Six Spooky Halloween Ideas for Secondary ELA

With the full moon this past week and Halloween approaching, we all know teaching in October can be a struggle. I like to combat the crazy with engaging lesson plans that will help my students channel their energy (or post-trick-or-treating sugar high) into engaging learning experiences. If I’m not excited about my lesson plans, then they won’t be either! Here are six spooky Halloween  ideas for secondary ELA that will help you celebrate the holiday without sacrificing curriculum or rigor!

1. A CHARACTER FUNERAL

A character funeral is one of my favorite ways to mourn beloved literary characters AND practice essential ELA skills. Whenever I host a character funeral, I ask my students to compose eulogies or elegies to mourn the character. In the eulogies or elegies, I require that the students demonstrate mastery of our focus skill/s in that unit. You could easily incorporate citing textual evidence, analyzing author’s choices or purpose, analyzing theme, analyzing point of view, and more. For example, when I hold a funeral for The Great Gatsby, my students must write a eulogy from Nick’s point of view in order to analyze his complex attitude toward Gatsby, and ultimately, Fitzgerald’s purpose in writing The Great Gatsby. Their eulogies help them contemplate Fitzgerald’s choice in ending the novel with Gatsby’s death. By analyzing his death, students are able to better understand symbolism, theme, and purpose.

2. A SPOOKY ESCAPE ROOM

A well-designed escape room can be creepy AND challenging for your students. It’s the perfect way to celebrate Halloween without sacrificing any rigor. An escape room is comprised of clues that lead students to tasks or challenges. Once completed, each task generates a code that allows students to advance to the next challenge. Escape rooms can be paper and pencil, entirely digital, or blended. I prefer a blended escape room that is automated by a Google form that sends students to physical locations around the room for “clues.” This way, it’s the best of both worlds: Students still get the kinesthetic challenge of searching the room for clues, but yet the Google form is doing most of the work/reducing my prep by streamlining the breakout.

If you’re interested, I created an escape room for Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death.” Bonus: This short story is actually short, unlike some of Poe’s long short stories. “Masque” is around 3 pages, depending on the version you use. You could read the story one day and escape the next! This sequential escape room takes students through 7 “rooms” (like the story) or challenges. The challenges start simple, with reading comprehension, and gradually progress to more cognitively complex tasks involving symbolism, allegory, and theme. 

The photos above are from my escape room for “The Crucible,” too. We just did this a few weeks ago in American Literature, and my students loved it!

3. A POE QUESTION TRAIL

The Poe Literary Devices Question Trail (hanging at the the EDGAR ALLAN POE MUSEUM for the Keeping the Wonder Workshop)

Structure in some much-needed practice of identifying literary devices with a spooky or Poe-themed question trail, an kinesthetic activity that engages all students. A question trail gets students out of their seats and moving around the room on a “trail” of multiple choice questions. Once it’s created and set up, a question trail is a magical lesson that teaches itself. The students are doing all of the work, and you’re just the “guide on the side” there to help.

At each spot on the trail, students answer a multiple choice question that sends them to the next station on the trail. If students answer each question correctly, they will travel to all stations and complete a full circuit with the correct sequence of stations. If students answer a question incorrectly, they will eventually end up at a station they’ve already completed, which signals that they need to backtrack to determine their mistake. This gives the students (and the teacher) clear, immediate feedback. You can quickly see the trailblazers (who are “getting it”) and the students who are lost in the woods (who are struggling).

You can check out my Edgar Allan Poe Literary Devices question trail here, my other question trails here, and more information on how to create your own question trail in this blog post.

4. ANALYZING MOOD AND TONE WITH HORROR MOVIE TRAILER REMAKES

To scaffold mood analysis in more complex texts, I introduce the concept by showing movie trailer remakes to demonstrate how mood is created. If you haven’t seen movie trailer remakes on YouTube, check them out ASAP! It’s perfect for Halloween because people have transformed films like “Frozen” and “Mary Poppins” into horror movies. On the flip side, others have taken horror movies like “The Shining” and flipped them into rom-coms. By showing the original trailers and the remakes, students will able to analyze what makes scary movies so scary! This activity helps students build the skill of close reading, but through a different medium. Instead of analyzing author’s choices, students are analyzing director’s choices. This is especially helpful for my visual learners, who can more easily identify and dissect the choices they see on a screen. If you want a ready-made template for this lesson, check out my activity here.

5. A “DEAD WORDS” LESSON

As a class, brainstorm a collection of “dead” words, overused, weak, or cliche words, that should rest in peace — aka NEVER appear in student writing again. While you mourn the dead words, ask students to find better descendants of their dead ancestors: powerful synonyms to replace the dead words! You can have students create eulogies or tombstones, and then they can write short stories or poems with the new words. If you want specific templates, there are a few free ones online or more detailed plans on TPT. 

6. A 6-WORD HORROR STORY

You might not have enough time for a full lesson, but I bet you have enough time for 6 words! To celebrate Halloween and sneak in some practice of concise writing and powerful word choice, show students examples of 6-word horror stories, a spin-off of Hemingway’s famous shortest (and saddest) story ever written: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” After showing students examples, pose the challenge of crafting their own. You could stretch this out into a whole lesson (read examples, create your own, illustrate it, and share it) or simply do this as a quick 5-10 minute bell-ringer activity. Here are some examples to get you and your students thinking:

BONUS! A FEW IDEAS FROM MY FRIENDS…

Vocabulary Pumpkins activity from Literature and Lattes

  • Vocabulary Pumpkins from Literature and Lattes: This is a fun, no-prep vocabulary activity for ANY list of words!
  • “The Tell Tale Heart” Escape Room from Read it Write it Learn it: If my “Masque” escape room is too challenging for your students, this one is designed for grades 7-10. 🙂
  • Painted Pumpkin Symbolism from Building Book Love: If you are looking for an engaging idea to incorporate in your novel/short story unit, this is it!
  • Spooky Stations from Doc Cop Teaching: Y’all know I LOVE me some stations, so spooky stations = even better!

I hope these ideas help you spook your students into learning this Halloween season! If you have other Halloween ideas for secondary ELA, I would love to hear them in the comments!

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