The spooky season is nearly upon us.
Witches, magic potions, goblins and fairies await.
It will soon be l’Halloween !
France as a country has been slow to adopt the holiday, but since the French love costume parties, it’s now becoming part of the culture.
So as children—young and old—all around the world are looking forward to Halloween, why not embrace the decorations, costumes and candy and exploit all this fun for teaching French?
It’s a perfect opportunity to introduce new vocabulary and review other vocabulary as well as grammar constructions.
In this post, we’ll explore ideas for bringing Halloween into your French classroom.
But first, let’s look at a brief background of the holiday itself, so you can enlighten your students about the relationship between Halloween and the French language.
Halloween in France
Traditionally, only la Toussaint (All Saints’) is celebrated in France on the 1st of November, the day after Halloween. On this day, people visit cemeteries and bring des chrysanthèmes (chrysanthemums) to the graves.
L’Halloween is not a typical French holiday, but it offers a great commercial opportunity and a chance to have costume parties. It’s now “in” with the young people. Grocery stores often have a “sculpter une citrouille” (carve a pumpkin) display. Trick-or-treating (“des bonbons ou un sort/des friandises ou des bêtises”) isn’t as popular as in the U.S., but tends to be more common in small villages.
Halloween in Other French-speaking Countries
The main French-speaking country that celebrates Halloween is Belgium. Belgium is enthusiastic about Halloween and loves everything connected to it. There, Halloween is connected to la Toussaint and is very popular. Candles are lit on Halloween evening for the next day. There are Halloween parades in some of the big cities, the local stores dress up their windows with Halloween-themed items, and shops sell or rent many costumes—vampire costumes especially.
Other Francophone countries and regions, such as Quebec, Rwanda and Vietnam, to name a few, also celebrate Halloween and dress up in costumes.
So how can you use all of this to your advantage in teaching French? Well, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to teach your students new vocabulary and review both grammar and “old” vocabulary. Let’s see how!
4 Phantasmagoric Halloween Activities for Your French Class
1. Teaching vocabulaire d’Halloween (Halloween vocabulary)
L’Halloween is a great opportunity to teach new and exciting vocabulary such as:
la citrouille — pumpkin
la sorcière — witch
le chaudron — cauldron
l’araignée — spider
la toile d’araignée — spider web
le fantôme — ghost
la chauve-souris — bat
le vampire — vampire
le déguisement — costume
un diable — a devil
un monstre — monster
un masque — mask
un squelette — skeleton
la Faucheuse — the Grim Reaper
un lutin — goblin
un loup-garou — werewolf
un zombie — zombie
un crâne — skull
une citrouille-lanterne — Jack-o’-lantern
une maison hantée — a haunted house
se déguiser — to dress up as
avoir peur de — to be afraid of
sculpter une citrouille — to carve a pumpkin
hanter — to haunt
jouer un tour à quelqu’un — to play a trick on someone
faire peur à — to frighten
Here’s how you can actively incorporate this vocabulary into your French classes:
- Show your students photos of people dressed in Halloween costumes and ask them to describe what they see. This is a good opportunity to then incorporate a review of parts of the body and ask them to describe one or two outstanding features of the costumes. For example:
Le squelette a de grandes dents blanches. (The skeleton has big white teeth.)
Le papillon a de grosses ailes attachées au dos. (The butterfly has big wings attached to its back.)
Le chat a un bouton noir comme nez. (The cat has a button as a nose.)
- Make flashcards using the vocabulary, divide the class into teams of four and get them to pair French vocabulary with the corresponding English meaning. The team that gets 10 pairs first is the winner.
- Ask your students questions using the Halloween vocabulary, such as:
As-tu peur des vampires/des zombies/des loup-garous/des araignées ? (Are you afraid of vampires/of zombies/of werewolves/of spiders?)
Comment te déguises-tu ? (How do you dress up?)
Aimes-tu aller demander des bonbons ou un sort ? (Do you like going trick-or-treating?)
- See the vocabulary used in authentic French examples. Learning vocabulary on its own may be tricky, so show students videos and audio of Halloween vocabulary in context to help solidify the words.
- Finally, have your students tell or write a scary Halloween story. In addition to putting some of the above vocabulary to use, this will allow you to teach or review storytelling vocabulary:
Il était une fois (once upon a time), un dragon/un nain/un géant/un vampire (a dragon/dwarf/giant/vampire)…
2. Recettes pour Halloween (Halloween recipes)
Halloween is an ideal time to review the imperative as you introduce a fun element: the Halloween recipe.
