Halloween Primary Sources to Shiver and Shake Up Your Teaching in the Primary Grades

This post is by Teresa St. Angelo, the 2016-2017 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.


New-York tribune., October 26, 1919, Page 3

Halloween. The mere word can evoke joy or terror, laughter or tears from both children and adults. It can conjure up a whole host of feelings and emotions. It might even give you “The Shivers”!

Halloween can also offer a perfect occasion for teachers to engage their students with a primary source lesson that will inform, motivate, and inspire curiosity about the past.

This  newspaper from 1919 describes “A New Halloween Game: ‘The Shivers’.” Analyzing this piece can provide students with an insightful look into the period of time it was published. The language and vocabulary used to explain this new Halloween game gives students a glimpse into a child’s world.

To launch this learning experience in an early elementary setting, gather students together as a whole class. Ask students to turn and talk to a partner about Halloween. Remind students to be respectful listeners, remembering to look at their partner, and to start speaking when their partner is finished.

Give partners an appropriate time to discuss Halloween, and then focus students with a question for investigation: How did children participate in Halloween activities a century ago?

Distribute a copy of the “Children’s Digest” newspaper page from the Sunday edition of the New York Tribune, dated October 26, 1919, to every student. Allow students time to look for details. After a period of quiet reflection ask, “What did you see on this newspaper page?”

As you write down responses encourage deeper thinking by asking, “How do you know that?” or “What made you say that?”

Now read the newspaper page, together, or let students read on their own, depending on the level of your students. Once the reading is completed, ask any of the following:

  • What was this article about?
  • How do you play the game?
  • Why is the game called “The Shivers”?

Discuss the description of the items suggested for the game, in the article; “anything woolly, fluffy, slippery, cold, or wabbly that will feel spooky to the unseeing receiver.” Or the items, such as: “A limp bean bag, a fluff of cotton-wool, the feathery end of a bric-a-brac duster, a bit of fur, a string of cold glass beads, an angora mitten loosely stuffed, and above all, a kid glove firmly stuffed with wet sea sand and kept on ice till needed.” Invite students to bring in their own items and write descriptions.

Ask students if they could play the game today with the items listed. Discuss whether these items would be available today, and why .

To conclude the lesson, ask “What did you discover about children and Halloween from 1919? Would this game from 1919 still give someone the shivers today?”

If you use this primary source with your class let us know! Attach a comment and describe an item you would bring to play “The Shivers.”

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