's friend dies. This all made a scary subject a lot less scary. Of course I had parent permission and the parents were allowed to preview the films. The films didn't include any religion in them and were appropriate for grades 3rd through 12th. Many parents had bad memories of funerals when they were kids and thought the films would help their kids avoid this. I teach elem. reading in another school so I no longer do the Death and Dying unit.
Sue Helms

I bring my Spanish III students to the cemetery for one class period as close to November 1st as possible, since this is "Día de los muertos" ("Day of the Dead"). Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated in many hispanic nations, with Mexico celebrating this holiday to the greatest extent. In Mexico, it is common for families to set up altars in their home with deceased family members' photos and favorite foods, children play with skeleton toys and eat skeleton candies, and many Mexican families spend a large part of the day in the cemetery, cleaning family members' graves, placing flowers and having a picnic. Although my students do not have a picnic in the cemetery, they place flowers, pick up any garbage and write information from 3 gravestones so they can write 3 paragraphs in Spanish.

Wendy Martin


I do a unit for elementary level Spanish dealing with the Mexican holiday. My young students are very intrigued with the picnics with the spirits in the cemeteries and the other traditional cultural differences - the Mexicans have a very different slant on death. Lots of good websites, too.

Jane Smith

Hi! I teach a multi-age class of 3rd and 4th graders. I have taken my class to the cemetery for about 15 years, so I feel as if I know you. It was so interesting to read the things that your classes do, since many of them are so similar to ours, but on a lower academic level. After the holiday season I'd love to share some of my cemetery trip ideas and experiences. We (my teaching partner and I) used to go in the spring, but the weather is so unpredictable then that we started going in October. Also, by doing that, we can refer to the trip often as we try to integrate our curriculum as much as possible. I'm so glad you shared.

Wanda Luedecke Corsicana, Texas

I enjoyed your cemetery site. I got a lot of new ideas to try. My third graders go to our city's cemetery each year when we study our city's history. We are paired with the high school Civic's class. Here are two pictures from our trip last May. Our Trip to the Cemetery

Julie Garrison, third grade teacher, Jackson, M

Great website!!!! I do a short lesson on quarries in my tech ed class. Part of that lesson I mention the stones in cemeteries. We discuss native stone Vs imported. A field trip to a cemetery. How wonderful!!!

Ellen McCormack Tech Ed teacher Brockton, MA

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