“The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction” -- Scary Storytelling for Middle School Students
- Grades: 6–8
Vampires, and zombies, and werewolves! Oh my! Halloween is just around the corner, and frightful ghouls are just waiting to make the hair on the backs of our necks stick up. You may even remember a movie from your childhood that STILL causes you to check under the bed. But before movie special effects kept us up at night, there was old-fashioned scary storytelling. Whether it begins “on a dark and stormy night” or “in the pale moonlight,” the written word has the power to make us scream with delight.
What makes a story even scarier is the possibility of its being true. In elementary school we would frequently visit our local cemetery and gaze at one statue in particular: the lady in the glass case. Each generation had its own urban legend about her demise, but only recently did I discover the real story. This discovery inspired an extension activity to my post on the importance of teaching nonfiction to struggling readers. As fate would have it, this month’s edition of Scholastic's Scope magazine features timely articles on the topic of nonfiction.
Read on for ways you can teach students that the truth IS stranger than fiction . . . if you dare!
I begin each instructional period with a “Fast Five” or daily starter, and Scholastic’s “Grammar for Halloween” was the perfect starter for this lesson. In this activity, students practice using "among" and "between" correctly in the context of paragraphs about Halloween traditions and themes. After we do the worksheet, I introduce the forthcoming unit by giving students the vocabulary words they'll need to understand it. I couple the Scholastic vocabulary worksheet with a SMART Board lesson I created to reinforce the skills needed.
Our reading selection is “Whispers from the Grave” by Katia Bachko, an article that completely draws the reader in, especially when projected on an interactive whiteboard. This story revolves around a famous haunted house and explores our fascination with ghosts, which complements our postreading creative writing activity. Since my students have prior experience with nonfiction, the “Identifying Nonfiction Elements” worksheet is a wonderful review. If you have a classroom full of diverse learners, I suggest making the “Haunted House” poetry analysis section available for those with higher level abilities, and choosing only one or two questions for lower level learners. We wrap up our discussion by completing the critical-thinking questions from the story.
Now that I have piqued my student’s curiosity, we delve into a class discussion of ghosts, urban legends, and true life stories that focus on the supernatural. Most of my students are scary movie enthusiasts and have much to contribute. Some of them have never heard the phrase “The truth is stranger than fiction” and struggle to understand what it means. To illustrate this point, I share my personal childhood experience, along with a descriptive PowerPoint, and find them thirsty for more. They can’t wait to jump into their assignment, which is to view the statues in the PowerPoint and create a rumor and the “real" story. For our culminating activity, we display their stories in our hallway gallery, and each student has an opportunity to share with the class.
For more nonfiction lessons, refer to Scope’s “Then & Now: The Horror of Werewolves"
and consider having your students enter the Haunted House Writing Contest.