Halloween Lesson Plans and Activities for ELA/ESL/EFL

Halloween Lesson Plans and Activities for ELA, EFL and ESL studentsAre you looking for Halloween Lesson Plans and Activities for ELA/ESL/EFL? Here’s a collection of my best-sellers, as well as some new critical thinking mystery games with a Halloween theme. I now keep all my lesson plans on Teachers Pay Teachers, so the links go directly to that site.

Introducing Halloween Lesson Plans and Activities

  • It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown Lesson Plan A complete lesson plan with a warmer, guide to the video, a vocabulary list and activities, comprehension and discussion questions, and ideas for extension activities. I love using Charlie Brown movies to introduce holidays to my international students. It’s also amazing how much they already know about the holidays. Unlike other Charlie Brown films, It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown doesn’t have much of a moral lesson, but there’s an underlying theme of naive faith and childhood stories that you can get students talking about. It’s also a fun, funny movie to bring a little holiday spirit into the classroom.
  • Halloween True or False My go-to lesson to introduce Halloween to EFL and ESL students. Students are presented with a series of Halloween traditions and have to figure out or research which are real and which are not. This activity lends itself to lots of discussion and can be turned into a webquest easily. Teach research skills and good Internet habits along with your Halloween fun!
  • “This is Halloween” Lyrics Gap-Fill Use the popular Tim Burton song from The Nightmare Before Christmas to introduce Halloween and have some fun. Obviously, this makes for a good listening lesson.
  • My Comprehensive, Highly Adaptable Halloween Lesson Plan which covers a lot of territory from reading scary stories to reviewing Halloween vocabulary to the Halloween True or False lesson. So it’s bits and pieces of things, including some of the other ideas you see here.

Halloween Lesson Plans and Activities for Writing

  • The Movie of Death: This lesson plan uses the genre method of writing to help students analyze a scary story. After reading an example scary story, they look for the key features that make it scary using a worksheet. Then they are ready to write a scary story of their own. The sample story is as silly as the title suggests, so students won’t be too scared by it. But my students come up with some creepy ideas when I do this one with them!
  • Halloween Process Essay If you’re teaching the process essay, here’s a way to give it a Halloween flair. Students assemble and then read an essay on how to make a mask. You can even make masks with them in class if you want.
  • Scary Story Writing Prompts to inspire students to write or tell a story. You can also use them for chain stories.

Critical Thinking Lesson Plans for Halloween

  • The Candy Thief Halloween Mystery Someone stole a bag of candy from a trick-or-treater. There were three witnesses but one of them is lying. Can your students follow the clues and figure out who did it? This lesson is one of my best-selling, critically teacher-acclaimed clue by clue lessons, targeted for a slightly younger audience. It’s a great critical thinking and discussion activity. This version is in PDF so you can download and print it. There’s also a  PowerPoint version to display in class.
  • Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board A creepy Halloween murder mystery. Who stabbed the victim in the dark while they were playing the popular Halloween game. This one takes the form of a logic puzzle. Can your students use the clues to match the name to the costume and seating position? And then figure out Whodunit?

Reading Activities for Halloween

  • Scary Stories adapted for intermediate students. These are short urban-legend-style scary stories each only a couple of paragraphs long. Have students read them and then retell them, act them out, or illustrate them.

And if you like the clue by clue mysteries like The Candy Thief and Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, you can find links to the others on this post about Clue by Clue Critical Thinking Activities. You can also visit the Halloween section of my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

What are your favorite Halloween Lesson Plans and Activities? If you’ve used any of mine in the classroom, please leave a comment and let me know how it went.

Clue by Clue Mysteries: Critical Thinking Activities

What are Clue by Clues

Clue by Clues are fun mystery games I came up with to share my love of solving mysteries with my classes. They also are perfect critical thinking activities! Clue by Clues make great warm-up activities, fillers, or time killers for those last minutes of class and early finishers.

