Favorite Poe Stories to Teach for Secondary ELA

One of my favorite authors to teach this time of year is Edgar Allan Poe. My 8th grade students are absolutely fascinated with the macabre and spooky – and I’ll admit it, I am too! There’s a reason why Poe has been taught in English classrooms for decades – he’s the master of mystery and Gothic literature! Here are my favorite Poe stories and poetry to teach and fun activities to go along with them!

The Cask of Amontillado

The narrator of this short story, Montresor, is the epitome of an unreliable narrator. Most of what he says and does in the story is rife with irony, making it the perfect story to teach this literary device. This exchange between Montresor and Fortunato in particular, always gives me shivers, and once the students know the ending, they get it too!

“I drink,” he said, “to the buried that repose around us.”

“And I to your long life.”

That’s just one of the great examples of verbal irony in the story! I love to use this fun sorting activity to help students get hands-on to navigate the differences between situational, verbal, and dramatic irony.

The Raven

This is just an absolute classic poem to teach during this time of year. I never let my students leave my classroom without my students knowing the bigger meaning behind, “Nevermore!”

One of the difficult aspects of this poem, however, is the amount of vocabulary students may be unfamiliar with. I like to use this hashtag activity below to help students break down the poem in smaller chunks and summarizing each stanza. By having them “modernize” the poem with hashtags, the poem becomes more accessible and understandable! The best part is also turning this activity into a bulletin board display. Students get such a kick out of seeing each other’s hashtags.

Annabel Lee

This poem is a short one, but full of beautiful figurative language examples. It’s a great way to have students learn and/or review literary devices like simile, metaphor, repetition, personification, allusion, and more. This one-pager activity also allows for student creativity – you’ll be amazed at how these turn out in the end!

The Masque of the Red Death

This is a good story to teach symbolism, as the setting of this classic Gothic tale has so many examples. It’s also interesting teaching this story in a post-Covid world, as it centers around the black plague. As grotesque and creepy it is, there are a lot of connections that students can make here.

This open house flyer activity has students looking closely at the text by annotating the set-up of the story, particularly into the symbolism of the house itself and its many rooms. Students pretend that they’re a real estate agent, attempting to showcase the best aspects of the house (while keeping in mind that there’s absolutely something sinister going on there!) It’s a unique assignment, and also a great time to teach students about real estate euphemisms!

The Tell-tale Heart

My all-time favorite Poe story to teach is definitely this one. Students are always in awe of the narrator’s confidence and meticulousness… and how that contrasts sharply with how he absolutely unravels at the end. It’s another one that is full of great figurative language to discover and analyze.

This story also centers around a central debate – did the narrator know what he was doing when he killed the old man, or was he at the mercy of his disease? I love ending our study on a high note – with a mock trial! If you’ve never taught a mock trial in your ELA classroom before, I highly recommend it. Even shy students who you’ve never seen light up about a class assignment before will get into it. Check out this blog post to see how to hold your own mock trial and these two resources below will get you started with everything you need!

Happy teaching!


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