Quivers and Quills: Using Halloween to Launch Creative Writing Exercises

A dim spectre in the distance. A ghostly woman in white waiting forlornly on a bridge. A mysterious voice in the dark of the night. A statue that watches…and waits.

Scary stories are powerful. Every community, rural or urban, has its share of tales that have the power to chill you to the bone. Both original stories and those rooted in folk legends invoke strong reactions from their audience. Some people avoid scary tales. Others cannot get enough of them. These are the people for which Halloween was made.


The book that hooked me up

While I don’t enjoy all aspects of Halloween, (I’m took impatient to put together an impressive costume, and I’m allergic to half the candy out there – Boo!) I am a fright fan. I have been ever since elementary school, when my second-grade teacher gave me a booked titled The Doll in the Garden. It was a ghost story about a girl who found an antique doll buried in her neighbor’s garden. Throughout the story she learns about the doll’s history by traveling back in time to speak with the doll’s former owner – a ghost girl named Louisa.

I enjoyed the book enough to mention it to my aunt, who was a fourth grade teacher. My aunt gave me a book her students enjoyed by the same author. It was called Wait Till Helen Comes. It was about a girl whose stepsister was communicating with a ghost who wanted to lure her into a pond, to drown, so she could join her in the afterworld.  I loved it, and read it again and again. There were sentences that made my heartbeat quicken. Something about the way the words scared me pressed me to keep on reading them, and as my interest grew, I swear I could feel my imagination expanding. I liked to be scared, and I liked how my fright made me wonder about the world and my place in it.

I found myself studying the way the author used words to paint scary scenes and invoke a sense of danger. I became keenly aware that my reaction to the story was the result of artistic choices. Her characters, the plot, the setting, the tone, the pacing, the symbolism, the foreshadowing, the structure – all of these elements worked in harmony to create a story powerful enough that I remember it to this day.

Teachers, without a doubt, have kids in their class who love a good fright, and Halloween is a perfect time to reach them with an unforgettable creative writing exercise. There is plenty of opportunity to co-opt Halloween to help students stretch their creative muscles with some writing exercises.

horror book

Option One: Writing prompts. Teachers can provide students with a choice of three or four “story starters” from which they can build their own scary story. Students who chose the same prompt can compare their stories after they are written and discuss how the stories differ. Students can explain the choices they made and discuss their favorite parts of each other’s stories.

scary prompt

Option Two: Word webs. Teachers can ask students for “scary” nouns. Then, scary adjectives, verbs, and so on. Using the collected words, students can compose a series of frightening sentences – or a full-fledged scary story.


Option Three: Take a break from scary. Not all students enjoy being scared. That’s perfectly fine! Instead, perhaps they would benefit from a writing exercise that focuses on costumes. What was their favorite Halloween costume, ever? What do the costumes in the costume store do at night, when all of the customers and employees are gone? What if the costumes came to life?

I have found that giving children the chance to perform their written pieces for an audience is very beneficial for driving home the idea that writing is meant to be experienced. It is easy for young writers to forget about the reader as they get excited – or intimidated – by the act of putting words on a page. It is harder to forget about the audience when the writer realizes that their piece will be performed rather than read.

Not all students will be comfortable with performing a monologue or acting in a play, and that’s okay. Children in the audience can sit back and enjoy the show, and perhaps even give feedback on what works and what doesn’t in a performed narrative. They might even like to see their own piece performed by others!

Children working together to create a story will not only hone their writing and language skills – they will also exercise teamwork and have an opportunity to form lasting memories in the classroom. Halloween comes once a year. If you have only one chance to fully indulge your students’ creativity this year, this is the time to take it. This is the holiday that lets imaginations soar.


Just the right word

In recent years, people – especially women – have become more aware of the use of their minimizing language, like “sorry” and “just.” In a number of articles and blog posts, people have written that women should stop using such language immediately, or risk having less successful careers. These writings state that the use of words like “just” in person and via email diminish the value and validity of what is being said.

Not everyone agrees with this logic. There are also a number of people who believe the nitpicking of language used by women is but another form of sexism. People argue that rather than focusing on how women are expressing themselves, we should be focusing on the subject being discussed.

Former Google employee Ellen Petry Leanse wrote about her experience with the overuse of the word “just” in the workplace. Once Leanse became aware of the frequency “just” appeared in her own communications and those of female colleagues, she actively worked to decrease their usage of the word. Leanse wrote that after making an effort not to use weak language, she and her coworkers felt their communication changed. “I believe it helped strengthen our conviction, better reflecting the decisiveness, preparedness, and impact that reflected our brand.”


Shane Ferro and Debbie Cameron argue that Leanse is using an antiquated form of feminism to defend her argument. They write that linguists have recently almost completely debunked the myth that women must use more forceful language. Ferro writes the issue is not with the words women choose, but with the people who feel the need to critique the words chosen. She states, “I can’t think of a worse use of my workday than having to check myself every time I said something out loud,” and goes on to say if anything, this would hurt her confidence.  

Cameron draws a parallel between people policing the language women use to policing women’s bodies. Although this may seem like a stretch, Cameron writes that, similarly to how the media and beauty industry profit from the insecurities they sell to consumers, articles and radio programs, like the one she wrote about on her blog, sell a different insecurity to women. She writes:

“Instead of focusing on what we’re saying, we’re distracted by anxieties about the way we sound to others. ‘Am I being too apologetic?’ and ‘Is my voice too high?’ are linguistic analogues of ‘Is my nail polish chipped?’ and ‘Do I look fat in this?’”

Cameron also points out that the success of men in the workplace has far less to do with the language they use and much more to do with their privilege. This means that simply telling women to emulate the behavior of males will not often work.

It is clear that people do not see eye-to-eye on the usage of the “j-word,” but it is evident that women should be aware of both arguments in order to formulate their own opinions. This awareness will either decrease the usage of weak language, or allow people to continue using the language they feel most comfortable with. It seems logical that the point being made by a speaker is far more important than if they use the word “just” too often, but a speaker should, of course, be confident with the topic at hand.

This becomes a cyclical issue; if we tell women to monitor the words they use, they will most likely become hyperaware of the words they choose. This will act as a distraction from whatever it may be they are discussing. Conversely, women should also be aware that certain mannerisms should be avoided, so as not to appear unprofessional. It is important to note this should be presented to both men and women, to avoid creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It is a reminder that lack of confidence can be detrimental to both men and women in the workplace.

Education Week in Review

Education Week in Review

Each Friday, we will share education and EdTech chats, stories, and blogs we found that are of interest. We invite you to add others in the comments section.

Math and science program at UC Davis recruits underrepresented students 

These 10 States Have Most Education Equality by Race

What Are The Benefits of Using Virtual Reality in K-12 Schools?

@GreatCitySchls Live from #BIRE2017 - table discussions on key ELL-related ESSA requirements https://twitter.com/GreatCitySchls/status/864888333322866688

@emilyfranESL We meet outstanding teachers every day who bring this tweet to life! https://twitter.com/emilyfranESL/status/865500340551942145

Upcoming conferences we are attending -

please join @geniusplaza at:

May 31 to June 2 - @BookExpoAmerica booth 1844 http://www.bookexpoamerica.com/

June 11-14 - National Charter School Conference booth 133 http://ncsc.publiccharters.org/

June 25-28 - #ISTE17  booth 2152  https://www.iste.org/