I don’t know about you, but I freakin’ love Halloween! In high school, however, incorporating the spooktacular spirit can be tricky. We don’t wear costumes (after all, we need those security cameras to be able to pick out faces!). Our snacks are highly policed. And anything that doesn’t enrich or supplement the mandated curriculum is frowned upon. But don’t worry! In this blog post, I’m going to share a few Halloween classroom ideas for the spooky English teacher!
Know Your School’s Policies Around Halloween Activities First
Before you dive too deeply into any of these Halloween classroom ideas, it might be wise to evaluate your teaching scenario.
I think we’ve all run across a student in our career whose parents are against Halloween and don’t want their children involved in any Halloween celebrations. You do need to respect those wishes and steer far away from any Halloween-specific activities.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t read creepy stories, study the horror genre, or embark on some creative writing!
Some schools are also more strict about classroom parties. In my experience, parties are generally frowned upon in class, unless they’re tied directly to behavior rewards or curriculum content.
I highly encourage you to add in Halloween fun without having a party–there are plenty of fun ways to incorporate the October spirit while still teaching your students!
The end of this post will talk about some Halloween classroom ideas that are more fun than academic. If you want to do these, have your students write a reflection or use them as enrichment or rewards for students who are doing well!
Halloween Classroom Idea #1: Decorate
The ambiance is so important!
If you want to avoid any trouble from parents or admin, focus your decor on fall and harvest themes, rather than spooky ones. You can pick up some mini pumpkins for less than a dollar usually from your local grocery store or farmer’s market. These can be sprinkled around your room. Opt for fall-themed bulletin board borders.
Another idea if you really want to push the horror decor is to focus on horror in literature.
You could do a literary bulletin board that highlights famous horror authors. You could even create a bulletin board that reviews literary terms with horror examples.
If you really want to keep it cheap, just have students color Halloween coloring pages if they finish their work early. Then, you can hang these up around the room, on your door, or behind your desk.
Halloween Classroom Idea #2: Incorporate Candy
It’s just not Halloween without candy, right?
Now, I know that food restrictions have gotten tighter and tighter over the years. Some schools are more strict than others when it comes to treats, so always be sure to follow your school’s rules around food.
Also, remember that allergies are a very real thing. I never buy candy that includes peanuts for my kids and often opt for suckers and other candy that are usually allergen-free.
You can always just pass out candy to your students on Halloween. This is a sure way to earn some “Coolest Teacher Ever” points.
But you can also involve candy in a classroom activity or lesson.
My favorite writing activity that involves treats is a Figurative Language Tasting.
Basically, you hand out different treats to students and they use a variety of figurative language to write descriptively about each snack or piece of candy. It’s super fun and can lead to some really great discussions amongst your students.
Halloween Classroom Idea #3: Read Creepy Stories
What’s Halloween without some ghost stories, right? This October, share some creepy horror stories with your students for Halloween.
“The Landlady” by Roald Dahl is a great short story for any secondary grade. There is a lot of foreshadowing to analyze, it’s a pretty easy read, and there’s no swearing or graphic scenes, so it’s a safe choice.
If your students really love to be creeped out, though, I recommend incorporating the master: Stephen King. “Popsy” is one of his shorter stories, includes a twist ending, and forces students to practice their inferencing skills.
Another option is to let them read a horror webcomic. E. M. Carroll’s “Out of Skin” is an excellent online graphic short story. This one requires lots of inference skills as well.
There are nearly endless possibilities for delightfully horrific short stories out there!
As students read or listen to these stories, be sure to dim the lights in your classroom!
Halloween Classroom Idea #4: Watch Creepy Shorts
Don’t have the time to devote to horror stories? What about having your students watch and analyze horror short films?
One of my students’ favorite activities is to analyze horror shorts. I’ve collected a large list of age-appropriate horror shorts over the years under five minutes. We’ll watch a short and then discuss how the filmmaker was able to build up suspense in such a short amount of time.
This ability to analyze suspense carries over into literature. I like to do this activity before reading a suspenseful story, but it’s also a great stand-alone enrichment activity. In fact, I’ve done this activity as a 45-minute reward choice activity for students before.
