Secondary ELA Seasonal Blog Hop: A Spooky Story Three Ways

In high school we don’t dress up for Halloween or have class parties, but we can still make connections to the season and have fun.  This week I’m joining The Creative Classroom and other fabulous secondary teachers in a seasonal blog hop to share how I teach my favorite spooky story. 

Since my primary prep is American Literature, Washington Irving's story, "The Devil and Tom Walker," is a relevant classic to incorporate into my instruction.  The reading level is accessible to most students and Irving builds supsense to keep them interested in the story. 

In the story, the greedy Tom Walker makes a deal with the devil for money.  Even though the story is set in 1727, the theme about the desire for material wealth is certainly applicable today.  It’s also an excellent story for teaching literary elements including characterization, foreshadowing, irony, and allusion.

This year, I’m using the story to give my students practice with narrative writing and prepare them for their upcoming PARCC assessment.  For years, I’ve neglected creative writing in my instruction, but the narrative writing prompt gives me a new opportunity to let students use their imaginations.  In two weeks, my students will read the story and write a new ending in which they will tell what happens to Walker after he’s taken by the devil.  This prompt, of course, could lead to some wildly fantastic tales, so I’ve developed some tools to guide students in the right direction.  You can access this free resource here.

In the past, I have used the story to make interdisciplinaryconnections and surprised students with math activities in their English class! Since Tom Walker is a “usurer,” I’ve used the story to help teach students about interest rates on student and car loans, and credit cards.  My high school students appreciate the application to “real life.” 

In another lesson, I’ve made nonfiction connections to the story with an article from The New York Times which explores the culture of greed on Wall Street.  This lesson guides students through close readings of the texts and ends with students choosing from a variety of nine activities for their final assessment.  Activities range from researching topics such as the financial crisis of 2008 or the Faustian legend, to interviewing family about how they handle their finances and budgets, to writing a diary entry from an imaginary person living during the era of the The Great Depression.

Do you teach scary stories?  Tell us about them in the comments below.

Find other great blog posts for Halloween in secondary ELA below.


Active Learning

Why do so many teachers expect students to sit and listen to lectures when the research shows the strong connection between physical activity and learning? In fact, Eric Jensen, author of the book Teachingwith the Brain in Mind, says, “When we keep students active, we keep their energy levels up and provide their brains with the oxygen-rich blood needed for highest performance. Teachers who insist that students remain seated during the entire class period are not promoting optimal conditions for learning.”

Maybe teachers are reluctant because they think it will require more time to prepare lessons that involve movement, or perhaps they are worried student behavior will get out-of-control.  However, in my experience students are often more engaged and well-behaved when they are allowed to get out of their seats in my English classroom.  Whether it’s getting students to rotate around the room for a carousel activity, moving to corners of the room for a debate, or walking around to interview one another, students appreciate the opportunity to get out of their seats.

Games are another way to get students moving. I often use Trashketball games because they motivate students with their love of sports. Additionally, the games encourage friendly competition because the teacher arranges the class into teams.   This team approach is an excellent way to meet the needs of all students, especially when they are arranged in heterogeneous groups. The rules to these games also encourage students to work together on their teams to solve the answers; they can keep trying to find correct answers even after they have made a mistake. The games don’t require many materials and they’re easy to play.

I provide power point Trashketball games that include detailed rules and explanations for both the students and the teacher.  Furthermore, each game provides a brief review of its topic and includes several rounds of practice exercises. Even in middle school and high school, holiday themed games can make learning more fun.

How do you get students out of their seats?  What grammar concepts do you teach?  Share your ideas in the comments below.
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