Teaching with suspenseful short stories brings a certain level of magic into the classroom that is unmatched by any other genre. Here are 8 reasons why you should try to incorporate more tales of mystery & suspense into your classroom!
When I think back on the short stories and novels I read throughout middle school and high school, many of my favorite ones were tales of mystery and suspense. Once I became a teacher, I loved watching my students discussing what they thought would happen next and hearing their exclamations of surprise when the story didn’t end the way they anticipated. When you encounter that level of engagement in the classroom, you want to keep the momentum going!
I know how challenging it can be to work even more literature into an already-packed curriculum. Still, there are so many benefits to adding more of this genre of short stories – even if it’s just for the month of October! In fact, I have eight reasons why you should teach more suspenseful short stories to your middle schoolers. Trust me – you’ll definitely earn some extra coolness points because of it!
Why You Should Teach More Suspenseful Short Stories
#1) They’re Incredibly Engaging
One of the top benefits of reading suspenseful short stories to middle schoolers is the high engagement factor. Since the entire narrative structure occurs within several pages instead of a full-length novel, students are immediately hooked and drawn into the plot. You also have the luxury of pausing and discussing character development with them, making inferences and predictions, and adding their own reactions to the text.
#2) They Allow For Re-Reading
Another benefit of teaching suspenseful short stories is their brevity. You can realistically read a short story once (or twice) within a 45-minute class period and still have time for discussion and reflection.
For example, “The Elevator” by William Sleator is only two pages long, but there’s a lot to unpack. You can have your students read the story once independently while making text annotations, discuss as a class, and then focus on literary elements such as character, conflict, and plot structure the second time around.
#3) They Help Students Focus on Specific Skills
Suspenseful short stories are also an excellent way to help students build close reading skills and actively engage with the text in front of them. I like to think that short stories take the pressure off analyzing a considerable chunk of text while still asking students to invest time and effort into the reading process.
You can more easily take the time to model proper annotations in the margins and how they can use those thoughts to better analyze, evaluate, and examine things like literary elements, vocabulary, text connections, etc.
#4) They’re Great for Honing in on Literary Elements
Rather than try to cover a large number of literary elements in a class novel, suspenseful short stories for middle school allow you to focus on a few at a time. That way, students can see an amplified version of literary devices like imagery, mood, foreshadowing, theme, characterization, and more. This strategy can be much less overwhelming for them because you’re asking them to read over a few pages instead of a few hundred.
#5) They Spur Student-Led Conversations
We’ve all had those class periods when trying to get your students to discuss the reading felt like you were subjecting them to some type of medieval torture device. And that’s precisely why short stories about horror and suspense work so well.
Because your students are invested in what they’re reading, they’re more willing to talk about their thoughts and reactions with their peers and as a whole class. Use various conversation strategies like Think-Pair-Share, small group, and whole-class discussions to add multiple levels of interaction.
#6) They’re Easier to Digest Than Full-Length Novels
Don’t get me wrong – I strongly believe that novels have a place in every middle school curriculum, but breaking those units up with suspenseful short stories can be an entertaining and fun way to give your students a breather while still maintaining a rigorous curriculum.
You can also differentiate your short stories depending on your students’ reading levels, putting them in smaller groups with various texts. It’s entirely possible to cover a range of vocabulary, literary devices, and writing activities the same way you would with a class novel while still capturing those notoriously short middle schooler attention spans.
#7) They Work Well as Model Texts for Student Writing
Another key benefit of suspenseful short stories for middle schoolers is that they’re excellent model texts for student writing assignments. Aside from being entertaining, stories like “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs can teach students about the structure of a story, how to write effective hooks, and how to use imagery, foreshadowing, and figurative language to build the element of suspense and create a specific mood.
#8) There Are Countless Fun and Engaging Extension Activities
Finally, one of my favorite things about teaching suspenseful short stories for middle school is the numerous fun and engaging extension activities you can pair with them. Here are some of the go-to scary short story activities I’ve used in the past:
- Comparing and contrasting written and film versions of the story
- Scary short story contests around Halloween
- Mini Research Projects on topics within the story
- Pairing the short story with a relevant podcast
- Challenge your students to figure out an Escape Room modeled after the short story
Teaching more suspenseful short stories is an excellent way to jazz up your literature units, engage even your most reluctant readers, and open the doorway to many fun and exciting extension activities. To check out a list of some of my favorite short stories, head over to this post.
I hope that I’ve inspired you to try a few more scary short stories in the future, and I can’t wait to read about which ones you’ve tried in the past, as well as some of your favorite assignments you paired with them. Let me know in the comments below!