Note: This is an updated repost featuring some of my favorite end-of-October lesson ideas.
In 7th grade, my friend Sarah plugged her older brother’s copy of A Nightmare on Elm Street into the VCR at a sleepover and I haven’t been okay since. Scary movies? Nope. No, thank you. I’m such a chicken, I shut my eyes during commercials for horror flicks. I mean, you heard the new Halloween movie opens this weekend, right? Count me o-u-t.
Books, though, are different. Somehow, the images in my mind aren’t as gory as those on the screen and good short stories don’t rely on cheap jump-scares; instead, there are heavy things to actually think about and I suppose that’s my favorite kind of terrifying.
In the spirit of this pre-Halloween season, here are my 10 favorite lessons to bring The Creepy into our classrooms:
1. Fear Factors – Why do folks even like corn mazes and haunted houses, anyway? In this non-fiction lesson, students read an interview with a sociologist who explains why some people enjoy being scared more than others. Hooray for interesting informational text!
2. “The Feather Pillow” – Mix an article about the real-life terror of sleep paralysis with a reading of “The Feather Pillow,” a short story by Uruguayan writer Horatio Quiroga, and you’ll forever change the way our kids look at their pillows, mattresses, and naps on the beach.
3. Not So Scary, After All – Introduce kids to Stephen King, the man behind some of their favorite modern horror tales. In this lesson, they’ll read a small slice of King’s memoir and discover that the man behind the blood-soaked pages is actually pretty…funny. (If kids want to learn more about King’s background, you might consider giving them this research organizer, too.)
4. Get to Know Poe – October wouldn’t be complete without some Edgar Allan Poe. You can study Poe’s super-sad life by either having kids watch and reflect on the Biography channel’s 43-minute video (I use this lesson in the computer lab to let kids watch, pause, and answer questions at their own pace) or have students do their own research as they complete this organizer worksheet.
5. “The Cask of Amontillado” – I used this ghastly tale to teach irony and foreshadowing earlier in the semester during our short story unit (I do a pretty awesome drunken Fortunato voice), but if you haven’t taken the tour of Montresor’s creepy wine celler, this is the perfect time. These free lesson materials begin with a quick video trip to the Catacombs of Paris, where the skeletal remains of more than six million people are stacked. That’ll definitely grab your students’ attention.
6. “The Tell-Tale Heart” – Pair Poe’s murderous tale with a look at John Hinckley Jr.’s use of the “not guilty by reason of insanity” defense in his 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. There’s a cool audio narration of the story included and a mod 8-minute cartoon version that we use as a compare/contrast with the original story.
7. “The Black Cat” – I don’t know why, but this one disturbs me the most. Maybe it’s the alcoholism. Or the animal abuse. Or the idea of a mild-mannered husband just losing it. Anyway, I use this lesson only with my juniors because my freshmen are too young to handle the thick language and disturbing content, including a real-life connection to a California woman who lived with her mother’s mummified body in their home for two years. Yeah, that happened.
8. “The Raven” – Murder and gore will always grab attention, but the deepest horror comes when you lose someone you love. Enter Poe’s poetic masterpiece, “The Raven.” Combine a deep reading of the poem with a creative task for students to write their own Faux Poe lines of poetry. And, of course, we watch The Simpsons when we’re done:
9. “The Storyteller” – Maybe Poe is Just. Too. Much. Well, then, let’s lighten things up a bit with a lesson on Saki’s twisted tale, “The Storyteller,” a light-and-dark story that’ll entertain your students and give them practice identifying the differences between verbal, situational, and dramatic irony.
10. Micro-Fiction – Whenever Halloween falls on a school day as it does this year, I throw out my regular lesson plans and enjoy a day of Micro-Fiction. The kids are already out of their heads with costumes and candy, so I join in the fun with two-sentence storytelling, a smooth follow-up to the Saki lesson in #9. In this lesson, I give models of how effective stories can be told in just two sentences and then turn my kids loose to create four mini-stories, one each in the genres of drama, romance, sci fi, and – of course! – horror. The in-class work is always entertaining and becomes the decoration for the back row of cabinets.
And, finally, speaking of decoration, this last item isn’t a lesson, but could definitely perk up a bulletin board or drab classroom door. Click here to see this four-poster set featuring monsters of classic literature.
Okay, now go get your scare on, everyone!