ESL Lesson topics are often chosen based on the time of year. So students might spend some time discussing what they plan to do in Summer or what Christmas presents they’re going to buy. One of the most popular themes is Halloween. There are many ways to bring the ghosts and ghouls into the ESL classroom , here are just a few thoughts for a Halloween lesson.

Short Activities

In Japan Halloween has only really become a mainstream festival over the last few years. I think this has a lot to do with companies looking for yet another reason to pump out special products and services to consumers. I’ve found very few Japanese people who know anything of the “true meaning” or history behind the festival. However, I’m not sure if many British people are that much wiser on the topic. As a kid I always saw it as an excuse to dress up and eat lots of sweets; as a young adult I saw it as an excuse to dress up and drink copious amounts of alcohol; and now, as an adult, I see it as an excuse to eat lots of sweets and drink copious amounts of alcohol.

As it’s still a bit niche in Japan local teachers often ask for lessons that introduce Halloween vocabulary or the ways it’s celebrated in Western countries. I’ve also found that many teachers don’t want the whole lesson taken up by it, especially at academically focused schools, so it’s useful to have a handful of simple, short activities that can be tacked on to the beginning or end of a lesson.

The simplest activities range from Wordsearches to card games that use the vocabulary or even a quick dot-to-dot. A bingo game would also be an effective way of practising the vocab.

However, my favourite short activity, which I do every year even if I’ve been asked to do it or not, is to tell a ghost story. I have two stories that I made up based on real places from my childhood. One of them involves the haunting spectre of a fellow student, the other talks of a demon dog disturbing my sleep. I think the key to telling a good ghost story to have plenty of build up and a big shock moment. Basically I try to channel the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock.

A Full Lesson

Teaching students about Halloween becomes a far greater task if asked to do it for an entire forty-five or fifty minute lesson. Luckily this is more likely to crop up in Elementary School, where craft is a perfectly valid form of study activity. So the lesson could be largely devoted to making Halloween costumes for some Trick or Treat practice or perhaps to act out some sort of ghostly fable.

Craft activities are less favoured in High School but I think some degree of it is acceptable in most Junior Highs. For the older classes it’s possible to do something more creative with the language. For example, give groups the beginning of a ghost story and let them finish it.

Another activity could involve identifying scary things and using adjectives to describe them. Students could design a monster, write a series of sentences describing it, then read those sentences to a partner who then draws the monster. In this way the activity covers all of the key skills – Reading, Writing, Speaking. Listening and Terrifying.

Special Cases

The advantage of teaching special groups such as English Club or out-of-school classes (I teach an adult Eikaiwa class that’s held once a week) is that there are usually fewer students, allowing for some more unusual activities. When I ran a High School English Club the students specifically requested a “Halloween Party.” Now, to me, a Halloween Party involves creepy costumes and copious cocktails, and seeing as we couldn’t really do cosplay on school grounds and they were only around sixteen years-old, I wasn’t really sure what they wanted. After a bit of googling I found a bunch of Halloween party games which I threw into the lesson along with a bit of craft. For example, I gave the club a short slide-show presentation on the process of mummification along with a clip from the black and white movie The Mummy. This built some atmosphere and lead directly into the Wrap-the-Mummy game. I found this activity particularly funny because one pair was made up of the tallest girl in the group and the shortest girl. They flipped a coin to decide who would be the “mummy” (i.e. the one to be wrapped in as much toilet paper as possible) and the tall girl was it. The sight of this little girl running around the bigger one, throwing toilet paper all around was totally hilarious.

Another possible activity for these unique group situations is listening to music. This year I’m planning on introducing my Eikaiwa class to The Monster Mash. It will be interesting to hear how much detail they can pick out from the lyrics. Maybe I can even get them up and dancing … probably not though … but maybe … … however, unlikely …

What kind of activities do you use at Halloween time? Please share in the comments.

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