I know when October comes around, I want to do all the festive, scary Halloween things. This is why I have teamed up with 11 amazing teachers to bring you 12 Halloween activities for your high school ELA classroom.
Horror Study with Two Sentence Horror Stories
I absolutely love teaching students with horror stories. I set the mood by turning off all the lights, put a scary image with the title on the board, and set up my microphone so that I can do all the voices and sound effects without burning my voice out. During October, I love to do my Two Sentence Horror Stories.
Two sentence horror stories are a great way to incorporate a little bit of horror writing with a whole lot of the writing process. While this lesson goes over flash fiction, the real meat and potatoes of it is in students creating their own two sentence horror story and following the revision process to ensure they have the best product. Even if a student grabs an idea off the internet, they will be required to look at the text structure, word choice, and a variety of other levels of revision in order to become aware of how to craft a perfect two sentence story. You can grab this lesson along with my ghost story lesson on Latin America’s La Llorona here.
Real Life Ghost Stories
Samantha from Samantha in Secondary has found, in her opinion, the holy grail of Halloween activities. Who doesn’t LOVE real-life ghost stories? They’re spooky, they spark curiosity, and best of all, they’re based on actual events.
A few years ago, Samantha began pulling articles about real haunted houses and her students were hooked. She found, though, that sometimes the material wasn’t exactly appropriate for young people. So, she set out to write her own passages and it became a fast student favorite. Each month, they’d ask for a different place to explore, so she ended up creating 11 different close reading passages that all follow her tried-and-true close reading process. She has 5 that cover Haunted Places in the United States and 6 that cover Haunted Places in the World.
If you want to incorporate real life haunted places in your own classroom without these resources, it would be easy enough to have your students research the places on their own and create a slideshow of what they’ve learned. The most popular places are Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California and Amityville Horror House on Long Island, New York.
“I am freaking myself out!” one student shuddered as he went through Krista from Whimsy and Rigor’s annual building suspense writing activity.
Getting students to write with an actual, authentic voice that evokes a reaction from their reader is the goal. But when a student evokes a reaction from themselves?? That’s the magic.
Krista usually starts the Building Suspense unit by reading aloud short stories from the series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alan A Schwartz. She reads them in her creepiest voice, slowly walks around the room, puts her all into the jump scare, and then they dissect what made the story so suspenseful.
Next, she guides students as they write their own suspense-filled short story. Each student starts with the prompt, “She thought she heard something in the house.” She reveals questions or commands every two minutes and students add on to their story, writing what the new prompt inspires. They range from, “Describe what the character was doing when they heard the noise.” to “Make the character smell something out of the ordinary.”
The author ultimately has the character discover what was making the mysterious sound and when the students read these out loud, the class is on the edge of their seat waiting for the big reveal.
You can come up with your own list of prompts to get the class to freak each other out or you can snag this slide deck right now!
Fall Themed Grammar Scavenger Hunt
If you’re anything like Molly from The Littlest Teacher, you love fall most of all, but spooky season not so much. If you or your students need a break from the gory and macabre, enjoy a fall-themed grammar scavenger hunt for a festive ELA Halloween activity.
Grammar scavenger hunts can be used any time of year, but they’re especially fun when you add a seasonal theme.
There are lots of ways to set up a scavenger hunt as an ELA review game. Here are some ideas if you’re interested in creating your own to review any material.
To review grammar specifically, here are some steps to take:
- Print out a series of numbered sentences (for fall, Molly used lines from autumn-themed poems) and post them around the classroom or other space in a random order.
- Write a series of questions regarding the sentences, such as “what is the pronoun in sentence #3?”
- Create several versions of answer sheets for students, assigning a random set of question numbers they must answer.
- Create an answer key for each version of the student answer sheet.
- To play the game, students move around the space searching for the sentences relevant to the questions they must answer, then recording their responses.
As fun as this activity is, it does require a good bit of prep on your part. If you’d like a print-and-go version, check out Molly’s autumn-themed grammar scavenger hunt. It features lines from fall-themed poems, and gorgeous autumnal illustrations.
Lesa from SmithTeaches9to12 is not a Halloween fan but knows students love a little fright and delight at this time of year. So, in a neverending goal to include more poetry, Lesa incorporates gothic poetry to read, analyze, and then have students write their own!
Everyone loves Poe but this is an opportunity to freshen it up with some contemporary gothic poetry options too. Have students analyze works by Emily Berry, Charlotte Eichler, Donald Justice, or Tracy K. Smith. What do they notice is at work in each poem – imagery, language choice, style in general? And then use those findings to write their own gothic poems. Make a door display by having students write their poems on black construction paper using chalk.
You can read more about lessons and activities for spooky season at this post, including notes on two contemporary gothic poems.
Real Haunted Houses
Shadowy figures, creaking doorways, and bumps in the night! Ghost stories have provided spine-tingling entertainment for centuries, but the best and most terrifying tales are those based on true events. In the last hundred years, many horror films have taken inspiration from real-life paranormal occurrences. Katie from Mocha and Markbooks loves to spook her high schoolers with the bone-chilling details in the history of five real-life haunted houses, and the famous films that shared their spooky stories on the big screen.
While reading passages about five real life haunted houses that inspired the films The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, Winchester, Poltergeist, and The Shining, Katie sets the tone by turning off the classroom lights and plugging in a few lamps for spooky ambiance. Youtube also has plenty of creepy instrumental music to play in the background while reading.
After reading about these spirit infested abodes, students are given a variety of creative writing prompts that require them to extend or reimagine the stories. This time of year, students love telling a chilling tale from the perspective of one of the ghostly visitors, or a new homeowner encountering unearthly events. Perhaps they are planning to stay the night in Room 217 at the Stanley Hotel where their evening is sure to be spirited.
