This article was originally featured in the October 2022 issue of CONNECT.
Rachel Fagundes (Okayama)
I’m a fiend for Halloween, so from the first of October—it’s ON. Students love anything to do with witches and ghosts, but most JTEs are busy just getting through the textbook and don’t have much extra time to spend talking about a holiday.
So instead, I incorporate Halloween into every grammar lesson and activity that I do throughout the month. Are we practicing “I know how to” phrases? Great! It’s time for the students to learn how to kill vampires, and so on.
The point is to get students excited to use the language they have been learning in class by putting a Halloween spin on your English activities.
Here are some of my lesson plans from the merry month of October.
Halloween Fortune Tellers: Future Tense
[[Inset color image of “RF01 – Halloween Cootie Catcher Templates” in this section]]
Age: JHS Second Year
Goal: Future tense questions and answers
Speaking, Listening, Writing
My students learn the future tense in October, so instead of having them ask each other the usual dull questions (“Will you study English tomorrow?” / “Yes, I will.”) we use Halloween themed “cootie catchers” (the folded paper fortune tellers of your middle school slumber parties) to peer into the mysteries of the future.
What You Need:
Print out worksheets and cootie catchers. Cut the extra paper away from the cootie catchers so the kids can fold them quickly in class.
Also, talk to your JTE about how cootie catchers work and practice the demonstration with them.
Hand out the worksheets and walk the kids through the grammar of asking spooky questions. “Will I see a ghost tomorrow?”, “Will I marry a vampire?”, and “Will I become a werewolf on Halloween?” are examples I like to use, since they give students the grammar they need for the ever-popular questions “Will I marry [insert crush’s name here]?” and “Will I become a [insert dream job here]?”
Have the students brainstorm and write their own questions on their worksheets. They can be Halloween themed or not, whatever the students want to ask, they just can’t be identical to the examples provided.
With your JTE, demonstrate using the cootie catchers to ask and answer questions. The instructions are a bit complicated for those unfamiliar, so they are also written in Japanese on the worksheet.
Hand out the cootie catchers and show the students how to fold them.
Have the students make pairs and ask one another questions using their cootie catchers to answer.
Students then write down the responses on their worksheets.
Halloween Monsters: What is this?
Age: JHS first years or older elementary
Goal: “What is this?” / “This is ____.” (Can easily be updated to “Who is he/she?” or other variants)
Dictionary practice (English to Japanese)
Halloween monster vocabulary
My first year students need practice with simple sentences and using their English-to-Japanese dictionaries, so we have a lot of fun with this Halloween game.
I ask the students, “What is this?” And I present them with a series of clues: four sentences written in English that they will need to use their dictionaries to decode before they can guess the answer.
It drinks blood.
It sleeps in a coffin.
It changes into a bat.
It has sharp teeth.
What is this?
This uses easy sentence structures that the students have already learned, but vocabulary that they don’t know. What is blood? What’s a coffin? They’ll have to work in teams and use their dictionaries to find out.
What You Need:
- English-to-Japanese dictionaries
- Whiteboards and pens
- Stickers, candy, or other prizes (depending on what your school allows)
Download the PowerPoint provided or make your own. The first page contains four simple English sentences describing a famous Halloween monster. The next page (revealed after students have presented their guesses) shows the correct answer. This PowerPoint includes vampire, werewolf, witch, and mummy.
Gather materials. Your JTE likely has whiteboards and dictionaries at school already, but it’s best to check.
Divide the students into their lunch groups. Give each group a whiteboard and pen, and a few dictionaries.
Explain the rules of the game:
- You will give the students four English hints.
- They must use their dictionaries to understand the hints and guess “What is this?”
- They must write the answers on their whiteboard. Answers in perfect English are worth two points. Imperfect English (or Japanese monster names) are worth one point. A cute picture of the correct monster is worth one bonus point.
- The team with the most points wins Halloween stickers/prizes/candy/etc.
Once the students understand the rules, show them the first slide with the four hints. Students will start racing to decode the answers; usually different students on each team start tackling different clues. It only takes a couple of key words like “blood” or “teeth” for them to figure it out. Walk around the classroom and check their progress. Once about half the groups have started drawing vampires on their whiteboards, start a countdown to let them know their time is almost up. Have the students show their whiteboards, then show the class the monster-reveal slide in the PowerPoint, and award points to the groups with correct answers. Continue on with the next monster. At the end of the game, review all the monster names with the students and have them repeat after you. Award stickers to the winning group.
