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6 Spooky Ways to Set the Tone for Scary Storytelling

by Brent Warner |

Halloween is upon us, and whether you’re in a country that celebrates it or you’re teaching to students who have seen versions of the holiday on television, every culture has some history of telling scary stories that they can connect to. Many English language teachers like to have their students tell or write scary stories for the season, and while specific lesson plans are beyond the scope of today’s post, there are lots of ways teachers can use tech to supplement scary storytelling.

Students of all ages can have fun around Halloween, and whether you’re keeping it G-rated with cartoon ghosts and bubbly songs, or you’re going for PG-13 and beyond, there are plenty of ways to add that extra element that can make the hair on the back of the next stand up.


The easiest way to set the tone for Halloween howls is to find some good music to send some shivers up the spine. Luckily, there is no shortage of long-form soundtracks to choose from on YouTube; just search for “Halloween Soundtrack” and once you scroll past the Michael Myers movies, you will find plenty of appropriate resources to play over your speakers. Following are a few that might get you started:

  • Haunted Mansion Music & Ambiance – This is inspired by Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride and does a good job of balancing spooky and fun.
  • Cute Halloween Ambiance & Music – These tracks give off some real autumn vibes and are reminiscent of the Harry Potter soundtracks. Crackling fires and cawing crows round out the sound.
  • Creepy Haunted House Music – If you’ve got a little older group, this music is a bit more intense and moody, and could be a good choice if your assignment is to have students present scary stories to the class.

Ambient Sounds

In direct connection with music comes ambient sounds and sound effects. Yes, most of the music links above combine the two, but depending on your activities, you may want only sound effects without the music. You can start with a few YouTube videos, much like those above:

  • Halloween Sound Effect 2017 – Whistling winds, screeching birds, pounding thunder, and all sorts of other sounds here are sure to set the mood for your class.
  • Haunted House Creepy Sounds & Noises – If you want to take your class “inside,” these sound effects consist of creaky doors, mysterious footsteps, rattling chains, and other ghostly delights. Definitely on the scary side!


Another fun way to set up sound effects for your class is to have a soundboard ready to go. Soundboards bring us back to the old days of the internet, but they’re still a lot of fun. You basically click a button on a webpage and it plays a short audio clip. You can use these to highlight key moments in your Halloween lesson, accent parts of a scary story on cue, or just give the class an unexpected jump in their seats!


If your storytelling activity involves writing, a quick and easy way to set the tone is to change the colors and fonts of the document. You can do this across word processors, but if you’re distributing Google Docs through Google Classroom or Canvas, it couldn’t be easier. Simply go to “File > Page setup” and change the page color to “Black,” then make sure you change your font colors to orange or white, and you’re on your way! If you like, I’ve made a black document that you can copy to your drive.


For fonts, you can always search the internet, but Google provides a number of free fonts that you can easily install. Simply click on “Help” then type in “Get fonts” and you will have a whole selection of free fonts to choose from. Below are some creepy choices to match the season:

Zoom Backgrounds

For those teaching online, there are lots of resources you can pull from to creep things up! One of the easiest ways is to grab a few of the seemingly endless Zoom backgrounds that people have made over the last couple of years. If you’re an artistic type, you can certainly make your own, but I’ve found with so many freely available for download, I can usually find something that suits my needs in a matter of seconds. Here are a few collections that may get you started:

The list goes on and on, and you can customize your search on Google for more based on age group, etc. Of course, the real fun is in asking your students to find a background that they like. This is where a lot of discussions around scary stories across the cultures can get started!

If you’re not online, these backgrounds are still a good idea to project on your screen. In an in-person classroom, you can have your students sit in front of the projected image, making the backlighting of the image the primary source of light in the class. Don’t forget to tell them to run their phones’ flashlight under their chins for an extra chilling effect!

If you’ve ever been through a haunted house with all the lights on, or watched a scary movie with the sound off, you know how small adjustments can go a long way to help set the tone in storytelling. None of these tricks are hard to implement—most only take a matter of seconds—but the change in mood and atmosphere is tangible. If you’re going to play with storytelling this Halloween, make sure to throw some of these resources in to heat up the cauldron from simmering to boiling!

About the author

Brent Warner

Brent Warner is a professor of ESL at Irvine Valley College in California, and an educational technology enthusiast. He is co-host of the DIESOL podcast, the only podcast with a specific focus on EdTech in ESL. He frequently presents on the crossroads of technology and language learning, focusing on student engagement and developing learner autonomy. Brent likes his coffee black and his oranges orange. He can be found on LinkedIn at @BrentGWarner.

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