Teaching Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories
High school students groan at reading the plays of Shakespeare or a Dickens novel, but shorter stories often hold their interest, especially the suspenseful stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Get unique teaching ideas for several of his short works.
Before we go any further, I must make sure you get something useful from visiting this page, so here is a suspense in the “Tell-Tale Heart” graphic organizer: Suspense-in “Tell Tale Heart”
A List of Poe’s Short Stories with Lesson Ideas and Links
1. “The Cask of Amontillado” – Montressor lures Fortunato into the catacombs, chains him to a wall, and walls him in.
- Verbal irony abounds. Make a two-column chart. In the left column, write at least five verbally ironic quotes. In the right column, explain how it’s verbal irony. For mastery, make a third column and explain the author’s purpose in using verbal irony. Heck, I’ll throw in an Analyzing Irony in Literature graphic organizer.
- There are some poorly made Cask of Amontillado videos here with a lesson plan.
2. “The Tell-Tale Heart”– A crazy narrator murders an old man, gets away with it, goes crazy, and confesses.
- Think symbolism. Focus on the old man’s eye, the beating of his heart, and the narrator’s increased perception. What do they represent? Make a chart examining symbols.
- A short black and white film with a lesson plan can be found here. It’s creepy.
3. “A Descent into the Maelstrom” – Three fisherman try to avoid being sucked into a maelstrom.
- Think Romanticism meets Naturalism. Poe’s man vs. nature tale thrills like his other short stories, yet involves elements of an indifferent nature. Focus on conflict–man v. nature. If students are familiar with Naturalism, compare the two schools of thought as it applies to this story.
- Great imagery – rats on lips, blinding lights, swoosh of the pendulum. Analyze imagery with a three-column chart similar to the one you made for irony in “The Cask of Amontillado” above.
- A really creepy, kind of weird in a “I need to purify my soul after watching this” way movie exists.
5. “The Fall of the House of Usher” – The narrator visits his old friend, Usher, who is dying. So is his house. This complex tale should be reserved for upper level classes.
- Think symbolism. Use “The Tell-Tale Heart” assignment. A comparison between this story and the others would be appropriate. This and the “Tell-Tale Heart” mention an acute sense of hearing. This and “The Cask of Amontillado” involve people being buried alive. They all involve unreliable narrators.
- Think suspense. Analyze suspense with this lesson plan
7. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” – Poe invents the detective story with this classic thriller, which involves a detective who solves crimes by deduction.
- Focus on plot and supporting details: list the clues and try to solve the mystery as a class or write your own detective story. A review of inductive and deductive reason along with logical fallacies is a good idea.
- If you prefer a shorter detective story, try “The Purloined Letter.”
8. “The Oval Portrait” – Classic Poe–the narrator puts all his time and energy into painting a portrait of his wife. As you might imagine, something strange happens.
- This is great for Valentine’s Day, if you’re looking for a tragic love story involving obsessive husbands.
Short Story Teacher’s Guides
Teaching the Reading Literature Common Core Standards are easy with short stories.
- The Black Cat
- The Cask of Amontillado
- The Masque of the Red Death
- The Necklace
- The Most Dangerous Game
- The Interlopers
- The Gift of the Magi