Halloween is my favorite holiday for inspirational lesson planning. Between my days as an English instructor in Japan, time spent volunteering in Peru, and my experiences teaching in New York City, I can’t think of another time of year when young people are free to be creative in light-spirited or horror-themed ways.
Since Halloween is fast approaching and I won’t be in a classroom to share lessons with youngsters, I figured I’d brainstorm some ways that I’ve injected Halloween themed activities into my curriculum. I’ll also try to come up with some new ideas for next year since I’ll likely be back in the classroom. These activities also work well at children’s Halloween parties. They are better than the mummy wrapping toilet-paper game which is a complete waste of paper.
Create a song and dance with Halloween vocabulary
When I taught English for Peppy Kid’s Club in Japan we taught a Halloween curriculum throughout the whole month of October. We taught the students a rhyming Halloween song and a dance to go with it. It was a hit. So when I started teaching ESL in the Bronx, I adapted the lesson and differentiated it to add an artistic component.
I gave the students lyrics to the song. First we practiced the song. Then I broke them into groups. Each group received a stanza of the Halloween song. Using stencils and shapes, each group wrote a section of the song on chart or poster paper. They decorated their section with Halloween themed objects like bats and pumpkins. Some students cut pictures from magazines to represent costumes and items for trick or treating. When we formed back into a full class, each group displayed their project in a gallery walk and sang their section of the song.
Create scary Halloween stories in small groups
For this creative writing activity the class can break into smaller groups and sit in circles. The teacher will provide a prompt to start the story. Each member of the group will take turns and add one sentence to the scary story. The story will progress with each member of the group coming up with an additional line. There should be one student recording the story. After each member of the group adds at least one line, the class will return to a whole class setting, and one member of each group will read how their story unfolded. For the next prompt the teacher can either make new groups or keep the same groups.
Design your dream costume
This can be an individual or small group project. The teacher will tell the students to think of their dream costume and draw or explain it. Students will list items they’ll need to create the costume and then turn this list into a narrative including where they will get the items and how they will construct it. The teacher will encourage students to think of detailed costumes and use scientific concepts and not just describe typical outfits. The students will also draw the costume and can create a story depicting people’s reactions when they wore it to a party.
Math word problems
The teacher will create some math word problems using whichever concepts the students have learned or are currently studying. This can vary depending on the grade levels and type of math being learned. The word problems should have a Halloween theme but not just be about multiplying how many rows of cookies are on a sheet or percentage of candy given from a bag. They should include the negative side of Halloween like word problems about how thousands of candy wrappers get littered on the floor to be cleaned up by street cleaners or the amount of calories consumed if you overeat unhealthy treats. Then the students can work on creating word problems on their own or in small groups.
Halloween around the world
Halloween is spreading rapidly around the world due to exposure from movies and television shows. Now countries that never celebrated the holiday are infusing customs into their own societies. In addition different countries that do celebrate Halloween have various traditions. The teacher can start with an activity by writing certain customs on strips of papers and students can guess where these customs take place. Students can use the internet to explore different customs of Halloween around the world and create a project.
Halloween in popular culture
Many popular books, movies, songs, and televisions shows refer to Halloween. Personally I’ll never forget when the Karate Kid dressed up like a shower and the bullies dressed as skeletons chasing him. Students can brainstorm different examples of pop culture that reference Halloween. Then they can describe different parts of these entertaining stories or imagine alternate endings. Students can write a letter to one of the characters in these stories.
Describe the Halloween objects
This activity was always popular with my young students. Collect Halloween themed objects: ping-pong ball shaped eyeballs, miniature pumpkins, rubber bats, skeletons, furry toy spiders, snakes, witches, and brooms. Many of these items can be found at dollar stores or craft shops leading up to Halloween (or you can wait until after Halloween to buy them on discount for future Halloween lessons). Put these items in a bag and have students reach in and feel an object without looking. They have to describe the object and try to guess what it is.
Notes on these activities
My expertise is in teaching EFL, English as a Foreign Language, to non-native English speakers in countries like Japan, Peru, and Ecuador. I also have extensive experience teaching ESL, which stands for English as a Second Language and also centers on non-native English speakers. Therefore many of my activities have been generated from these fields. In many cases students from other countries have little exposure to the customs of Halloween. In addition, most of these activities have been developed for young students aged 5 to 12 years old.
However, many of these ideas can be extended to other content areas and age groups using differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction is the concept of improvising and adapting your lessons for teaching in a different subject area, for students at a different age or grade level, or for students with specific learning needs. This strategy is imperative for success in the classroom. Teachers who differentiate their instruction create lessons that are accessible to a wider array of students and their abilities. You won’t alienate students through content. Instead you invite them to engage with the topic at their readiness. Feel free to ask questions. Melissa and I are here to clarify.
Also, since these lessons are Halloween based I need to sound off on some schools or districts that do not allow teachers to infuse their lessons with themes on this holiday. Some schools frown upon or straight up ban the use of Halloween as a thematic topic. The reasoning usually involves not wanting to offend religious parents or communities. If the school is privately funded then I understand and respect the rights of the institution. However, if the school is publicly funded then I think it is ridiculous to ban the use of Halloween as a teaching theme.