Using the Genre Approach to

Teaching Suspense Short Story Writing


Cara Gavan


“We come to our old analogy of the bomb. You and I sit here talking. We're having a very innocuous conversation about nothing. Boring. Doesn't mean a thing. Suddenly, boom! A bomb goes off and the audience is shocked – for 15 seconds. Now you change it. Play the same scene, show that a bomb has been placed there, establish that it's going off at 1 p.m. – it's now a quarter of one, ten of one– show a clock on the wall, back to the same scene. Now our conversation becomes vital, by its sheer nonsense. Look under the table! You fool! Now the audience is working for 10 minutes, instead of being surprised for 15 seconds.”

(Alfred Hitchcock–“Master of Suspense”)


Teachers may ask themselves the question: Why should I use the Genre Approach to teaching writing? If you are a teacher who is more of a traditionalist; a teacher that is usually standing at the head of the class and lecturing, a teacher who gives her or his students a lot surprise quizzes, vocabulary lists, and exams based on language devices and literary conventions, so the students are busy most of the time you mazy find genre-based instruction as a new, fun and valid way of teaching fiction and non-fiction writing.


Teaching writing by using the genre approach will allow you to rest your feet and sit down with your students and write along with them. You can teach students important literary crafts and conventions by showing them how you work and by having your students share their writing processes with you and the rest of the class.

Genre may be simply defined as a form or type of discourse. However, when students read and write in a particular genre, they have an opportunity to become intimate with its forms as well as with the techniques and styles of the writers who write it. This is only one aspect of the importance of teaching the genre approach for composition writing. There is also a necessity to use whole language theory and practices which are in direct connection with the genre approach.


Students and teachers who participate in the whole language classroom using a genre approach simultaneously integrate personal life experiences with new knowledge of the genre's textual construction and its author. As Enos (1996) has noted, genre “is a cognitive construction, a coding template that leads to active, often purposeful, reading and writing”(280).


The Whole language theory which lends itself to the use of the genre approach to writing, is rooted in a belief in student-centered learning. Teaching with this belief in mind, acknowledges the importance of students collaborating and communicating with each other and the teacher; to have a constant ebb and flow of information. Real learning occurs and is best developed when students are encouraged to work in a social, whole class environment. This atmosphere mirrors the real world in which adults and children both live and write.


Whole language instruction assists students in their reading and writing while the students are reading and writing. Rarely are there situations where teachers exclusively lecture while the students diligently take notes. Students have literary and oral experiences available in the classroom, which can give them a direct advantage in their writing (Seven 13). Reading aloud, collaboration and other forms of social interaction between students is imperative. Teachers, as co-learners, are also a part of the Whole language classroom writing community (Bomer 123).


Teaching a genre-based instruction renders students' reading and writing of literature more accessible than the traditional behaviorist method of teaching composition. This behaviorist method, is primarily formulaic and is “learning language from the smallest part to the whole, emphasizing product over process, and imposing purpose and style on the writing task,” also known as the behaviorist paradigm of stimulus/response (Theorizing Composition 344). The audience for the students' writing is the teacher. This does not sufficiently prepare young writers for real life and learning situations. As with life, learning language is more complex than having it simply dictated the teacher and mimicked by the students (Chomsky 1957, qad. in Theorizing Composition 344).Whole class genre study and Whole language theory are beneficial to learning and social interaction within a literate society.



What a Class Genre Study Entails

As a teacher, you are watching and listening to your students all the time. They talk about what they saw on television last night, or the movie they recently saw or the last compact disc they purchased. What do your students saw about literature? What are currently reading on their own? What do they like to read and what would they like to write? Very often these are one in the same thing. There are various writing genres you may offer to your class such as, poetry, novel, book review, biographical profile, etc. What every genre you and your class decide to study, you should provide your students with a number of texts within the given genre so that your students will become familiar and comfortable with its form.


If, for instance, your class is partial to the short story genre, it would serve you well to supply your students with several stories to read and discuss. You could use a behaviorist approach of dictating to your students the elements of a short story: title, setting, characters, plot, dialogue, point of view, mood/tone and theme. In the real world of writing this approach does not always work. One reason for this is that real writers don't write in this particular order. They all have different styles and techniques. Another reason is that not all short stories are dictated by all these elements. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe has only one line of dialogue, and that is the last line of the story. By lecturing your students on what a short story contains will not be as efficient as having them read one, in fact, have them read many. Help them to identify the different elements as you read along with them.


As you and your class read short stories, students may point out that there are some apparent differences in the subject matter and the feelings that are evoked in reading them. Some stories may seem crazy, sad, adventurous, humorous, scary or mysterious. You can explain to your students that these are sub-genres of the short story; like its offspring.


This paper outlines an approach to teaching the writing of an ‘offspring' of short story; the suspense short story. Using this genre-based instruction students will use active reading, writing, listening and speaking skills for information and understanding; literary response and expression; critical analysis and evaluation and social interaction.


Defining Suspense Short Story Writing


Suspense is a state of tension and uncertainty. Suspense short story requires an emotional pull that encourages the reader to continue reading. One of the aims of a suspense writer is to sustain the reader's interest. As the title implies, suspense short story is typically a piece of fiction which ranges between 2,000 and 5,000 words in length, although there are examples of it being shorter or longer(Floyd 2003). It is commonly paired with two other sub-genres mystery and detective short story. Characteristically, a suspense short story need not have a detective, a big crime or excessive violence, but it may also have a problem or puzzle to be solved as in mystery short story.


