Give Your Students A Ghoulishly Good Time While Teaching Culture
In a world that's rapidly changing, it's reassuring to know that most middle and high school students still love a good, old-fashioned fright. What’s more, ghost stories provide wonderful cultural insight, since what people find frightening says a lot about national or regional character and values.
This Halloween season, share these five haunting tales with your students and try out the spooky activities below.
1. Venezuela's La Sayona
According to legend, La Sayona lived in a small Venezuelan town in the 19th century. The character has had many names, but we will call her Casilda. She married a caring and loving man, and they later welcomed a son.
One day, Casilda was swimming in a nearby river when a villager spotted her and began continuously following her. When Casilda saw him, she told him to leave her alone, but he told her that he was there to warn her that her husband was having an affair with her mother. In a rage, she rushed home and found her husband asleep, holding the baby. She was too consumed with anger to see the proof of the man’s lie, so she burned down the house with her family inside.
Casilda then ran, screaming, to her mother's house where Casilda struck her in the stomach with a machete. Casilda’s mother denied the accusations, cursing Casilda as she bled to death, but she couldn’t believe her own mother. Casilda declared that from that day on, she would kill the unfaithful husbands of all women, and she became known as La Sayona—referring to the long, white undergarment dress that she is said to be seen wearing.
2. Germany's Headless Horseman
You might be familiar with the legend of sleepy hollow from Johnny Depp's 1999 film, but did you know it might have originated in a German folk tale?
Germany and Europe generally have many headless horsemen; outside of the Celtic world, headless riders are usually depicted as hunters on horses, and they're usually blamed for sudden windstorms, mysterious noises, and sudden windstorms. The backstory of the ghoul is usually the same around the world, no matter how he looks: men who commit crimes will be headless after they die.
German Legends of the Brothers Grimm explains the story: In the forest near Dresden, Germany, a woman is gathering acorns when she suddenly hears a hunting horn and thud. She sees a rider in a gray cloak and a gray horse standing over her. The woman ignores it and continues collecting acorns. A couple of days later, the same horseman appears to the woman in the woods—only this time, he is carrying his head.
Introducing himself as Hans Jagenteufel, the rider asks if she took the acorns without permission. The woman responds that she was not harming anyone and that the foresters were very kind to the poor. The headless horseman spared her life this time, but he warned her not to follow his fate—he had been condemned to this form because he had been a thief in his youth.
3. Italy’s Il Mostro di Firenze
From Italy, we get a modern-day monster tale. Il mostro di Firenze is a story about a monster that lives in the mountains of Florence, Italy, where it kidnaps and eats people. The victims are typically young, amorous couples parked or camped in countryside areas in the vicinity of Florence during new moons.
The creature was first sighted in the winter of 1974 when hikers spotted it walking through the woods with two humans dangling from its mouth. The hikers reported what they saw to their local police station, but by the time authorities arrived, they found nothing.
A few years later, another group of hikers reported seeing this same creature, allegedly with an arm hanging out of its mouth as it walked near Florence's airport. Once more, when the police arrived, they found nothing amiss.
4. The Exorcisms in Loudun, France
The Exorcist (1973) is one of many films related to exorcisms, but little did you know, they are often based on true events.
The events at Loudun began on September 22, 1632, when nuns of the Ursuline convent were visited during the night by an apparition of a man of the cloth who asked for help. Strange disturbances began happening: the nuns heard voices, felt physical blows from unseen sources, laughed uncontrollably, and had seizures when they felt the presence of ghosts.
The nuns claimed that Urbain Grandier, a local priest, drove the demon Asmodai to possess them. On October 5, 1632, religious leaders conducted the first exorcisms on the nuns, attracting thousands of spectators.
Although the exorcisms seemed to be working, this did not help Urbain Grandier's fate. Grandier was found guilty of sorcery and burned at the stake on August 18, 1634. Nevertheless, the nuns kept feeling the influence of an evil spirit. Was Grandier guilty? Only time will tell.
Use These Fa-boo-lous Comprehension Questions for Discussion
To help your students understand the themes in each story, as well as tackle higher-order thinking skills, lead a class discussion with these comprehension questions. You can translate them to the target language or leave them in English if you have an exploratory class.
Try These Eerie-sistible Classroom Activities!
A Country's Cultural Fabric Is Woven With Stories
Scary stories like these illustrate cultural peculiarities and offer a glimpse into how a nation views itself. As these stories place culture at the center of their storylines, they make people the driving force behind language learning practices.
Using ghost stories in your world language is authentic cultural exploration, but remember that they don't always have happy endings! You know your students best, so you’re the best judge of what’s too scary for them.
Do you have a scary story to share? Or a Halloween activity that’s not to be missed? Share your thoughts with your colleagues in the Language is Limited Facebook group.
Former Spanish teacher based in Virginia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature from la Universidad del Zulia and a Master's degree in Spanish Linguistics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her interests include SEL education in the world language classroom, theater, and how to make the world a less scary place.Explore more related to this author