Tips and ideas for teaching high school ELA

creepy scene with blue box reading 11 spooky short stories for halloween

I love teaching American lit. While I’ve taught everything from 4th to 12th grade, 11th (typically American lit) is hands down my pick.  If you’ve checked out my American Literature Curriculum post, you know that teaching Gothic literature was always my favorite unit. Poe, Hawthorne, Irving – all the dark, mysterious, engaging authors. It also helped that due to our schedule, my Gothic literature unit usually fell around October – making teaching spooky stories for Halloween a no-brainer. 

After several years away from American lit, I’ve finally returned, and boy, am I excited.  As much as I love the Gothic greats mentioned above, I’m trying to revamp my curriculum some – which means I’m looking for some new and different texts to use as we explore Gothic lit. 

Below is a roundup of my favorite go-to spooky stories for Halloween as well as some that I’ve recently discovered and some that are not as prominent. Because American authors typically get all the attention when it comes to spooky short stories, the second list focuses on non-American authors. 

While I’ve only taught one of the texts on the latter list, I definitely plan to dig into them and look forward to expanding my Gothic Literature unit. I’m also including some paired text ideas you can use to create a richer Gothic Literature unit. 

Favorite spooky stories for halloween

Obviously, I have to start off with some Poe. As mentioned above, he’s one of my faves. I took an entire class on him in grad school. (Fun fact: there are 15 prepositional phrases in the first line of “The Fall of the House of Usher”.) 

“The Cask of Amontillado”

This classic Poe short story of revenge has always been one of my favorites. It was also one of my freshmen’s top picks for the semester exam one-pager last year. 

“Cask” is a great short story to practice close reading for narrator reliability, characterization, and figurative language.  

Texts to pair with:

    • “The Tell-Tale Heart”: Examine the perspectives of two murderers and discuss narrator reliability. Are the narrators mad? Are their actions justified? 
    • “The Fall of the House of Usher”: Analyze for Poe’s use of suspense 
    • “A Poison Tree”:  Pair this William Blake poem with “Cask” to discuss how each speaker seeks revenge.  

“The Pit and the Pendulum”

Set in the Spanish Inquisition, this story details an unnamed narrator’s torture and near-death experience. 

Texts to pair with: 

    • “The Fall of the House of Usher”: Compare and contrast how each character faces death. 
    • “Once Upon a Time” (Nadine Gordimer): Discuss how the characters react to fear. Great for analysis of vivid imagery. 

“The Masque of the Red Death” 

Like pretty much all Poe short stories, “Masque” is ripe for analysis – particularly color symbolism. After “Cask”, “Masque” was the second most popular choice for my end-of-semester exam. 

Text to pair with: 

    • “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and/or “The Minister’s Black Veil”: Compare and contrast allegorical meanings and the impact of fear on the characters and plots of the two stories. 

“A Rose for Emily” – William Faulkner

Departing from Poe, we have Faulkner’s tale of the dark history of Miss Emily Grierson. Great for a discussion of surprise endings as well as practicing inferences. 

Texts to pair with: 

    • “The Fall of the House of Usher” (seeing a pattern here?): Compare and contrast the ideas of trauma and the macabre. 
    • “That Evening Sun”: Pair this second Faulkner short story with “A Rose for Emily”, focusing on diction and other literary techniques. 

“The Yellow Wallpaper” – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

One of my personal favorites. Gilman’s portrayal of a woman slowly descending into madness is a timeless glimpse into the treatment of women and their mental health in the late 1800s. 

Text to pair with: 

    • “The Story of an Hour”: Pair with this short but powerful Chopin story to discuss the oppression of women during the late 19th century. 

“The Landlady” – Roald Dahl 

While most people associate Roald Dahl with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or “Lamb to the Slaughter”, his slightly less popular story “The Landlady” deserves some attention as well. Like “Lamb to the Slaughter”, this story has a dark ending. 

A young man searching for lodging. A seemingly kind landlady. But are looks deceiving? 

Texts to pair with: 

    • “Lamb to the Slaughter”: Compare/contrast themes and tone of these two classic Dahl stories.  
    • “A Good Man in Hard to Find”: Close read this Flannery O’Connor short story for foreshadowing and analyze each author’s use of tone. 
    • “Showdown”: Pair this Shirley Jackson short story with “The Landlady” and focus on how each author builds suspense and tension. 

New Spooky stories for halloween


“The Demon Lover” – Elizabeth Bowen

“The Demon Lover” by Elizabeth Bowen, a contemporary of Roald Dahl, is a perfect example of a ghost story. Set in WWII, this story follows Mrs. Drover as she returns to her home to gather her belongings. Upon her arrival, she finds a letter, postmarked that day, from a long-lost lover. 

Is Mrs. Drover hallucinating? Is there an actual ghost? Open to interpretation. 


“The Signal-Man” – Charles Dickens 

Although he’s best known for his novels, Charles Dickens wrote short stories as well. In this story, a narrator meets a railway operator who has been suffering from supernatural visions. 

While the narrator is skeptical at first, the strange happenings at the end of the story lead him to question the truth. 


“The Feather Pillow” – Horacio Quiroga

This is another story I recently learned about. Written by Uruguayan author Horacio Quiroga, “The Feather Pillow” details newlywed Alicia’s unexplained illness and her rapid deterioration and eventual death. The doctor is unable to cure her; he can’t even diagnose her.  It’s not until after her death that the culprit is revealed – an animal hiding in her feather pillow (hence the name), slowly sucking her blood. 

Great for a conversation about symbolism. Does the blood-sucking animal represent her marriage? 


“House Taken Over” – Julio Cortazar 

“House Taken Over” by Julio Cortazar tells the story of a brother and sister living in their ancestral home (kinda gives “The Fall of the House of Usher” vibes). Throughout the story, the siblings are forced to shut off parts of the house as it is “taken over” by some unknown and unnamed entity. 

Great for a study in suspense and inferencing. There’s little dialogue, so this story would also make for a good discussion on narration. 


“Ghosts of August” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

Like Dickens, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is most known for his novels. In “Ghosts of August”, a couple and their two sons visit a Tuscan castle. Although not part of their original plan, the family decides to spend the night. When the couple wakes up, they are surprised to find themselves in a different room – a room with a tainted past. 

So there you have it. My go-to spooky stories for Halloween and some new ones to explore. 

What are your favorite Gothic literature/spooky stories? Reply below. Interested in more spooky stories for Halloween? Check out 10 Spooky Short Stories to Teach This October. 

Want an engaging way to introduce your students to American Gothicism? Snag your American Gothicism Intro PowerPoint, Visual Notes freebie here 


Looking for a low-prep Gothic Lit unit? Check out my Gothic Literature bundle.

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