K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

Learners will:

  • apply knowledge of N.C. history, folklore and geography to make inferences and create a mystery or ghost story.
  • write a narrative, using historical facts and details, as well as imaginary parts, for the three necessary parts (the beginning, middle or end) and imagination for the missing part.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

6 Hours


I have used different sources over the past four years, based on books available from the public library and school Media Center. The important thing is to motivate the children to create their own stories and mysteries, based on the facts. They do a better job if you provide several different mysteries or ghost stories as models.
Here are some suggestions:

  • Books about the Lost Colony and/or Virginia Dare
  • Books or legends about Blackbeard the Pirate
  • Folklore collections from the Carolinas
  • Historical accounts of shipwrecks and a map of N.C. shipwrecks
  • Other examples of ghost stories, such as those collected by Patricia McKissack, or different picturebook versions of the Taily-Po ghost story (also see the version in The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton)

Technology resources

After students write their stories, you might allow them to type them on the computer, adding graphic illustrations and then bind them to make their own books or a classroom collection of ghost stories.

Optional: There is a wealth of information about Blackbeard on the internet, so you might consider allowing students to do their own research about him and then develop their narrative from the facts they discover.


  • Students need to know the three parts of a narrative.
  • Students need to know how to write a narrative.
  • If their story will be based on Blackbeard or shipwrecks off the Carolina coastline, students need to be familiar with N.C. geography, the Diamond Shoals, N.C. lighthouses, the discovery of Blackbeard’s ship “The Queen Anne’s Revenge” in 1997 and/or some names and dates of other actual shipwrecks.
  • OPTIONAL: If you know a local storyteller or writer, you might ask him/her to visit your class and tell a N.C. ghost story or folktale.


Activities 1-3 will take at least three one-hour class periods. Activities 4-5 will take at least two one-hour class periods. Activity 6 will take at least a one-hour class period, depending on how long the students’ stories are.

  1. Begin by “setting the mood.” (This works especially well around Halloween!) Dim the lights, gather the students on the floor around you and in your best spooky voice, tell or read 3-4 “ghost” stories of the Carolinas.
  2. With lights on, deconstruct the stories, using an overhead projector or interactive board. Work on each feature separately, first modeling the feature with the whole class, then in small groups.
    • Organization: Decide what parts of the narratives were in the beginning, which ones in the middle, and which in the end. What are scary ways to begin and end a ghost story? How does a writer build suspense?
    • Support and Elaboration: What spooky descriptive words are used to describe the physical setting? What are the inner thoughts and outer dialogue of the characters that show they are scared?
    • Style: What words does the author use to scare the reader? Does the author use long or short sentences?
    • Conventions: How does the author use punctuation to show that characters are scared, or to signal that something scary is about to happen?
  3. Then ask the students to select information and decide what was fact and what was imaginary. You may want to use a graphic organizer for this section such as a Venn Diagram or Facts/Fiction chart.
  4. Last, brainstorm a list of facts from your reading about N.C. that could be developed into a ghost story or mystery.
  5. Ask students to write their story.
  6. Go to the computer lab and have students type their story for binding into either an individual or classroom book. They may choose graphics off the Internet for insertion into their story, or you might allow them to illustrate their stories themselves.


Production of a ghost story or mystery book, complete with illustrations.

You may choose to have the students tell or read their story to the rest of the class, depending on your class size. In this case, you might give a two-part grade, one for the book and the other for the oral presentation.

Supplemental information

National Geographic Magazine published a map of known shipwrecks off the N.C. coast, complete with dates, in 1970. Entitled “Ghost Fleet of the Outer Banks,” the map is available for purchase at the Bodie Island Lighthouse (where I bought it in 1998) and, I assume, similar souvenir shops of the Outer Banks. You might also be able to obtain a copy from the National Geographic Society.

Some of the books I have used include:


My students have had a lot of fun with this unit, which I have used for four years, with slight variations. Last year when I had a small group (six students) in a pull-out class, as a culmination to the unit, we dimmed the lights, sat on the floor in a circle and read our stories aloud, as if around a campfire. They were justifiably proud of their efforts and quite enthusiastic about the lesson.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Writing

        • Grade 4
          • 4.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. 4.W.3.1 Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize...
          • 4.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 4

  • Goal 3: The learner will make connections with text through the use of oral language, written language, and media and technology.
    • Objective 3.01: Respond to fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama using interpretive, critical, and evaluative processes by:
      • analyzing the impact of authors' word choice and context.
      • examining the reasons for characters' actions.
      • identifying and examining characters' motives.
      • considering a situation or problem from different characters' points of view.
      • analyzing differences among genres.
      • making inferences and drawing conclusions about characters, events and themes.
    • Objective 3.02: Analyze characters, events, and plots from different selections and cite supporting evidence
    • Objective 3.03: Consider the ways language and visuals bring characters to life, enhance plot development, and produce a response.
  • Goal 4: The learner will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts.
    • Objective 4.05: Use planning strategies to generate topics and organize ideas (e.g., brainstorming, mapping, webbing, reading, discussion).
    • Objective 4.06: Compose a draft that conveys major ideas and maintains focus on the topic with specific, relevant, supporting details by using preliminary plans.
    • Objective 4.09: Produce work that follows the conventions of particular genres (e.g., personal and imaginative narrative, research reports, learning logs, letters of request, letters of complaint).
  • Goal 5: The learner will apply grammar and language conventions to communicate effectively.
    • Objective 5.08: Demonstrate evidence of language cohesion by:
      • logical sequence of fiction and nonfiction retells.
      • time order sequence of events.
      • sustaining conversations on a topic.

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 4

  • Goal 3: The learner will trace the history of colonization in North Carolina and evaluate its significance for diverse people's ideas.
    • Objective 3.02: Identify people, symbols, events, and documents associated with North Carolina's history.
    • Objective 3.03: Examine the Lost Colony and explain its importance in the settlement of North Carolina.