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High School Teaching Ideas: Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/8/2012

High school students may groan at the idea of Shakespeare or Dickens, but shorter stories often hold their interest. Especially the drama-packed stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Get some unique teaching ideas for several of his short works.

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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."
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    More Options

    Buried Alive 

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