Teaching Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe: Mini Lessons for "The Oval Portrait" and Others

Teaching Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe: Mini Lessons for "The Oval Portrait" and Others
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Edgar Allan Poe has delighted his readers for over 150 years. Start teaching short stories with these classics.

  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.
    • The KnowingPoe website has a great point of view exercise with the “Cask of Amontillado.” There is also a short unanimated comic strip film that entertains.
  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 can be found via You-Tube. It’s creepy.
  3. “The Black Cat” - Similar to the Tell-Tale Heart," The “Black Cat” involves a demonic cat, an alcoholic narrator, and a nagging wife.
  4. “The Pit and the Pendulum” - Sentenced to torture and death by the Inquisition, the narrator unfolds numerous horrors.
    • Great imagery - rats on lips, blinding lights, swoosh of the pendulum. Analyze symbolism with a three-column chart similar to the one you made for “The Cask of Amontillado.”

More Options

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.”
  4. “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.

For the complete online library of Edgar Allan Poe short stories, check out Poestories.com. Go here for webquest discussion questions on Edgar Allan Poe.

This post is part of the series: Short Story Suggestions for High School

Good short stories will involve the class and meet educational objectives.

  1. High School Teaching Ideas: Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe
  2. Popular Short Stories by Famous Women Authors
  3. Eight Great American Short Stories For Your High School Students
  4. Science Fiction Short Stories for High School
  5. Mark Twain Short Stories for High School