Otherwise, you can search for “horror shorts” all over YouTube.
Halloween Classroom Idea #5: Write Creepy Stories
It just wouldn’t be Halloween in an English class if we didn’t write some good horror, right? But adding a fiction writing unit to your curriculum can be a lot if there’s not already a place for it.
A great solution for this is the 2-sentence horror story. This activity is just what it sounds like: students write a horror story using only two sentences.
It’s not a new concept or lesson. I discuss them in-depth in this blog post. Netflix even has a whole series now of horror shorts based on these 2-sentence horror stories.
I recommend giving your students a bunch of examples before letting them write their own. I do this every year that I have time and the biggest issue my students have is being too blunt. Remind your students to show a scary situation rather than tell the reader about it.
If you’d like some help planning this activity, I have a freebie for it right here. Included is a lesson plan and a worksheet with space for two stories. You can print a copy for each student, or you can use the Teachers Pay Teachers digital tool to assign it through your Google Classroom.
Encourage students to use concrete details to convey the fear they felt during a scary time–the first day at a new school, a roller coaster ride, giving a speech to the class, etc. Encourage them to try creating suspense.
Fear is so powerful that it makes for an especially inspiring creative writing prompt!
Halloween Classroom Idea #6: Just-for-fun Enrichment Activities
In high school, there’s not a lot of time for “just-for-fun” activities, so these may or may not be possible for you.
In my school, we have a flex-time where students can be pulled for remediation. If they don’t need help in a class, however, they can choose a study hall or a fun activity. These classroom Halloween enrichment ideas are ones that I’ve offered during this rewarding flex time before.
Don’t forget while you do these activities with your students to put on a great Halloween party mix on in the background!
Halloween Gingerbread Houses
The all-time favorite Halloween activity from students is to create a Halloween haunted gingerbread house. (I do the same activity in December, but without the Halloween-spin.)
You need to provide students with graham crackers, frosting, and a variety of candy (or ask them to bring these things in). Then, students can use the sweet treats to assemble a haunted house.
This activity can be a little pricey if you’re paying out of pocket. If I do this, I try to collaborate with another teacher so we can split costs. Any extra gets saved so we can create regular gingerbread houses again in the winter.
It might sound a little juvenile, but I’ve never heard a high schooler student complain about being able to play with frosting. Plus, it’s awesome to see how proud they are of their haunted houses at the end.
Need to add a literary or academic slant? After students have constructed their haunted houses, have them write a story using the house as a setting!
Earlier I mentioned that you can buy mini-pumpkins for cheap from local grocery stores or farmer’s markets. I wait until it’s like 5 for a dollar and then buy a ton. Then, I let students pain their own jack-o-lanterns.
You’ll need to provide paper plates (for palettes), acrylic paint, and paintbrushes, in addition to the pumpkins. (Of course, if you have a handy PTA or students who will bring in supplies then you can do that too!)
Then, let students get creative with how they decorate their pumpkins. Students can go the traditional jack-o-lantern route, but there’s also no reason to limit their creativity!
Watch a Halloween Movie
Years and years ago, you could just put on a holiday movie all day and no one would care. Today, it’s a little harder to get away with.
If you’re working in an environment where you can, playing a movie can still be a great way to bring Halloween into your high school classroom!
There are classics, of course, like The Nightmare Before Christmas, but lots of other more recent films that work well: Coraline, The Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie, etc.
If you need to make your admin happy, you could always whip up a worksheet for your students to fill out as they watch. You could also have them analyze plot, suspense, setting, or nearly any other literary term.
Halloween can be tricky to incorporate into a high school English classroom. There’s a lot of curriculum to get through and never enough time. You might have parents or administration that don’t want Halloween in classrooms.
But I think adding a little seasonal fun is important too.
I’ve included some Halloween classroom ideas in this post that aren’t academic, but if you need to justify your holiday activities, stick to literature. Do a horror genre study. Read and write creepy stories. Look for foreshadowing, suspense, and spooky settings.
If students are reading, writing, and thinking they’re learning. If skeletons, vampires, and spiders are too much, just stick to fall themes–pumpkins, leaves, and corn stalks. Your students will appreciate the break from routine and you just might have some fun yourself!