Introducing your student to the horror genre

Genre is one of the easiest things to introduce to junior English students, because it’s something that spoken about in everyday. What’s your favourite type/genre of movie? Crime? Romantic comedy? Sci fi?

Horror texts are particularly good to examine, because they open up for discussion about things like tone, atmosphere, tension, description, which you can then go into techniques for.

In this post, I’ll try to set out areas/ideas that you can discuss with your student.

What are the conventions of the horror genre?

Before discussing conventions, I always find it easier to first of all ask: what horror texts do you know?

If your student is finding it hard to think of any, here are some ideas:

  • Films: Psycho, The Ring, Scream, Paranormal Activity
  • Television: The Simpsons’ Halloween specials
  • Novels: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Goosebumps, Dracula
  • Short stories: Edgar Allen Poe’s stories

After doing so, ask them what are some common elements amongst those?

  • Setting
  • Characters – hero, villain
  • Storyline/plot
  • Themes/values/messages

In most cases, there will be texts which differ a lot from one another, despite both being in the horror genre. This opens up discussion about subgenres. For example, there is:

  • Supernatural horror (villain is supernatural) e.g. The Ring
  • Slasher horror (villain is human) e.g. Scream
  • Romance horror e.g. Warm Bodies
  • Psychological horror e.g. Sixth Sense

Horror Resources

There are a few Horror study packages online already:

Quick Study:

Here is a 1-2 tuition lesson plan for Horror Study, which I’ve used. It’s based on the above study packages.

  1. Read Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart (warning: contains death/dismemberment):
    • This story is quite short and can be read by the student either during class or for homework.
  2. Discuss with the student (or get them to answer in writing) the following:
    • What are the sentence constructions like? Are clauses used? Sentence length?
    • What verb tenses are used? Are they active or passive?
    • Is repetition used? What effect does all this have?
    • What about the scene makes it scary?
    • Are the characters in control? What does the author do to make them appear helpless?
    • Does he or she talk about what is done TO the character?
  3. Ask the student to think about a scary experience they’ve had of their own. Ask them to write a creative introduction to that experience, describing how they felt, what they saw etc.
  4. You can even go further and do a study package on Poe:

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