Observations worth putting in a writing journal: the sound of the wind rustling dried leaves, the vision of ghosts lurking behind storefront windows, and the pumpkins on display throughout the neighborhood. It's Halloween, and in Mrs. Dodson's sixth grade language arts class a myriad of creative writing ideas, legends, and folk tales are the topics of the season. This time of year, journal entries are shared, a rough draft of a scary story is read aloud, and students ask to take home the books of legends and folk tales we've read in class. Poetry, short stories, author studies, and descriptive writing lessons can be naturally incorporated into an instructional theme that maintains student interest and creativity.
Start With a Great Story
Almost all of my writing lessons begin with literature. At this point in the school year, this is nothing new to my pupils. During the month of October, I like to use Halloween legends and folk tales as springboards for writing. My students' favorite collection of legends and folk tales are from the "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" collection. I read one story at the beginning of the class in order to provide an example of a writing skill I'd like them to focus on during that particular writing time. I usually begin with descriptive writing techniques. I give each learner a Post-It note to jot down any words that give them a strong visual image. We call these words "juicy words," which are words that can make writing more interesting. I keep a large piece of butcher block paper on a bulletin board for learners to add "juicy words" to throughout the remainder of the year. When I see words have been added, I take the time to go over them with the class. My pupils really seem to enjoy this activity.
Edgar Allan Poe and "The Telltale Heart"
The "juicy words" activity leads to other lessons. I love to read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Telltale Heart" to the class as an example of observations effectively incorporated into writing. I have my class keep lists of descriptive words in their journals. We talk about autumn and Halloween as a starting point. I ask them, "What do we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell?" Answers include everything from descriptions of football games, trick-or-treating, haunted house experiences, and the like. I also like to take this opportunity to conduct an author study. We begin by looking at the life of Poe and his influences.
Falling Into Fall
Additionally, I also introduce the mystery genre of literature, as well as assign a "fall fantasy" writing assignment. After pupils have had the opportunity to investigate the class collections of scary stories, legends, and folk tales, as well as list observations and descriptive words in their journals, learners are required to compose a story that can be in the fantasy and/or mystery genre. They really seem to enjoy this assignment, and on presentation day we serve fall treats and candies. It becomes a celebration not only of the season, but of individual writing as well. The autumn season presents so many opportunities to bring fun and creativity into instruction. Enjoy!
Halloween-themed Lesson Plans:
Tell Tale Heart: Pupils read and analyze Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart" in order to learn about writing scary stories and using descriptive language. They create an illustration of a scene in the story that has given them a visual image through the descriptive language used.
Soulfully Remembered: Young scholars learn about the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead. They complete a collage that honors the memory of a deceased member of their own family or a friend, and compose an essay on a comparison of rituals related to death. Both student activities are handled with honor and respect throughout the context of the lesson.
Edgar Allan Poe: An Author Unit: In this very well organized thirteen-day unit, pupils explore, analyze, and evaluate the life and works of Poe. Class instruction includes both whole-class and small-group work.
Irregularly Scheduled Programming: Pupils explore the role of television programming about popular holiday celebrations. They then create their own line-up of programming about a holiday of their choice. The lesson could be used as a part of any seasonal lesson grouping.