How to Incorporate Gothic Fiction into Your ELA Classroom

 Well, it’s already October; the first few weeks of school have flown by, in whatever form they have taken for everyone. With Halloween around the corner, a Gothic fiction unit is a great way to include that “spooky” factor in your classroom without having to do anything specifically related to Halloween. Plus, secondary students often like to read texts that are a bit edgier, and many Gothic texts certainly fit the bill. Using these texts also pushes students to improve their literacy skills, since Gothic texts can often be a bit more challenging to read. The study of Gothic fiction does not have to be limited to writing; I enjoy using films and images as well! Are you interested in using Gothic fiction with your classes?  Read on to find out how I incorporate this unit with my students. 

Introduce the Topic and Provide Background Information

First, I use images as part of my introduction – this helps to set the tone and gets students to visualize some of the elements of Gothic fiction before they start reading.  You can select a variety of imagery to use, such as dark forests, a full moon, stormy weather, abandoned houses, and so on.  Bonus points if you put on some creepy music while students are viewing the images! Students should look at the images, consider how the images make them feel, and think about what the images are communicating.  Next, I have students discuss what scares them, and anything else that they can think of that might be considered scary.  They also do some quick research on the Gothic genre to identify some common conventions in Gothic texts.  Some examples include a feeling of gloom, a spooky or haunted setting (especially one with secret passages, tunnels, etc.), high emotion, supernatural occurrences, ancestral curses, extreme landscapes or weather events, damsels in distress…you know, all the good stuff!  Finally, we read a Gothic story together – I generally use “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe. It’s helpful to go through the story as a group if possible; that way, we can discuss what is occurring and I can clarify some areas that students might find confusing. I ask students to pick out Gothic elements in the story; we also discuss setting and irony at this time. By the end of this lesson, students should have a good idea of what Gothic fiction is, and they have seen some of the elements presented in a story. Want to try it? Check out out my Introduction to Gothic Fiction FREEBIE!


Talk about Mood

A major element of Gothic fiction is the mood that it creates – stories are often eerie, creepy, and/or suspenseful. Since mood is so important, I generally make sure that we examine mood closely. To do this, I generally use “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. While the story does have elements of gloom and suspense, there is also a trace of humor, which makes it an interesting read. Students will choose a section of the story to read closely; they need to identify a mood in that section and find examples of language use that develops that mood.  We also discuss character at this time, and students create a brief character sketch of Ichabod Crane.  As a fun “extra,” I often use the film Sleepy Hollow as a film study.  The film is an excellent way to study mood, due to its use of various film elements (like color, music and the use of weather) to develop an ominous and suspenseful feeling. Students can make connections between the two texts and analyze the two different interpretations of the story. 


Get Them Writing

A free write with an image and a prompt can get students incorporating elements of Gothic fiction into their writing in a low-risk way.  When I do the free write activity with my students, I will often turn off some lights and play some creepy music or a thunderstorm track to set the mood.  Students then receive an image of a haunted-looking house and a brief writing prompt to get them started.  I ask my students to continue the story and try to add in some of the Gothic elements that we have been learning about.  I do not grade this work, because I want my students to try some new things without being afraid of losing marks.  However, the ideas that students generate during this free write could end up being the basis of their final writing piece. At the end of the session, students can share their stories with small groups or the whole class if they feel comfortable doing so. 


Explore a Sub-genre

Another area that I like to explore during this unit is the Southern Gothic sub-genre. I find it interesting to compare Gothic and Southern Gothic texts so that students can see the similarities and differences between the two. We start off with a quick research activity that introduces students to some of the principles of Southern honor culture and the Southern Gothic genre. Students should understand that Southern Gothic is set in the American South, it contains elements of the grotesque, and it often contains an element of social commentary or criticism. As part of our study of the Southern Gothic sub-genre, we read William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” We discuss how Southern honor is shown in the story, the effect of a narrator, and how the characters interact.  Students also respond personally to what they have read by exploring Emily’s relationship with her father and reading a description of Emily provided by Faulkner himself. Click HERE to grab the ready-to-go assignments!


Analyze Images

While reading Gothic texts is wonderful, I get my students to analyze images as well.  Being able to identify the ideas presented in visuals and discuss how they are communicated is a skill that many students struggle with, so I like to take this opportunity to give them some practice with it. For my purposes, I use the work of Clarence John Laughlin – a Southern photographer who produced many images that are eerie and fit perfectly with the Gothic genre (and with the Southern Gothic sub-genre as well).  I will show my class a series of images produced by Clarence John Laughlin; these can be part of a presentation that is projected, or the images can be printed and posted around the room.  I allow students a few minutes to look at all of the images, and then we select one to examine together.  We look at aspects such as perspective, color, foreground/background, subject, proportion, and more. I will get students to look at the image and identify an idea that is being communicated; then, we will examine the different elements of the photo that communicate that idea.  Once we have analyzed and discussed the image together, I will have students select another image and analyze it on their own. 


