self portrait 2018


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Halloween: Reactions to Scary Videos

As Halloween approached there was pressure for teachers to put together a Halloween plan. Last year's party was too ambitious and disorganized. I was trying to imagine something that would work while that phantom of last year still gives me nightmares. Although last year's party was not executed well, the build up and the planning was really impressive. I had captured a lot of it and made a video, highlighting some of the amazing work that the teachers did. I have to remember that the process is just as important as the event. Complicated events require so many little parts coming together at the right time. They are almost impossible to get right. So the big take away from the 2015 Halloween was that the idea of success has to be broadened.

The weeks leading up to Halloween were for planning and experimenting. I knew that I wanted to do something with photography. Initially, I wanted to have a little photography studio and make use of my off camera flash. I imagined that I could take high detailed shots of the students in their costumes or with their faces painted. That became less likely as the school changed their plan from a carnival into a simple class activity. I knew that my idea had to be easy to set up, simple, and as fun to do as it is fun to watch. That way I could engage spectators as well as participants. 

That is when I got the idea to shoot reaction videos. I found an assortment of jump scare videos and short horror films on YouTube. I would film the viewers' reactions and make a compilation. I had been searching for material over a couple days when I came across this article on Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed article listing 16 great two-minute horror films.

Early in the month, I experimented in the office and the classroom as a way of warming everyone up to the idea of Halloween. I was also testing to see which videos were the scariest. I have learned that people from different cultures find different types of monsters scary. Americans are terrified of aliens and demon possession. Vietnamese aren't terrified by such things. Ghosts gave a reliable scare.

There are lots of reaction videos on the net. At their best, reaction videos leave you wondering what could that scary video possibly be. Usually the reaction is more fun to watch than the video causing the reaction. Good scares excite the imagination and I was looking forward to building suspense and excitement in my students rather than causing them to be scared to fall asleep at night.

Scaring students with a video is hard to do, especially when they will certainly tell each other about, ruining the surprise for others. A lot of the fun of Halloween is the tension that is built up before the scare and the relief after the scare that oftentimes comes in the form of laughter.

So I counted on giving the students good laugh as they see their teachers and classmates reacting in horror. This was the best I could do to give the Vietnamese students an authentic American Halloween experience. The festival is about fun, imagination, and suspense.

As I have said, I have been experimenting. To my surprise, the youngest students were among the bravest. They really didn't see what the fuss was about. Sure, they were excited about the promise of being scared by a movie at first. But they hardly flinched. Instead, I like to think that they enjoyed braving the scare.

Other classes were similarly relieved that the scare was not as bad as they feared. They laughed and had a lot of fun. This is the point that I want to get across about Halloween. Halloween is about having fun at the prospect of being scared and not experiencing terror.

The best reactions came from the teachers. They really lost their never at the sight of the jump scares.

I was hoping to use my DSLR and my lighting set up to capture the moment when their reactions peaked. That would have taken really careful timing and I definitely would have had a batch of bad shots. But the iPhone video mode proved to be the best for waiting for that moment, editing in iMovie, and then posting onto Facebook. Even the GoPro couldn't compete with this. Even if I could get one or two great shots with the DSLR and lighting set up, carrying the gear to each class and setting up for a 15 minute activity would be more trouble than its worth.

As the time got closer to Halloween, the plan changed again. There was no point beta-testing the videos to find the scariest. I would not get the chance to work with other classes. There would be a schedule where my classes reserved one of the four rooms designated for the Halloween activity. Teachers would bring their classes to the specially decorated room and conduct their own Halloween activity with their own class.

In a way, this was easier and much less complicated for everyone. I adapted. I could accept that the effort and footage I collected could go towards a video that I post here. I would develop a Halloween activity that did not use scary videos or photography. As much as I love those two things, it is hard to teach and photograph an event at the same time.

For the Halloween activity I reminded the students that we were not having a party. That helped lower the expectations and calmed some of the excitement that a teacher always wants to control. I write a menu of six items and let the students choose what they wanted to do first:

  1. Funny Movie
  2. Trick or Treat activity
  3. Halloween Make Up Tutorial
  4. Halloween Song
  5. Halloween Game "Fishing For Ghosts"

The Scary Movie franchise has some great parodies of the horror genre. I wanted to give students a lighter take on Halloween movies. The scene where the ghost from Scream tries to terrorize the young woman with a phone call turns into a comedy bit that all of the classes loved.



Although growing up Trick or Treating always meant candy, I always wondered how more tricks could be included in the whole tick or treat activity. I introduced a game that I made up myself. But my students probably think it is a traditional game.

I arrange three boxes. Two of the boxes has candy inside. One of the boxes has a clove of garlic inside. I arrange the boxes on a desk. Then I ask a trivia question about Halloween. The student who gets the answer right then has a choice. They can either choose one of the boxes and test their luck in hopes of being rewarded with candy. Or they can choose a classmate to make the choice with a 33% chance of choosing garlic. The rules require the person who unfortunately chooses the garlic to eat it (or at least take a bite) in front of everyone.

An important aspect of Halloween that is worth emphasizing is the creativity and imagination that goes into the costumes. Some serious make up artists can transform a person into a terrific monster. There are few chances in public for artists to show off their skills quite like on Halloween. Since I am not a make up artist nor do I have the tools or time to paint faces in classes, I relied on one of the many online tutorials found of YouTube.

There are hundreds of these tutorials and so I suggested to my students that they use the search term to look at more of these tutorials on their own time.


I came across materials from the British Council a few years ago. Ever since, I have made this scary skeleton song a part of Halloween repertoire. It's key idea is that you shouldn't be scared of skeletons because, after all, there is a skeleton living inside of you.

I love using songs in my class. I find no better why to get students to speak clearly. While phonetic drills are maddening at times. Songs keep things light. With once class of 9 year-olds, I followed up with the Hokey Pokey. Rather than using the standard body parts, I taught them words like cranium, patella, vertebrae, etc.

The last game, Fishing for Ghosts, is also a team building trust activity. One student wears a blindfold, while another student holds a sock puppet dangling from a stick (the fishing rod and bait). With blindfold secure, the student has to follow the verbal commands of yet another student to find the ghost. The commands are kept simple: go straight; turn right; turn left; stop.

I found out that the students have never done an activity like this before. It is a little disorientatingand proved to be really popular. Some students had a hard time determining how to turn 90 degrees and wound up unable to make use of the verbal commands. I couldn't make the game too easy and had to remind the student holding the stick that they did not have to wave the bait around as the blind folded student had enough trouble feeling their way around without the extra challenge.

Halloween activities offer a nice change of pace for the students. English class most often is work and they grow tired of that. Halloween is a favorite holiday for children both young and old. It is an important date on the American calendar and I am happy to share it with them. The culture that is attached to English should help motivate them to learn more. Finding ways to make use of English and feel encouraged to seek opportunities in English should make classwork more memorable.

Christmas 2016: Making Cards and Singing

Christmas 2016: Making Cards and Singing

Time Lapse: Rain Storm