A perfect, fun, engaging, and memorable Halloween for ESL students just takes a bit of research and cultural awareness!
Spooky season is here to mark the start to several months of holiday goodness, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve had the pumpkins out for a little bit too long waiting for this time to arrive. I’m even listening to the “Spooky Music” playlist on Spotify as I write this (the kids version…I’m home alone and easily spooked after all!) It’s true, I LOVE the fall and winter holidays, and I love incorporating them in my classroom… but when you teach ESL students, it’s not all creepy music and ghost stories.
Incorporating spooky, Halloween goodness in your classroom will take a bit more effort, but, I promise, the extra effort and research to make the perfect Halloween for ESL lesson will make for some of the MOST fun classes you’ve ever taught
You may be wondering why I’m telling you you need to do some research before throwing Halloween at your English Language Learners. I know you have a ton on your plate already, and the thought of extra research (especially during this time of year!) is overwhelming.
I promise, I’m not asking you to write a dissertation. Just to Google a few things and ask around a bit.
Many of the things that are traditionally scary in modern American culture have strong, important historical roots in other cultures. It’s important that we respect our students’ cultures, and don’t turn anything they take seriously into a silly caricature.
For instance, spirits of the ancestors are extremely important in cultures throughout the world. In many cultures, ghosts are respected souls that are treated with gracious hospitality, not a creepy figure that makes things go bump in the night.
Having a base understanding of how common American Halloween figures are treated in your students’ cultures and religions can help you treat those topics with the respect and understanding they deserve. While you may not get to do your favorite Halloween activity of all time, picking resources that were created to respect students of all cultures will lead to more successful, engaging lessons!
What Even Is Halloween?
Depending on how long your students have been in America, they may or may not even know what Halloween is! Ask your newcomer students what they know about Halloween. Have they seen costumes in the store? Have people in their neighborhood decorated their homes? Do they even know what’s going on?
I would say about 90% of my newcomer ESL students had no clue what was happening when Halloween time rolled around…which sets things up perfectly for my favorite lessons!
Are They Saying Chicken Feet or Trick or Treat?
If you have any newcomers (or if you teach abroad in a country that doesn’t celebrate Halloween!), set aside a day and teach the Halloween basics! This day has always been one of my favorite days of teaching! Here’s a list to get you started:
And then…practice! So many ESL students are afraid of Halloween if they don’t know anything about it. (I mean…think if you moved to a new country and all of a sudden people started ringing your doorbell dressed like witches and ghosts!) I always want students to know that Halloween is a fun night, based in community, and that there’s no fancy requirements to participate. So, we learn the basics, and then we practice so they’ll know exactly what to do!
We'll spend a little bit of class time making masks out of paper or learning how to use toilet paper to make a mummy costume. Then, I have students line-up outside my classroom and practice knocking, waiting, saying “Trick or Treat,” getting candy, and saying thank you.
Teaching online? Let students pick spooky Zoom backgrounds and hold a competition to see who can make the best costume out of household objects!
Sharing is Caring
A kid's first Halloween is a pretty exciting thing! Leave time the day after Halloween for students to share. Not only is it fantastic speaking and listening practice, it's great for building classroom community. Whether or not they went trick or treating or passed out candy, students likely have an exciting story to share about what they saw on Halloween. Rather than fighting to get straight to work the day after Halloween, put on some spooky music, set some boundaries for sharing, and sit back and listen! You'll be glad you did!
No matter how you choose to celebrate, I always find that one of the best part of teaching ESL students is getting to experience all their first alongside them! How will you make this a special "first" Halloween for ESL students in your classroom?
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