During October, high school English classes have settled into daily routines. Students are ready for a break from the daily grind. They will appreciate their teachers’ developing lesson plans that take Halloween into consideration.
Ghouls Rule – Invite Literature’s Ghouls to the English Classroom
Decide upon a specific poem, short story, scene from a novel or description in literature that is frightening, bizarre, ghostly or that involves cemeteries and dead folks. Choose excerpts that can be covered in two or three days.
the Firedragon from Beowulf
Witches from Macbeth
Ghosts from Macbeth or Hamlet
“The Tell-Tale Heart”
Old Scratch from “The Devil and Tom Walker”
Greek mythology: Tartarus, the Underworld, Gorgons, the Erinyes, Medusa, Hades
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
The Headless Horseman
Our Town (While not scary or morbid, characters in the town’s cemetery do stand up and talk. Close enough.)
Lesson Plans for the English Classroom at Halloween
Through out-of-class or in-class reading, make sure students have read the work or excerpt and can identify or outline basic material.
Through classroom discussion or a question-and-answer session, clear up any misconceptions students have about the characters or works under study.
Have students engage in one of the following activities:
1. Draw a picture that captures key details that are particularly relevant to the Halloween season. For example, a pictorial map of the Greek underworld would include Hades’ castle, deep in Tartarus, with the Erinyes, or Furies, hovering overhead. Gorgons, Medusa and fiery rivers would grace the terrain. Additions might include Sisyphus, Tantalus and twittering, bat-like creatures.
2. Write a playbill, complete with scene descriptions, to be handed out at a theatrical performance of the work.
3. Write a scene to be acted on stage during Day-of-the-Dead week or at a Ghostwalk or other Halloween festival.
Ask students questions such as:
1. How would you compare the witches in Macbeth to other eccentric characters in literature?
2. How does Shakespeare use the ghosts of Banquo and Hamlet’s father to create a certain atmosphere in the play?
3. What can you point out about Edgar A. Poe’s use of a raven as symbol instead of any other creature he might have used?
What would happen if Grendel met Old Scratch on the island of Bermuda (or someplace between Britain and America, such as Iceland or Greenland)?
How would you portray Porphyria’s lover to create the eeriest effect possible?
Devise criteria to use in selecting the best work to use in a community-wide Halloween performance. Develop data to evaluate each literary work.
Select one work, character or literary example to best represent a particular aspect of Halloween. Have students state their decision and explain their reasons for their selections.
Extension of this lesson plan:
Teachers might assign a journal entry or series of paragraphs that carries over into their writing lessons.
By allowing “Ghouls to rule” for a few days in October, teachers encourage students to be creative, off-beat and to take on a Hitchcock-esque persona. Such Halloween lesson plans for high school teachers help keep the late-fall blahs away while keeping subject matter and course objectives close at hand.
Personal experience in the classroom.
Edith Hamilton. Mythology
Shakespeare. Macbeth and Hamlet
Thornton Wilder. Our Town