Spooky Short Stories and Poems
Halloween is my most favorite time of the year to teach lessons! Students love spooky stories and poems-they don’t care what it is they just love to be scared. I have taken years to build up my Halloween curriculum and I will share student favorite Halloween lesson plans with you here.
Halloween Lesson Plans: “Incident in a Rose Garden” Poem by Donald Justice
I begin by passing out a copy of the poem. Students and I go over figurative language as a review. We also review how to read a poem-whether you pause for a period, coma, or hyphen; intonate for a question; add emotion for an exclamation. Once we have reviewed figurative language and how to read a poem, we read it twice. The first time to process and the second time for anything that was missed. Students next take time in small groups to practice a close reading on the poem and answer questions. “Incident in a Rose Garden” is a fun poem about a gardener who is working for his employer when something resembling “the Grim Reaper” appears. The gardener flees to his master quitting his job and proclaiming he is going to go live the last moments of his life to the fullest. The frustrated employer, walks to find the grim figure and when he does, the employer scolds the grim ghost for scaring his employee. It is at this point we learn that the grim reaper is not there for the gardener but for the employer.
Halloween Lesson Plans: “Egg Horror Poem” by Laurel Winter
I pass out a copy of “The Egg Horror Poem” as well as a list of literary devices. I review literary devices with students prior to reading “The Egg Horror Poem”. The poem is about eggs that are personified and brought to life. They wait in agony in the fridge while the owner opens the fridge to make an omelet, egg salad sandwich, or the worst- the meringue pie, which requires the most eggs and egg beaters- the most painful of the egg tools. This poem seems more comical at first until students begin to make connections to similarities in events such as the Holocaust and other horrific historical events. This is when it becomes bone chilling rather than funny. Students spend time answering questions and then create their own food to be personified in a spine tingling manner.
Halloween Lesson Plans: “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” by Emily Dickinson
“Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Because I Could Not Step for Death” is a great poem to teach rythme and rhyme. It also is a reminder that we are all unaware of when we will go and to keep life’s beauty and timeliness in perspective.
Halloween Lesson Plans: “Goblin Market” by Christina Rosetti
“Goblin Market” is a long poem by Christina Rosetti. Once I have completed the poetry lessons with students, I use the “Goblin Market” to assess their learning. There are many images, and videos created for the “Goblin Market” that can be used to engage students and enhance learning. If you are teaching middle school, then I would go with “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. Goblin Market should be used beginning with the high school level. “The Raven” is another classic of Edgar Allen Poe’s that has been copied for generations. The raven is symbolic for bringing news, and for holding the spirit of someone who has passed on. Just look at “Game of Thrones“. “The Raven” is a poem about a man who has lost his beautiful wife Lenore. The Raven continues to visit tapping on the window and at first it is comforting to the man. After this goes on for a while the man becomes agitated and is becoming mad. He cannot get rid of the memories of his wife nor can he move on from her death as there is always something to remind him of her. We watch as the character goes through the different stages of grief.
Halloween Lesson Plans: Edgar Allen Poe
A question that is often asked: Is Edgar Allen Poe truly the best horror author? The answer, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. However, I think he should get credit for his original ideas that have been copied and repeated in books, short stories, poems, and movies over the years. Today it is difficult to come up with new material because most ideas have been written about. Imagine having to be the first to create horror stories? This would be even harder. For this reason, Edgar Allen Poe takes the cake on horror stories, which are perfect for Halloween!
“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allen Poe
“The Masque of the Red Death” is at the top of my list for short stories by Edgar Allen Poe. “The Masque of the Red Death” pertains to today in that it is about the red death during a time when the death rate was through the roof and even the upper-class couldn’t escape the plague…but they sure tried. The story begins with primarily the lower class peasants dying at a rapid rate from the black plague. Despite death being everywhere, a rich Prince Prospero decides he is going to invite his rich friends over, shut everyone out and/or in and party through until the plague has passed. He is an arrogant man and the idea of celebrating while so many are dying is as pretentious as it is callous. For a few days everyone celebrates with eating, dancing and being merry. In the castle the Prince has rooms that are a different colors. Edgar Allen Poe, during a time when author’s didn’t use metaphors, was using color as metaphor. The blue room, purple, room, yellow room etc. were happy places to be but no one entered the red room. At the end of the story the music shuts off and a man “death” in a mask (the plague) emerges from the red room to the party. The host charges him and dies immediately and everyone drops and dies in the end. I love this short story for several reasons. First it pertains to today’s pandemic, but it also puts our pandemic in perspective in that we are lucky this is a virus unlike the red death. It shows the audacity of particular groups of people who think they are untouchable and reserve no compassion for those who are less fortunate and vulnerable, and the use of colors, metaphors, symbols and lessons learned are brilliant, especially in this time period!
