Suspenseful Stories in Language Arts: Writing the Story

suspenseful writingin language arts-writing the story

Writing suspenseful stories in the Language Arts classroom can be a fun way to teach students how stories work. In previous posts I shared model texts that I use to teach kids how suspense works.  In another post I discussed how you can teach literary devices while creating the suspenseful story. In this post we’ll put it all together and write a story!

First, though, I’d like to share another resource that you can use to discuss suspense. It’s a short CGI film called “Alma” about a little girl that visits a toy store that isn’t what it seems. It’s appropriate for any age, yet suitable creepy. The less said about it before you show it the better – you want kids to be thinking about the moments where suspense happens.

Now on the the story!

The suspenseful story assignment

Here are the guidelines that I give students for the assignment. Feel free to add any other literary devices that you’d like. FlashFictionAssignment

You’ll notice that I set a word limit on them by asking them to write a piece of flash fiction that should be 500 words or less. I give them this boundary because it gives them a length to manage and forces them to think creatively about how to fill the space. In general, if I don’t give them a length requirement, they will lose control of the narrative.

There are plenty of examples of flash fiction out there, and I spent a lot of time finding stories that were a suitable length. Many of them were entertaining, but too short. Some of them were not appropriate. Some were just poorly written.

Three-Minute Fiction

However, I found the best source for great flash fiction on NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction contest page. They haven’t had the contest since 2103, but all of the best stories can be found here, and it’s a treasure trove of stories that you can use. The trick is finding suspenseful stories, though, and I had the best luck with the contest in which a character finds something that they have no intention of returning. They are a little shorter than the required length, but nevertheless terrific examples for what you can accomplish in a few words. Be careful! These are addictive reading.

Here are the stories that I used. Be sure to preview them: some aren’t appropriate for all ages. But there are plenty more on the site to choose from.

Picked Clean



The Art of Compromise

Ghost Words

Here’s the link to all of the finalists for this contest. There are some other good ones there too.

One Last Thing

One last tip: here’s a great infographic on the physical effects of fear. I use this so that students can describe what is happening to their main character as they encounter their suspenseful situation.

Happy writing!

I know you’re the kind of teacher that makes their classroom a fun, engaging learning environment. I have a series of lessons done as comics that address various ELA topics like grammar, poetry, editing, and Shakespeare, all of which will make your students glad they came to class that day. All the fun is there for you, and your kids will love studying any of these topics because they’ll get a new comic every day! Please check out my resources and let the learning begin!

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