Halloween Brain Candy for English Classes

Note: This is an updated repost featuring some of my favorite October lesson ideas.

Since October has now become the “31 Nights of Halloween,” it feels like the right time to fold some spooky goodness to the literary lineup. Up first? A super-creepy Neil Gaiman story! If you don’t know Gaiman’s “Click Clack the Rattlebag,” lower the lights and get ready for a fun, scary ride. Gaiman shares it with us here:

Click here for a short-answer question set and creative writing extension activity.

As we prep for this pre-Halloween season, here are nine more lessons that’ll bring The Creepy into our classrooms:

2. Fear Factors – Why do folks even like corn mazes and haunted houses, anyway? In this non-fiction lesson, students read an interview with a sociologist who explains why some people enjoy being scared more than others. Hooray for interesting informational text!


3. “The Feather Pillow” – Mix an article about the real-life terror of sleep paralysis with a reading of “The Feather Pillow,” a short story by Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga, and you’ll forever change the way our kids look at their pillows, mattresses, and naps on the beach.

4. Get to Know Poe – October wouldn’t be complete without some Edgar Allan Poe. Skip the tired PowerPoint overviews and have students learn about Poe’s super-sad life by allowing them to guide their own research as they complete this organizer worksheet.

5. “The Cask of Amontillado” – I use this ghastly tale to teach irony and foreshadowing earlier in the semester during the short story unit (I do a pretty awesome drunken Fortunato voice), but if you haven’t taken the tour of Montresor’s creepy wine celler, this is the perfect time. These free lesson materials begin with a quick video trip to the Catacombs of Paris, where the skeletal remains of more than six million people are stacked. That’ll definitely grab your students’ attention.

6. “The Tell-Tale Heart” – Pair Poe’s murderous tale with a look at John Hinckley Jr.’s use of the “not guilty by reason of insanity” defense in his 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. There’s a cool audio narration of the story included and a mod 8-minute cartoon version that we use as a compare/contrast with the original story.


7. “The Black Cat” – I don’t know why, but this one disturbs me the most. Maybe it’s the alcoholism. Or the animal abuse. Or the idea of a mild-mannered husband just losing it. Anyway, I use this lesson only with my juniors because my freshmen are too young to handle the thick language and disturbing content, including a real-life connection to a California woman who lived with her mother’s mummified body in their home for two years. Yeah, that happened.

8. “The Raven” – Murder and gore will always grab attention, but the deepest horror comes when you lose someone you love. Enter Poe’s poetic masterpiece, “The Raven.” Combine a deep reading of the poem with a creative task for students to write their own Faux Poe lines of poetry. And, of course, we watch The Simpsons when we’re done:

9. “The Storyteller” – Maybe Poe is Just. Too. Much. Well, then, let’s lighten things up a bit with a lesson on Saki’s twisted tale, “The Storyteller,” a light-and-dark story that’ll entertain your students and give them practice identifying the differences between verbal, situational, and dramatic irony.

10. Micro-Fiction – On Friday, the kids will be out of their heads with pre-holiday costumes and candy, so let’s join in the fun with two-sentence storytelling, a smooth follow-up to the Saki lesson in #9. In this lesson, I give models of how effective stories can be told in just two sentences and then turn students loose to create four mini-stories, one each in the genres of drama, romance, sci fi, and – of course! – horror. The in-class work is always entertaining and becomes the decoration for the back row of cabinets.

Okay, now go get your scare on. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Blog header image courtesy of Tejas Prajapati, Pexels, Public domain.

6 thoughts on “Halloween Brain Candy for English Classes

  1. Great ideas! Thank you!

    Glad to hear from you again. It’s been a while! Hope all is great with you.

    Happy Halloween!!! 🙂

  2. Michelle McCloud says:

    What a fun story! I was not familiar with it. Thanks for sharing.

    On Sat, Oct 17, 2020 at 8:53 AM Laura Randazzo – Solutions for the Secondary Classroom wrote:

    > Laura Randazzo posted: ” Note: This is an updated repost featuring some of > my favorite end-of-October lesson ideas. Since Halloween’s on a Saturday > this year, it feels right to fill the whole week leading up to Oct. 31 with > spooky literary goodness. Up first? A super-creepy N” >

  3. Happy Halloween, Carolyn! For sure, COVID and my move to 6th grade this year has slid the blog to the back-burner. Don’t worry – I’m still here and still working hard. Just figuring out the “new normal” I keep hearing everyone talk about. 😉 Hope all is well on your side of the world!

  4. I love it, too, Michelle! And now I can’t stop digging into Gaiman’s world. Happy to share the goodness! 😀

  5. Laura,

    You always make me smile with your posts!

    Why down to 6th grade this year?

  6. Thanks, Lynnly! I’m always glad to see your name pop up here. 🙂 As for sixth grade, a door opened and I walked through it. Even with all of the COVID nightmare, I still wanted to be able to teach f2f, which this allows. It’s just for this year and then I’ll reassess (I do miss the older kids), but it’s working for now. Hope you’re doing well, too!

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