Use Literature Circles

Since Gothic fiction texts are generally older and a bit more complex, having students work in literature circles to analyze a story can be a very productive activity. Students can work collaboratively to make meaning from the text and demonstrate their understanding. I also provide students with various texts to choose from (each text can only be examined by one group); this means that they have some choice as far as which stories they will read. Once students are in their groups, they will read their selected story together and develop a short summary, analyze parts of the author’s style, identify Gothic elements in the story, represent a part of the story with a visual, and make connections to other Gothic texts. Once the projects are completed, students can present their projects to their classmates so that everyone is exposed to a variety of Gothic texts.


Do Some Research

For this activity, students choose a famous Gothic author and research their life.  They also read one of the author’s stories and analyze it. Again, choice is key – students get to choose who they research, and they get to choose which story they will read. After they read the story, students will develop a short summary and analyze the Gothic elements in the story. They will also need to find a summary or analysis of the story written by someone else; they need to read the summary/analysis and evaluate how it affected their understanding of the text. Looking at other perspectives can help students clarify their understanding and respond more effectively to the story that they selected. I can also take the opportunity to help students improve their research skills and work on documenting research sources (which is always something they need practice with). 


Pull it All Together

Now that students have learned about the Gothic genre and read a variety of Gothic texts, they are ready to demonstrate their understanding with a final writing task.  My students can choose to write an essay, review, or feature article that analyzes a Gothic text or Gothic conventions, or they can develop their own original Gothic short story.  I always remind my students to look back at their lists of Gothic elements so that they can easily identify them in a text that they are reading OR so that they remember to include specific elements in their stories.  If students are developing their own stories, I also ask them to look back at their free write assignment to see if they can develop that into a full text. So there you have it!  The quick guide to using Gothic fiction in an English Language Arts class.  If you are interested in picking up my full unit, click HERE! 


How to Promote Reading in Your Classroom

As teachers, we all know the benefits of reading: stronger social skills, better vocabulary and writing skills, and increased creativity just to name a few. And yet, in an era of YouTube, Instagram, and Xbox, a big challenge for teachers can be getting students to pick up a book in the first place, let alone take pleasure in reading! The start of a new academic year is a great opportunity to implement some new strategies to create a culture of reading in your classroom. I am sharing some quick and easy, tried-and-tested techniques to transform your students from social media focused to literature lovers (or, at the very least, technology addicts who love to read every day, too!)


It sounds obvious, but if we want students to become enthused by reading then we first need to model this behavior ourselves!

This can be as simple as just creating a poster for your door which lists the books that you are currently reading and a brief summary of what they are about. The purpose of the poster is twofold: as students wait outside your room, they are reminded of the fact that reading is an enjoyable or purposeful activity, and it also helps to create a dialogue about books or reading in general. As students enter the room, you can ask them to share in return what they are currently reading, their favorite character or event in their book so far, or a book that they might recommend to other classmates - anything that gets them talking and enthused about reading.


Setting aside time for reading in your classroom is also very important; if students aren't reading at home then this might potentially be the only time they are engaging with a book of their choice each week. Consider starting your daily lessons with 10-15 minutes of reading time or ringing a DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) bell a few times a week; as well as this being a great 'settling' activity, this also means that students have to get in the habit of carrying a book with them at all times, just in case!


I have personally done book talks with my students and I have also invited our librarian to share some of the latest books with my students. This is definitely a great strategy, but sometimes students require a bit more action. So, to get everyone up and moving and learning about some new book titles that they might like to explore, I use this Reading Escape Room with them!

The five, fun challenges included will have students (quite literally) jumping up and down with excitement! In addition to walking away from this activity with some new titles and genres to explore, students will also be able to use the previous knowledge of books that they read and incorporate this knowledge into some of the challenges (reviewing some famous authors, characters and quotes). This Reading Escape Room can truly be used at any point within an English Language Arts classroom and it is applicable for middle and high school students.

*Just as a side note, it would be fun to display some of the titles found within the escape room on the ledge of your whiteboard, for example! This will help with discussion and this will give students a tangible item to grab as soon as you are done the activity. You will be able to gauge their reading exciement if a good majority of your students are reading to pick up a book shortly after they are finished with the escape activity!


As J.K. Rowling famously said, "If you don't like to read, you haven't found the right book." Another easy way to promote reading and introduce different books to your students is through the use of display boards in your classroom. There are a number of ways that you can do this: create a board of famous literary quotes; hang posters promoting the positive effects of reading; make a 'recommended' reading wall based on age or interests; or ask students to complete book summaries and display these for other students to read.

Make your boards colorful and interactive (Pinterest and Instagram are excellent sources of inspiration for this) and they will soon catch the attention and interest of your students.


