The Best Halloween Activities for Elementary Music - Books, Songs, and Games!
Updated: Jul 28, 2022
Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year as an elementary music teacher, and I bet a lot of you feel the same. This year, I've got a go-to set of activities I do in K-4 that are both meaningful and joyful... and a little spooky! From stories to chants, games to instruments, you can make your elementary music classroom delightfully haunted in October.
Weirdly enough, I remember fairly little about my own elementary music experiences as a student. But a few things I do remember are the Halloween classes! Our teacher had a name very close to skeleton, so on that day we were allowed to call her Mrs. Skeleton. We sang The Wackiest Witch, Ghost of John, and the H-A-Double L-O song (which I only recently realized takes a melody from Danse Macabre!).
But as a music teacher now, I've gone away from those more traditional things and tried to incorporate some other kinds of activities. Especially because we are not allowed to sing full length songs in class- yet.... new guidance is coming out soon!
Below, I'll share with you some of my favorite Halloween activities and how to stretch them out over a few classes. I don't know about you, but the build up to our actual Halloween class is filled with spooky lessons, too!
P.S. Did you know I have a YouTube channel where I do music teacher toolbox chats about topics like this? If you're not connected with me there, make sure you subscribe to learn more meaningful elementary music strategies!
And if you know me, you know I'm about joy and meaning. So while these activities are a lot of fun, they all have a musical purpose and learning objective behind them. As should most of the things we do, right? It's important for the kids, but also important for those unpredictable admin pop-ins (like when the principal AND the superintendent sat down to watch my first graders listening to Hall of the Mountain King this past week!).
Kindergarteners just started reading pictorial notation to start learning about 1- and 2-sound rhythms. Sure, you could use fruits and veggies, but this year, this skill set coincides with the Halloween/fall season. So instead of apples and limes, or carrots and beans, we use things like moons, cats, cauldrons, and pumpkins!
I have a set of magnets with these pictures that I use to write rhythms on the board, and them we practice them by clapping, decode them into sounds by putting 1 or 2 dots underneath each word, then perform them on percussion instruments.
Using instruments in Kindergarten is a great experience for them.
But if you haven't taught them rules and procedures around
instruments, it can become a disaster. My signal to students to stop
is singing "Instrument down, hands on your head" (sol-la-sol-mi),
and givings LOTS of praise when they follow it. I also use a lot of empathetic language as opposed to obedience-oriented language. "I see you're having trouble leaving the instrument along when it's not your turn. I know it's hard not to play a fun instrument. I am going to put it behind you, and you can take it out again when it's your turn."
If your kindergarteners are already pretty good with 1- and 2-sound rhythms, they could even do something individually after some group practice. I have a Halloween Cut and Sort activity that helps student practice putting words into the right rhythm categories if you need some inspiration. (If they can't use scissors yet, you could always prep them ahead of time, or even laminate the pieces for the future.)
How to stretch this out:
Day 1 - introduce 1- and 2-sound rhythms with 2 simple words, like pumpkin and moon
Day 2 - Introduce another set of words, like candy and bat
Day 3 - Have students decode new words with limited help, or do an activity where they write their own Halloween rhythms from a word bank (the cut and sort activity above has 16 Halloween words with pictures!)
This is a great book that I bought for my own classroom library. It's so much fun to use different voices for all the characters!
Then, once we've read the book, we take turn saying "Happy Halloween!" in one of the character voices. Students can choose their own character in their head, or you can give them a picture of the character they need to try (vampire, ghost, bat, mummy, etc).
How to stretch this out:
Day 1 - Vocal exploration with different sounds: high/low, soft/loud, different contours, etc. Ask students what certain characters might sound like. What would a ghost sound like? A witch? A monster? Then read Big Pumpkin to them using different voices.
Day 2 - Read Big Pumpkin again, asking questions about the story along the way. After, give students their characters and ask them to share their voices- their peers can guess which character they are!
Who's in the Pumpkin Patch?
Just recently, I combined elements of different activities I was dying to try (no pun intended) and came up with a great egg shaker guessing game! I called it "Who's in the Pumpkin Patch?"
I did a whole post about it here! This one takes some prep and materials, but it's so fun, plus it gives students practice with gentle handling, patience, and critical listening.