- Firstly, ask your students to translate a recipe for pumpkin pie from English to French. Then have them do the same for one from French to English.
You can take this opportunity to review food vocabulary:
une recette — recipe
couper — cut
faire cuire — cook
allumer le four — heat the oven
chauffer — heat
verser — pour
You can also take the opportunity, as mentioned above, to review the imperative.
- Encourage your students to use their imaginations and come up with a menu for a Halloween dinner, using spooky vocabulary. Ask questions about what they’re going to eat and do (“Que vas-tu manger ?” / “Que vas-tu faire ?”). Divide the class into teams of two (this activity might take several days depending on the size of the class) and get each team to present a Halloween recipe to the class.
- Alternately or in addition, ask them to come up with a recipe for a magic potion (une potion magique). This can help them review expressions of quantity.
- Show them a video clip on how to carve a pumpkin and ask them to describe what they see.
- Or read an article on how to do it and ask them how they or their parents carve a pumpkin:
Comment sculptes-tu une citrouille ? (How do you carve a pumpkin?)
Tes parents comment sculptent-ils une citrouille ? (How do your parents carve a pumpkin?)
3. Jeux pour Halloween (Halloween games)
Games are always popular with students, so what better way to teach French than through Halloween games? There are countless games you can adapt and use in your French class.
- You can start by creating either your own word search using Halloween vocabulary or your own crossword puzzle. This is usually well-liked and will reinforce the vocabulary you have introduced.
- Another fun game to play is charades, so play Halloween charades. Write out different relevant actions and nouns on strips of paper and get each student to draw one. That student must then mime the action or noun. So one student can act out flying on a broom (“voler sur un balai”) while another can pretend to be a ghost (“un fantôme”), etc.
- Ask students what games they prefer at Halloween: “Quels jeux préfères-tu à Halloween ?”
- Tell students to imagine that they’re a Halloween character. The rest of the class asks (yes or no) questions and tries to guess who he or she is. For example, if the student imagines he/she is a witch, the questions asked could be something like this:
As-tu des pouvoirs magiques ? (Do you have magic powers?)
Es-tu vivant(e) ? (Are you alive?)
Fais-tu peur ? (Are you frightening?)
As-tu les cheveux noirs/bruns/blancs ? (Do you have black/brown/white hair?)
De quelle couleur sont tes vêtements ? (What color are your clothes?)
As-tu un animal ? (Do you have an animal?)
Peux-tu voler ? (Can you fly?)
As-tu un chaudron/un balai/une baguette magique ? (Do you have a cauldron/a broom/a magic wand?)
Alternatively, a student could describe what character he/she is, e.g.:
J’ai une longue barbe blanche. (I have a long white beard.)
J’ai une baguette magique. (I have a magic wand.)
J’ai un chaudron magique. (I have a magic cauldron.)
Je porte un chapeau pointu. (I’m wearing a pointed hat.)
In this version, the others must guess who he/she is.
- Bingo using Halloween vocabulary is another popular game. You can print your own cards with pictures of Halloween characters or you can fill in your own vocabulary.
- A Halloween role-play scenario can also work well, e.g., in a costume shop buying/renting a costume for Halloween. You could then have a shop assistant aiding customers to choose costumes.
4. Halloween grammar review
So you can use Halloween to teach French vocabulary. But how can you use it to teach grammar, aside from the above mention of reviewing the imperative while compiling a recipe? Let’s have a look.
- Halloween is a great opportunity to review or teach the French conditional tense. Once you have gone through the formation of the conditional, ask your students questions such as:
Que ferais-tu si tu devais organiser une fête pour Halloween ? (What would you do if you had to organize a Halloween party?)
Comment te déguiserais-tu ? (What costume would you wear?)
Quelle type de nourriture servirais-tu ? (What kind of food would you serve?)
- To review adjectives, ask students to use two or three adjectives to describe any character or item related to Halloween. A witch, for example:
Décris-moi une citrouille/un chaudron/une sorcière avec deux ou trois adjectifs. (Describe a pumpkin/cauldron/witch using two or three adjectives.)
You could also review the compound adjective and get them to use it in sentences.
- Have students write Halloween letters for a review of “je voudrais” and “je pourrais.” Have your students write a letter to a friend describing what they would like to do on Halloween and what they would be able to do. This ties in nicely with the conditional tense above.
So there you have it.
Four phantasmagoric activities to help you teach French.
Hopefully, they’ll enrich your class and motivate your students!
Hilda Thomas has a PhD in French and has taught French (language and literature) at all levels at a South African university for many years. Her passion is teaching French and traveling.