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 Horacio Quiroga, and you’ll forever change the way our kids look at their pillows, mattresses, and naps on the beach.
3. Get to Know Poe – October wouldn’t be complete without some Edgar Allan Poe. Skip the tired PowerPoint overviews and have students learn about Poe’s super-sad life by allowing them to guide their own research as they complete this organizer worksheet.
4. “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.
5. “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.
6. “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.
7. “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:
8. “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.
9. 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.
Okay, now go get your scare on. Happy Halloween, everyone!