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

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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.”

Comments (14)

  1. What a great find…can’t wait to share it with my colleagues!

  2. Sounds like a really fun idea, especially if the teacher is dressed as a witch/warlock during the activity. I wonder what other creepy things children would use as “shivers” and what modern materials might be fun to include.

  3. This is an excellent lesson in, of all things, mindfulness! Something near and dear to my heart. Touching things and noticing how quick the mind is to assess, judge and deem werher something is icky or yucky, without even knowing what it in fact is yet. The fun comes when the item is discovered for what it truly is and the kids learn a much deeper
    lesson. All done with laughter and good fun! Bravo for you!

  4. Here’s a little diversion from the main theme: it’s interesting that the final item requires “being on ice.” No freezers back then; refrigerators themselves were still pretty new. Most folks had iceboxes instead. Come to think of it, where was the sea sand supposed to come from? Who was this ad aimed at? The rich? Middle class?

  5. What a delightful way to connect children with history, encouraging critical thinking by analyzing the pictures and story, and then actually playing the game with their classmates. A century later and it’s still relevant. Definitely going to encourage laughter and fun by using gooey and slimey objects; sure to make them “shiver”! Thank you for the inspiration!

  6. I think this is awesome! What better way to get children to use their imaginations and make predictions as to what they are holding?!? I may start with some cooked spaghetti to pass around; I would love to see what the children come up with to pass… lots of “shivers” would be had! This is a great way to compare and contrast Halloween fun today to long ago!

  7. What a great idea! Makes me think of an activity I used to do at Halloween parties back when I was younger. If food is an option, what about some kind of wet noodle for “brains” or like cold peeled grapes for “eyes”? If no food, definitely something that feels like hairy spiders. That would REALLY creep me out! 🙂

  8. Cool Game! I especially like the creepily dressed Mr. Mystery Man! Maybe I will play this game at my Halloween party as well this year. Our school does a far less creepy version of this at our annual Haunted HS night for local elementary kids and they love it.

  9. I have done an activity like this and used tissue boxes – the kind that are more tall than wide and have plastic openings – to hold the item being passed around. Love the primary source document!

  10. How very interesting to explore the historical roots of a Halloween game still gleefully played by many children today. While the modern additions of cold spaghetti noodle brains and juicy grape eyeballs to evoke “the shivers” update the game for 21st century players, there could be no better way to bring history to life than to reference this “new game” from 1919!

  11. I am excited to use this lesson with my students. We are working to build empathy toward others. What an excellent way to realize how the lack of vision effects the other senses.
    Thank you!!

  12. Wish I could get the email with this earlier than 10/30! Sunday night at 8:30pm is kinda late to get some “creepy” things together. But am going to try! Love this mix of primary source and Seasonal aimed right for the students!

    • Hi Sherri, We’re so glad that this activity caught your attention and that you want to try it with your students. We published this on Thursday for exactly the reason that you named: to give you some prep time! – you might check the settings on your email subscription if you prefer to get the notices more immediately. Please let us know how your students react!

  13. Thank you for sharing these wonderful ideas! On Halloween the children in my class participated in present day Halloween activities and games. Then, we compared what we were doing that day to what children in 1919 were playing with “The Shivers.” We had a very interesting and educational discussion. Thanks again.

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