Students work in small groups to solve a puzzle or mystery The catch is that they are given each clue one at a time. This slows down the mystery solving process, meaning students spend more time discussing each clue and revising their theories. And that means more time using critical thinking skills. It also means more talk time as students discuss the importance of each clue and reevaluate their previous ideas. And of course, try to persuade others of their point of view.

Each Clue by Clue Activity is available to download and print. Inside you’ll find an introduction to the mystery for students to read, clue cards to distribute to students, hints to help them along, a full solution, and some follow-up discussion questions to extend the lesson. Each activity comes with complete teacher notes on how to use it.

Why Clue by Clues?

Research shows that a good critical thinking activity is one where students evaluate a range of facts and opinions (Moore and Parker, 1986), combine ideas in various ways (Smith, Ward and Finke, 1995), use complex thinking patterns (Feldman, 1997),  and express or defend their opinions with evidence (Lipman, 1988).

Continue reading “Clue by Clue Mysteries: Critical Thinking Activities”

Why Can’t They Just Get This Right?

Have you ever met one of those errors that simply will not go away? In Kazakhstan, Many students would say to me, “I am agree with this,” instead of, “I agree.” It didn’t matter the level of the student. I would hear students making this mistake over and over. And the standard error correction practices didn’t seem to make much of an impact.

Why is it that our students seem to have these persistent errors? And why is it that students from a particular country or culture seem to share so many of these errors?

Interlanguage?

The answer is interlanguage. Interlanguage is a sort of language (or pidgin) that students construct when they are learning a second language. Interlanguage shares features of both students’ first language and the new language, and it changes as students master the new language.

Basically what happens is that students process a new language through the filter of their first language-trying to apply the grammar and language features to the new language. If you’ve ever tried to communicate in a new language by translating an idiom from Englsih literally into the new language, that’s interlanguage. Another feature of interlanguage is the overapplication of rules of the second language. When a beginner student learns that adding -ed to verbs makes them past tense in English, they often start using that rules every where. They say things like “sitted” and “eated”.

So why were my Kazakhstan students saying, “I am agree,” instead of “I agree”? Well, in their first language, Russian, it’s common to say “я согласен” which literally translates to “I am agreeable,” i.e. the adjective form of “agree”. However in Russian, you usually drop the verb “to be” in the present tense.

So to produce, “I am agree,” my students had to apply a few rules of Russian and a few of English:

  1. They added in the verb “to be” because they know that in English we do use it.
  2. They used the correct form of “agree” (instead of “agreeable”) because they heard that form being used.
  3. However, they missed that “agree” here is a verb and therefore we don’t actually need the verb “to be”

Continue reading “Why Can’t They Just Get This Right?”

Culture Role Play: Role Cards

You are a Pandya

 

  • You prefer to talk to people from your own culture instead of people from other cultures
  • You only speak when spoken to. You do not like to start conversations with outsiders
  • You are always very formal. You say ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ and never use first names only. You always use ‘please’ ‘thank you’ ‘excuse me’ and so on.
  • Women have more status than men. Women should always accompany men
  • Men do not talk directly to women from another culture. They talk through the woman who is with them.
  • Men also do not make eye contact with women from other cultures and if a women touches a man, it is scary. Your woman companion should take you away quickly.
  • It is scary when a woman from another culture tries to talk to you.
  • Men do talk to other men.
  • Among your own people, you can speak to men and women freely.
  • You like to have very short conversations. You do not like to talk for a long time. If someone tries to talk to you for a long time, you will walk away.

 

You are a Chispa

 

  • You are an informal and friendly culture. You like to talk to new people.
  • You call everyone by their first name
  • You use a lot of slang and informal expressions.
  • Men and women are equal in your culture and there are no separate roles
  • You are very outgoing. You like making friends and talking to people from other cultures.
  • You like to talk for a very long time. If someone walks away, you follow them and keep talking.
  • You believe it is good for women to talk to men and men to talk to women, especially from outside cultures. That way everyone learns something.
  • You like to touch people, shake hands, touch the shoulder while you are talking to someone.

