Things that go bump in the night: Creepy Stories and Student Engagement

Creepy Old HouseMonsters that lurk in the shadows, things that go bump in the night, tales that keep your head spinning through the late hours of the night… these are some of the stories that engage high school students.

This summer, I eagerly assembled a list of short stories that I wanted to teach. On the list were some of my old favorites: “The Small Assassin” by Ray Bradbury, “The Cask of Amontillado” and “Black Cat” by Poe, and “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl. I wanted to come up with a project that would engage my students in the literature immediately and these creepy, unusual tales were sure to peak their interest. I introduced these stories as a model for their own writing, having them critically investigate how Poe, Dahl, and Bradbury created suspense through setting, characters, tone, and literary devices. This project turned my some of my more reluctant readers into engaged writers on a mission and provided them a better lens through which they could evaluate literature.

How I Set It Up

The Project Launch: The first day of the project took my students by surprise. My classroom was transformed. They came to class and the lights were dim; a creepy writing prompt was projected on the board and they had ten minutes to write. Once they finished, I projected the video of a crackling fire behind them, gave them a flashlight and had them present their own short stories as if they were around a campfire telling eery tales. Afterwards, I gave them the calendar for the unit and had them dig into the story “The Feather Pillow” with their group and analyze it.

The Project Itself: For the project I was giving my students, they had a choice of three possible end products: a comic book, a short story, or a podcast. Students knew that as we read we would be modeling our short stories off of the techniques we were studying in class, and I interspersed creative writing opportunities at every turn.

As we read through the stories, I introduced literature circles into the classroom, allowing students to become critical questioners of the texts. We worked on our first literary analysis paper and we had multiple delightful conversations about what makes a story truly scary.

Next week, we will have our story presentation day where students will present their work to the class. I have already had handfuls of students share with me the stories they’ve begun in their free time and ask how they can improve.

Giving students a project like this, where they have a purpose for reading and writing, is so exciting. It allows students to authentically tap into what makes literature great and strengthen their writing abilities… and it also allows them to tap into some creepy stories in the meantime.

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