To introduce my students to the elements of short story fiction I will select readings from Edgar Allan Poe. The Junior High School students of the inner city I teach are poor readers with limited attention spans. For many this will be their first exposure to the short story form and I want it to be positive. We will concentrate mostly on the horror stories of Poe: “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.”
Having taught English to seventh and eighth graders for the past six years qualifies me to say that Poe holds a certain appeal for the young reader. He provides high interest and satisfies a natural human interest in the ghoulish and the strange-all within a literate framework that uses rhythms and imagery to create suspense and atmosphere of a kind few have equaled.
The sophisticated vocabulary of Poe will present a problem. One aim of this unit is to help students get the meaning of unfamiliar words as they meet them in their reading. Vocabulary building is essential to the improvement of reading skills. Most of my pupils prefer listening to stories or watching them on television rather than reading them. It is frustrating for them to read when they do not know the words and much easier to be spoon fed. Ideally my performance objectives would be high: that my students should be able to answer questions about the short stories of Poe, define the basics of plot, identify beginning, middle, and end of a short story, demonstrate vocabulary skills by defining words from context, select words with given prefixes and suffixes, and provide antonyms, identify symbolism, list the events of a story in sequence, identify rising action, falling action, and turning point, examine a given story, stating tone, mood, and atmosphere, discuss the importance of setting and character, use context clues and prefix-suffix recognition skills to aid with new vocabulary words, select words that have good and bad connotations, discuss the choice and treatment of point of view. To sum it up to have students name the formal characteristics of the short story; that it focuses on a single character and a single crisis, it involves a short period of time, it deals with a single mood and maintains a single tone.