For a special Halloween lesson, students begin with an Entrance Ticket: Halloween Edition that asks them to examine the difference between the experience of watching a film and listening to a story. The key question is: why is the experience of listening to a scary story sometimes more frightening than watching a scary film. Give the kids a few moments to think and write about these key differences.
Today, some students pointed out that for them, watching a movie is usually scarier than listening. I often say, than give me some reasons as to why the other option might also be frightening.
After about eight minutes of thinking and writing time, I ask the kids to share out some responses.
If there were any students who were stumped, I ask them to use this time to listen to their peers. Is anything resonating? Use this in your own response. Many kids say that their imagination is very active and only they know how to scare themselves most. Others say that sometimes the unknown is scarier than the known. When a filmmaker casts certain actors in a role, they are taking over the decision making. This lesson ultimately becomes a lesson on the reading strategy, visualizing. We, as readers, have the power to create our own visualizations, our own pictures in our head. These pictures can often be more spooky than pictures given to us by filmmakers.
Then I prep the kids that we will be listening to a famous poet, Edgar Allen Poe's piece "Tell Tale Heart." I first give a little background information on Poe, including his birth date and a brief history of his childhood.
Edgar Allen Poe (taken from Poets.org)
On January 19, 1809, Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts.
Poe's father and mother, both professional actors, died before the poet was three and John and Frances Allan raised him as a foster child in Richmond, Virginia.
John Allan, a prosperous tobacco exporter, sent Poe to the best boarding schools and later to the University of Virginia, where Poe excelled academically.
After less than one year of school, however, he was forced to leave the University when Allan refused to pay his gambling debts.
Then I pose the following question:
It seems like Poe had an unpredictable childhood. How would this shape his life work?
Before we listen to the YouTube clip (I don't show the video, I just have the kids listen), I also pose the last two questions written on the entrance ticket.
As you listen, think deeply about the narrator. What is he talking about? What is wrong with him?!
After the sound clip, students chime in about author motivation. What could have motivated Poe to write scary stories? Is there something that could have happened in his childhood to trigger these topics?
In this section of the lesson, I read aloud a classic short story from More Bones: Scary Stories from Around the World. It is really just fun, but I do briefly mention that I want them listening for story elements. This could be the techniques the author uses to create suspense. I draw upon our recent writing mini-lessons by asking that students pay attention to dialogue and the lead. They will be writing their own scary stories after the read aloud.
Then I read the story. I like "The Dangerous Dead," but any scary story will do. This story allows kids to make inferences about the "corpse" character. Sometimes, if I feel like a group can handle it, I will scream the last line. : )
During the student interview, I asked a student who usually has a hard time getting started during writing time, why today she was able to write fluently for such a prolonged period of time. I thought her answer would be something like, we've been practicing a lot of writing, or I really like Halloween. Instead, her answer surprised me! She said that the story she heard before the writing time inspired her and gave her an idea on how to proceed with her own scary story. This really spoke to me about the effectiveness of read-alouds.
Now it is the students turn to write their own scary stories. Many are off and running with big smiles, before I can even finish my sentence. Some, however, are stumped. Some have limited exposure to scary stories or movies. Sometimes I will have to give starter ideas.
For example, one boy said he has never read a scary story except for the one I read to him in class. To get his brain working, I asked him if he had any fears, because aren't our own fears the best starting point? He said: yes, snakes. Well, it just so happens that the teacher next door to my room has a snake that lives in her classroom. I posed the question, what would happen if Medusa escaped from her cage? At that point, he was off and running. Sometimes kids just need a tailor-made story starter.
If there is time at the end, I ask if anyone would like to share their leads. We have more extensive story sharing the following week, during writing share time. I circulate and look for any samples I would like to make copies of to show off the following day.