Thrills! Chills! Using Scary Stories to Motivate Students to Read

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Ten 60- to 90-minute sessions
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This lesson taps into students' desire to read scary stories and, at the same time, helps them explore story structure and develop critical thinking skills. Students examine story elements (e.g., character, setting, plot) through teacher read-alouds and independent reading. Reader-response journals and graphic organizers prepare students for the culminating activity-the creation of their own scary stories. While this lesson uses the Goosebumps series as a model, it can be conducted using any scary story. Goosebumps books should be an easy read for most students at this level, so even struggling readers can actively participate in this lesson.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Children choose to read scary stories for pleasure, and the new juvenile horror genre has become extremely popular in the past decade. The Goosebumps books, in particular, deliver an emotional punch; they have fast-paced plots, suspense, and dramatic power.

  • Teachers can use students' expressed interest in scary stories to engage them in worthwhile instructional activities, such as the study of various story elements and structures.

  • After analyzing the key elements of scary stories, students can apply their knowledge by writing their own scary stories.

  • Studying scary stories in class can help students employ the skills and strategies they are learning, while at the same time, increase their reading competency and their desire to read.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Class collection of Goosebumps books

  • Chart paper and markers

  • Folder for each student

  • Overhead projector and transparency paper




1. Create a blank Scary Story Characteristics Web on chart paper.

2. Obtain as many different Goosebumps titles as you can. Many are available in local and school libraries, or you can ask your students to contribute to the classroom library by sharing their collections of Goosebumps books with the class.

3. You may want to send a permission letter home to parents explaining the instructional purpose of using Goosebumps books in the classroom and some of the positive outcomes. If any parents object to teaching Goosebumps, you can use another book (see Scary Stories Booklist).

4. Choose a Goosebumps book to read aloud. Stay in the Basement, The Haunted Mask, and Say Cheese and Die are a few favorites.

5. Make photocopies of all of the Student handouts (see Resources), as well as transparencies of the Character Descriptions Organizer and The 5 Ws of Scary Story Writing.

6. Bookmark the Web resources on all classroom or lab computers (see Resources and Websites).

7. Procure some spooky music to set the mood as students enter the classroom. Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" is a good choice, or you can access this ghoulish music.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Activate prior knowledge about scary stories by completing an anticipation guide and characteristics web

  • Develop an understanding of scary story elements and strengthen critical thinking skills by listening to a read-aloud and examining the story's setting, characters, plot, and ending

  • Recognize descriptive word choices and details that contribute to the effect of a scary story and apply those descriptive elements to the writing of their own scary story

  • Respond and make personal connections to a story by completing a written reader-response journal

  • Make reading and writing connections by demonstrating their understanding of scary story elements through the writing of their own scary story

  • Apply the writing process by brainstorming, prewriting, peer editing, revising, and publishing their scary story

Instruction and Activities


  1. Distribute folders and the Goosebumps Anticipation Guide, and have students complete the before column with a partner, then share their responses with the class. At the end of the lesson, students will return to complete the after column. Have students place the anticipation guides in their folders. This is where they will keep all of their work during the lesson.

  2. Activate prior knowledge by asking the class: "What scary stories have you read?" "Which were the scariest?" "Who are some authors of scary stories?" "Why do you like to read scary stories?" "What makes them scary?" Point out that scary stories also include mysteries, adventure stories, and survival stories.

  3. Have students brainstorm the characteristics of a scary story while you write their responses on the Scary Story Characteristics Web you prepared earlier. Discuss why plot, setting, descriptive writing, characters, and suspense are important to a scary story.

Exploration of Story Structure

Each day read several chapters aloud from your selected Goosebumps book. As you read, stop intermittently and think aloud about how various story elements affect the scariness of the story. Refer to the Literature Guide Questions and encourage students to discuss and think critically about the setting, characters, plot, and mood of the book to determine what makes it scary.

Setting and descriptive words

  1. Tell students that authors of scary stories often use setting and word choice to create a disturbing mood or atmosphere.

  2. Set up a chart paper with two columns. As you come to words or phrases in the text that describe the setting, write "when" words (e.g., Halloween, midnight) on the left side and "where" words (e.g., basement, haunted house) on the right side. How are these words clues about the setting?

  3. On a second sheet of chart paper, start a list of descriptive words and phrases that convey fear in the story. This list may include words and phrases that describe the sounds, places, things, or people in the story (e.g., a face in the window, a stormy night, creaky stairs, people wearing black). How do these words and phrases add to the mood of the story?

  4. Continue reading aloud, stopping intermittently to identify key descriptive words or phrases that convey a scary setting or mood, and continue to model by thinking aloud how these words contribute to the scariness of the story.

