This October, haunt your classroom with thematically rich horror and suspense short stories!
CommonLit’s array of horrifying ghost stories and haunting dystopian tales are guaranteed to send shivers down students’ spines while boosting reading comprehension! Student engagement will be at an all time high after you introduce these chilling stories by famous authors such as Mary Shelley, Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allan Poe.
“The Night the Ghost Got In” by James Thurber (6th Grade)
In this ghost story for kids, a boy believes he hears a spirit in his house. Through a series of miscommunications, the police get called and startle the boy’s grandfather, who shoots one of the officers in the shoulder.
This story is great for teaching how a character’s actions and perspective develop theme and plot. Use the assessment questions to ask the class about the theme of the story. In order to find supporting evidence, students can use the annotation tool to highlight portions of the scary story that back up their conclusions.
“The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury (7th Grade)
In this popular story, Bradbury explores the dark side of modern technology. A family buys a house that harnesses the children's imagination in order to create an interactive Sahara landscape. Soon the parents cannot tell if the lions the house created for the children are still merely figments of imaginations.
Pair this short story with the information text “Someone Might Be Watching – An Introduction to Dystopian Fiction” from the Paired Text section of the lesson. Ask the class to discuss whether or not “The Veldt” could be an example of dystopian fiction. How is Bradbury exploring some of the risks of technology? This text was written in 1950, are the risks Bradbury is worried about still pertinent today?
“The Wife's Story” by Ursla Le Guin (8th Grade)
In this twisty short story, a woman falls in love with a good man and they get married and begin to raise a family together. Slowly the wife notices her husband changing. One night she catches her husband in the midst of a transition and her family kills him. It is then that the reader realizes that the whole family is a pack of wolves and her husband has been turning into a man.
After reading this short story, use the assessment questions paired with the text to start a discussion. Ask: “How does Le Guin use word choice to create suspense in her story? If “The Wife’s Story” was told from a third-person point of view or from the husband’s point of view- would the level of suspense be different?
“Click Clack the Rattle Bag” by Neil Gaiman (8th Grade)
This horror short story follows the narrator looking after his girlfriend's younger brother in a spooky house. The little boy tells the narrator about Click Clacks, monsters that suck everything out of your body and then rattle your bones around. The story ends somewhat ambiguously, but readers could assume that the narrator was killed by the Click Clacks.
For an engaging lesson, have students read the story on their own and then show them the video of Neil Gaiman reading his story out loud from our Related Media page. Did Gaiman’s presentation of the story change how the class perceived it? How so? How does the visual experience heighten or diminish the suspense in the story?
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (9th Grade)
“The Lottery” is a classic high school short story about a small town with a horrifying tradition. Every year one name gets pulled and the town gathers together to stone the selected person to death.
This is an excellent text to read during a thematic unit about following the crowd – which can also be pretty haunting! Pair this story with “The Dangers of Tradition” from our Paired Text page. Do the villagers in these stories have free will or know why they participate in the lottery? Do students think the lottery is tied to control like Queen Victoria’s shamrock ban? Why or why not? For even more lessons on the dangers of conformity check out our thematic unit, “Following the Crowd”.
“Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe (11th Grade)
This story follows the actions of an angry young man who is seeking revenge on his friend, Amontillado. He tricks Amontillado into the catacombs below the city, shackles him to a wall, l and effectively buries him alive.
This story is sure to have a chilling effect on your class. One of the most jarring aspects of the story is the narrator's belief that his actions are justified. Ask the class if they believe him. Using the discussion questions as a guide, ask students whether revenge is ever justified? Have students cite evidence from the text in their answer that either supports or disproves this claim.
The Halloween season wouldn’t be complete without any Edgar Allan Poe short stories, but if your class gets hooked after one story here’s ten more!
“Excerpt from Frankenstein: Chapter 16” by Mary Shelley (11th Grade)
In the novel, the brilliant scientist Victor Frankenstein has created intelligent life in his laboratory. Once the creature is personified, Victor realizes he has made a mistake and runs away. The monster vows to destroy Victor and his livelihood. In this excerpt told from the monster's point of view, the monster finds Victor and expresses his frustration.
As students read, have them consider why Shelley chose to write this chapter from the monster’s point of view. Using the annotation tool, students can take notes on where characterization of the monster comes across in the point of view.
In addition to this lesson, CommonLit also offers an entire Book Pairing for Frankenstein. Book Pairings include a mix of literary and informational texts to support teaching the novel as a unit and are designed to build students’ reading comprehension and engagement.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving (12th Grade)
This short story tells the tale of a small town prone to superstition. Two men vie for the attention of a rich farmer’s daughter. One night, one of the suitors, Ichabod, sees a supposedly headless horseman. The next morning Ichabod is nowhere to be found. A smashed pumpkin and Ichabod’s hat are the only sign of trouble.
This text can be paired with “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe. Once the class has read both texts, ask students to compare how fear manipulates the characters and the plot of the two stories. Then, as a class, discuss whether the two texts fit the criteria of “legend,” a traditional story which is viewed as historical but not authenticated and usually teaches a lesson, or “allegory,” a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden lesson.
Are your students interested in learning more about the science of fear?
Pair the following informational text with any of the short stories listed to create a stronger ELA curriculum and give students an insight into why some people enjoy being frightened.
“Why Is It Fun To Be Frightened” by Margee Kerr (9th Grade)
In this informational text, Margee Kerr attempts to answer the title question. Kerr explains that people who engage in “fun-scary” experiences in safe settings have positive chemical reactions in their brains.
Blend Science and English with this lesson about neuroscience. Ask your class if they have ever experienced positive emotions after exposing themselves to a scary but safe situation? Allow the class to share their spooky experiences and how it made them feel. Do those feelings make more sense now that they’ve read this article?
Discover more spooky tales for your classroom through the Horror and Suspense Text Set on our digital library.
Looking for more tips and tricks for bringing the Halloween spirit to your classroom? Come to one of our Spooky Stories Webinars!