Students love competitions (especially when there are prizes involved!) so use some good old-fashioned in-class rivalry to get them reading!

A competition that works well with every age group is the 'Read your Height' challenge. This can be completed individually with students racing to read their own height in books, or it can be turned into a whole-class challenge with students competing against other classes in the school to see who can read an average height first. This also works great as a display board idea; when a student has finished reading a book, they can measure the spine and add it to the wall as a visual reminder of how close they are to meeting their target.

If you are worried about the quality or range of books that your students are going to read, the '16 Before 16 Challenge' is an excellent way to encourage to advance their reading by engaging with classic authors, such as Dickens, Austen, and Orwell. This can also be adapted to encourage students to read different genres of books, including autobiographies, poetry and play scripts.

Finally, 'Extreme Reading' is a fun way to encourage your students to read outside of school. Students compete against each other to read in the weirdest and wackiest locations possible - in trees, in the middle of a football field, in remote locations on a holiday - anything goes, as long as it's safe and legal and photographic evidence can be provided!


Are you tired of the same old paper and pencil tests at the end of a text? Are your students struggling with remembering the details from a novel or play that you have studied in class? Are you searching for a fun, collaborative activity? Look no further, I have the solution for you! I have written an informative blog post about this Whole-Class Novel Study Final Project! Click HERE to read more! Click HERE to access the project!

This project is great for novel studies. Not only did the final posters make great classroom decor, but the students can really take pride in their work once they are on display.

As you can see, I displayed this outside of my classroom.  The students who created these got to see their work every time they entered my room, but also, students and teachers from other classes also had an opportunity to see what kinds of FUN things we were doing in English class! :)

Classroom Organization Tips for Teachers and Students

Students don't just go to school to require academic excellence. Schools are also a large part of shaping behaviors and skills and this can be acquired through learning how to organize and tidy their own school work (and classroom) thus, learning healthy living habits for their future. In a busy world, organization is a large part of everyday life.

Learning how to organize helps to boost efficiency in students. What benefits will a child have if they learn how to organize within their classroom? How does it benefit teachers and students? Teaching healthy organization habits are beneficial in so many ways. Note: These tips are also applicable to parents at home! 😄
  1. Planning Skills: Planning calendars, daily homework written on a whiteboard or personal student agenda's are a great way to learn how to plan or schedule at a very early age. If your school doesn't already provide each student their own personal agenda, you could simply print off a monthly calendar on a sheet of paper, which could be kept in their binder or school locker. Grab the link to a FREE monthly calendar HERE! They can organize assignment due dates, sporting events, etc.
  2. Greater Reliability: Learning how to organize at a young age will help to establish trust. A well-organized leader will instill the will of reliability and leadership, and this will help them to win the trust of others more easily.

  3. Better Life-Work (School) Balance: By the time students get to high school, they begin to learn the feeling of what it's like to be regularly stressed. Managing several different classes with several different teachers and their various expectations, studying for tests and exams, reading textbooks, writing papers....and working a part-time job after school. Nevermind their social life. It's tough! Learning how to organize and balance their work and other aspects of life, will lead to greater overall efficiency in the various things one may be involved in. 
  1.  Get Everyone Involved: Students thrive when they all engage in an activity. You can make it fun by making it race. Whether it's picking up any garbage around the classroom or organization a bookshelf, most students are happy to help out. I usually reward my students with a bit of candy or chocolate after. It saves me a lot of time during my prep period or after school, plus it promotes a sense of pride within the room.
  2.  Show Students How Easy It Is: If you can show students how easy it is to organize their own personal belongings and how much "JOY" (pardon my Marie Kondo quote) it will bring them when they realize they can actually find things in their lockers or binders, they might actually catch onto it. I designated a few minutes at the start of class one week for students to organize their binders and lockers. Not only did they make life easier for themselves by actually being able to FIND items they were looking for, but they also made more space for things that they might actually need. 

 3. Designate Specific Spots for Supplies: I don't know about you, but my supplies are always going missing. One way that helped most of my supplies to be returned was to simply designate a spot in the classroom, so students know exactly where everything is that they might be able to use. It might also be helpful to involve your students in the process of where the 'supply spot' should be, so again, they can take pride in returning the things that they use. If the items are not being returned, they are going to find out pretty quickly that they won't have the necessary supplies they need to help make their work stand out.

4. Use the Same Items: If you are lucky enough to have a laptop cart in your classroom or a set of textbooks, it makes everyone's life a lot easier if the same items are being used by the same students. In addition, this helps to hold students accountable for the things that they need. Designate numbers to the various items in your classroom and associate that number to a student (or group of students). This way, if things are not being put back properly or even damaged, you have a better idea of who it might have been.

What cleaning or organization tips do you have for your classroom? I would love to hear about your ideas! Share below in the comments section.