Lately my son’s favorite activity has been our daily Halloween Walk in which we start at the top of our block and stroll from house to house snapping pictures of all the Halloween decorations we see with his Fisher Price camera. Today we saw spiders and pumpkins and ghosts and skeletons and scarecrows and orange lights and witches hanging from doorknobs. These afternoon walks have spawned two reactions in me:
1) We need to step up our Halloween decoration game big time…
2) We should do something fun and festive and Halloween-y with our students on Tuesday. If your school is like my school, only seniors are allowed to dress up. Aren’t 9th, 10th, and 11th graders entitled to some fun, too?
On Valentine’s Day last year I had similar feelings, and I found myself googling “Valentines’ Day activities” at midnight on February 13. This year, I’ve compiled a few Halloween-infused writing activities ahead of time.
1) Mari Andrew’s Haunted House
Here at Moving Writers we can’t get enough of Mari Andrew’s (@bymariandrew) creative and moving infographics. The perfect Notebook Time invitation, The Scariest Haunted House invites students to illustrate their deepest and darkest or silliest and craziest fears inside the walls of a haunted house. As with any Notebook Time invitation, begin with the question, “What do you notice?”, help your students generate a list of noticings and craft moves, and then invite them to create their own, using Mari’s for guidance and inspiration.
2) Day of the Dead Letter Writing
At my old school, the Spanish teacher and his students built alteres de muertos and invited students, teachers, and staff to add photographs, letters, and mementos to the altar to honor loved ones who have passed on. I loved this idea and devoted time in class for my students to write letters if they wanted to.
For this activity, you might consider reading a few excerpts from the beautiful and moving Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira, a novel about a teenaged girl who copes with the death of her sister by writing letters to people who also died young: Kurt Cobain, Amelia Earhart, Janis Joplin to name a few.
Consider creating a small altar in your classroom, or inviting students to post their letters on Dellaira’s website.
3) “Theme in Yellow” by Carl Sandburg
One of the simplest and most effective ways to help your students write festively during any holiday is to find a festive mentor text and invite your students to imitate it. “Theme in Yellow” by Carl Sandburg is written from the perspective of a pumpkin who describes his relationship to the surrounding environment. Students could choose any number of Halloween decorations or icons and write persona poems. The poem’s easy-to-notice pattern will help students get started.
4) Two-Sentence Horror Stories
You may have seen these before, but they never get old! And they make for a really great sentence study and discussion starter for how to craft suspenseful-but-non-cheesy writing. In the past I’ve asked my students to browse the mentor texts here, jot down what they notice in their notebooks, and then try their hand at crafting one or two of their own super-short spooky stories. If you have ten extra minutes in class, let your students publish their stories in Canva (white text on a distressed black background) for ultimate effect.
5) A Halloween Opinion Piece
I love this hot-off-the-press piece by Tuft professor Annie Pfeifer about the princess paradigm. As a parent, her article really speaks to me. But I see my students enjoying it too as they reflect on the deeper meanings behind costumes they adored as children.
You could do a number of things with this piece:
- Use it as a mentor text in an opinion writing unit of study (if you’re in the middle of one now, don’t underestimate the power of tossing in a new mentor text halfway through the process…sometimes this is just the thing a student needs when he’s feeling unfocused or uninspired).
- Ask students to do a little Googling around a favorite childhood costume to discover alternate meanings and stories behind the costume. Then have them write about what they discovered.
- Invite students to respond to Pfeifer in writing.
6) 7 Charts that Explain Halloween
Vox is one of our go-to resources for charts and data that students can write around. In this article you’ll find 7 charts that explain Halloween — from skittle color breakdown to the growth of the chocolate industry since the mid ’80s. Choose one chart for students to write into, or let students pick. The questions we love to ask of any chart or data are: What do you notice? What does this chart say? What does it not say? What surprises you? What do you wonder about?
That’s it! Here’s to a festive and writing-filled Halloween.