“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allen Poe
“The Pit and the Pendulum” should win an award for being the most copied on one of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories list. It is a tale during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. A prisoner awakens in a torture chamber and is trying to find a way out. It is Edgar Allen Poe’s use of anticipation that further positions him as the greatest author of horror stories. It begins with the man trying to keep himself busy by doing exercises, and writing on the wall. This seems like torture until the room opens up and he finds himself tied to the ground with corpse rats charging at him. This is a scene that has been recaptured in several works and T.V. shows. I have seen it in “Criminal Minds”, and “Bone Collector” to name a couple. Rats eating dead bodies at some point sparked the idea of rats eating live bodies and Edgar Allen Poe was the first to capture this horror. The next set of torture is a pit on one side and a swinging sharp pendulum swaying back and forth getting closer and closer to the prisoner. The prisoner has a short period of time to try and outsmart the device and is saved at the end. Can anyone say “Saw“? Saw’s entire plot surrounds same ideas from “The Pit and the Pendulum”. In the end the prisoner is saved right in time by the opposition. This is the second of my favorites of stories by Edgar Allen Poe. This story is copied for generations and continues to be copied, it captures the horror of torture, and it leaves the story with a feeling of anxiety as though the man will end up right back where he started. The Spanish Inquisition was a time when distrust was high and no one was safe.
“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe
“The Cask of Amontillado” is among one of the best Edgar Allen Poe tales. What is so farsighted about “The Cask of Amontillado” is that Edgar Allen Poe has so much insight into a level of psychology that was not studied at this time. A man named Fortunado has somehow offended Luchesi. The offense was a mild one as Fortunado puts his complete trust in Luchesi when he agrees to go down to his wine cellar for a cask of Amontillado (wine). Fortunado has plotted and planned this murder for some time and waited for the right moment to kill Fortunado. Luchesi even knows Fortunado’s weakness and makes an offer Fortunado cannot refuse on his weakness’ behalf. Fortunado cannot say no to a good bottle of wine and is willing to take a long journey down to the catacombs of Luchesi’s wine cellar. Fortunado (a very ironic name) willingly walks down the narrow stone steps, coughing as he is already sick and the damp air is making him worse. Fortunado heads into a hole dug into a wall to get to his hamartia-the wine, when he is shut in by Luchesi. The fact that Fortunado was still willing to crawl into a space suggests that Fortunado was an alcoholic during a time when alcoholism was not understood. Edgar Allen Poe gives a chilling account of anger, bargaining, denial, and acceptance at the grieving of Fortundo’s own death.
“The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe
I hate to say it but “The Tell Tale Heart” is one of his most popular works and is one of my least favorites. However there is still much to be said about Edgar Allen Poe and his writing talents in this short story. “The Tell Tale Heart” opens with a man who is middle aged arguing to the audience that he isn’t mad, which makes you quickly realize that you are dealing with someone who is mentally unstable. He goes on to state that he loved the old man (whom he killed) and “took no offense of him”. He states that he killed the man because of his eye. One can deduce that the old man had blue eyes and a bad case of cataracts. One can also deduce that the man serving him entered into a psychotic paranoid state when he decided to kill the man because of his eye. The next display of his complete paranoia is when he buries the man under the floorboards and the police enter to inquire about the missing man. The middle-aged man continues to hear the beating of the old man’s heart inside his head and yells out confessing that he killed the old man. Like in “The Cask of Amontillado”.
Additional Halloween Lesson Plans to Tingle Your Spine
“The Elevator”, “Lamb to the Slaughter” Roald Dahl, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury. “The Elevator” is about a boy who has a fear of riding elevators and of the mysterious large woman who rides in it. “Lamb to the Slaughter” is about a woman who kills her cheating husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then feeds it to the police, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is about a woman who suffers from mental illness and begins to see things within the wallpaper, “The Veldt” is about technology and how children can turn away from their parents and towards technology even if it means a lion will eat them.
I’d love to hear how you will spook your students this Halloween! Please leave a comment in the comments section below.
To read my blog on Edgar Allen Poe: Is He Truly the Greatest Horror Author click HERE
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