October 31st can pose a challenge for teachers: How do you engage a group of students fully costumed and thinking about candy-filled festivities?
Lean into the spirit in your language arts classes – or really any other! – with these classic short stories that are as brilliantly composed as they are thrilling. Links for each are provided free online, so there’s no need to go (grave) digging through the library.
1. A Ghost Story – Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s humorous social critique is alive and well in “A Ghost Story.” Satirizing the genre of horror and the superstitions that take hold of people, Twain’s tale pokes fun at a pitiable ghost, whose fate to haunt the earth turns out to be a misunderstanding.
2. The Body Snatcher – Robert Louis Stevenson
The early 19th century saw a great number of developments in the field of anatomy but soon the number of interested doctors outgrew the number of available cadavers. In response, the grim practice of “body snatching,” stealing corpses from graveyards to sell for science, became a popular black market profession. Robert Louis Stevenson’s story follows a group of medical students who begin to suspect one of their own of not only being a body snatcher but perhaps even a killer.
3. The Judge’s House – Bram Stoker
The author of Dracula had more than one scare up his sleeve. In The Judge’s House, a young student takes up boarding in the home of a prominent judge and begins questioning his own sanity after a series of strange occurrences. Be warned: if any one in your class is afraid of rats, this is not the story to share!
4. The Landlady – Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s stories are a delicate balance of whimsical and macabre. In The Landlady, a young gentleman named Billy checks into a Bed and Breakfast run by a sweet elderly woman, but the longer he speaks with her, the more he realizes she is not as innocent as she appears.
5. The Phantom Coach – Amelia B. Edwards
Amelia Edwards’ story is a great lesson in tone and atmospheric imagery. A young man lost in a snowstorm stumbles upon the hospitality of a remote farmer. Edwards crafts a story in which you can feel the chill in the air – as well as something more haunting along the way!
6. El último viaje del Buque Fantasma (The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship) – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Told in a single sentence, this story’s form is just as important as its prose. Through stream of consciousness, the narrator describes his encounters with a ghostly ship over the course of his life and the determination he feels to prove its existence to those who have doubted him.
7. A Gentle Ghost – Mary E. Wilkins
Much like Twain, Wilkins is interested in human frailty, gossip and superstition. Her story “A Gentle Ghost” follows the members of a small, New England community pulled into a mystery of a home believe to be haunted.
8. The Furnished Room – O. Henry
If your class is studying irony, there is no better teacher than O. Henry. “The Furnished Room,” a quick read at only 7 pages, employs his signature move in this story of a man chasing after a lost love and becoming convinced that she once stayed in the room he occupies.
9. The Monkey’s Paw – W.W. Jacobs
A cautionary tale on human desire and unintended consequences, “The Monkey’s Paw” is a classic in the short story genre. An old soldier reveals how, after purchasing a mummified monkey’s paw, he was granted three wishes but paid a steep price for each. His friends ignore his warning and soon they make a wish they cannot take back.
10. The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allen Poe
You didn’t think we’d create a list of scary stories without including at least one by the master of them all, did you? Any number of Edgar Allen Poe’s tales, from “The Raven” to “The Tell Tale Heart,” would make for great in-class reading, but we chose “The Fall of the House of Usher” in part because there is a wonderful animated version narrated by Sir Christopher Lee to accompany discussion.