“The American Halloween tradition of ‘trick-or-treating’ probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called ‘soul cakes’ in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives.” History.com
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Halloween — History.com
“The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as ‘going a-souling’ was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.
The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry.
On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes.
To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.
Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition… Today’s Halloween ghosts are often depicted as more fearsome and malevolent, and our customs and superstitions are scarier too.
We avoid crossing paths with black cats, afraid that they might bring us bad luck. This idea has its roots in the Middle Ages, when many people believed that witches avoided detection by turning themselves into cats. We try not to walk under ladders for the same reason. This superstition may have come from the ancient Egyptians, who believed that triangles were sacred; it also may have something to do with the fact that walking under a leaning ladder tends to be fairly unsafe. And around Halloween, especially, we try to avoid breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks in the road or spilling salt.”
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NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will learn how Halloween traditions began in the U.S., and some of the superstitions associated with this celebration. Learners will practice all language skills in this lesson.
Stimulate background knowledge
Directions: Have learners brainstorm to build a list of all of the words they can think of connected to the terms: Halloween, ghosts, spirits, and superstitions. Use a graphic organizer KWL chart to help.
While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students infer the meanings of the words in bold from the article and use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance.
- The American Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades.
- During the festivities children have fun.
- The distribution of soul cakes started long ago.
- There was the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits.
- Halloween has both European and Celtic roots.
- On Halloween, it was believed that ghosts came back.
- To appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter people left food outside.
- Halloween is a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition.
- Today’s Halloween ghosts are often depicted as more fearsome and malevolent.
- Witches avoided detection by turning themselves into cats.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- In the late 1800s, there were a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday.
- new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally.
- Parents were encouraged to take anything frightening out of Halloween celebrations.
- By the 1920s Halloween have become a secular, but community-centered holiday.
- There were parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment.
- Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration.
- An new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow.
- Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween.
- The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, mark it NA. If the statement is false mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England.
- Poor people would beg for food and families would give them pastries.
- The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Catholic roots.
- People were afraid of the dark, and food supplies were often scarce hundreds of years ago.
- The distribution of soul cakes a practice was known as going a-souling.
- On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place a bundle of clothes outside their homes.
- On Halloween it was believed that people would encounter ghosts if they visited cemeteries.
- To avoid being recognized by ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.
- Today’s Halloween ghosts are often depicted as more fearsome and malevolent.
- We avoid crossing paths with black cats, because we are afraid that they might be our dead relatives.
Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
IV. Listening Activity
Note: Visits to The Merchant’s House Museum may have restrictions due to Covid-19. For information Visit
Video: Visit a Haunted House: The Merchant’s House Museum
Vocabulary Prediction Game
Directions: In groups, have students make a list of words and phrases they think they will hear in the video, based on the title and photo.
Play the video, and as they listen, when students hear their chosen words, they place a check mark next to it. At the end the group with the most check marks wins!
While Listening Tasks
Listening Comprehension- (multiple choice questions)
Directions: Students view the video again and select the correct answer.
1.The Merchant House Museum is located in___
c. New York City
2. The Merchant house was built in_____
3. The Treadwell Family lived in the house for ___
a. 100 years
b. 50 years
c. 30 years
4.The youngest daughter was named___
5.Gertrude was born in the year___
6.Gertrude was ___
a. married at 20 years old
b. married at 45 years old
c. was never married
7.The Merchant House exhibition has_____
a. a dance scene
b. a funeral scene
c. a party scene
8.The Tredwells were
c. middle class
9.Everything on display in the Museum
a. was created for the museum
b. was actually used by the Treadwell family
c. was bought from antique shops
10. A big cooking staple back then was___
III. Post-Listening Tasks
1. In groups, have students make up questions they would like to ask about the house.
2. Take students to visit the The Merchant House Museum (when advisable)
3. Have students describe other scary haunted places in the U.S. or their countries.
4. Students read a classic ghost story, then write a review about it, or make one up.
Paragraph Writing Practice
Directions: Have students answer one of the following in a paragraph.
a-How I celebrate Halloween
b- Why I like (dislike) this holiday
C- Some superstitions from my country
* Free Scary Ghost Stories http://www.americanfolklore.net/spooky-stories.html
Fun Activities for ESL Beginners and Children
ESL Kids Halloween Games http://www.eslkidstuff.com/HalloweenGames.htm
4 The Teacher http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/halloween/