by Susan Verner
Halloween is just around the corner, and it’s a great excuse to share some American culture with your ESL students.
Here are some fun ways to bring the celebration of all hallows eve into your classroom and still get some language work in at the same time.
11 Halloween-Themed Language Activities to Give Your ESL Students a BOOst
Host a Candy Taste Test
Who can consider Halloween without thinking of trick-or-treating and candy? No one! But you don’t have to go door to door in costume to enjoy the holiday’s greatest treats. Host a candy taste test with your students. Start by brainstorming different ways to describe how something tastes. Then invite students to take a taste of some fun holiday candies such as candy corn, chocolate bars, and sour candies. If you like, have each person write a paragraph about which candy they liked best and why. Or you could just have groups of three or four share their thoughts on what they experienced during the taste test.
National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day
National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day, observed annually on October 21, is a day for those who love cheesecake (and pumpkin) to try something new. Find a recipe and include a one in your class taste test and find ways to decorate the top with fun Halloween toppings. It might be considered a more healthy option than candy.
Write a Spooky Story
Ghost stories are often associated with Halloween and hay rides, but you don’t have to talk about ghosts to write or tell a great story. Start with a classic piece of art like the Scream and let students use it as a starting point for a spooky story of their own. Where is the person? Why are they screaming? What happens next? Give your students a chance to share their stories from up front or have them illustrate a part in the tale and display story and picture on a free bulletin board in your classroom.
Interview a Vampire
Vampires have been a hot part of pop culture since Twilight made its debut, but vampire tales go back much farther. One vampire classic is Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire. And though your students may not be up to reading the entire novel, they can use it as inspiration for writing interviews of their own. Have each person in class choose a spooky creature to role play such as a vampire, werewolf, ghost, witch, etc. Then pair students up to interview their fictional partner. If you like, have each person share some highlights from their interview with the class after the roleplays are finished.
Give Advice for Scary Situations
It’s always fun to do some grammar work with ghosts, right? Maybe it’s just me. But whether you like creatures of the night or not, you might want to use Halloween to practice imperative sentences and modal verbs with your ESL students. First, brainstorm several scary situations one could find oneself in on the dreaded night. They can be realistic ones like being stranded on an abandoned road in the woods or fictional ones like being chased by Frankenstein’s monster. Assign each student one situation and then have them mingle among their classmates to ask advice on how to handle it. Once everyone has had a chance to get some good advice, have each person share with the class what they think the best advice was for their particular scary situation.
Get Inspired by Some Scary Sound Effects
A horror movie wouldn’t be as scary as you expect without the great addition of certain sound effects. Lucky for you and you ESL students, you can find plenty of scary sound effects for free on such sites as Sound Bible. Play some of these effects for your class and see if they are able to identify what those sounds are. Then put your students in groups of four to six and direct them to the website. Have each group come up with a scary skit that includes at least three scary sound effects. Then put on a performance for the rest of the class, pop popcorn if you like, and watch the spooky skits your students have come up with. For an even bigger challenge, have students create their own radio play and record it along with the special sound effects and then play them all for the class.
Carve out Time for Pumpkins
Have your ESL students ever had the chance to carve pumpkins? Depending on their age, you might want to give them a chance to do it in class and work on their reading comprehension at the same time. Have pairs of students work together to carve pumpkins according to written directions. Each one will come out different, and that’s part of the fun. Take your reading activity a step further by giving students a recipe for toasted pumpkin seeds, bring a toaster oven to class, and snack on the finished product as part of your Halloween party. If you don’t actually want to carve pumpkins in class, ask students to plan out a jack-o-lantern face and then write a story using that pumpkin person as the lead character.
Talk about Trick or Treating
If your students are new to Halloween celebrations, and they may be, it might be wise as well as linguistically beneficial to talk about safe trick or treating. If your students plan on going out this October 31st, they will need to know how to stay safe. Talk about it as a class and list any good advice your students come up with such as carrying a flashlight and/or cell phone and checking candy before you eat it.
What Are You Going to Be for Halloween?
For a fun speaking activity, ask each student to imagine something they might like to be for Halloween. Without sharing their choice with the class, have each person write down three things they will need for their costume. One at a time, have students share their list and see if the rest of the class can guess what they might be dressed as this Halloween. You can also have them research famous characters from history, books, games and movies and say how and why they made their choice.
Have a Discussion or Debate
There is a large focus on food during Halloween. It offers many opportunities to indulge in a variety of tempting treats. Now is a good time for a class discussion about the subject. Students can give their opinions and follow up with a discussion or even a debate. For example: Are sweet foods good or bad for you? What is your favorite sweet food? Halloween promotes scary themes and ideas? Should we continue to celebrate it? Why? Do your prefer cookies or candy? Why?
Explore New Ideas
Jack o’ Lanterns are based on an Irish legend about Stingy Jack o’ Lantern who made a pact with the devil. Other fruits can be used to make colorful lanterns. Students can research the history of Halloween and come up with ideas for pumpkin alternatives. these examples: pineapples, avocado pears, peppers, oranges, melons, and squash. Ask them to bring their ideas to share with the class.
Celebrating Halloween doesn’t have to be spooky, but it’s best when you can work on language concepts at the same time.
Try these activities in class and your students are sure to get a BOOst in their language learning.
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