October is here, and so is the time for haunted houses, spider webs and Halloween activities for your ESL classes!
For some ESL students, this will be their first introduction to the late October holiday. It’s always fun to share a little with students from around the world about how the holiday is celebrated in America.
But Halloween fun can be a learning tool, too. Here are nine activities you can do with your class that will both build their language skills and give them a little spooky excitement too.
9 Fantastically Diverse Halloween Activities for ESL Students of All Ages
1. Halloween Tongue Twisters
Tongue twisters are fun to do with ESL students. Just about anyone likes the challenge of pronunciation acrobatics, and it’s easy to tailor them to Halloween or any other holiday. Start by explaining that tongue twisters are pronunciation challenges that use the same or similar sounds in short phrases or verses.
You might want to give your students a few classic examples such as “red leather yellow leather,” “rubber baby buggy bumpers” and “how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.” Once students get the idea, challenge them to write their own Halloween tongue twisters.
As a class, brainstorm some words associated with Halloween, like “goblin,” “monster,” “ghost,” etc. When it’s time to write the tongue twisters, start with a spooky Halloween term and add words with similar sounds to make a phrase. You can use the following examples or write your own.
Glowing ghosts gobble goodies.
Warty witches wish for watches.
Big bats match hats.
Musty mummies make monster masks.
Celebrate your tricky phrases with a reading contest in which each person reads their tongue twister for the class–five times fast, of course!
2. Halloween Word Find
This super simple activity takes no advance preparation, and it’s a great way to introduce your students to some new vocabulary. Write the word “Halloween” on the board in large letters. Then explain to your students that they will have 1-3 minutes (your call) to make as many English words as they can using only the letters that make up the word “Halloween.”
Start the timer and let students rack their brains for as many words as they can come up with. When time is up, have students take turns sharing their words. If anyone has a word that another student also listed, both must cross it off their paper.
Once everyone has shared their words, the person with the most words remaining on their list wins a Halloween prize. If you like, repeat the activity with other Halloween-themed words such as “Frankenstein” and “ghost stories.”
3. Candy Taste Test
Who doesn’t like an excuse to eat candy in class? Halloween is the perfect time of year to host a candy taste test with your students. Bring in three different types of Halloween candies for students to taste (allergies permitting).
Before starting the activity, review with your students how to form comparative and superlative adjectives. Then let each student try each of the sweets you brought in.
After tasting each candy, your students should make notes about how it tastes. For example:
This one tastes sweeter than the first.
This candy is the hardest.
This is a good time to remind students of adjectives that describe flavor. Once they have tasted and described each candy, students write a paragraph saying which candy was best. They should use comparative and superlative adjectives to support their opinions in the paragraph.
4. Halloween Scattergories
This classic game is great for teaching ESL students new and less common vocabulary. Start by brainstorming a list of things associated with Halloween (i.e. candy, monsters, costumes, etc.). These will be the categories for the rest of the game.
From your list, choose the six best categories. Then roll a letter die or choose a letter of the alphabet at random. (Avoid less common letters such as x, q, v, j, etc.) Then give your students one minute to think of a word that fits each category and that starts with the letter you rolled.
For example, for the letter “D,” they might answer something like “candy: dark chocolate, monster: Dracula, costume: dog.” Have students share their answers with the class and cross out any repeats to get their score for that round. Play three rounds with three different letters. The person with the highest score for the combined rounds wins a Halloween prize.
5. Guess Who
This is a simple game that even beginning students can play. As a class, brainstorm a list of creepy Halloween creatures—such as bats, black cats, Frankenstein, mummies, etc. From the list, each person chooses one creature and writes three clues about it. Make sure they don’t write down the name of the Halloween creature, though!
Tell your students to number their clues and make the most obvious clues last in the list. Students take turns sharing their clues and guessing which Halloween creature each person chose.
If a student guesses correctly after one clue, they score three points. After two clues, two points. After three clues, one point. Keep score and give a prize to the person with the highest score at the end of the game.
6. “The Scream”
Show students Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream.” Put students in groups of three to talk about the painting. Have them discuss the following two questions:
- What happened?
- Why is this person screaming?
If your students are beginning or intermediate, have them discuss the painting using the simple past tense. If your students are intermediate or advanced, consider having them discuss what could have happened using the past conditional tense with modal verbs.
As they discuss and write, they should use whatever tense you assigned. (If you decide to have students work in the conditional for this activity, you might want to take a few minutes at the beginning of class to review conditionals.)
After their discussion time, have groups work together to write a scary story using the painting for inspiration. Give groups a chance to read their stories to the rest of the class or compile the stories into a class book for students to read during free learning periods.
7. Doing Good with UNICEF
Since many of your students might not know much about Halloween, take a few minutes to discuss the practice of trick-or-treating. Ask students to share what they know about it, and then answer any questions they have.
After your discussion, explain that UNICEF is an international organization that works to promote the rights and improve the lives of every child in every situation. Then share with your students how some children will choose to trick or treat for UNICEF, collecting money for the organization rather than candy for themselves.
Have your students discuss the following questions in groups of three or four.
- If you were a kid, would you ever trick or treat for UNICEF instead of getting candy for yourself?
- What is something kind you have done or would like to do for someone you don’t know?
- What are other ways we can help children around the world?
8. Haunted House Brochures
Have you ever been to a haunted house? Have your students? This pastime is popular in the fall leading up to Halloween. Ask your students to share any experiences they have had visiting a haunted house. Share your own experiences, too.
Then have students work in groups of three to design their own haunted house, with pictures if you like. Have each group design a brochure advertising their haunted house. Display the brochures for the class and have your students vote on which haunted house is the scariest, or which they would like to visit in real life.
9. Scary Advice
Everyone needs advice at some point, and scary situations are a good time to ask for it. Start this activity by reviewing modal verbs with your students. Then show your students some advice letters such as those written to Dear Abby.
Challenge your students to think of a scary situation (either realistic or ridiculous) in which they might like advice. Have each person write a letter to Dear Abby. Collect the letters and redistribute them to your students.
Each person will now pretend to be Abby and give advice to their classmate using modal verbs in their answer. Collect the letters and display them on a bulletin board laid out to look like a newspaper.
Halloween is a fun holiday filled with spooky monsters and sweet treats. It’s also a fun way to incorporate U.S. culture into language lessons.
Your students can work on pronunciation, grammar, speaking, reading and writing all while having fun and satisfying their sweet tooth. Try these activities and everyone will walk away from class with a smile on their lips and a shiver in their spine.
And One More Thing…
Searching for fun, authentic holiday videos to show your ESL students? Check out FluentU!
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities. You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great holiday videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
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