 

Direct Instruction Works

What does a magnet tell us about direct instruction?

There’s an ongoing debate about whether direct instruction or discovery learning works best in ELT. Direct learning is when you give students new information explicitly, such as telling them that we form the plural in English by adding -s to the end of words. By contrast, discovery learning is letting students figure out the rules by themselves. It might seem obvious that each has its own place.

However, when I talk to teachers, most seem to prefer discovery learning and use direct instruction only as a last resort. If your students are really struggling, then you can jump in with the explicit information. But, the other day while teaching my four-year old about magnets, I realized how useful direct instruction can be! Continue reading “Direct Instruction Works”

The Gift of the Magi Lesson Plan

watch-iconThis The Gift of the Magi lesson plan packet has taken me years to compile!

“The Gift of the Magi” is without a doubt one of my favorite short stories, especially for the Christmas season. I’ve been teaching it to my students for years, and now I’ve compiled 15 different “The Gift of the Magi” lesson plans, activities, and resources for you. It’s 108 pages of activities, handouts and worksheets that cover vocabulary, irony, the moral of the story, character analysis, close reading, critical reading skills, and a lot more. The packet even includes some assessment materials. Each resource comes with comprehensive teacher notes and answer keys.

Isn’t “The Gift of the Magi” Too Difficult for ESL Students?

The story itself is actually very simple:

hair-comb1A husband and wife are very much in love with each other. The wife has very beautiful hair that she loves very much. The husband has a pocket watch that he loves very much. They want to buy very nice Christmas presents for each other, but they don’t have much money. So, the wife sells her hair to get money. and buys a chain for the watch. Unfortunately, the husband sells his watch to buy the woman beautiful combs for her hair. Each one gives up the thing they love for the other one. While tragic, the story proves that the couple love each more than anything.

It’s a beautiful and touching story, a perfect example of how situational irony can work. But we don’t often do it in class, because it’s a difficult story. But it’s difficult for only two reasons, both of which I’ve addressed in my packet.:

  1. The references: There are references to things that may be unfamiliar to a modern-day student, especially one from another country. There are also allusions to the Bible and other sources in the story that students may not be familiar with. That’s why I’ve provided a lightly graded text with footnotes to explain the more obscure references and early 20th century items. This lesson pack also includes warm-up activities to get at the main theme and explain the references to the magi.
  2. The vocabulary: Let’s face it. O. Henry was a wordsmith and this story has a lot of words that are off the 200 most frequently used lists and the AWL. That’s why I’ve included:
  • A master list of those hard words for your reference.
  • More importantly, a fun quick vocab match to teach hair comb, pocket watch, watch chain, and gift.
  • There’s also an extensive vocabulary learning lesson plan which focuses on 24 words that students may not know, but which are fairly easy to explain, such as butcher and howl and platinum. Students use social learning methods to learn the meanings and then do a series of flashcard games to review them.
  • There’s also a lesson plan on predicting the meaning of difficult words in context, including figuring out how much you need to know about a word to follow the story. Keep students from looking up every single word they don’t know!
  • Finally a critical reading skills lesson models reading for the gist, focusing on words you do know and grasping the main idea without knowing every word.

Continue reading “The Gift of the Magi Lesson Plan”

Setting the Tone on Day One (and Keeping it Going)

Do-nows are one of my most important go-to teaching tools. They aren’t suitable for every lesson in every classroom in the world. But when they do work, they solve one of the biggest problems a teacher can face: How to get students to transition smoothly into class time.

The Problem

When I first started teaching, I did a lot of one-to-one tutoring. So my first time teaching a big class took some adjusting. I got to class ten minutes early, and students started shuffling in shortly thereafter. As they came in, they threw down their bags on their desks and started congregating in the back to chat. Some students sat down, but leaned sideways in their desks to talk across the aisle. A few students would come in to cries of, “Hey, Peter. What’s going on?” A handful of students would come in, settle into their seats, getting out books and pencils. But as class hadn’t quite started yet, the quickly got bored and started playing on their cellphones or doodling.

