By Teachers, For Teachers
Believe it or not, Halloween is just around the corner. Maybe you’re already bracing for the costumes and the sugar rush, but what if Halloween could serve a useful educational purpose?
To prepare for Halloween in your classroom, check out these Halloween classroom activities for fun new ways to sneak in some spooky lessons and ghoulish learning!
Take advantage of the season to teach foreshadowing, plot, or other literary analysis concepts. Concepts like foreshadowing and plot structure are important, but so boring to learn (or to teach!). Liven it up by using scary stories or movies.
Have students practice identifying the elements of a plot by outlining their favorite scary or Halloween-themed movie (What is the inciting incident in The Nightmare Before Christmas? What is the climax of Night of the Living Dead?). Using scary films to teach foreshadowing or suspense is obvious, but you can get creative – use Young Frankenstein or Shaun of the Dead to teach parody.
Spooky Story Writing Activities
Want students to practice using suspense, foreshadowing, or plot structure in their writing and Halloween classroom activities? Have them write a scary story or draft an outline for their own original scary movie to practice structuring plot (you may want to give them a “rating limit” – e.g. nothing worse than a PG-13 film – if you’re squeamish).
For something with more atmosphere and less potential “blood and guts,” ask them to write a descriptive paragraph that creates a creepy mood to develop skills in figurative language or foreshadowing.
How-to Halloween Writing
For younger kids, Halloween can be a great time to teach instructional or “how to” writing. Have kids write about how to choose the right costume, how to make your own costume, how to plan the best route for trick-or-treating, how to host the best Halloween party, etc. You’ll have higher student interest levels and give yourself some new topics for those “same old, same old” assignments.
"War of the Worlds" Activities
The ultimate Halloween trick may have been perpetuated in 1938, when a young radio actor/director named Orson Welles and his “Mercury Theatre” program broadcast “The War of the Worlds” – so effectively that many people thought Martians were actually invading. This Time War of the Worlds article describes some of the hysteria, painting a strong contrast between the easily-fooled folks of 1938 and people today.
Begin by having students listen to the actual broadcast, available here and teach them about what happened in 1938. Once they have the background, you can explore a variety of different topics, depending on the age of your students and the subject you’re teaching. For history students, the hysteria around the broadcast is interesting in light of world events at that time (the build-up to World War II, etc.).
If you’re looking for a thought-provoking discussion and halloween classroom activities for older students, ask them: could this type of “hoax” be perpetuated today? How would it look different? It might be on the Internet, not the radio, and it probably wouldn’t involve Martians, but are we really less gullible? This can be a terrific springboard for conversations about the careful “consumption” of media.
From vampires to zombies, many of the Halloween horrors we’ve come to appreciate can be researched on a historical or scientific basis. Older students might be interested to find out the actual medical reasons people thought there were werewolves or to consider some of the scientific issues inherent in building a “Frankenstein’s monster.” And of course, it’s a natural time of year to learn about historical events like the Salem Witch Trials.
For younger students, why not explore the historical roots of Halloween itself or learn the facts behind superstitions about black cats or broken mirrors? No matter how old your students are, there’s an appropriate topic. You can even create a “Halloween research assignment” to help students practice research skills.
Create your own legion of “mad scientists” with some Halloween-themed science lessons.Teaching human anatomy? Have students make blood, skin, or snot as you teach about the role each one plays in the human body.
Looking for a bigger challenge? Have students invent a monster that’s based in science. Even people who design monsters for movies need to think about things like the monster’s habitat, diet, reproductive habits, etc. What better way to help students think carefully about those topics then by having them create a monster that’s grounded in reality.
Teaching astronomy? Ask students to think about the equipment necessary to survive on another planet, where they might face alien creatures, diseases, and adverse environmental conditions. And for those chemistry teachers, how about creating glow-in-the-dark pumpkins or dry ice fog?
No matter how old your students are, Halloween offers a way to bring out the kid in everyone and still teach valuable skills!