There is something very fun and exciting about using seasonal reading and writing activities with middle school students. Even if they won’t admit it, many students enjoy reading creepy, spooky, and scary works because of the suspense.
Today, I want to share some festive resources that can be used in the middle school ELA classroom. Whether you choose to do an entire horror unit or you’re wanting a small activity for a day or two, there is something for every ELA teacher.
Read-alouds are my favorite activity to do with students. They are a great way to expose students to different types of novels and provide learners an opportunity to enjoy a book. Below are some popular spooky read-aloud novels:
Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe (there is also a graphic novel version!)
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
The Witches by Roald Dahl (there is also a really great graphic novel version!)
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Doll Bones by Holly Black
Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine
Tales of Mystery and Terror adapted by Marjorie P. Katz. These Edgar Allan Poe stories have been turned into a Great Illustrated Classics book.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde adapted by Mitsu Yamamoto. This Great Illustrated Classics version does a wonderful job making this story easy to read for students.
I strongly suggest reading for about 10 minutes a day and then have students answer a question based on the reading for 2-3 minutes. Students can respond verbally, in a journal, on a Padlet, etc.
Spooky Short Stories
This age group is not into the “kiddie” scary stuff, but not quite ready for the adult world of horror. When choosing which short stories you use with your class, keep in mind the maturity level along with the reading level. Below are some of my favorite spooky short stories to use with middle schoolers.
“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs. Resources are available here.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. Resources are available here.
“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe.
“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl. Resources are available here.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. Resources are available here.
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
When using short stories, I usually have a main focus for each story. For instance, with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” I focus on direct and indirect characterization. Instead of trying to focus on many different aspects of a work, by choosing just one I can dive deeper into the text with students.
Spooky Short Story Activities
Once you know what texts you’ll be using, it’s time to determine what learning activities to provide for your kiddos. This will vary based on your grade level, class time, etc., so feel free to make adjustments based on your classroom.
Many students dislike taking turns reading aloud in class, so using dramatic readings with spooky short stories is a great way to read a text. A really great one is from G.M. Danielson and his reading of “The Tell-Tale Heart”. The laugh in the very beginning is chilling!
Film and Text Comparisons
I always use film versions of works with my students. I find that it helps with reading comprehension and higher order thinking skills, such as evaluating. This would be the perfect activity to do on celebratory days when kids are excited about outside festivities. A few of my favorite ones for the spooky season include:
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Disney. This can also be found on Disney+. Here is a constructed response resource.
“The Lamb to the Slaughter” from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Here is a constructed response resource.
The Tell-Tale Heart from 1953. This is a great non-violent adaptation.
The Witches from 1990 with Angelica Huston. There is a more modern version from 2020 also available with Anne Hathaway. I haven’t had a chance to watch the new one yet.
Goosebumps “Revenge of the Lawn Gnomes” from the popular book by R.L. Stine. Here is an analysis activity focusing on the elements of horror.
Writing Spooky Narratives
Students can work independently, in partners or small groups to create their own spooky stories. Depending on your class, you may want to provide some scaffolding such as setting locations (grave yard, dark and story night, etc. When students are done, spend a day or two having students share their stories. If they don’t like to read aloud, encourage kids to act out their stories. Here is an example of a spooky narrative assignment.
Other Spooky Activities
While short stories are great resources, there are also various activities that can be quick and easy.
Halloween and costumes seem to go hand in hand for middle school students. Before students wear their costumes, have them write a paragraph describing their costume using figurative language. Allow some to read theirs to classmates and see if the audience can guess the costume.
Research Local Legends
Growing up in Long Valley, NJ, there are local legends about the Hooker Man and the mysteries of Shades of Death. I can still remember my dad sharing his version of the Hooker Man around a campfire when I was in elementary school. Encourage students to research local legends/myths (or to read about one’s from my childhood) to read about “real” spooky stories.
Create a Class Story
Whether students sit at their desks or everyone sits on the floor, this activity can be very engaging for young writers. I suggest typing the story as it’s being told and projecting it to make it easier for students to contribute.
There are so many short stories, movies, and books to help students celebrate the spooky season and still progress with their reading and writing skills in a fun way.
Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading, writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.