[[Insert Halloween Pumpkin Carving Pics throughout this section]]
Goal: Embrace the joys of Halloween, make students get their hands dirty, impress the entire staff room
OK, this one doesn’t really have a grammar point, but I’ve found that teachers will make time for it anyway because it’s fabulous.
Most Japanese people—adults and children—have seen carved Halloween pumpkins in film and pop culture, but have never seen one in person, much less had the chance to try making one, so this activity is always a big hit. My students talk about it as one of the highlights of the year, and I have found the jack-o’-lanterns generate an enormous amount of goodwill from the other teachers.
* Note: Allow the students to design the pumpkin face and scoop out the insides, but do all the cutting and carving yourself. Do not give your students knives or matches.
What you need:
- One pumpkin per classroom (NOT per student)
- Carving knives
- Candles and matches or lighter
- Trash bags
- Paper towels or wet wipes
- One whiteboard pen or chalk
- Drawing paper
Buy pumpkins. This is actually the hardest part. Proper, large, orange carving pumpkins are difficult to find in Japan. I will not reveal the secret of where I get mine, but I wish you luck.
Talk to your school principal or vice principal about KNIVES and FIRE in the classroom.
Gather the rest of the materials.
Split this activity between two lessons.
Lesson One: Teach the kids about pumpkin carving and explain these four steps:
- Draw the face
- Cut off the top
- Clean the inside
- Cut the face
Draw examples or show pictures for each step, as well as examples of carved pumpkin faces.
Explain that you will be carving a pumpkin and that the students get to design the face! Hand out paper and let the kids draw jack-o’-lantern face ideas for about 10 minutes.
[[Insert picture of drawing “Pumpkin 1.A”, “Pumpkin 2.A”, or “Pumpkin 3.A”]]
Then, select a few drawings that are well done and relatively simple to carve. Keep in mind that curved lines are harder to cut than straight lines, and that small detailed shapes are harder to cut than large broad ones. Put the selected designs up on the board and let the students vote for their favorite.
End Lesson One.
[[Insert pumpkin with drawn on face “Pumpkin 1.B”, “Pumpkin 2.B”, or “Pumpkin 3.B”]]
In the downtime before the next lesson, draw the winning design onto your pumpkin using a whiteboard marker or chalk (both are easy to wipe off of the pumpkin if you make a mistake). Getting the proportions right so it feels like the student’s drawing can take time and isn’t very interesting to watch, so do this step in between classes.
Lesson Two: Usually a day or two after Lesson One we get into the actual carving.
[[Insert carved pumpkin picture “Pumpkin 1.C”, “Pumpkin 2.C”, or “Pumpkin 3.C”]]
Lay out trash bags or newspapers on top of the desk to create a clean workspace and set out all your materials. Have students walk you through the pumpkin carving steps they previously learned.
Cut the Top
Cut a hole in the top of your pumpkin large enough to get your hands inside. Afterwards, put the knives away until they are needed again.
Clean the Inside
Invite the students up to the front to help you clean out the gooey pumpkin guts. This stage is the most fun for the kids, who tend to squeak and shriek throughout with a mixture of glee and revulsion. Provide paper towels or wet wipes for hand cleaning.
Cut the Face
Once the pumpkin is clean and smooth inside and the students are back in their seats, carve the face. It’s less exciting for the students to just watch after the interactive cleaning phase, so this step is best accomplished quickly (you can smooth out fine details in the carving later).
Finally, turn the lights out, draw the curtains, and light the candles inside your fabulous new jack-o’-lantern!
After carving, leave your jack-o’-lanterns at school for the students and teachers to enjoy. Ask the principal or vice principal for a public place to display the pumpkins, in the hallway, by your English board, or on the students’ shoe shelves, etc. At night, after the students go home, light them up so that the teachers can enjoy the full jack-o’-lantern effect!
Rachel Fagundes is a lean mean scream queen Halloween machine who spends the other 11 months of the year waiting for October. Originally from California, she has worked at Tachyon Publications and Locus Magazine, and is the former Head Editor of [CONNECT].