October is prime time to motivate your students to write spooky stories. With autumn in the air, trick-or-treating, various Halloween fun, and costume ideas swirling in children’s heads, October is the best month to bank on your students’ motivation. Since they are already thinking about spookiness and the classroom is a hub of excitement, why not channel that energy by teaching your students how to write spooky stories?
Just like a witch’s brew contains all sorts of ingredients, a spooky story follows a recipe as well. Teach the following effective strategies to guide your class, and you’ll have a recipe for success with spine-tingling stories.
1. Read Spooky Stories
Your students can gain inspiration for their own stories by exploring some spooky books. Whether they gain plot, character, or setting ideas, spooky books have a way of capturing the attention of students and helping them become motivated to write their own scary narrative.
The best part? There are so many wonderfully intriguing scary stories out there! We love the animated Halloween E-book, Who Went Tromping? by Tami Parker for younger elementary students. This spooky and adorable e-book tells the story of certain Halloween characters tromping through the forest and encountering various creatures of the night. As each nocturnal animal is revealed, so is the repetition and rhythm of this story being read aloud. Students will love finding out the scientific group name of each animal they meet along the way. Who went Tromping? is a super cute e-book that is perfect for the spooky season while incorporating science in the process.
We also love Dawn Bordeau Milstrey’s The Stone Angel Society: Journal One and Journal Two: Into the Light. These novels, with various, differing scary stories in each chapter are spooky but not overly scary. Each story has a recipe for a spooky tale perfect for upper elementary to middle school students. Read a chapter a day to provide that eerie inspiration for your students.
Looking for more scary books? Check out our blog post that lists tons of book ideas!
2. Setting is Key
In a narrative, the setting is crucial to a storyline, but even more so for a spooky story. A setting spurs a story along, creates a certain mood, and can influence the actions of the characters. To teach how to create a compelling setting, turn your classroom into its own spooky atmosphere. Dim the lights, play some eerie classical music, project a fun Halloween background on the board, and brainstorm with your class a list of settings for a spooky story.
Challenge your students to think out of the box. One of the first settings your students may suggest is a haunted house or a graveyard. Challenge your students to think of regular locations that can then be turned scary depending on the time of day or if a scary event occurs there. For instance, maybe the soccer field isn’t scary during the day but could be pretty creepy at night.
Provide inspiration by showing some short clips about some interesting locations from spooky movies in the classroom. For instance, a clip of Disney’s Halloweentown or Coco would be age-appropriate and provide inspiration.
After brainstorming different setting ideas, create spiderweb (very fitting for the season!) maps together to describe each of these settings. Leave the spiderweb maps up during the drafting process so students can regularly refer to them.
Once they’ve narrowed down a couple of locations, task students with illustrating their spooky setting first before writing. Have them color their setting and really think in-depth about the elements of their main story’s locations. Ask students to imagine they are standing right inside their setting. What can they add to their setting illustration to make it scary?
3. Characters & Point of View
A story is only as good as its characters. Scary stories revolve around interesting characters, whether it is a main character being haunted or a mischievous, villainous antagonist. Have students brainstorm characters with distinct personalities, quirks, motives, and fears. Encourage students to use the characters’ fears to drive the plot. Brainstorm as a whole class to get lots of ideas flowing and, also, allow students to use others’ ideas that were thrown out during the brainstorming session.
Students can illustrate their characters and create a map detailing the character’s name, personality traits, fears, hobbies, etc. in order to really get inside the characters’ heads. From there, ask students to choose a point of view. Will they tell the story from the main character’s point of view? Perhaps, the story could be told from the point of view of the villain, or will there be a narrator like a fly on a wall? Go further with older students and talk about irony. Perhaps the narrator reveals information to the readers that the main character does not know. This creates suspense.
Students need to have an overall idea in mind of what their story will be about. Just like with listing setting ideas together, brainstorm plot ideas as a class. Keep their ideas on a poster that can be kept up in the class for reference. When brainstorming ideas, task students with thinking of a sentence or two that could sum up the main idea or the basic premise of a potential story. Assist your students with ideas by starting off with some examples such as: One Halloween night, a ghost bumped into me while trick-or-treating, except it wasn’t a costume he was wearing. He was a real ghost. Share ideas together and discuss ways to make their ideas have unexpected scary twists and turns.
Help them structure their story by reviewing the beginning, middle, and end for younger students, and plot lines and plot vocabulary for older students.
Use writing prompts to help guide and streamline plot ideas. Perhaps, students choose from one of five writing prompts if they cannot think of their own. The writing prompts would help get them started or even help guide their whole stories.
Use a graphic organizer to help them map out their plot. Let students know that they do not have to stick to this prewriting plot, but it helps to organize their thoughts and to get their creative juices flowing.
5. Descriptive Language
Spooky stories are a great opportunity to practice descriptive language skills. From eerie adjectives to spine-tingling moments, have students use their five senses to describe settings, characters, sounds, smells, and odd events. For older students, encourage the use of figurative language as well to take their descriptions to the next level. Encourage them to really paint a picture with their words to evoke a spooky atmosphere and convey scary themes.
Practice descriptive language together, ahead of time, by writing a scary story as a class. Pick some ideas from your earlier brainstorming sessions and type up a story together to display on your projector. Get students involved by asking, “What adjectives should we put here? Should we specifically describe sounds and smells as they enter the haunted house? What simile can we use to really dive deep with this detail?” Model for students how to effectively use adjectives and descriptive language.
For figurative language practice, grab our Spooky Figurative Language Activity.
6. Build Suspense
Teach students how to build suspense through their sentences. Stephen King has said in order to build effective suspense, shorten sentences around scary, exciting moments. Even one-word sentences create tension and an edge-of-your-seat feeling. Encourage students to gradually reveal eerie details until the right moment when all is revealed, in order to build suspense. Push and pull back. Provide details and then pull back, not providing enough, in order to get the reader to have that frustrated need-to-know-more tension that all good spooky stories contain.
Does the thought of attempting to do all of this send chills down your spine? Let our Halloween Writing Activity Unit work the magic for your students. This unit contains character, setting, plot graphic organizers, rough draft guides, publishing papers, and more. With our no-prep writing guides, your students will be so engaged, that they will practically walk themselves through a whole writing project while having loads of fun all along the way.
Here is another spooky story unit!
For a writing unit built around a fun book, Snowmen at Halloween, by Carolyn Buehner, this writing craftivity lesson plan guides your students as they create their own unique stories of what their snowmen may do at night while they are at Halloween parties or trick or treating.
Teaching kids how to write spooky stories is a hauntingly fun journey that fosters creativity, imagination, and language skills. By reading spooky stories, brainstorming ideas, creating odd settings, developing characters, and focusing on descriptive language while building suspense, you can help your students craft spine-tingling narratives that will thrill readers. May your classroom be filled with chilling tales of suspense and excitement!