We are FINALLY in my favorite time of the year- Fall! Is there anything better in this world than the smell of cinnamon, apples, and pumpkins while gazing at the changing foliage? To be fair, it’s still pretty warm here most days here in Georgia. But it smells like Fall in my classroom at least. Brew up your favorite fall drink and let me tell you about 4 of my favorite ways to teach suspense in the month of October!
I LOVE to spend some time teaching the art of suspense with my high school students. Depending on how much time you have, I have got you covered with a variety of activities!
Suspense Mini Unit
If you have the time and want to dive in deep to teaching the art of suspense with your students, this mini unit is the way to go!
With it, I teach the skills used to build suspense. First, we start with learning some fantastic vocabulary that is sure to set all the hairs on anyone up! Words like: ominous, eerie, and lurching.
We also take a look at the psychological reasons that we like to be scared and different ways this is done in movies and haunted houses with this article from Psychology Today.
I incorporate the podcast Limetown as the anchor text for this mini unit. If you are not familiar with this podcast, I highly suggest you check it out immediately!
“Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock asks the question once more, “What happened to the people of Limetown?”Two-Up Productions
The kids get very invested in this storyline and figuring out what happen to the people of Limetown. It also provides a rich discussion on how the creators have sucked us in with their mastery of suspense.
After this, we look at creepy texts from around the world and (of course) some Poe.
This mini unit is also jam packed with all kinds of creepy writing activities like haunted Found Poetry, guided prompts, and much more.
Students even come up with the perfect haunted house. Did you know that the haunted house market brings in a TON of money? That could be a totally different real world scenario to explore with your kiddos!
It takes about 3-4 weeks to complete everything included. Another teacher had this to say about the unit,
“We started a short story unit in class a week ago, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Then I saw this unit and changed up what I was doing to an all horror/scary short story unit. The kids were so excited about the changes and are really getting into the material. We have just started with these materials, but there are so many different activities included. I can’t wait!!”
3 FREE Writing Activities
Short on time, but still want to have a little fun teaching suspenseful writing strategies? Check out these 3 FREE writing activities!
One activity is a guided prompt that uses a targeted scene from the movie Jaws and how the suspense is built in a single scene involving the story of a scar!
Another involves students finding a book to write the first sentence as the start to their story. I like to make this even more interesting by pulling lots of beloved children’s books.
All three are also included in the mini unit from above so this is a fantastic way to preview all that you can be doing with your high school students with the full unit!
Immersive Gothic Writing Activity
Only have a day to spend? This immersive writing activity is always a big hit! I have created a loose outline of a Gothic story rich with visuals to freeze on the board while playing music and sound effects linked in each slide.
Each slide has just enough of a prompt to help guide the students while it still being THEIR story. I loved what one teacher said about this activity,
“This was so much fun. Once I got the windows open for the sound effects and the screen going simultaneously, it worked great! I felt like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Haha! This lesson was very unique and the kids were engaged because it was so different. Thank you!”
Full disclosure I have in the past had 2 or 3 kids who were highly sensitive and it creeped them out too much so they went elsewhere to work on something else. However, they are extremely few and far between.
Connecting Other Cultures
If you are interested in connecting your students with another culture, check out this fun activity on Celtic Halloween (Samhain). With it, students learn about the ancient holiday of Samhain and how many of the modern traditions of Halloween in America and other countries stems from the Irish immigrants that brought it with them. They also specifically learn about the Celtic creatures- The Dullahan and Banshees.
The Dullahan is a headless horseman creature that inspired the Legend of Sleepy Hollow’s own headless horseman! Students are often familiar in some way with banshees, but what they may not know is that the original legends actually saw them as more of a helpful warning and each prominent family had their own banshee.
I hope that some of these prove to be valuable this year and you have an extra spooky time with your students!