Let the Headless Horseman gallop into your classroom for some Halloween reading. His eerie presence will send chills down students’ spines. Who is this creepy character? Why does he show up in folklore around the world? It’s time for some comparative analysis!
The Headless Horseman – Legends from Around the World
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, called her ELA class to attention. “Okay, everybody, let’s get started with some Halloween reading. Who has heard of the headless horseman?”
Hands shot up all over the classroom, and cries of “Me!” could be heard.
“Today we’ll read the American tale and learn a bit about its background,” said Ms. Sneed. Her students’ eyes shone.
“I love scary stories,” said a girl in the second row.
After reading the story, Ms. Sneed and her students listed characteristics of the headless horseman.
“Since it’s a legend, the tale was told orally. Therefore, it changed slightly as each person retold it. Actually, this legend appears in folklore around the world.”
“How did it get over there?” asked a boy in the back corner.
“Hmm,” said his teacher, “or maybe we should ask how it got over here. In any case, tomorrow we’ll compare and contrast headless horseman legends from around the world.” Everyone cheered.
Over the next few days, the students read headless horseman folktales from Ireland, Scotland, and even India. In pairs, they took notes on the characters. Then they used Venn diagrams to list similarities and differences. Finally, Ms. Sneed asked each child to write a short essay explaining how headless horsemen around the world are alike.
“Even though this is school work, it’s fun,” a boy at the side table whispered to his partner.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Halloween Reading
The following day, Ms. Sneed’s students waited for their next reading assignment. “Too bad we’re done with the headless horseman,” said a girl with braids.
“Who said we’re done?” asked their teacher. Everyone sat up straighter and leaned in.
“A man named Washington Irving wrote a story about a headless horseman,” Ms. Sneed explained. “Does anyone know of it?”
Several hands shot up. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”? a student guessed.
“Right! Since it’s an actual story, created by the author, it falls in the category of literature. In other words, it’s not a legend; it’s not folklore.”
Ms. Sneed shared the URL for an eBook with her students. “This way,” she said, “you can read the story online. No more wasted paper. You’ll also see some related art and videos related to the literature.”
Everybody got busy reading the story.
When they finished, Ms. Sneed called her students to attention once more. “So, two men, Brom Bones and Ichabod Crane, competed for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel. Brom told the story of the headless horseman, which scared the superstitious Ichabod. On his way home one night, Ichabod met the horseman. But the next day, no one could find him. Did the ghost of the Hessian soldier get Ichabod, or was he simply scared away by a prank played by Brom?”
Students around the room started chattering away. “I see that everyone has an opinion,” said Ms. Sneed. “That’s good – because the first thing you’ll do is write about it. Don’t forget to add evidence.”
The Headless Horseman in Art
Over the next few days, Ms. Sneed came up with more activities for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” First, kids studied four pieces of public domain art:
- Engraving from The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. by Washington Irving, published by G. P. Putnam, 1864
- Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, c. 1856 chromolithograph by William J. Wilgus (1819-1853), National Gallery of Art
- The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, 1858 painting by John Quidor (1801-1881), Smithsonian American Art Museum
- Ichabod Pursued by the Headless Horseman, 1849 by F.O.C. Darley, Le Magasin Pittoresque
Second, they located and listed details from the part of the story when Icabod met the headless horseman.
Third, they analyzed how well each piece of art illustrated the story.
Finally, the students determined which artwork best illustrated “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
The Headless Horseman in Advertisements
The next day, the class watched a video about the town of Sleepy Hollow. Just when they thought Halloween reading could get no better, Ms. Sneed asked, “What’s a parody?”
After their discussion, Ms. Sneed showed them two commercials:
- The Headless Horseman Rides Again (0:47) – Walt Disney World Theme Parks
- Horseless Headsman (0:31) – SNICKERS
“Now I’d like you to watch them again on your own,” she said. “Then you can work in pairs to explain how the producers cleverly imitated the original story.”
Culminating the Experience
The headless horseman unit was drawing to a close. “Instead of a final test,” said Ms. Sneed, “you may either write your own parody of the headless horseman – or create a 30-second commercial.”
“Yay!” the class erupted with enthusiasm. “Can we work with a partner?”
“Well, okay.” And that famous smile lit up the teacher’s face. Ms. Sneed sure did like teaching Halloween ELA activities.