I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween. It’s nothing specific, it’s just never been my favorite holiday. However, part of my job as an ESL teacher is cultural instruction, and so each year I had to do something with it. Since I’m always on the look out for ways to accomplish more than one educational goal with a single lesson or unit, it should come as no surprise that I wanted to do the same with my Halloween unit.
Besides wanting to accomplish multiple educational goals, I also needed to consider my students’ needs. Over the years I’ve had many traumatized students pass through my classroom, some of them refugees from war torn regions. I’ve never considered the scarier aspects of Halloween appropriate for school, and most certainly not for these students in particular, no matter their age. So a simultaneous goal has been to expose my students to the holiday, but focus on the less scary parts.
When working with beginning level students, one of my go-to resources is the ESL Teacher’s Holiday Activities Kit. This book has photocopiable lessons that consist of a coloring picture, vocabulary, a short reading (less than ten sentences with an illustration for each sentence), and comprehension activities. They are the perfect level for beginning students, and every holiday you can imagine is represented, with the “bigger” holidays having more than one reading and comprehension. It was my low intermediate students that I was struggling with what to do. They already knew the basics of the holiday, most had been in the USA for at least one year, but I still didn’t want to get into the scarier aspects, or the history of it. I finally decided that I wanted to approach it using literature.
One of my favorite series to use with intermediate language learners is the Cam Jansen series by David A. Adler. The books are mysteries, but they are not scary, and have a touch of humor to them. The main characters are relatable and the books provide excellent opportunities to practice skills such as predicting, inferencing, and others. They are also relatively cheap (usually less than $5 a copy), so I could afford to get a copy for each student (I did a Donor’s Choose project to get the funds). Thus, Cam Jansen and the Mystery at the Haunted House became my book of choice for Halloween.
I sourced much of our comprehension work from edHelper, and their free literature unit for the book. To go along with it, my students and I created The Word Cemetery bulletin board, which I described in my last blog post. The first time I taught the book I realized I’d forgotten something: vocabulary. How I forgot vocabulary is still a mystery to me. I spend huge parts of my life teaching vocabulary and have an entire set of vocabulary activities I use regularly. Since I never want to make the same mistake twice, I developed a vocabulary sort activity to use in the future. Now, before reading the book, we go over the vocabulary and use the sort cards (available by clicking on the pictures above) to practice.
The last couple of years I’ve been teaching adults at a community college and I’ve actually missed getting to read this book. If our curriculum weren’t so packed, I’d still try to work it in, but for now I just remember previous years fondly. Hopefully you and your students can enjoy the book for me. Happy teaching!