1. Origins of festivals
Look at the history and origins of the festival in the US and UK and in your students' country. There are lots of websites dedicated to this. Begin by reviewing or teaching some Halloween vocabulary, e.g. pumpkins, witches, trick or treating, etc. Choose a text that is suitable for your students' level – you could turn this into a webquest. Focus on two or three websites, and write some questions, which your students will need to answer by searching through them.
2. Customs quiz
Make a history and customs quiz for lower levels to avoid using a dense reading text. Write questions with three possible answers and give the answers at the end to confirm the information provided.
3. Halloween challenge
Play a Halloween challenge game. An alien rings the doorbell during your Halloween party. Can you explain what is going on? Get suggestions from the class. If students are very familiar with Halloween and have at least two years of English, ask them to practise this as a dialogue with the alien asking questions such as Why is everyone dressed in costumes? Why have you turned off all the lights?
4. Describing costumes
Support your language work with some weird and wonderful pictures from the internet or magazines, or use your own drawings or photos! This is good with lower levels and younger learners who can practise basic adjectives and simple sentence structures. Find some colouring pictures for younger learners and do a colour dictation with the whole class, e.g. colour the cauldron brown, colour the pumpkin orange, colour the witch's hair black.
5. Word games
There are lots of fun activities which can be used to start a lesson on Halloween or as part of a series of activities.
- How many words can students make with the word HALLOWEEN? (e.g. wheel, when, now, lean, owl)
- Halloween associations: students in pairs think of as many words they can that can be associated with Halloween. For example October, ghosts, night, haunted house, lanterns, black cats. Make this fun and collaborative by encouraging the use of dictionaries for higher levels. Keep it brief and focused for lower levels.
- Make or find word searches: Draw a grid, 8 to 10 squares across and down for higher levels or 5 to 6 squares across and down for lower levels. Write in words associated with Halloween and then fill the rest of the grid with random letters. Can students find the hidden words? For lower levels and primary students give picture prompts of the words to find, if possible. You can also find plenty of pre-made word searches online.
6. Beliefs discussion
Use this occasion to introduce discussion topics around the theme of beliefs. Give out a Do you believe in ...? questionnaire which students complete individually. Encourage them to give reasons for their answers to generate more discussion. Then in pairs or small groups, or with the whole class, they compare answers. Sensitivity may be needed with these discussions. Possible questions could be:
- Do you believe in ghosts?
- Do you believe in UFOs?
- Do you believe in past life?
- Do you believe in life after death?
- Do you believe in spirits?
Encourage students to talk about local and national superstitions. For example, superstitions and beliefs relating to such things as the moon (when to plant seeds, have a baby, bottle tomatoes depending on the moon). This gives good practice in the first conditional, e.g. If you plant broccoli at full moon, it will feed you for a month.
This can be linked with a vocabulary game or puzzle with a Halloween theme. Focus on superstition and even with lower level groups you can give a worksheet with a couple of examples, e.g. If you walk under a ladder in the street, it will bring you bad luck. If you hang a horseshoe on your door, it will bring you good luck.
7. Witches and witchcraft
For higher levels look at the history of witches and witchcraft. Do people in their country believe in magic powers? Is there a history of witchcraft in their country? What about old wives' tales or natural herbal remedies and cures? Is there any truth in those?
There is some interesting discussion work on intolerance and diversity in the history of witch hunting (in the UK and US), looking at how being a bit different in a closed community can open you to suspicion and discrimination.
8. Halloween stories
Halloween stories, ghost tales and strange tales of the unexpected can be good for listening practice. You can find various stories online.
- Tell a short simple story (with a beginning, a middle and an end) while students order a list of events in the story. Students then use their list as prompts to retell the story orally round the class or to each other.
- Chop up a story in three parts. Three groups each read their bit. The paper is taken away and a member of each group tells their part to each other; or the whole class retells it in sections, deciding who had the beginning, middle or end.
- Take a simple scary tale or poem, remove key verbs and put blanks. Tell the tale and the class fill in the blanks as they listen.
9. All Souls' Day
All Souls' Day or the Day of the Dead: How important is 1 November in your students' country? In some places, people receive presents from their dead relatives, visit graves or have picnics in graveyards. This topic could be challenging or taboo, so decide carefully if this is an appropriate area of discussion for the students you are teaching. Linked to this is the belief in spirits, ghosts and haunted houses.
10. Horror films and literature
Are students interested in horror movies? What makes a good horror movie? Do they like being scared? What scares them the most? The supernatural was important in the 19th century gothic novel genre in Britain. Use an extract from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein with higher level groups.
Find a biography of Stephen King and make it an information gap activity. Blank out some key words on one copy for student A, and blank out different key words on another copy for student B. Then in pairs students have to complete the missing words by asking each other questions.
For lower levels and younger students do a short Day in the Life of … someone related to Halloween, e.g. Dracula, Frankenstein, a witch, Harry Potter, etc. Prepare a text or develop a text with suggestions from the class. Students interview each other, with one student playing the famous character.
There are many simple poems that are usable with lower levels, and higher levels enjoy performing Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat.
You could also look at some simple poems and then ask students to write their own versions for Halloween practising the vocabulary they have learnt – these could be decorated and displayed around the classroom.