Bringing scary short stories into your classroom can be a great way to engage students during the spooky season – or any time of year! Suspense is an excellent tool to get students hooked and also teach 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 and some ideas for using them in your own classroom. Check out the list!
5) The Veldt by Ray Bradbury
The Veldt is a thrilling science fiction tale crafted by a serious master of suspense. “The Veldt” includes the familiar societal warnings Bradbury is known for with an interesting look at how life might be if technology were able to parent. The writing 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! Keep this one in your back pocket for advanced readers middle school readers.
Invite your students to create a sales brochure for the HappyLife Home, including features and benefits along with common issues and warnings. You can also have them rewrite a scene from the house’s point of view since the house has so much personality! I love to conclude this one with a Veldt-themed literary element escape room after reading and discussing the story. Dim the lights, pop on a scenic playlist, and watch them get to work!
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. Students love getting into character and reading different parts of this gripping teleplay! Using this text in your classroom will give you an excellent opportunity to discuss conflict, plot, and setting.
I love to pair this one with watching the episode and comparing the two experiences. You can also have students debate who the real monster of maple street is with a creative writing activity, or send students through another literary elements escape room (do they ever get old?!). Your students have a blast with this fun sci-fi offering!
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 (Martin displays 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 of watching what you wish for! 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! See more about how I teach “The Monkey’s Paw” here.
1) The Landlady by Roald Dahl
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.
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 want more scary short story recs, check out this post on my dystopian friend Ray Bradbury. Don’t forget to pop back here and let me know how it goes, or find me on IG or FB!