If you’re looking for some new ways to celebrate Halloween through dance in your upper Primary/Elementary school class guest writer, Mia Hollingworth, has devised a fun dance unit. In this dance/drama unit she shows you how to incorporate literacy and dance outcomes through creative, Halloween inspired storytelling.
Creating Dance and Drama Stories for Halloween
By Mia Hollingworth
There is something about Halloween that intrigues and delights young people and so in this mini dance unit I will explore literacy, movement, and drama activities that can be used in the classroom or at your Halloween themed home-school party.
The 31st of October is a special day on the calendar for me as it happens to be my birthday! Every year as a young girl, and later as a not so young girl, I would have a Halloween themed party and it was the best.
Halloween or All Saints’ Day or Samhain is steeped in rich Celtic and Christian tradition before at became an established holiday in America. Its origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival Samhain (pronounced sow-in) mostly in the area that is now Ireland.
Traditionally people would light bonfires and wear costumes (mainly animal skins and heads) to ward of ghosts. The 1st of November marked the end of harvest and summer, and was the beginning of a dark, cold winter in the Northern hemisphere.
The Celts believed that on the eve of the transition from Summer to Winter, the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest and therefore ghosts of the dead could be seen and heard.
The Magic of Oral and Movement Story-Telling
Oral story-telling is a time-honoured tradition and was used to pass on cultural knowledge and traditions. They can take on many forms and can include poems, chants, rhymes and songs.
Traditionally, the audience would gather in a circle while the story-teller would entertain the listeners often incorporating drama and dance to enhance the story.
The art of story-telling involves a few secret skills that anyone can learn.
Creating sacred space
Interacting with your audience
Emotional and Engaging
A successful story with a Beginning, a Crisis, a Resolution
For the purpose of the following activities, you will need to select one or two ghost stories or poems to read aloud. These choices will serve as discussion for some of the literacy features that make for a successful Ghost story or poem.
In my activity I have chosen The Ghost of Annabel Spoon by Aaron Blabey.
Here is a comprehensive Halloween book list by grade level for some other ideas.
Halloween Dance Unit Ideas
This small unit of work is broken up into distinct lessons. You could do between 4 – 6 lessons that are divided into;
- Dance / Drama
- Putting it all together
- Present / Perform
- Create a group work that incorporates scripted storytelling, voice, and movement that represents the structure and ethos of a ghost story.
- Work collaboratively by writing a structured poem using rhythm and
- Present and perform their work for their peers, evaluating and articulating their artistic choices.
Oral Storytelling Activity 1
Book: The Ghost of Annabel Spoon by Aaron Blabey
- Set up the space so children are sitting in a circle. Be creative as you like. Maybe you wear a mask, turn off the lights, hold a torch up under your chin while you read.
- Read aloud your chosen story / poem
- Oral Story-Telling – Students will collaborate to re-tell the story.
- Questions to guide discussion:
What are some of the language features? Can you give any examples of Repetitive, rhythmic, and patterned language?
Discuss the rhyming patterns in the story. For example, AABCCB.
- Whole class brainstorm. Students will get inspired by their own fears and brainstorm some ideas for their own ghost story.
- Divide the group up into smaller groups of 3-4 students.
- Students will devise their own Ghost story or poem using some of the literacy features discussed.
Dance and Drama Activity 2
A projector screen will be needed for this lesson.
If this is not available, the teacher will need to learn the choreography in advance and teach it to the students.
Choose from the three well-known spooky dances and learn as a group. This will depend on the overall skill level of your students.
The Monster Mash (Skill level- easy)
The Time Warp (Skill level- medium)
Thriller (Skill level – difficult )
Putting all the elements together
Students will work collaboratively to bring all the elements together into a small-scale cohesive piece of work.
The guiding design elements of Dance and Drama will work dynamically together to create and focus dramatic story-telling.
The story or poem is conceived, organised, and shaped by aspects of and combinations of character and relationships, voice and movement, space, and time, focus and tension, language and ideas, mood, and atmosphere.
Present and Perform
Create a sacred space as you did in the first lesson.
Groups will perform devised and scripted drama / dance that develops narrative and uses performance styles and design elements to engage an audience.
Assessing for Creativity in Dance Education
Assessing creativity can be tricky and the giving of a letter to mark a student in this space is of little value. Using a simple rubric is a great way to guide your students in creating a comprehensive product.
Here are some suggestions that may be useful in your teaching context. Your assessment criteria may also be negotiated with your class in line with the learning goals you have decided on for the dance unit.
Assessing Categories could include:
Levels of Assessing.
If evident mark < ‘greater than’ If not yet evident mark > ‘lesser than’
STRENGTH: Less reliant on teaching prompts and scaffolding.
BREADTH: Exercising creative habits in new contexts and transferring these into
DEPTH: More sophisticated habits and more appropriate to the task.
This mini unit of work is made to be flexible. It can be taught as individual lessons or you can make it as comprehensive as you like by giving the older students extra lessons to further develop key concepts.
Extend on language features and text structure in the first lesson.
Have students devise their own choreography that matches the text structure of their poem.
Add a Music and or Media Arts element.
Ask students to write a reflection to assess;
the structure of their poems,
organization /time management,
collaborative and participatory efforts,
effectiveness of performance styles and design elements to engage an audience.
Ask students to design a poster for their show. How would they portray their story differently with words and images?
I think these dance activities can be a lot of fun, particularly if you have carefully considered just the right story or poem for your students. This will engage and inspire your group from the onset to be imaginative and spookily creative.