Vermont Folklife Center

The Ghost on the Hearth

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Reader Activities

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Reader Activities:

In the Mood

When Claire Chase was a little girl growing up in Winooski, Vermont, storytelling was a regular part of her daily life. Her parents would tell her bedtime stories they had heard as children, and on holidays, such as Christmas or New Year’s, the family would gather after supper around the potbelly stove, and Claire’s grandparents would tell scary stories, fantastical legends, and tales of the supernatural. To set the mood for storytelling session, all the electric lights would be turned off. The only illumination came from the stove’s window or from a candle on the kitchen table.

You, your family, and friends can set the mood for your own scary storytelling sessions the same way Claire’s family did—by turning down the lights. Good times for such sessions are holidays with relatives, slumber parties with friends, overnight camp-outs—even nighttime gatherings on the family front porch.

Here are three ideas to get your story started:

  1. Tell a scary story that you’ve read, heard, or seen. Maybe it’s a favorite book or movie, or a story that’s been passed down in your family for generations.
  2. Tell a true story from your own experience about something that really frightened you.
  3. Make up your own scary story using “story starter” ideas suggested by the group. Story starters are characters, objects, settings, and situations that can fire your imagination. Some storytellers write such ideas on index cards and store them in recipe boxes. When they need inspiration, they sift through their cards, find an idea and—whammo!—a story always comes to them.

To create your own story-starter box, you’ll need:

  1. Index Cards
  2. Pen or Pencil
  3. Recipe Box
  4. Ideas for Characters, Objects, Settings and
  5. Situations
    • Ask your friends and family for ideas.
    • Jot the ideas down on the cards.
    • Pull out your box the next time you’re all in a storytelling mood!


Character: A Talking Deer

Character: A Boy Lost in the Woods

Character: An Old Woman with a Glass Eye

Object: A Magic Canoe

Object: A Talking Doll

Object: An Evil Pair of Shoes

Setting: A Dark, Enchanted Woods

Setting: A Haunted Schoolhouse

Setting: A Cave Near the Ocean

Situation: Your dog casts a spell, turning you into a dog and himself into a human being.

Situation: Every morning when you wake up, there is a gold coin in your cereal bowl.

Situation: Something in the woods is leaving giant, apelike footprints! You vow to find out what.

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