Confession: in the past, I've skipped right over Halloween and continued class as usual. I don't think this is a bad thing in secondary ELA. However, a few years ago, I decided to embrace the Halloween excitement, and I'll never look back.
Not only did I embrace Halloween, I dove in head first dressing up as a detective and transforming my classroom into a crime scene from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart" (more details on that below!). I created an escape room that required close reading and analysis of literary elements of one of Poe's creepiest short stories. My students were so engaged, they forgot about the distraction of Halloween and the sugar coursing through their veins!
Here are five lesson ideas to engage your middle and high school ELA students this Halloween:
1. Implement an Escape Room.
Escape rooms have quickly become the most popular lesson I teach in my classroom. My students love them, and so do I! Last year, I decided to get super risky: I scheduled my formal observation (the rest are unannounced) on Halloween in my 7th grade classroom. My lesson: "The Tell Tale Heart" escape room.
My students read "The Tell Tale Heart" the day before the escape room. On Halloween, they walked into my dark classroom, our door covered in pictures of Edgar Allan Poe, read hearts I bought from the Dollar Store, and yellow caution tape. I played spooky music on my smart board and explained to students that the old man's heart was hidden somewhere in our classroom. It was their job as detectives to find it!
Students had to dive deep into the story, analyzing the literary elements, using context clues to unlock the meaning of vocabulary words, and assembling a plot line of the story in order to unlock clues I set up ahead of time. They were GLUED to their stories, whispering answers to their teammates in attempt to not give away answers to other groups, and best of all, they were LEARNING.
Escape rooms are perfect for Halloween. They require some upfront work (see my post on creating your own escape room here), but it's totally worth the effort!
2. Create blackout poetry using the pages of a spooky story.
Print the pages of a scary story. Do a close read with your students, turning the lights low (I use Christmas lights and a few old lamps) and playing some creepy instrumental music for effect.
After reading, instruct your students to create their creepiest blackout poetry. Make it a Halloween challenge by giving awards (hello Halloween candy!) to the best use of repetition for effect, hyperbole, simile, metaphor, personification, most creative, etc.
Find creepy stories here:
"The Tell Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe
"The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe
"The Mortal Immortal" by Mary Shelley
Simply print, copy, read, and choose a page for blackout poetry!
3. Write found poetry using words from a spooky story.
Use any of the stories above to make found poetry. After completing a close read of the story, instruct students to highlight powerful (and creepy) words, phrases, and/or sentences. Define powerful as a class: powerful writing makes the reader think and feel. Powerful writing sticks with you! Since this is a Halloween activity, you might choose to challenge students to find the creepiest language possible.
After identifying powerful and creepy language, instruct students to choose at least ten powerful words, phrases, and sentences from the text to write their own found poem. Students can add their own words, but must use ten pieces of language from the text. Encourage students to arrange and rearrange the found language until the ideas flow and tell a story within their poem. You might choose to model this process with your own found poem.
4. Complete a Character Autopsy.
Analysis is challenging for middle school and some high school students. It requires higher level thinking, and some students struggle to peel back the layers of a text to see what's underneath. In a character autopsy, students are quite literally peeling back the layers.
To implement a character autopsy, instruct each student or group to choose one character. On poster paper, trace an outline of the character's body. I draw these ahead of time to save class time, but students can easily create their own character bodies OR trace a group member for even more fun!
Next, tell students to do an autopsy by examining what is in the character's brain, heart, eyes (their perspective of the world), hands (what do they hold dear to them), feet (where have they walked and how has that affected them), and belly (what is in their gut?). Require that students include a description in their own words AND back up their autopsy results using text based details.
Optional: set the scene in your classroom by covering tables with blue or gray plastic table cloths from the Dollar Store. Give students googles--I borrowed some from our tech teacher. Provide lab coats--I borrowed these from the Science department. Give students gloves (avoid latex for allergic students--I bought latex free gloves at my local grocery store for $5 in the cleaning supply section).
You might also choose to use caution tape, spooky music, and dim lighting to set the scene.
Check out my Character Autopsy for any novel here.
5. Find the creepiest strange but true facts from short stories or independent reading novels.
Halloween is all about being spooky and strange. Hand out the Strange but True facts worksheet from The Best Ever Reading Response activities. Instruct students to find the strangest facts from their independent reading novels OR from a scary short story (print one of the stories listed above) to display creatively on the worksheet.
Students must prove that each fact is strange but trued by supporting their ideas with text based evidence. Challenge students by asking them to analyze how different elements interact to make things even more strange in their novel (ex. how does the author's word choice affect the mood? How does the setting impact the characters?).
End class by turning off the lights and asking students to share their strange but true facts. Hand students a flashlight to hold at their chin and shine on their face as they share for added creep factor!
Halloween doesn't have to be a day that teachers dread. Engage your students in meaningful, fun learning. Embrace students' extra energy with the activities listed above! Did you try one of these activities in your classroom? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Happy Halloween!