If you’re looking for an engaging activity for middle school ELA, the short story The Landlady by Roald Dahl is a student favorite. Read on to see how I teach this short story and the activities that I pair with it.

Teaching the short story The Landlady

Let’s play a quick would-you-rather. Would you rather introduce a unit or review one? That’s a tough one for me! I absolutely love introducing a new unit and hooking kids into what we’re learning. But I also equally love reviewing what we’ve learned and wrapping up our unit in a fun way. I think you can make any lesson or unit fun, but I’ve got to be honest. Teaching the short story The Landlady by Roald Dahl is my favorite lesson of the year from start to finish.

It’s such a powerful story to read during October or any time of year, and it’s a great way to review the elements of literature because it’s engaging AND it’s challenging. Read on to see how I teach the short story The Landlady to my middle school students in an unforgettable way.

Reading & Digesting the Short Story The Landlady

Roald Dahl wrote the short story The Landlady in 1959 and placed the story in the UK – just outside of London. So there’s a tiny bit of British-English dialect in the story that gives it a fun flavor. I LOVE to use this Youtube read-aloud for the first reading because she reads the story with an accent! 

Before reading, I either provide students with a paper copy of the story or assign it on Google Classroom to follow along with while she reads. We discuss what a “landlady” is before reading and we make predictions about the story based on the title.

As we read the story, I pause periodically and ask comprehension questions that encourage students to dig into the story just a little bit, that way everybody knows what’s going on and has a better chance at “getting it” at the end.

Guided reading questions for the short story The Landlady

Here are my guided questions that I use throughout the reading:

  • Why do you think “briskness” is important to Billy? What does it reveal about him?
  • Describe the setting of the story.
  • What internal conflict is Billy Weaver facing? How might this affect the story?
  • Why does Dahl repeat the phrase BED AND BREAKFAST again and again?
  • Billy seems surprised by how strongly he is drawn to the house and the landlady. Why might this be important?
  • Describe the landlady.
  • Why might the memory of Mr. Temple & Mr. Mulholland be important?
  • What “red flags” do you notice as the story progresses?
  • How might Billy’s realization about the dachshund and the parrot change things?
  • How might this relate to Billy?
  • What do you think happened at the end? Why?

If you’d like to save time and snag my editable Google Slideshow that has these guided reading questions already loaded, you can sign up for my email list and grab it here for free.

Once we finish the story, I often have many students who get it and are totally, absolutely creeped out. The other handful often needs to chat with their table groups to figure out what exactly the landlady does. Once they get it, it’s game on! 

Almost every class asks me if we can reread it. A 2nd read? Absolutely. With our second read, I invite students to annotate the text. I want them to look for foreshadowing or find all the clues they missed the first time through. 

If I’m working with one of my lower-level groups, we will listen to the audio version again. If I’m working with one of my higher-ability groups, I let them do the 2nd read independently. 

This usually takes an entire class period, so we’ll wrap up day one, having read and understood the text so that we can get to some fun applications on Day 2.

Digging Deeper into The Landlady

Activities to pair with the short story The Landlady

Students return on day two totally pumped. We pull out our copies of The Landlady, and we start digging into the plot. The Landlady is a GREAT story for reviewing plot structure because it’s not cut and dry and requires students to think a bit (and have great discourse!). 

Identifying the exposition, inciting incident, and rising action is often easy for students. However, there’s usually quite a bit of debate over the climax, falling action, and resolution. Does the story ever get resolved? How do we plot a story when it ends with a cliffhanger? Those are great questions to discuss with students, and I always err on the side of allowing multiple ideas as long as students can reasonably back up their thinking. 

Once students have completed their plot structure, I give them a choice on their second assignment, which is usually a higher-level task. Students can choose from the following Landlady activities:

  • Create a WANTED poster for The Landlady
  • Write a feature article for the New York Times on the Landlady
  • Create a one-pager for The Landlady
  • Think through alternate scenarios with “What if” questions

I usually give them the rest of the class period to work on this, plus another period if needed. The best part is yet to come because, on day four, we tackle our Landlady escape room!

Putting it All Together With a Landlady Escape Room

If days 1-3 of teaching The Landlady weren’t already a hit, day four will knock your student’s socks off! This is my students’ favorite day of the year – and mine too! We put it all together and try to attempt to escape The Landlady.

Before school starts, I spend 20 minutes making my classroom spooky. I grab a few cheap props from the dollar store (caution tape, flickering candles) and bring some Halloween decor from home. I close the blinds and find a spooky Youtube playlist like this one

This escape room has four separate breakouts:

  • Plot Structure
  • Conflict
  • Theme
  • Miscellaneous Literary Elements (a catch-all)

Our library has a handful of Breakout EDU kits, so I set up actual breakout boxes in four separate corners of the room. Next to each breakout box, I place a few copies of the breakout so multiple students can be working on one breakout at a time. I allow students to work with a partner, but they can’t share answers with another group, and they must clear the locks after each attempt.

Inside the breakout boxes, I put little prizes like stickers, Jolly Ranchers, fake poisonous tea, etc. I’ve also done this without the breakout boxes using a Google Form that won’t let students move on until they’ve answered correctly. This works just as well and actually takes less time to prep.

Most students can make it out in 45 minutes or less. Frontloading some information or tasks makes a big difference – like using the guided reading questions I’ve suggested above or working through the plot structure beforehand. I also offer students lifelines. If they show me their failed code, I’ll let them know which parts of the code they got correct and which ones they need to go back and review.

This makes a big difference because then they aren’t wasting time second-guessing questions they got right. I encourage early finishers to do the same and help me guide the rest of the students through to the end!

Wrapping Up the Short Story The Landlady

On our last day with The Landlady, we watch a short film adaptation and compare it to the story. This one is about 8:00 and follows the story very closely. This one is 24:00 and elaborates quite a bit (the ending is scary). I definitely recommend watching both beforehand to be sure they are appropriate for your students/parents.

Making ELA Unforgettable with The Landlady

I’m not kidding when I say this is both my and my students’ favorite lesson of the year. Middle schoolers LOVE creepy, and who am I kidding? I do too! It lends itself well to engaging and challenging activities that are a win-win for both teacher and students. 

If you’re thinking about teaching the short story The Landlady, don’t forget to grab my free guided reading slideshow and check out The Landlady activities I mentioned throughout this post below.

I hope you feel invigorated and are ready to find a spot for The Landlady in your curricular map this year. Leave a comment below or find me on IG and let me know what you think!

I’d love to hear your thoughts or answer any follow-up questions you might have.

Looking for additional recommendations? You might like this similar post on The Monkey’s Paw!