For Halloween, for a new way to get reluctant readers to enjoy the classics, or just for fun, try some vampire lessons.
Start with vampire literature:
- Vunce Upon a Time is a heartwarming story from the illustrator of Olive, the Other Reindeer.
- Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots is part of the popular Bailey School Kids series.
- The Ink Drinker is a fascinating and bizarre story. Does someone who sucks words from books count as a vampire?
- Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery and all the Bunnicula books by James Howe are about a rabbit from a dog’s point of view. The rabbit gets its name from the film Dracula and some mysterious goings on with a tomato, and the whole series is hilarious. We treasure our signed copy of Bunnicula Strikes Again! One of the subthemes of this book is the effect of reading scary stories — a great discussion and writing topic for a vampire unit.
- The Case of the Vampire Cat is another dog-narrated vampire book, part of John Erickson’s masterful Hank the Cowdog series. These make superb read-aloud books, and are a pleasure for all ages.
- Twilight may not be great literature, but the girls in my class totally love it. Even those who aren’t much on reading otherwise. Use Venn diagrams to compare the book and the movie.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker is a classic. Take advantage of the current fashion for vampires to make old books appealing to modern readers.
We didn’t find any ready-made bulletin boards for this theme, but we found that we could make great vampire faces with the directions in Ed Emberley’s Big Orange Drawing Book. If you do this unit near Halloween, you could probably find lots of decorations in party stores. You could also just do up your classroom in black and white.
- Practice research skills by seeking the roots of vampire lore. Vampire novels began in the 1800s, but there are historical signs of the story before that. Online research will bring up everything from Vlad the Impaler to the idea that tuberculosis was mistaken for vampirism. We advise supervising students who are researching vampires online. This is a great time to teach about the use of Google Scholar, the value of long search strings (“vampire history research” instead of “vampires”), and the use of “site:edu” to limit results to scholarly ones. A search for “site:edu history of vampirism” gives you completely different results from a search for “vampires.” Work through the difference as a class for a good lesson in online research skills.
- Find pictures of vampires from different time depths. We wouldn’t turn students loose with an image search for vampires, but would select images like The Vampire by Philip Burne-Jones, Edvard Munch’s painting of the same name, or early horror movie stills to compare with images from the Twilight movies. Have students write about the change in the image of vampires over time.
- In the early 20th century, a “vamp” meant a girl who flirted aggressively. “Vamp” was short for “vampire,” but not really connected with vampire folklore in any literal way. Compare the Jazz Age image of the vamp with modern Goth vampire style for an interesting look at women’s history.
- Learn about vampire bats. The bats were named after vampires, not the other way around. Bats are an interesting study at any time of year; check out this lesson plan.
- Studying the reproductive system this year? The Twilight saga’s latest offering includes a vampire baby. Traditional mythology does include tales of vampire fathers and human mothers. The offspring would be a dhampir, a mythical being most associated with the Balkans. check that link for the political and geographic history of the Balkans. Vampire babies in traditional folklore had wild hair and no shadows — and sometimes no bones. We haven’t come up with a good lesson plan for this topic, frankly, but we think that making students study the history of the Balkans would discourage them from talking about vampire babies in class.
- Insects actually do suck the life out of other creatures. The picture below, from the University of Arkansas Insect Festival, says it all. Consider an aphids lesson plan or have students research and report on sucking insects.
- Garlic is supposed to be efficacious against vampires. Actually, it seems to be pretty good against disease producing microbes. High school students can try out a serious science experiment on the subject, while elementary school classes might set up an experiment pitting garlic-eaters against a control group of students who promise to eat no garlic during the experiment. Keep track of student colds during that time and see if you can confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis that garlic protects against illness. If it wards off colds, might it ward off vampires, too? Use a Venn diagram to compare colds and vampires and decide whether they have enough in common to make it likely. We used the vampire faces from Ed Emberley’s Big Orange Drawing Book to make individual sized Venn diagrams, just for fun.