Whenever you are playing games with a high excitement
factor, I'd recommend keeping track of who takes turns that day.
It's as simple as putting a check in your attendance book. With
this list, there's no thinking back on your part, no arguing with
students who can't remember, and the opportunity to give
everyone a turn.
It does have a song to go with it, so if you can't sing, chanting it works as well. I'm not usually a fan of simply chanting songs instead, but in this case, I think it works.
This book stole my heart when I picked it up in early September. I knew I'd use it for Halloween, and I knew exactly what I'd do!
There are all kinds of sound effects in the book written in large letters. So with first grade, I had students use their voices to say each of the words sort of in onomatopoeia-fashion.
Next time, we'll add instruments for each of the sounds, like leaves rustling, pipes creaking, and wind howling!
How to stretch this out:
Day 1 - Read the story and have students use their voices to express the sound effects. But also take time to notice the facial expressions of the house, who is the protagonist in this book. Our school uses Ruler to teach SEL, and identifying feeling words and connecting them to facial expressions is a great way for you, the music teacher, to reinforce some of the SEL lessons classroom teachers use.
Day 2 - Add instruments for sound effects. Go through different instruments with your class and describe the sounds. Talk about why a maraca might be good for rustling leaves, but not as good for howling. You can really get into age-appropriate higher level analysis skills here, so this book is a great contender for an observation (at just about any time of year, really!)
Here's a fun challenge for your first graders: can they decode Halloween graphics into quarter and eighth notes based on their syllables?
My first graders LOVE this concept! And if you have popsicle sticks, this activity become even more fun.
In Secret Halloween Rhythms, students will decode series of pictures into ta and ti-ti, for example, these cat and mummy graphics:
There are 17 Secret Rhythms in this activity with 6 different graphics. Learn more about what it's all about here!
I just tried Black Snake as a passing game with my second graders, and they keep asking for it! With a few modifications, I know it's going to become a Halloween favorite for me.
This one is also song-based (I got it at Beth's Music Notes) but I play it differently. We sing the song as we pass a beanbag around the circle, and whoever has it when the song it over is out. But when they're out, they don't just leave the circle. (I always hated games like that growing up. How boring for the first people out!) Instead, they move to an instrument and keep the beat or play a pre-determined pattern.
I have 4-5 instruments set up for everyone to rotate to when they're out. So when the second person is out, the first person out moves to the next instrument, and that second person moves to the first instrument. As more people get out, they move to the instruments and rotate through them. One someone rotates through all the instruments, they come back to the circle.
How to stretch this out:
Day 1 - Teach students how to pass the beanbag. I spent quite a while on this. We don't throw or toss it, we pass it gently. We also don't hold onto it any longer than a beat, since that's not fair to everyone else. If you're happy with their skill level, go ahead and teach the game.
To teach taking and passing, I sing "You take it and you pass it"
to the tune of The Addams Family song, ending with the words
"around, around we go!". I start with one beanbag in the circle, then
add a few more when students are taking on the word "take" and
passing on the word "pass." Eventually, most of us or all of us
have a beanbag and are all in sync. It looks really cool when all
the arms are moving together! But it's super important to me
that students can take and pass gently but also to a steady beat.
Day 2 - Make it Halloween-y! Play the game again, but have students brainstorm new 1-syllables animals to use. Change the animal name and change the action word, too! For example, we came up with Black Cat, don't you scratch me; Black Bat, don't fly into me; Black Fox, don't you chase me... the list goes on! Snakes are already pretty spooky, but this strategy ties in a literacy component too.
The Move-It for Kabalevky's Pantomime from "The Comedians" is spot on in terms of mood and movement choices. I've seen some teachers start this one on the floor rather than in chairs for more of a "breaking out of a coffin" effect.
If I lead the motions, this is the video I use.
Afterwards, have students do turn and talks to describe the musical elements: speed, dynamics, instruments, and mood.
To facilitate these kids of turn and talks, I put opposite words up on the
board as conversations points. We know music changes, so it's not
always clear cut, but if kids have prompts, it can be easier for them
to articulate their thoughts.
