Lesson Plans

A Sample Lesson Plan

A 5-Day Introduction to Suspense for 8th Graders

Content Standards:

Key Ideas and Details:

Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

Craft and Structure:

Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

Supporting Standards:

  • Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

21st Century Skills

  1. Content Knowledge and 21st Century Themes
    Mastery of fundamental subjects and 21st century themes is essential for students in the 21st century. Disciplines include English, reading or language arts, World languages, Arts, Mathematics, Economics, Science, Geography, History, Government and Civics

  2. Learning and Innovation Skills: Learning and innovation skills increasingly are being recognized as the skills that separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century, and those who are not. A focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration is essential to prepare students for the future.

Learner Background:

No prior knowledge needed

Student Learning Objective(s):

Students will understand that:

  • Many readers enjoy scary or suspenseful stories because it allows them to experience the adrenaline rush cause by fear in a safe environment.
  • Authors employ a number of techniques to create tension and suspense in their writing, including creating atmosphere, characterization, foreshadowing, and pacing.
  • An author’s tone is the attitude towards a subject while mood is the emotion evoked by the author for the reader.  Both elements are important when creating atmosphere.
  • Characterization effects suspense by creating a connection between the reader and the main character.

Students will be able to:

  • Explain why readers enjoy scary or suspenseful stories.
  • Identify what techniques an author uses to create tension and suspense in a text.
  • Analyze the effectiveness of an author’s use of setting, characterization, mood, and tone.


  • Journal entries (formative)
  • Elements of suspense notes (formative)
  • Annotated texts (formative)
  • Writing prompt response (summative)


  • Selection of short stories
  • Computer with internet connection
  • Journals
  • Writing prompts

Learning Activities:

This lesson is designed to introduce students to the suspense/horror genre and allow them to explore the different techniques used by authors to create tension and suspense in their writing.


Initiation (10 minutes):

  1. Ask students to write a journal entry describing their favorite scary story, movie, or T.V. show, or to describe a time when they were frightened.  What make it scary?  How did you feel/react?  Did you enjoy the experience?  Why or why not?  Allow students to share.
  2. Conduct a brief brainstorming session about what makes a story or an experience scary?  Make a list of all the elements/criteria.  Keep for later. 
  3. Explain that we are going to be exploring the suspense/horror genre to learn more about why people enjoy it and how authors create tension and suspense in their writing.

Lesson Development (40 minutes):

  1. In small groups, research the psychology of fear.  What is fear?  What happens physiologically and psychologically when we are frightened?  Why do people enjoy being frightened sometimes?  Allow groups to share and discuss.

Closure (10 minutes):

  1. Go back to brainstorming list.  Is there anything we should add or remove?  Explain that we are going to be reading a number of short stories and analyzing how the author creates tension and suspense.  Ask for recommendations.


Initiation (10 minutes):

  1. Ask students to define the terms: atmosphere, tone, mood, characterization, foreshadowing, pacing, and resolution.  Review and discuss.
  2. Go back to brainstorming list.  Categorize the items on the list based on the defined terms.

Lesson Development (40 minutes):

  1. Watch the short animation “Alma” on YouTube.  Identify which elements are used to create tension, fear, or suspense in the animation?
  2. Have students choose another video to watch and conduct the same exercise individually or in small groups.
  3. Listen to a reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  Discuss what elements does Poe use to build suspense.  Discuss tone, mood, character development, and pacing.

Closure (10 minutes):

  1. Exit slip: Identify one way Poe used tone, mood, character development, or pacing to create suspense in “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  Provide specific evidence from the text.


Initiation (10 minutes):

  1. Ask students to review their journal entry on a favorite scary story, movie, or TV show.  Ask them to identify how the author/director used mood, tone, setting, characterization, pacing, or foreshadowing to create tension or suspense.  Share out.

Lesson Development (40 minutes):

  1. Browse through a selection of short stories.  Choose one to read on your own.
  2. Read and annotate a short story of their choosing.  How does the author create mood?  What tone do they use?  How do they communicate the tone?  How does the main character develop or change?  How does the pacing change?  Provide specific evidence from the text.

Closure (10 minutes):

  1. Ask students if they have any questions about suspense and the methods authors use to create it.  Explain that they will be creating their own scary story using suspense.  Give them time to start brainstorming ideas.


Initiation (10 minutes):

  1. Watch movie clips from The Shining, Jaws, and War of the Worlds.  Ask the students to identify how the directors created suspense.

Lesson Development (40 minutes):

  1. Explain to students that they will be writing their own scary short stories.  They should use mood, tone, setting, characterization, pacing and/or foreshadowing to create tension or suspense.  They will have the next two class periods to write.

Closure (10 minutes):

  1. Give students the opportunity to share and/or ask questions.


Initiation (10 minutes):

  1. Give students the opportunity to share and/or ask questions.  Explain that they will continue working on their short stories.  They may work in small groups to collaborate if they wish.  Rough drafts will be due the following class period (best if they have a weekend to keep working if necessary.

Lesson Development (40 minutes):

  1. Students may work individually, in pairs, or in small groups.  Conference with each student to make sure they are on track.

Closure (10 minutes):

  1. Give students the opportunity to share and/or ask questions.

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