Stories of horror and fantasy – not only for Halloween

We all enjoy scary stories, especially the fantastic ones, when we can be sure nothing that bad will ever happen to us (or so we hope). Halloween seems to be a good time to share some of the English literature masterpieces with our students. From my perspective, most of my students know the most famous films (unfortunately the younger ones rather appreciate Saw than Hitchcock’s Birds), but they have no idea who Edgar Allan Poe or Howard Phillips Lovecraft were (they usually recognise Stephen King, but I’m not writing about King here).

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Thinking about Halloween it was the latter author that sprung to my mind – a lot of people have heard the name of Cthulhu, but not even half of them know that it’s a being created by HPL and not a pop-cultural concept. So I thought: why not share some of the stories with my students?

And then I thought: oh, and Neil Gaiman. And A Series of Unfortunate Events. And Ann Rice with her vampires galore. Oh, and that story by Agatha Christie… Looks like something I could share on my blog actually – so here we go:

  • Young learners (10+)

It never ceases to amaze me how bloodthirsty children are. Their stories can reek of gore and twisted sense of humour. I guess it’s a way of playing with the taboo, but if we take the real, uncensored Tales by the Grimm brothers, well – I think they might love them.

If you’re not into eye-gauging stuff by the Grimm brothers, you may show your students the eerie world of Neil Gaiman. Coraline would be my book of choice, but I think kids may love The Ocean at the End of the Lane, or The Graveyard Book just as much.

But still, as probably many teachers would agree, it’s A Series of Unfortunate Events that can introduce the world of horror and fantasy to young learners of English, especially with the adorable emphasis on explaining new vocabulary to the reader. I think that the hardships of the Baudelaire siblings don’t grow old.

  • Teenagers

Creepypastas seem to be a perfect tool to make your students read, Google, research and explore. You can choose from various sites, for example creepypasta.com and include them in your lesson plans (my absolutely favourite one is Russian Sleep Experiment).

You can also use random short stories as an incentive for their own written compositions.

When it comes to books I’d recommend Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, they are the predecessors of modern stuff known as teenage paranormal romance (Twilight etc.), but it’s way better written, and full of existential suffering we love when we’re 17 😉

I believe teenagers might love Stardust or Good Omens by Neil Gaiman (the latter written with the late sir Terry Pratchett) – maybe not scary per se, but those are definitely worth reading fantasy stories. 

  • Adults

Have I mentioned Neil Gaiman? I’m sure adult learners will appreciate his Neverwhere or American Gods, or – if they are into weird and scary – The Sandman (which could be a perfect way of presenting a graphic novel as a form of art).

I guess that adult students should have no problems with reading Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie. It’s not too scary, I admit, but it’s a really good story and it may give the adults the pleasure of reading an authentic text, solving a crime and experiencing a bit of cultural event, a Halloween party – which may not be celebrated in the students’ native culture.

If you teach adults who are quite proficient in English, I wouldn’t hesitate to share with them the masters of horror and fantasy, Edgar Allan Poe (The Fall of the House of Usher could be easily used as a source text in the classroom) or the ever-underestimated Howard Philips Lovecraft. While HPL’s ideas of the Elder Gods exist somewhere in pop-culture, his stories, sadly, don’t get as much recognition as they deserve. I would share with my students my two favourite stories: The Colour Out of Space and The Dunwich Horror, but be sure to explain historical background, the idea of pulp fiction etc.

I hope the stories I shared will be found useful in your teaching and you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.

Cthulhu ftaghn!

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Halloween with a zombie apocalypse? Sure thing!

With Halloween approaching, a teacher has to come up with some entertaining ideas. I’m not a fan of classes dedicated directly to the occasion, I prefer running a normal lesson with a little twist. Some time ago I tried storytelling with Scaredy Cat by Heather Franzen (I still love this cute little story and regardless of how murderous students I teach, I find them appreciating these activities as well), but this year I’ve decided to go with something new — namely, the apocalypse.

Zombies have become a rather common topic in my classroom, especially on Mondays, when some of us look somewhat zombified. Somehow, the apocalypse is also quite a popular topic (all those environmentally-centred lessons in ESL books are rather pessimistic, admit it) — so when my ex-DOS found a book called English for the zombie apocalypse I simply had to buy a copy. Was it a good purchase?

Well, it depends.

The book consists of 10 lessons describing a story of a man who tries to escape zombies in his city — he finds a girl and her brother, they all escape to wilderness, the inevitable happens (one of them gets bitten and slowly turns into an undead) and finally the survivors ride towards the setting sun. Classic.

Each lesson starts with a dialogue introducing the situation, some follow-up questions and — what’s most important — some useful conversational phrases and drills with a short role play scenario (“you’re running away from zombies and meet a stranger. Introduce yourself and ask for possible help”).

