Bringing scary short stories into your classroom can be a great way to engage students during the spooky season – or any time of year! Using suspense is a powerful tool to get students hooked while teaching them about important literary elements along the way. Teaching suspenseful short stories can be a great time to showcase many literary devices such as mood, foreshadowing, and imagery. Here is a rundown of five of my favorite scary short stories for middle school students along with some ideas for using them in your own classroom. Check it out!
5) The Veldt by Ray Bradbury
The Veldt is a dystopian science fiction tale crafted by a serious master of suspense… Ray Bradbury. “The Veldt” includes the familiar societal warnings Bradbury is known for, with an interesting look at how life might be if technology were to parent. (I mean, does this sound that far-fetched at this point?) The story weaves an overlying tone of anticipation with a jaw-dropping conclusion. Your students will love this story and will talk about it long after they’ve finished reading!
Invite your students to create a sales brochure for the HappyLife Home and include features and benefits along with common issues and warnings. Another crowd favorite is to have them rewrite a scene from the house’s point of view. I love to conclude this one with a Veldt-themed literary element escape room. Dim the lights, pop on a scenic playlist, and watch them get to work!
Looking for more Ray Bradbury favorites? Don’t miss this list!
4) The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” by Rod Sterling will give your students a look at a different writing medium by exploring the transcript of an episode of The Twilight Zone. Up the ante by having your students get into character and read different parts of the teleplay! This text offers a solid opportunity to discuss several different types of conflict and the impact of the setting on other elements.
I love to pair this one with that sticky RI.6.8 standard by watching the episode after reading and comparing the two experiences. You can also have students debate who the real monster of Maple Street is with a creative writing activity, pair the teleplay with a nonfiction text on the herd mentality, or send them through another escape room (do they ever get old?! For my classroom, that answer is no!). Your students have a blast with this one. If you want more gripping teleplays, check out Sorry, Wrong Number or The Hitchhiker!
3) The Elevator by William Sleator
“The Elevator” by William Sleator tells the tale of a young boy, Martin, and his fear of elevators, especially the creaky one in his old apartment building. Martin repeatedly encounters a woman in the elevator who does nothing but stare intensely at him. Sleator builds a classic tale of suspense as readers are gripped by the short story, wondering what will happen between the two. Teach your students about the magic of foreshadowing with this story, as Sleator provides plenty of excellent examples! Your students will feel like they’re right there with Martin as he faces his fear in “The Elevator.”
This scary short story offers unique opportunities to learn more about phobias (like Martin’s agoraphobia), and I like to pair this short story with an NPR podcast about the science of fear. Check out those activities here.
Side note: The original version uses a body-insensitive term that may make some of your students uncomfortable. I’ve linked an adapted version here.
2) The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs is a twisted tale carrying a familiar “be careful what you wish for!” warning. Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son, Herbert, are taken on quite a ride when a friend who served in the British army brings them a mummified monkey’s paw when he joins them for dinner. Your students will be at the edge of their seats as they follow the White family’s journey until the very end.
This short story offers many opportunities to discuss ways in which Jacobs builds suspense with his audience. Students have a blast considering what their three wishes would be – along with the potential consequences of each wish. I also love to pair this short story with a bit of superstition research. Does a rabbit’s foot really bring good luck? What about a broken mirror? There are endless opportunities to expand on this scary short story! Read more about how I teach “The Monkey’s Paw” here!
Last but certainly not least is “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl. This is my absolute favorite of all the suspenseful stories, and I think your students will agree. Though they are all engaging stories, “The Landlady” brings forth a new level of suspense. Billy Weaver is 17 years old and, upon recommendation from a porter, visits a bed and breakfast run by a landlady with a secret.
Irony is an excellent device to teach when reading this short story, along with mood, foreshadowing, and more. I love asking students to either write up a press release on the Landlady or create a “MOST WANTED” poster. This is my favorite scary story to conclude the spooking season with. Dim the lights, offer your students some “tea,” and set them to work with a Landlady escape room. Check out more ideas on making this lesson an absolute homerun here.
For more scary short stories by Roald Dahl, be sure to visit this post.
I hope you incorporate at least one of these scary short stories in your classroom this year! I guarantee your students will love learning about suspense while being taken on a fun (and scary) ride using any of these short stories. If you’re looking for a way to launch your scary short story season, don’t miss my Elements of Horror intro.
Don’t forget to pop back here and let me know how it goes, or connect with me on IG!