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Halloween-inspired writing lessons

October 22, 2020 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

There’s no denying it, Halloween has a special atmosphere, whether or not it is part of your cultural heritage. What’s more, it has its place in the English class and our students love the idea of Halloween parties and scary stories.

Use this opportunity to have some fun writing lessons built around spooky readers. The activities here are aimed at intermediate (CEFR B1) level students, and you can adjust them according to the language level and interests of your students.

Solve the story puzzle

For this activity (scroll under the blurbs) we mix up passages from the three famous stories below. First read the blurbs and answer the questions. Then read the worksheets and ask your students to identify the different paragraphs and find logical connections between some of them. They can look for semantic, syntactic and stylistic clues, or simply study the characters and the setting described in the passages.

For more about the stories click below.

How much do your students know about these stories? Have they read the stories? Have they seen adaptations of them? Brainstorm some words to describe each story. Then, read the blurbs to your students. Answer the questions under the blurbs together.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 

This is the story of Ichabod Crane, a superstitious schoolmaster who arrives in Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod falls in love with Katrina van Tassel, a wealthy farmer's daughter, but he must compete with the strong, handsome Brom Bones for her hand. When Ichabod is invited to a party at Katrina's house, will he convince the young girl to marry him? And how does the terrifying ‘Headless Horseman' change his life forever?

  • Where is Sleepy Hollow?
  • What kind of superstitions do your students know?
  • What does the 'Headless Horseman' make you think of?
The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow cover


Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to see a local nobleman, Count Dracula. Jonathan realises that things are not what they seem at Castle Dracula and, before he knows it, his nightmare begins. Soon Jonathan and his friends and family are battling for their lives against the terrible Count in a race of good against evil that will bring them from Transylvania to London and across Europe once more to the Black Sea. Can Jonathan and his friends destroy Dracula?

  • Find Transylvania on the map. In which country is it today?
  • What are the most typical scary characters in horror stories?
  • How did people travel across Europe in the 19th century?
Helbling Readers Blue Series Classics Dracula


The Turn of the Screw

When a young woman accepts a position as governess to look after Flora and Miles little does she know that her job will be so difficult. Both children seem perfect and charming but after a few weeks at the grand house of Bly two strange figures appear. Are these figures real people or ghosts? And what influence do they have on the children? Can the governess protect Flora and Miles?

  • What does a governess do?
  • In horror stories, what are the most typical characteristics of ghosts?
  • Do you know any other ghost stories?


The Turn of the Screw
New Edition available in January 2021


Halloween story puzzle

When you have talked about the stories, ask your students to predict what might happen in each story. Then, give them the Halloween Story Puzzle activity sheet and ask them guess which passage belongs to which story. There are two passages from each reader.

Each student can choose a story to read. When they have finished reading the story, ask them to write a short summary of it, following this structure:

  • Setting
  • Characters - the scariest character, the friendliest character, the character I like most
  • Plot - the most important events
  • The scariest scene in the story
  • How I felt at the end of the story


First liners

In class we often have little time to read, and we would also like to inspire our students to choose from a wide range of books. First lines are an easy and intriguing way to introduce and stimulate classroom reading. Use our collection of dark and scary opening lines from classic novels to learn about the mechanism and importance of great opening sentences.

  1. Download the worksheet and read the lines in pairs.
  2. Discuss in pairs or groups of three which one interests you the most.
  3. Observe some interesting writing styles:
    1. Which texts are in the first person?
    2. Which texts are in the third person?
    3. Which style do you prefer?
    4. Which opening line is the scariest? 
    5. What makes it scary?
  4. Give reasons for choosing a book based on the first lines.  
  5. Guess which novel they come from. Scroll to the bottom of the activity sheet for a list of possible novels.


First paragraphs

When your students have chosen a story, ask them to write a paragraph to continue the story using their imagination. Remind them to keep the first or third person narrative voice of the first lines. If there are dark or scary expressions in the first lines, the first paragraph should contain some more. If there are no scary expressions in the first lines, then perhaps a surprising twist can be added in the first paragraph.

The students share their first paragraph versions with the class. Finally, they read the first paragraph in the reader and compare it with their version.

Read the first pages of each Helbling Reader adaptation to see how the stories continue.


Spooky writing prompts

The first three writing activities are based on literary classics, but of course your students can rely on their own imagination and some help from you to create some spooky stories. Sometimes all your students need is a good start, and if you give them some writing prompts, they might even write a whole short story. Try these ideas to get your students writing.

1. You are home alone on a dark night, and you can hear footsteps in the attic. Are you really alone? Who is making the noise?

2. You mobile rings three times at midnight every day. When you answer it, you can hear waves crashing on some rocks, but no one speaks to you. There is no caller ID either. Who can it be? 

3. You and your friends go on a hike in a nearby forest. As you are walking together, you need to stop for a moment to rest. By the time you follow your friends, they have disappeared. You look for them all afternoon, but as it is getting dark, you decide to go home, hoping they will already be there. But they are not at home, and their parents haven't heard anything about them. What has happened?

4. In this simple writing exercise, students need to describe the scariest creature they can imagine.

Scary vocabulary

If your students plan on writing spooky stories, they need to build some scary vocabulary that suits horror, ghost, vampire stories and mysteries.

1. Collect names of scary creatures.

  • vampire, monster, ghost, witch, alien, bogeyman, demon, devil, zombie, mummy

2. Collect names of animals in scary stories.

  • e.g. bat, black cat, wolf, snake, spider, owl

Ask your students if these animals are really dangerous. Of course they are not, but in the classic stories they are often present.

3. Collect objects.

  • e.g. broomstick, coffin, cauldron, grave, tomb, cobweb, skull, skeleton, candle

4. Collect words to describe the time, place and weather.

  • e.g. midnight, night, fog, foggy, moonlight, mist

5. Collect verbs.

  • e.g. enchant, frighten, haunt, scare, spook, scream, howl, petrify, horrify

6. Collect sounds - onomatopoeic words that imitate how the sound is made.

  • e.g. boo, cackle, growl, murmur, creak, screech, hoo hoo

7. Collect adjectives to describe feelings and atmospheres.

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