Celebrate Halloween through Language and Literature

Use the theme of Halloween to spice up campfire stories, journal writing, and presentations in your classroom.

By Dawn Dodson

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Halloween kids reading

Celebrating Halloween provides an enjoyable and creative focus for both reading and writing activities, assignments, and projects. From review activities, to cross-curricular projects, the autumn holiday provides opportunities for pupils to utilize and demonstrate their learning. The following are two lesson ideas that incorporate the Halloween theme into language arts curriculum.

Campfire Stories

In the classroom, the autumn season brings stories of football games, trick-or-treating, campfires, and s'mores. Using personal stories and experiences as a focus, writers begin two word lists in their journals. The first is a vivid-verb list, and the second is an awe-inspiring adjective list. Mini-lessons focus on making observations and using the five senses to create lists of words that will be included in a classroom writing activity. This activity will culminate as campfire stories.

The campfire story activity involves your writers and their word lists. To begin, I divide the class into four or five groups and assign them a place to sit in the room. Desks are moved out of the way, and students sit in circles. A prompt is placed in the center of each circle. The prompts are excerpts from Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. I purposely choose excerpts that portray vibrant character and/or setting details (not only does this provide writers with a central theme or idea, but it also provides a quick review of story element analysis). A group leader is chosen, and the leader reads the excerpt to the rest of the group. Then, moving clockwise, referring to word lists, each group member writes a sentence or two, adding to the story until they feel that the story is complete. Each writer’s task is to develop a story that is consistent with their group's theme. They should choose words that help create an image and mood that reflects the theme of the story. After revision and editing, each group presents their story to the class.

The History of Halloween

A seasonal cross-curricular project idea is a research study of the origins and cultural traditions of Halloween. Primarily focusing on social studies and language arts skills, pupils gather and interpret research about the holiday’s origins as well as present their findings. I like to introduce the project through a class discussion centered on how we, as Americans, celebrate Halloween. I also ask the class to think about how the holiday is marketed. To begin, pupils list words that describe the holiday. Lists can include adjectives, nouns, and verbs. As learners contribute responses, a class list is recorded on a chart. Following the discussion, classmates partner-up and begin reading about the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain. Together, they complete a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting American Halloween to Samhain. The article and graphic organizer serve as a starting point for research. After pupils gather research, they organize their findings into an essay. Essays should include a comparison of how the pupil celebrates Halloween with another culture’s traditions. PowerPoint presentations are created in order to share research findings and key ideas in the essays.

ELA Common Core Connections

Reading: Literature

  • Common Core Standard: RL.6.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
  • Common Core Standard: RL.6.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.

Writing

  • Common Core Standard: WHST.6-8.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
  • Common Core Standard: WHST.6-8.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • Common Core Standard: WHST.6-8.10. Write routinely over extended time frames for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

More Halloween-themed lesson ideas:

Literary Bash

Classmates use their knowledge of literary theme to plan and participate in a celebration. Pupils choose a book and portray aspects of the theme and story elements into their party.

Halloween Lesson Plans

This is an article that provides more resources and lesson ideas to inspire Halloween-themed lessons, games, and activities. The word game explained here would be enjoyable for many grade levels.

Halloween Poetry

This is a trait-based writing activity that allows writers to practice word-choice skills. After reading poetry examples and creating word lists in journals, Halloween-themed poems are created.

Words That Will Haunt You

Combining reading and writing activities, pupils compile a vocabulary bank that will be used in an essay. The essay is about pupils’ personal Halloween memories.


Language Arts Guide

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Dawn Dodson