I first learned this song through Quaver, which I don't have access to anymore since I changed jobs. But it's on YouTube! Hurrah! I used to use this to teach passing a beanbag to a steady beat, since's it's reasonably slow with a strong beat. You can also use the rhythm of the hook to introduce teach sixteenth notes/tika-tika/du-da-de-ta.
However, if those are not on your agenda at the moment, students can play an ostinato to the refrain using E and B (barred instruments or boomwhackers) and perform hand motions/other percussion instruments to each verse. There's also a chanted section, which could be yet another instrument. You've got rhythmic elements, listening for form, and melody vs. harmony in there!
How to stretch this out:
Day 1 - Use this day to learn the ostinato and rhythm patterns. You could learn them independently of the song so students can focus on really playing them steadily and accurately. OR - practice taking and passing the beanbag to the beat of the song, or adding a special rhythm for any sixteenths you hear. Don't rush the musical elements just to get to the song. Better you do the song the week after Halloween than have a sloppy execution of the activity, which won't be as meaningful or joyful.
Day 2 - Add your ostinatos and patterns to Pumpkin Bones (students sing, or use the video). Ask students what the song is about. There is a short story line and a moral!
Black and Gold
This song, from Mr. DelGaudio's channel, is another great one for an ostinato (G and D) or even for your students to sing, since it's a round.
I love the Rob Amchin approach where the teacher sings the song a few times, then asks questions about it like it were a story. "What were the black and gold things mentioned in the song?" "The cats' shadows were black as what?" Or ask them to fill in the last word of every line, since every two lines rhyme. Learning the song itself can take at least 10 minutes with all you can do.
How to stretch this out:
Day 1 - Teach the song and/or the ostinato and patterns. The best part is that Mr. DelGaudio has already created several patterns for different instruments, both pitched and non-pitched. You can use his, or make up your own.
Day 2 - Put everything together! Review first, then begin to add parts one by one.
Always emphasize the goal of what your students are doing. As
music teachers who are already proficient in these skills, it's easy
to forget that they might not seem as basic to your kids as they
do to you. Steady beat? Using two mallets? Internal counting?
Tell them goal. Have them restate it. Have them share the goal
with a friend. Ask them to think of some challenges they might
have meeting the goal and how they can work towards
proficiency. At the end of class, ask them to assess themselves.
Pass the Pumpkin
An absolute favorite! Here's how I play. I don't like "outs", so anytime we play an "out" type game, students move to a new thing and rotate through it, like in the video.
We play this with boomwhackers, barred instruments, and a few different percussion instruments. I like a special one, like a ratchet or vibraslap, on the "ooooh-ooh, ooooh-ooh", and a gong at the end!
Yes, it's Halloween and you want everyone to have fun. But all
of these are learning activities that utilize musical skills. If
students are prioritizing silliness over skill, it's time to stop the
activity and review the rules, or remove the student from the
activity for a break.
If you've got time, a 3-4 day project could work for your class, especially at this point in the year.
Full disclosure: this is one my products. I had a lot of success with this last year with 4th grade, so I put everything you need- templates, lesson plans, rubrics, Google Slides, a guide- into one place!
The goal of this Candy Ostinato project is for students to write a layered ostinato using candy names as the basis for their patterns. It can be chanted/rapped or you can add instruments. Over the course of 3-4 lessons, students will learn and practice ostinatos as a group, brainstorm ideas for their own, practice decoding patterns, and compose and put together their own ostinatos to perform for the class.
Yikes! I'm sick for Halloween! What can I do??
Have a sub for Halloween? Lost your voice? Need quick plans?
I've got a wee Halloween bundle of mostly rhythm worksheets but also a color-by-note page.
We don't celebrate Halloween at my school
I hear you. If you want to do a listening log to "spooky" music without mentioning Halloween specifically, I have free Listening Log templates for grades K-5.
In the same vein, this Camping Rhythm decoding and composing worksheet is a great quarter/eighth note review or even intro formative assessment for grades 1-2.
Have fun this Halloween, friends!
Let me know what you do for Halloween in music class!
And if the idea of specific music teacher toolbox strategies and resources is something that excites you, you’d get a lot out of joining the ADM community. In my email newsletters, I help educators like you teach meaningfully and joyfully- but beyond the music- in your classrooms.