Spooky season is upon us! And that means it’s the first opportunity to bring the holiday spirit into our middle school classrooms. After all, why should primary teachers and students have all the fun?
With the right activities and reading materials, you can turn your middle school ELA classroom into a spooktacular learning hub in the days or weeks leading up to Halloween. Incorporating Halloween-themed lessons is the perfect way to harness the excitement and energy that comes with the holiday and use it to create valuable learning opportunities.
Consider this your invitation to brew up some engaging tricks to treat your students to an unforgettable Halloween-themed learning experience! To help you get to planning, I’m sharing a list of my favorite Halloween activities for middle school ELA.
Bringing the holiday fun into your classroom doesn’t have to mean giving up valuable time or missing opportunities for learning in your classroom. Keep reading to reveal 10 activities perfect for stimulating creative and critical thinking, improving comprehension, promoting literary analysis, and encouraging an active and engaging learning experience.
Invite students to transform a page of text into a bone-chilling blackout poem. Blackout poetry is a perfect lesson for emphasizing the elements of poetry and the importance of word choice. Print out pages from eerie short stories (anything by Poe will do) and have students search the page, circling specific words or phrases that, when strung together, read like an ominous poem. Then, have them black out the rest of the page or cover it with a symbolic drawing, leaving only a chilling message visible.
Consider this Halloween-inspired take on found poetry. Channel the spirit of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” by challenging students to piece together a frightening masterpiece! Similar to the blackout poetry activity above, challenge students to create chilling poems by pulling words and phrases from other sources. In this case, students can rearrange their “found words” to create an original poem. This is a fun way for students to explore the wonders of poetry while getting into the holiday spirit.
There’s no one better to teach tone and mood than the kind of Macabre Mr. Edgar Allan Poe is well-known for. Spend a day or two diving into gothic poetry by Poe and his fellow gothic authors. Encourage students to pay close attention to the eerie atmospheres and dark themes that characterize this genre. Take it one step further by challenging them to craft their own gothic poem inspired by a mentor text.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of teaching short stories in the secondary classroom. What you may not realize is that I’m a big fan of sharing spooky short stories with my students—and what better time to do that than Halloween? While you can read stories year-round, students love the chilling twists and turns of particularly creepy plotlines. If you’re struggling to keep your students engaged in classroom reading materials, you’ll definitely want to take advantage of the chance to incorporate a handful of haunting tales!
- “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
Follow a man’s descent into madness and guilt as he’s haunted by the vengeful beating of his victim’s heart.
- “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
A man grieving his lost love is tormented by a raven and descends into a nightmarish state of despair.
- “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
A quaint town showcases a shockingly disturbing side of blindly following tradition when the annual lottery is revealed to involve a deathly ritual.
- “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury highlights the darker side of technology dependence in this tale about a smart house gone terribly wrong for the Hadley family.
- “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving
The titular Tom Walker comes face-to-face with the inevitable consequences of greed and makes a pact with the devil for personal gain.
- “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl
A creepy yet comedic story of betrayal and revenge of a wife who murders her husband and cleverly covers up the act.
- “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl
Poor Billy Weaver has no idea what he’s in for when checking into a quaint bed-and-breakfast run by an innkeeper who is hiding a sinister secret.
- “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs
The White family quickly learns the meaning of the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for” in this story of granting magic wishes gone wrong.
- “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” by Neil Gaiman
This quick read follows a seemingly mundane conversation between a man and a young child during bedtime before the story comes to a nightmarish end.
- “The Hand” by Guy de Maupassant
A simple, straightforward, and (very) chilling tale of a severed hand seeking gruesome vengeance on his “hunter.”
Get students in the holiday spirit with intriguing Halloween-themed creative writing prompts. Focus on showing vs. telling with a “Haunted House” descriptive writing activity or provide a handful of spooky story starters where they can focus on essential narrative elements like plot, setting, character, theme, conflict, and tone. Whatever the challenge, these writing activities hone creative thinking, descriptive writing, and overall storytelling skills.
Tired of reading the same simple verbs again and again in student writing? Encourage replacing weak verbs with stronger, more descriptive ones by creating a verb graveyard! Have students “bury” mundane and over-used words using gravestone cutouts. Then, find creative ways to display powerful replacement words, enriching student vocabulary and leading to more robust, descriptive writing. Use this activity as a collaborative learning opportunity, resulting in a Halloween-approved bulletin board display that serves a purpose long after the month is over.
Explore the beauty of figurative language—with a Halloween-approved twist! Introduce figurative language concepts using memorably macabre examples. Alternatively, make it a fun-filled review where you send students on a scavenger hunt to find examples of how authors use metaphors, similes, personification, onomatopoeia, and alliteration to build a sense of fear and suspense in Halloween-themed texts. Have students turn their findings into spooky posters that you can hang on the walls for the weeks leading up to Halloween.
Looking for an extension activity? Challenge students to craft their own eerie examples of figurative language.
Want to hone your students’ research, summary, or synthesis skills? Keep the haunting spirit alive and promote these vital skills with a Halloween-themed research project. Task students with a research project exploring any one of a variety of topics aligned with the spooky holiday. Consider subjects like the history of the holiday, the evolution of Halloween traditions around the world, the origins of superstitions, the Salem Witch Trials, or iconic authors associated with the spooky season. In addition to stimulating critical research skills, this type of project encourages students to see connections between history, culture, and literature.
Don’t have time for a full-blown research paper? Check out this list of creative alternatives to the traditional research paper.
Activate those critical thinking and problem-solving skills with an eerie escape room challenge! Design a Halloween-themed ELA escape room activity where students work in teams to solve Halloween-themed puzzles, decode cryptic clues, and unravel spooky literary riddles. As the clock ticks, students must rely on their critical thinking and collaboration to escape the haunted room. Have fun designing your own challenges or save time by using my done-for-you Halloween Escape Room lesson.
Want something a little more text-specific? If you’re reading a spooky short story, play, or novel, you can also create an escape room based on the title you’re teaching—or explore my library of digital escape rooms for various texts!
Even if you’re in the middle of a unit or already have your lessons planned, you can still embrace festive fun with Halloween-themed bell ringers! In the days leading up to the holiday, show your holiday spirit by starting each class with a spooky bell ringer. Stimulate critical thinking with Halloween puzzles and brain teasers or have students analyze the figurative language in an eerie excerpt. Practice grammar by challenging students to correct the errors in Halloween-themed sentences or stimulate creative thinking (and writing) with spooky story starters!
So what are you waiting for? Let the Halloween-inspired teaching magic begin!
Despite what you may have heard, with the right readings and activities, you can celebrate the holidays while keeping students engaged in valuable learning experiences. By maintaining a balance between festivities and academic goals, you can embrace the (spooky) holiday spirit while building imperative knowledge and advancing vital skills.
Happy haunting (I mean, teaching), my teacher friends!
And who knows, you might find yourself a little spooked by just how much your students can learn with these Halloween-inspired activities. Frightfully short on time? Check out these 29 done-for-you lesson plans perfect for Halloween.