Tag Archives: holidays

Educational (and Fun!) Halloween Activities

by Helen Beyne

halloween activities

Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While most students associate Halloween with candy and costumes, it is a holiday full of cultural traditions. Similar holidays are celebrated throughout the world this time of year. Each variation on Halloween has its own rich history and cultural traditions.

Halloween is the perfect time to have students scare up a spooky story, learn about the origins of All Hallows’ Eve, or read the chilling works of Edgar Allan Poe. Below is a list of suggested topics and activities to “thrill” your students.

1. The History of Halloween

Where did our modern-day Halloween traditions come from? You can get the facts by visiting the History Channel’s mini-site, which explores the origins of our traditions through videos, infographics, and images.

2. Spooky Stories

Halloween provides an opportunity for students to practice creative writing, which is an important part of English Language Arts curriculum. Have students practice writing mysteries or epitaphs. If your students are having trouble thinking up an idea for a story, have them check out Scholastic’s writing prompts. When students have completed their mysteries or epitaphs, encourage them to use PowToon to create presentations and make their writing come to life.

3. Edgar Allan Poe

Halloween is a great time to introduce students to the inventor of the modern detective story, Edgar Allan Poe, whose haunting tales and poetry have made him one of the most famous macabre writers. There are a number of interactive resources available that feature some of Poe’s well-known works. You can use Flocabulary’s educational rap, “Pit and the Pendulum,” to review the plot of Poe’s story in an engaging way. If you are teaching “The Raven,” TeachersFirst offers an interactive version of the poem, which reviews key vocabulary and literary devices.

4. Things That Go Bump in the Night

October is a good time to work nocturnal animals, such as bats, into your curriculum. Scholastic has rounded up seven science activities that allow students to explore the bat’s anatomy and learn about its habitat. Students can also explore fun facts about vampire bats on National Geographic Kids.

5. Salem Witch Trials

Have your students explore a time in American history when innocent men and women were accused of practicing witchcraft and hysteria spread throughout the village of Salem. Have them learn about the history of the Salem Witch Trials by exploring Discovery’s interactive adventure, which chronicles the infamous series of hearings and prosecutions.

6. Día de los Muertos

As an alternative to discussing Halloween, teach students about el Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, a tradition observed in Mexico and throughout Latin America that celebrates those who are no longer with us. Check out National Geographic’s site to learn more about this lively celebration and the cultural traditions associated with it.

Happy Halloween!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

5 Ways of Looking at Presidents’ Day

by Helen Beyne

George Washington President's Day

image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that the holiday often referred to as Presidents’ Day is officially designated Washington’s Birthday? No matter what you call it, the date offers us an opportunity to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of the forty-four presidents to date. It’s also a chance to look at the important role that the American presidency has played in the development of our national character.

This holiday is a chance to help students deepen their engagement with civics and history in a meaningful way. Learning about the leaders of our country can go beyond memorizing dates and names. The key concepts that we highlight on President’s Day—our history, our government, and our leaders—have rich, complex narratives of their own, and there are many great online tools you can access to help your students better understand the legacies of our country’s most important leaders.

The following short list of resources is a starting point. Use these to encourage students to write biographies, author and star in short plays, examine and compare primary sources, put together timelines, or do any other kind of project that suits your classroom! These resources, which include primary and secondary sources, can be a great way to begin a fuller discussion with your students about our country and our history by examining the most revered and most challenging position in our government.

  1. Help your students investigate the history of the holiday at the National Archives. Check out the article about George Washington’s Birthday in the Featured Documents section. Students can view and download images of original documents relevant to Washington and the origin of President’s Day.
  2. The Smithsonian’s “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden” offers a wealth of information about the position and the individuals who have served as the leader of our nation. It includes a variety of student activities, and provides lesson plans for grades 4–6, 7–9, and 10–12.
  3. Green Light Learning Tools’s interactive eBook The Presidency (Android available at Amazon and iOS through the iTunes store) offers an overview of our country’s government, the president’s powers, and the election process. It also provides a close examination of the 2012 election. Built in collaboration with the AP, this tablet-optimized eBook includes videos, charts, graphs, maps, timelines, and quizzes that help students better understand the intricacies of getting elected and serving as the country’s leader. There is also a similar, but simpler IWB lesson available through SMART Exchange.
  4. University of Virginia’s Miller Center hosts the Presidential Classroom, a site where you can access presidential documents, oral histories, images, transcripts, audio recordings, and videos. The audio recordings should be reviewed for appropriateness before sharing with your students.
  5. PBS’s American Experience includes a documentary series on the presidents of the United States, several of which—including those on FDR, Nixon, and Clinton—can be streamed online.

Do you have a favorite site, document, or lesson plan that you teach on Presidents’ Day? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

Online Resources for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

by Erin Dye

Online resources for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. | credit: Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

To many students, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is nothing more than a day off of school. Make the day a teaching moment by using some of the helpful online resources available about Dr. King’s life and legacy.

Elementary Students

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site 

This page, run by the National Park Service, hosts a complete Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. curriculum for grades K­–8 (separate teacher’s guides break down the curriculum by grade). The teacher’s guides include detailed information on perceptions of race in different ages of children and information on sensitivity concerns. The guides are incredibly detailed. It’s possible to pick and choose parts of the curriculum as standalone lessons, but it will take time to skim through all this content to find what you want.


BrainPOP’s educational video for Dr. King is currently free. The website has related printable materials to go with the video. The related Lesson Ideas page includes lesson plans and graphic organizers.

History: Martin Luther King, Jr.

History.com (formerly The History Channel) includes many videos, audio clips, and photo galleries that can be used in lesson plans. The site does include advertising before video clips, so consider playing videos to get rid of ads before showing them to the class. Preview all videos for appropriateness before sharing.

Scholastic: Teaching About Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This site includes lesson plans, worksheets, and multimedia. The site claims to be K–12, but the best content seems to be for elementary students.  

Smithsonian’s OurStory

The Smithsonian museum’s Dr. King website includes shorter activities for younger students, including creative projects. The list of recommended books is also excellent.


Middle and High School Students

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University

This site contains a wealth of information and resources for teachers and students. It hosts lesson plans for grades 9–12, as well as many primary sources, study guides, and an exhaustive online encyclopedia. This site is a great first stop for high school teachers, and a destination to send older students to do independent research.


This site from the National Endowment for the Humanities has several lesson plans available, as well as links to other content. “Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Power of Nonviolence” is one of the most interesting options.


Using Primary Sources

“Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Arguably Dr. King’s second most famous piece of writing, the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is also a Common Core exemplar text. The full text is available from The King Center and a corresponding lesson plan is available from the King Research and Education Institute.

“I Have a Dream”

Have students listen to the speech and focus on the power of Dr. King’s voice and rhetoric. Note that this link is the only officially sanctioned release of the entire speech.

Robert F. Kennedy on King’s death

Robert F. Kennedy’s short statement on the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a moving tribute. Get the full text from the JFK library. Consider having students use this speech as a model to write a eulogy about Dr. King.

What resources are you using that I missed here? Tell me in the comments!

Erin DyeErin Dye is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development with extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.