October 23, 2013

Suspenseful Short Stories for Halloween

If you were a child in the 80s or 90s, there's a good chance that you, if you were anything like me, spent spent some time in your youth scaring yourself silly with these stories:

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Goosebumps by RL Stine

Fear Street series by RL Stine

Now that I am secure in my adulthood, I will admit freely that I do not enjoy scary stuff. Truthfully, I'm not sure how I once was a subscribed member of the R.L. Stine book club because I can still remember how much those stories terrorized me. I still can't look into a mirror in the dark for fear that a demon will be in the reflection. And I might still run through the house when it's dark at night... you know, because the Bogeyman might get me. 

Laugh at me if you must, but I have learned to avoid these thrillers and the nightmares that come along with them. Joel always teases me because I have to close my eyes, plug my ears, and hum through scary movie previews. I have the chills just thinking about them!

But... I simply cannot let Halloween pass by without a celebration. My earliest followers may recall the year I taught ESL newcomers and got to introduce them to the holiday. We celebrated with a week of crafts, food, and fun Halloween projects.  You can read about them here. Those were fun days.

For my mainstream students, I feel that is my right and privilege to share some of my favorite suspense stories with my students. Honestly, these are probably the only ones I know because... you know... its not really my genre!

So, what are some of the stories I share?

Death by Scrabble by Charlie Fish has turned into one of my favorite short stories. I love the foreshadowing, which my higher students are great at finding. Students are always shocked by the ending of this story, making it a great read aloud. It's not really a scary, but I still find it fitting because it's pretty sinister. 

The story is basically about a young man who detests his wife, with whom he's playing a game of Scrabble. He realizes the words played start to become reality and tries to use the game to kill his wife. There's a great twist in this story, which your students are sure to love. 

I also found this video to go with it: 



This next story was new-to-me last week when my students read it for the first time (thank you, close-reading instruction): The Escape by JB Stamper. The story is about Boris, who wants to escape his sentence in solitary confinement. His only option is to crawl into a tunnel, with the promise of freedom... and rats, of which he is terrified. My sixth graders were completely captivated by this story, and it's officially in my Halloween file. I couldn't find a video for this one. Probably because no one wants to hang out in a tunnel with a bunch of rats!

The Jigsaw Puzzle, also by JB Stamper is one that actually fell off my radar until this week and should definitely be on your Halloween list if you want to teach your students about suspense. In this story, a woman puts together a puzzle that looks strangely familiar... because it's her... right now. And when you find out what else she sees, you'll probably scare your students into never putting together another puzzle! And this video of it should certainly make it relatable for your students. 


Of course, you can't go wrong with Master of Suspense, Edgar Allan Poe. I can still vividly recall my 8th grade ELA teacher reading aloud Tell Tale Heart while I clung to her every word, and I try to re-create that for my students each year. The love how the narrator starts of so calm and confident that he can convince you of his innocence. This is a great story for teaching your students about tone and mood because the emotion is so strong. After the read aloud, I'm always sure to show them at least one adaptation of the story because there are so many out there: 


My final suggestion is another Poe is to read his poem, The Raven, which I find to be a more difficult piece for students. To help them understand it better and make it more relatable, I find that it helps to show them this clip from The Simpsons: 

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