Character description

  1. Tell students that much of a scary story's suspense is conveyed through the characters' thoughts, words, actions, and reactions to events and other characters.

  2. Continue modeling as you read the book, this time focusing on descriptive words about the characters. Have students draw conclusions about the main character and villain by using the thoughts, actions, and words of each character. Have students add these words to the ongoing descriptive words list.

  3. Distribute the Character Descriptions Organizer, and help the class identify the characteristics of the main character and villain on an overhead transparency. Students should keep their copies of the organizer in their folders.

  4. Take the class to the computer lab or have students work at classroom computers. Have students use their completed Character Descriptions Organizers to help them compare and contrast the main character and villain using the interactive Venn Diagram. Remind students to print and place their Venn diagrams in their folders.


  1. As you read aloud, have the class notice how the plot unfolds and how the author creates suspense.

  2. Distribute The 5 Ws of Scary Story Writing and help students identify the story's details on an overhead transparency. Have students add the completed 5 Ws organizer to their folders.

  3. Have students use The 5 Ws of Scary Story Writing to identify and describe the story elements (i.e., character, setting, conflict, resolution) and then type their responses into the interactive Story Map. Have students print and place the story maps in their folders.

  4. Before reading the final chapters, have students predict what they think will happen.

Once you have finished reading the scary story, lead the class in a discussion and review using the After Reading section of the Literature Guide Questions.

Independent Reading and Journal Assignments

  1. Ask each student to choose a Goosebumps book from your classroom library to read independently. Encourage students to browse BookHooks.com: R.L. Stine reviews to aid in the selection of their books.

  2. Have students preview their books by examining the front and back covers. Ask them to make predictions about their books based on the preview.

  3. Allow students time to read their books independently. Adapt a timeframe to fit your students' needs and abilities. Ask students to read a minimum of 30 minutes each night. Also provide 10 to 15 minutes of independent reading in class each day so you can monitor their reading.

  4. Distribute and explain the Journal AssignmentsJournal Rubric so that students will know how they will be evaluated before they complete the assignments. Students should complete one to two journal entries each night after they read, or work at their own pace to complete the journal assignments.

  5. Each day, promote discussion through the use of cooperative groups. Allow students to talk about what they are reading and to share their journal responses with their groups. Ask volunteers to read excerpts from their books that support their responses.

Writer's Workshop

  1. Have students read "How to Write Your Own Give Yourself Goosebumps Books" on the R.L. Stine website.

  2. Discuss how authors' ideas usually come from real life. Discuss interesting "what if" situations from your students' lives. What would be a good idea for a scary story that happened in real life?

  3. Review the descriptive word charts that are displayed around the room and the graphic organizers that you completed during the read-aloud. Students should also review their individual journal assignments.

  4. Distribute and discuss the How to Write Your Own Scary Story worksheet and the Writing Rubric so that students will know how they will be evaluated on this part of the lesson. Walk around the room and monitor students' progress as they brainstorm ideas for a story plot, choose a villain, and write a surprise ending.

  5. Provide class time for students to write their own scary stories. Remind students daily to review the various charts and organizers from their previous work to aid in word choice and plot development. Help students as needed by providing feedback and suggestions for improvement.

  6. Divide the class into pairs and have students evaluate their stories using the Writing Rubric. If students are unfamiliar with the peer-editing process, suggestions are available in the ReadWriteThink lesson, "Reciprocal Revision: Making Peer Feedback Meaningful."

  7. After the peer-edit session, students should revise their work as necessary.

  8. Ask student volunteers to read their scary stories to the class. Turn the lights down and play spooky music while students read aloud.


  • Put students' scary stories into a class anthology and share them with other classes.

  • Have students read another Goosebumps book and use the interactive Venn Diagram to compare and contrast the two books.

  • Visit the Poe Museum to introduce other mystery books, authors, and genres to extend reading.

  • Have each student write a short review of the book he or she read during the lesson on an index card. Reviews should include the book title, a brief description of the story without revealing the ending, and the student's opinion of the book. Students can then share their reviews with their classmates.

  • Have students visit the R.L. Stine website to learn more about the author. Provide a writing activity, such as listing facts learned about the author.

  • Have students use the Mystery Cube to practice identifying mystery elements from the book they read for this lesson or another mystery. They can also use this tool to plan the plot of their own mystery.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Have students complete the Reflections on My Scary Story sheet.

  • Have students complete the after column on the Goosebumps Anticipation Guide, and compare their before and after responses. Did any of their answers change? Go over the correct answers with the class. All answers are true, except #4 and #5.

  • Collect students' scary story folders to evaluate their graphic organizers, worksheets, and prewriting notes.

  • Use the Journal Rubric and Writing Rubric to assess students' work.