Sweet Ideas for Halloween-Inspired Learning

October 17, 2014 / by Gretchen Vierstra

Want to hear something frightening? Halloween is approaching. A day filled with candy, costumes, and corny carnival games. A day I loved as a child and loved as a teacher.

Yes, I know there are many teachers out there who absolutely dread the day, including my colleague Lily, a confessed Halloween Grinch. Well, here's a different perspective: I truly love it.

To me, it's a day to embrace the goofiness inside all of us, where we let go of regular classroom routines, and offer a chance for some kids who normally don't embrace school, to shine. Now, I know that not everyone celebrates Halloween, but in most cases, the students who do celebrate it will celebrate it at school no matter what you do. So, even if Halloween is not your cup of witch's brew, rather than ignore the day completely, think of a way to make it work for your classroom and community.

Reading, Writing, and Halloween

As an English teacher, Halloween was always a chance for me to try something new — to craft a lesson that felt like pure Halloween fun to students while still working on some sort of subject-related content. There are plenty of ways to connect texts and writing to Halloween: from teaching about how writers create atmosphere, to how they use symbolism. For instance, I love Edgar Allen Poe during this season, and there are great lessons to be found within his poems. Have you ever seen The Simpsons' version of "The Raven"? For a fun holiday activity, you could read Poe's original text and compare it with the abridged Simpson's version. Then read the text again with this interactive version of the poem that points out literary devices. What a Halloween treat!

For those who have an aversion to dressing up, I have an idea for you. In one of my most memorable Halloween lessons, I asked my middle school students to design a Halloween costume for a character from their independent reading book, using text-based evidence to support their design. What would your character choose to dress up as, and why? They had diverse options for presenting their designs, including dressing up a doll, drawing the outfit, or wearing the design. I fondly remember one of my quieter students -- whose dream was to be a fashion designer -- becoming loud and animated during her presentation of her hand-sewn doll outfit. She really impressed her classmates, and no one cared that she was not in costume herself on Halloween.

Halloween-Inspired Lessons Across Subjects

There are plenty of other ideas for embracing the day while teaching. A simple Internet search for Halloween lessons leads you to tons of activities:

  • Want a math lesson? Education World has a list of ideas for Halloween counting and graphing activities that look spooky and smart.
  • Try building Halloween atmosphere in your classroom by creating a lesson on creatures of the night. Share My Lesson has a list of lessons about nocturnal animals, including this well-rated one for elementary students.
  • Want to dig into the holiday's origins? EDSITEment has a great page containing a brief history of Halloween and Day of the Dead, with suggested student questions, lesson plans, and links to related resources.
  • The New York Times Learning Network has a collection of Halloween-related plans, activities and readings, including their own ideas for teaching Poe with links to Times' articles on Poe from 2009, and even 1909.
  • Want to teach Day of the Dead instead? Here’s a great art activity to get you started.
  • Check out Teaching Channel's Halloween Pinterest Board for even more ideas.

Halloween Alternatives

Many schools have come up with alternative themes for Halloween celebrations. Education World has a detailed article on how to plan for a Historical Figures Day, where students' research projects culminate with this dress up party from the past.

David Allyn, a teacher at San Francisco's Argonne Elementary School, has a uniquely themed party. He and his students dress up like idioms on Halloween. Ever seen a chicken with its head cut off? You would in this classroom!

teacher in chicken costume

What do you do on Halloween? Do you embrace the chaos? If so, do you have a great idea to share? We'd love to hear from you!

Topics: Class Culture, Classroom Experiences, Arts, Holidays

Gretchen Vierstra

Written by Gretchen Vierstra

Gretchen Vierstra taught middle school for ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area. During her 15+ years in education, she’s also been a department chair, new teacher coach, curriculum developer, and policy analyst. She is Director of Educational Content at Teaching Channel.

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