Overally, I think the book is targeted at students around pre-intermediate level, and I’d rather recommend it for young adults and students who watch TV (The Walking Dead series proves to be really popular) and are pop-culturally aware, otherwise the purpose of the book makes no point. Truth be told, communicative exercises are useful not only in zombie-centred environment, but if you have a group of students who don’t get the zombie apocalypse theme, I’d rather not risk introducing the book. Unless they feel like giving it a go, of course.

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Using the book in the classroom:

You can use the book in the classroom either using all the units at the same time (it can take one or two classes) or just the chosen ones (focusing on giving the directions or making apologies for example). While Halloween may be a good excuse to simply focus on the idea of a zombie apocalypse, you may also use the lessons throughout the course, showing your students that communicative skills can be vital when the undead attack.

You can make a project lesson with your students trying to come up with further lives of the survivors – students may write a story, record a video or simply create a lesson similar to the ones in the book. Naturally, you may also use the book as a basis for a lot of speaking activities focusing on survival and countless ‘what-if’ situations.

Hope you’ll enjoy your Halloween 🙂

Lateral puzzles, literal fun :)

I believe learning a language just for an educational purpose is quite difficult, so it’s always useful to show our students that their endeavours are actually useful. While it’s easier for the adults (they either go abroad or stay in touch with a foreigner – and communicate on their own), it may be more difficult with younger learners simply because they have stuff to learn at school anyway, don’t really know WHY they may need English and lose motivation easily.

Hence the idea of introducing games in the classroom – it’s easier to convince kids that English is just a casual language to speak when you bring games in English and they learn they can actually have fun in a foreign language.

However, you can combine English, games and yet another way of development by introducing games forcing students to change their ways of thinking by introducing lateral puzzles.

In lateral thinking puzzles you describe rather uncommon situations in which you are given a little information and then have to find the explanation. They don’t have enough information to solve, so the only way to get the important details is a dialogue between the person who knows the story and the players. The questions can bring only one of three possible answers – yes, no or irrelevant.

That’s the classic version, however I prefer a bit different option: giving some key words. It helps students focus and follow a particular pattern – it also makes the game easier and shorter, and that’s quite important if you use lateral puzzles as a warm-up.

How to introduce the puzzles in the classroom?

It’s best when you start with simple puzzles (like the ones here) as a warm-up, slowly making your students familiar with the way of thinking in a way they probably haven’t tried before.

I also recommend very entertaining resources at onestopenglish.com, especially the one by Jelena Spasojevic. It’s brilliant and students really enjoy this activity!

Once the students get the grasp of the rules, the possibilities, as usual, are endless. You can find a lot of classic or modified puzzles on the internet and introduce them in the classroom (here are some nice versions).

You may use the puzzles as warm-ups, or simply make a whole lesson dedicated to them. When I used them for the first time my students immediately loved the idea, so as a homework I asked them to come up with their own mystery stories we’d have to solve, which was also a great success and a lot of fun.

If you like the idea but don’t feel like browsing the internet, you may get yourself a copy of Black Stories, a card game perfect for exercising lateral thinking either in the classroom, with your students – or at the party, because who said only students can have fun? 🙂

Enjoy 🙂

Fill in the gaps with a bit of fun

I’m absolutely thrilled, because Sandra asked me to write something about gap filling exercises and tasks – I really like this kind of activity as there are so many things you can do with gap filing: revise vocabulary, sure, but also add elements of fun and creativity.

Crazy story:

That’s one of the most favourite activities ever – works with any level, any age, believe me. First, the students write nouns, verbs, adjectives without looking at the story (I usually give them separate pieces of paper, it’s a nice way to revise parts of speech, by the way) and then they write the words down to make a proper story. Like here:

My students love this activity, it’s a great warm-up and you can design your own story with the vocabulary you want to revise. Like here 🙂

Pictures, pictures!

In this activity I use pictures (like the ones in Scaredy Cat story) – only I cut them out and hand them out to the students working in groups. I ask them to put the pictures in the appropriate order and then tell the story. It’s not important whether their story is the same as the original one, what counts is their creativity and vocabulary.

Music

Whoever thinks that the only way of incorporating song in the classroom is a typical fill in the blank option, couldn’t be more wrong. One of the activities I’ve prepared (and it’s one of the evilest ever) is based on And Then There Was Silence by Blind Guardian. I give my students chunks of lyrics and ask them to put them in a correct order while listening to the song. It looks like this:

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And the song is 15 minutes long. Without epic guitar solo:

Told you that’s evil 😉

Miming

You can use miming as part of a fill in the gaps exercise – simply give one student text, and the other student things to show. That may be great fun while working with directions – I give a list of directions to Student A and a text with blanks to Student B. Now, student B reads the texts, stops at the gaps and then Student A mimes the correct direction.

I hope you’ll like the ideas and have fun using them – and if you want me to write about something specific, just let me know!

Enjoy 🙂