For more scary movie activities to give your class a fright, check out this post.
It’s spooky, scary season and Carolyn from Middle School Cafe is not really a fan, she doesn’t like anything scary, but she knows her students love Halloween! As a way to engage her students in learning when her students are dreaming of costumes and candy, Carolyn incorporates the short story Dracula’s Guest. This classic short story, written by the author of Dracula, is the perfect blend of spooky fun and literary merit.
Dracula’s Guest tells the story of a young man who, despite warnings from his host, ventures out on a dark and stormy night in Transylvania. Unbeknownst to him, he is being followed by a sinister figure. What will happen when he finally comes face to face with his stalker?
Your students will love trying to solve this chilling mystery, and you’ll love watching them engage with the text and hone their critical reading skills.
The Monkey’s Paw
Get your students in the MOOD for Spooky Szn by reading texts to look at the mood and tone! Staci from Donut Lovin’ Teacher says she always has so many students that love scary stories! This makes it the perfect time to share some spooky stories like “The Monkey’s Paw” by JJ Abrams.
Staci says this is one of her favorites to read with the class because it has just the right amount of “scare” factor and allows for some great conversation about how a story’s setting and characters actions/reactions contribute to the tone and mood of a story.
Staci has to go to activities for “The Monkey’s Paw” that can be used to reinforce or as a formative assessment for the story. The first one is a fun tic-tac-toe activity that allows students the opportunity to closely analyze the text. You can grab a free copy here. The other activity Staci loves is a collaborative DVD cover! This allows students to create a spooky and suspenseful mood using colors, styles, images, and text based on the story. You can check out the DVD cover activity here.
Drawing Conclusions with Zombies
Boo! It’s Halloween! Do your students love zombies? How about zombie’s that live in an old, rundown, and abandoned carnival? Sharena from The Humble Bird Teacher loves reviewing drawing conclusions and inferences with her students using the game, “Who has the Brains?”
In this activity, the students are broken into six groups. Then they read six character profiles and scenarios to determine who has the brains. During their reading, they answer whether or not the character has the brains and provide proof from the story based on their responses.
This activity gets students thinking critically and opens the room for great discussion and a little fun debate. It is also not your typical scary zombie scenario, so if you have students who are not into the spooky season, they will find this more funny than frightening.
You can check out the blog post here on the activity!
Archetype Costume Party
Halloween activities don’t necessarily have to be spooky. Olivia from Distinguished English prefers to celebrate the season without the ghosts and goblins, and one fun way to do that is with a character archetype costume party!
1. Choose a few well-known literary character archetypes, such as the Hero, the Villain, the Damsel in Distress, or the Mad Scientist.
2. Give your students the list of character archetypes and have them choose which one they would like to dress up as for the costume party.
3. Help your students plan their costumes. You may want to provide some materials or give them suggestions on where to find items for their costumes.
4. Have your students come to your class party in their costumes and be prepared to share which character they are representing and what traits make them that archetype. If you want to take this a step further, your students can actually plan an entire fashion show to show off their designs!
Read this blog post for more non-spooky Halloween activities your students will love.
“The Cask of Amontillado” Class Transformation
It might be a little cliche, but Simply Ana P’s spooky-season-loving-heart beats for Poe during October. A fan of many of his works, she especially likes teaching “The Cask of Amontillado” to go over the idea of ‘fake friends’ with her freshmen.
To up the ante and make the story a bit more engaging for her students, Ana does a mini room transformation and has students review the text through an escape room-esque activity.
For the room transformation, the Dollar Tree goes a longgg way – think: plastic skeleton bones, cobweb decor, black tablecloths, blood splatter decals, etc. You can even do masquerade masks! Also, a great way to get spooky decor elsewhere for the low is to wait till after Halloween to purchase for the following year.
Now for the competition portion: Ana prints out various tasks on paper, sticks each task in an envelope, and has the student teams progress through the challenges in order, checking in with her after each completion.
Here are some examples for challenges:
- MC Reading Comprehension questions
- Turn a scene into a rap
- Characterization Skeleton
- Write a letter from one of the character’s perspectives
- Vocabulary Matching (cut up the words and definitions)
And the possibilities go on and on…
Most of these are tasks that usually seem boring to students, but just by printing them out, adding some fun colors and/or fonts, and sticking them in envelopes with the accompanying mood set in the room, all of a sudden, it’s *fun* and the students are engaged. Last but not least, Ana suggests playing a Spooky Themed ASMR YouTube video in the background as the pièce de résistance.
A little hocus pocus goes a long way 🙂
Halloween Write the Room
Amanda from Mud and Ink Teaching has had so much success with creative writing during spooky season. A favorite activity in her classroom is Halloween Write the Room!
Halloween Write the Room:
Halloween writing activities seem to be plentiful in a Google search, but for Amanda, it was always hard to find the right balance between rigorous, fun, and interactive. That’s how she developed one of her favorite Halloween writing activities: Halloween Write the Room. I had used a write-the-room style activity in previous years and it finally dawned on her that it was perfect for a spooky bit of fun when students are too sugared-out on candy and goofiness to sit still and write. This activity is the perfect blend of fun and movement. Dowload her FREE slide deck template and she’ll also share with you two different lesson plan ideas to try.
What is Write the Room?
This lesson is adaptable in many formats, but essentially, students are moving around the room collecting ideas and writing as they go. Whether they’re following a writing prompt at different places around the room or they’re looking at pictures around the room, the idea is a stations structure tied with writing sprints.
So, when Halloween comes around, Amanda gathers together dozens of gothic-themed images, hangs them around the room, and sends students on a writing journey.