There probably isn’t a youngster who is not looking forward to Halloween.
And most adults want to join in the fun too! Halloween is a great holiday to celebrate in the ESL classroom, as well as one of the best times to let loose and unleash all of your potential for creativity. Give your students some spooky fun with these great activities.
What’s your story Jack?
Your goal as an ESL teacher is probably to take advantage of the celebration of Halloween to provide your students with some cultural background into this holiday that is increasingly celebrated in other parts of the world these days, and not just in the US. One of the activities that is central to the celebration of Halloween is the popular custom of pumpkin carving.
- A brief history – No matter what your students’ level is it’s recommended that you give them a little bit of background on this tradition that some may not understand. This Wikipedia entry offers useful information on the history and tradition of the Jack o’Lantern that you can adapt and adjust to your students’ level.
- Pumpkin carving - No Halloween lesson is complete without your very own Jack o’Lantern. Whether you choose to carve the pumpkin in class with older students (make sure you do the carving no matter how old your students are), or bring one you've carved at home, this worksheet is a wonderful collection of templates you can choose from. If you prefer to do the carving at home, you may at least give your students the chance to vote on their favorite template. They'll be amazed to see how it looks on a real pumpkin!
There are lots of great scary stories you can read with your students, but by far the best are Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales of horror. The Fall of the House of Usher and The Tell-Tale Heart are stories that have chilled numerous generations to the bone. Here are some suggestions for a lesson plan for The Black Cat, probably the most appropriate choice for Halloween, and it's also one of the shorter stories. There are several options to choose from, depending on your students’ level and the time you have for this activity.
- Here you’ll find a fantastic printable copy of the story; the online version has some of the most unusual words underlined and provides synonyms that aid student comprehension. It's also available in PDF file.
- First, give your students a brief intro to Edgar Allan Poe, for instance, when and where he lived, and when he wrote the story. Ask your students what makes a story scary.
- This is a great story to read out loud to the class; you can even set the mood with a Jack o' Lantern. You can either read it yourself while your students follow the text, or have them take turns reading, but it’ll probably be easier for you to convey the right mood, plus the reading won’t take as long.
- You can read it on one sitting, or in parts, that’s entirely up to you. Just make sure you: 1) warm up; 2) introduce new vocabulary; 3) give your students post reading comprehension questions; the level of difficulty in the questions depends on your students’ level.
Halloween is perfect for writing tasks! Young students love scary stories, and most will be easily inspired to create their own. Try any of these Halloween writing activities to turn your ESL learners into masters of horror.
- Pumpkin writing:
This fantastic worksheet provides different types of writing tasks for elementary students, some of which involve writing a story about the last pumpkin left in the patch from a pumpkin's point of view, and instructions on how to make a Jack o’ Lantern. Students write in the pumpkin templates, and you display their work on a wall or bulletin board.
- Prompted writing:
Give your students a writing prompt like: “I was trick or treating with my friends, and we lost track of time. It was a dark and foggy night, and we never noticed we were wandering too far. Suddenly, we realized we were lost. There was a dark, creepy abandoned house on the corner. As we tried to figure out which way to go, the door slowly creaked open. We were very curious to see more, so we went up the front steps, and we looked inside. We saw...” Ask them to complete the story (you may choose to give them a minimum of 300-500 words, or ask them to complete a full page).
- Trick-Or-Treat Goblin
This activity actually combines crafts and writing for a complete Halloween lesson. First, each of your students makes his or her own Halloween goblin. Then ask them to write a story in which the goblin is the main character. The story can be funny or scary, but it must be told from the goblin’s point of view.
- Movie review:
Ask your adult learners to write a review of a horror movie they have recently seen, or one of their favorites, perhaps a classic like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. They should include main characters, plot, and their opinion of the film.
Halloween is filled with opportunities to enjoy scary things. Movies can aid the learning process and help students to visually understand concepts. It is also thought that watching life-threatening situations can help people prepare for real-life dangers. Here are some ideas for using movies.
Movie fun for kids: There are many favorite kid-friendly Halloween movies to enjoy. These include Hocus Pocus, Gnome Alone, A Baby Sitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting, Monster House and The Addams Family. Ask your younger students to do some research to find out more about their favorite movie. Provide them with a few guiding questions to reflect on and answer so they can share with the class. For example: Why they enjoy it. What did they learn from it? Describe their favorite character and explain why. To make it more challenging, ask them to ‘sell’ the movie to the class. The class can vote on which movie they would watch based on the review. You can give a Halloween treat to the review that gets the most votes.
- Spiders on a Web and Bats:
Pass out some black construction paper and white crayons, and tell your students they’ll be drawing some creepy crawlers by tracing their fingers. Or you could have them trace their fingers to draw bats. See the worksheet for the procedure and great display suggestions.
Give them chills with Thriller!
Who was not spooked when Michael Jackson’s famous Thriller video came out? Although it takes a lot more to spook children these days, this video is an all-time classic for Halloween. This lesson plan is perfect for getting teens more motivated, or for adult learners, with whom you can discuss all things supernatural. First, warm up by reviewing everything they know about werewolves or other supernatural beings. Then, have them watch the video once and ask them to give you a brief summary. Finally hand out the worksheet and complete the tasks with audio only.
National Frankenstein Friday is celebrated by some on the last Friday in October and makes a great prequel for Halloween. Different from Frankenstein Day on August 30 which marks the birthday of Mary Shelly, author of the famous horror story Frankenstein, it’s a noteworthy occasion. The novel is thought to be the greatest horror ever written and its imaginative concept went on to inspire many writers, filmmakers, artists, and producers. The main character Dr. Frankenstein, a scientist, creates one of the best-known monsters of all time, however, things did not turn out quite as he'd planned. You can use the book as part of the Riveting reading activities.
For more great Halloween activities, lesson plans and worksheets, feel free to check out our Halloween section. And have some good, old-fashioned spine-chilling fun!
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