Haunted houses are part of mythology and urban legends in many places and times. They make a good topic for lessons with art, social studies, and writing. Depending on your population, you can put them together with ghost stories for a great genre lesson, use them for Halloween or architecture units, or include them in studies of logic or the scientific method. We have a couple of fun lesson plans for you below.
Start with art:
- Use crayons and a black water color wash to get a spooky look.
- Use to create a haunted house in a STEM — no, make that STEAM — challenge.
- Coffee Painting suggests strong instant coffee to paint scenes of haunted houses.
- Take a step further and have students write real estate ads for their haunted house picture. We like this idea because it involves analyzing examples of writing and using that information for an original writing piece.
Here are a couple of our favorites:
Architecture of Spooky Houses
Some supposedly haunted houses are not very spooky, and some spooky houses aren’t haunted. The house in the photo above is the home where some of our ancestors lived, and we have no reason to think that it was haunted or even spooky — but we think it could make a great start for a picture of a spooky house. Here’s how:
- Have students find photos of spooky or potentially spooky houses. Collect them, either on a bulletin board or at a collecting website like Pinterest (the link takes you to whatever other people have pinned up for “haunted houses” lately, but you can make one for your own class). Ask students not to search for haunted houses, but just to look at houses and homes and choose the ones they think look spooky — or would look spooky if they weren’t cheerily decorated.
- Then, have students find pictures of haunted houses from books, movies, TV, and other popular media. Collect these, too.
- Have students look at the two collections and identify the characteristics that make a house look spooky. Get as specific as possible.
- Once students have identified as many characteristics as possible, have them do an image search for Gothic Revival and Queen Anne architectural styles. They may find that the characteristics of these architectural styles overlap their list quite a bit. However, their list may also include things like “crooked windows,” “abandoned,” “dark,” or “dirty.” With the new information they find, students should complete the class list of characteristics of spooky houses.
- Have students design their spooky houses, using whatever medium fits best into your curriculum. Some possibilities include using SketchUp, cutting silhouettes from black paper and adding them to watercolor backgrounds, or building models from foam board.
- While students work, play spooky music like “Night on Bald Mountain” or “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” The Most Frightening Music in the Universe is a compilation of such pieces. Classical Terror is another. Your library may have some spooky classical pieces on hand, too.
Read and respond
Haunted houses are important characters in some great books. Here are some of our favorites:
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is creepily terrifying in a subtle way that might be especially appealing to students who have gotten accustomed to gory movie and video game special effects.
- The House With a Clock In Its Walls was written by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey, which is about the best provenance possible for a spooky book for kids. It’s a Halloween story, too. It is currently a movie, so your reluctant readers might be tempted, too.
- The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe is a classic from that master of the gothic tale.
There are also nonfiction accounts of buildings people believe to be haunted:
- The Crescent Hotel is a charming building in Eureka Springs, a lovely town right near where we live. If you send students to this website, have them proofread it for extra learning!
- The Winchester House in San Jose has a snazzy website with sudden surprising sounds.
- An international collection of haunted buildings from Reader’s Digest.
After reading some ghostly stories and accounts of supposed hauntings, students can write their own haunted house story, or an essay explaining why they do or do not believe in haunted houses.
When we discuss these topics, we’re steadfast about treating them as good stories and leaving all discussions of the afterlife to students’ parents. If you’re up for it, though, the widespread belief in ghosts (some surveys say 90% of Americans claim to believe) and the complete lack of hard evidence make it an interesting phenomenon to explore.