When it came time to start class, no one was looking up at me and there was quite a bit of background noise. After trying to talk over it several times with no result, I ended up turning out the lights. That quieted them down, but it was hardly a permanent solution.

The Solution: Do-Nows

Instead of letting students get distracted in all that dead time before class, give them a focus as soon as they walk into class. That’s what a do-now (or bell ringer) is: an activity students do as they walk in the door. It sets the tone for the class–this is a place where we work. There’s a nice story here that suggests that do-nows are particularly effective on the first day of school because they set the tone for the whole school year.

What Makes a Good Do-Now?

They Do it on Their Own

In order for students to be able to do a do-now as they walk in, it needs to be a clear task that students can do with no input from the teacher. That means the directions should be available and obvious, whether it be on the board or on a handout. They shouldn’t need to check their answers with you from part one in order to go on to part two, either. A do-now is something they can do on their own, while you are getting ready for class. (I gather these are sometimes called teacherless tasks (And Rachel Roberts has a rather nice post up on what makes a good teacherless task).

One great way to make sure students grasp the task without teacher input is to have a limited set of kinds of Do-Now activities. In my classroom, if students walk into class and see a proverb on the board, they know that their job is to interpret the meaning and decide if they agree or disagree. If they see a word cloud, they know they must guess the connection or the theme of the class.

BoredGirlFBBeing able to do it on their own also means that they shouldn’t need any additional materials. Everything they need should be readily available to them. A student can’t do something now, if they are waiting on something you give them, or even waiting for a partner to arrive. Ideally, they shouldn’t need anything more than a pen and perhaps a handout that you leave in a conspicious location. Since do-nows are a sort of warm-up activity, you don’t want students spending 10 minutes finding a book on the bookshelf or collecting objects around the room or looking up a lot of information on a website. You also don’t want to give students an excuse not to do the activity, so make sure they have everything they need.

Real Work, Just Faster

Doing it on their own also means that the activity is leveled to the students. It shouldn’t be too hard for the student to need assistance, but not too easy to be boring. And there should be a clear time limit. I like a good do-now that takes 10 minutes, with the possibility of an extension. My rule of thumb is 5 minutes before class time and 5 minutes into class.

A good do-now shouldn’t be busy work. It should relate to the theme of the class. Some teachers use class activities or test questions as do-nows. As an English teacher, I like using a do-now that is a bit more fun and engaging than a typical grammar activity, for example.  But my do-nows always have students working with the English language. It shouldn’t be meaningless fun. Students shouldn’t feel that they have wasted their time.

In fact, some teachers argue that a do-now should result in written output which is assessed by the teacher. Otherwise, students will not take it seriously. I don’t necessarily agree that every time you start class, you need an activity that requires an output and a grade. But there should definitely be some result that is a t the very least discussed openly in class.schoolgirlwithbook800x600

The Perfect Do-Now

My go-to do-now is a proverb or quotation on the board. As I mentioned, students can then figure out what it means and decide if they agree or not. Then we discuss it briefly. I then try to link the proverb to the theme of the class.

Other great follow-ups include:

  • Translate the proverb into your language
  • Think of a proverb from your culture that is similar.
  • Think of a story that proves or disproves the proverb
  • Since proverbs often contain an idiom or metaphor or some nonstandard grammar, we can talk about that language feature and try to use it elsewhere.

If you’re looking for a collection of quick and easy do-nows, check out my book, On the Board. It’s full of 200 proverbs, brain-teasers, riddles, puzzles, and jokes that make perfect fast, no-prep do-nows for your classroom!

And share your ideas for do-nows in the comments.


Cross-posted on the Alphabet Publishing blog