There are some days during the school year when teaching high school feels a little like herding cats. For me, those days include Valentine’s Day, Friday before spring break, homecoming week, and Halloween. Halloween is especially tricky since it tends to come right after all of the homecoming and spirit week shenanigans, plus it involves copious amounts of sugar, late night outings, and attire that is not always conducive to learning. Some years, I trek on through the transcendentalists (the unit that happens to land in late October most years) without acknowledging the distractions at all. From a curricular design perspective, this keeps my plan tight, but from a practical standpoint, it almost always ends up in an incredibly labored (and generally ignored) lecture with very little successful learning. On the other extreme, I do not want to sacrifice all meaningful learning by giving that day to mindless busy work or that classroom management nightmare called free time. Below I am sharing some ideas for Halloween activities for the English classroom that embrace the holiday, while holding on to academic standards. I’d love to hear your suggestions, experiences, and comments below.
1. Read and analyze a spooky poem or short story. With short works, students can get into the holiday spirit and thoroughly analyze a work without zoning out like they might with longer texts. Some of my faves include:
- “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe (Great for American lit classes)
- “The Apparition” by John Donne (Great for British lit classes)
- “Ghost House” by Robert Frost (Great for all levels)
2. Give a short Halloween research assignment. Students can research different aspects of Halloween and write about them, create posters, or present them to the group. The History Channel site is a great place to start. You can divide students into groups to each research a different aspect of Halloween, like pumpkins, costumes, trick or treating, witches, etc or the ways that different cultures celebrate a similar holiday.
3. Give students a creative writing assignment to write a short ghost story. You can have students read them to the class and select a winner. If you trust your class, turn out the lights and bring a flashlight to shine for the spooky reading.
I’d love to hear your ideas and tips for teaching on Halloween! At least Halloween is on a Friday this year, so we won’t have to worry about students dragging in the next day in a candy coma! Happy teaching!