A suspense short story closely shares elemental questions that are asked in the journalism genre specifically newspaper headlines and feature writing. Headlines of newspapers offer the reader bare, essential information to encourage a reader to scan and purchase the periodical. The headline will speak to the questions of who, what, where, when, and why of a particular event. and ideally the reader will buy the paper in order to discover how the reported event is resolved. As stated in The Short Story: A Critical Introduction , a short story has “immediacy, compression and vitality which (it) shares with journalism of the highest standard.” (Shaw 7). A suspense short story writer develops the suspense of a piece in the same fashion.


Like the newspaper article, suspense short story writing can be seemingly spontaneous or it may dramatize a specific event. It may view life with a narrow lens or open the aperture to a more global vision and yet the short story will remain a tight and focused piece of literature. As Floyd says, the mystery short story “focuses on one event, one problem and one character or a small set of characters,”(2003). It is important to remind students, however, that a suspense short story is still a short story and a piece of fiction. Unlike the journalist, who reports the news free of personal opinion, the suspense writer is fraught with opinions and beliefs that increase internal conflict and heighten the tension of the story.


Suspense and Elements of the Short Story



In a suspense short story the struggle between the protagonist and her own physical, emotional or

mental condition is central to the plot. There may be textual suggestions to other external forces at work, such as an accident , an illness, a broken elevator or stalled car but the underlying meaning is driven by the theme, “Character versus him or herself” and it is a statement the story is making about human nature and the human condition.




When introducing your students character you will want to guide them in making the character appear different than the readers. Not so different that the reader cannot relate to the character but different enough to capture the readers attention and keep them engaged. A character should appear real, a reader should discern some physical or emotional trait with which to relate. The writer should reach into the recesses of her own morals, fears, spirituality, and politics in order to shed some light on the psyche of her character and the internal conflicts he faces. A character may be terribly afraid of something or someone; she may have a history of an abuse, guilt or crime committed; or she may have something to hide. Although a construct of the writer's imagination, parts of the character should be fixed in reality or else he will not be believed.






Setting is imperative to the prevailing mood and tone of a suspense short story. Where the event takes place and how it is described can essentially transport the reader. Often a bleak, lonely and dark setting is used to affect the mood of a suspense short story. Ironically, to build suspense at the beginning of the story, the setting could have seemingly utopian and idyllic qualities until the event or a discovery occurs causing the “world” of the piece to turn upside down and fall apart.


The description of the setting should not be bland or muddled with flowery language that has no real sensory detail “Fiction operates through the senses” ( Flanders 91). A writer should not merely tell the reader what is occurring, she must also show the reader and make him feel and experience it. Even though plot development must happen quickly in a suspense short story, your students should not make a simple statement to explain a character's innermost reasoning or to describe the weather. Students need to personify the outdoor elements and use metaphor and simile to express a character's internal reaction to the event. The overall purpose is to hold the reader's attention and apprehension until the story's expected or unexpected resolution.


What Suspense Short Story is Not


Remember that genre means a specific form. A form that you hope your students will internalize and absorb the elements of (Hubert 18). As it is important to explain to your students what elements contribute to your genre of study, it is equally important to clarify what your genre is not.


1. Suspense short story is not a novel. The story is short in form. The action can takes place in one scene. There is but one or two characters, not a gallery of characters. Limited time does not allow the character(s) to develop gradually. The character(s) react quickly to each other, the action or the circumstances of the event.


2. Suspense short story is not a novelette. The reasons for this are addressed in #1. Novelettes are said to be between 12,000 and 20,000 words long, depending on the publisher.


3. A suspense short story is not non-fiction. Although there may be evidence of real names of significant people or places or current events, this is a work of fiction and make-believe. Suspense short story writing may have some qualities akin to that of journalism genre but the aim is not to report factual information.


4. A suspense short story need not have a murder or extreme violence. A suspense short story is not a horror story with axe murderers, werewolves and gore as essential elements of the story. It is not a mystery; there does not have to be a detective to solve a crime. Suspense is an element of these sub-genres of short story but other factors dictate these types of fiction. The suspense short story should have tension. It should have action that draws the reader into a state of apprehension.



Short Story :

A short story is a piece of fiction usually written in prose. It ranges between 2,000 and 5,000 words in length, although there are examples of it being longer or shorter. “H.G. Wells said short story is any piece of fiction that can be read in half an hour,” (Floyd 2003). A short story generally has one or two characters who are having a problem or some type of difficulty that greatly alters them by story's end. The transformation of a character(s) and circumstances happens quickly because of the short form of the genre, “the story does not permit leisurely or extensive development of gradual changes in character” (Roberts 4-5). The action and setting of the story rarely exceeds one scene because of the story's length.


Now that your students know what a short story is you can assist them in becoming aware of what suspense is. A medium that they should all be familiar with is film. So many young people find it easy to connect with film and this may be a good place familiarize them with the element of suspense. I suggest letting them observe some good old fashioned suspense. The following mini-lesson on Suspense in film should show your student elements of pure suspense. You can point out to them, “Although there is some thrashing about, there is no gore. A detective is present in the movie but he is not the protagonist. Rear Window is not a horror movie or a straight mystery. The reason you were sitting on the edge of your seats is because of the suspense.” To begin this genre study a general definition of a short story will be discussed, followed by a mini-lesson and a more specific definition of the suspense short story.


Mini-lesson #1


1. Today's mini-lesson will be on Suspense in Film. The teacher will begin a whole class discussion by calling on volunteers to name films they have seen that primarily use suspense to motivate character and develop the plot. Students and teacher will discuss the various elements and techniques for suspense used by film makers.


Student responses will vary as the following: a) mysterious setting (dark lighting, rain, heat wave)

b) music to establish mood

c) sound effects (thunder, a faucet dripping)

d) a surprise


2. Teacher will then provide students with handouts of Alfred Hitchcock quote and also present it on the overhead projector.


“Consider the following quotation from Hitchcock, rightfully knighted as the Master of Suspense: ‘We come to our old analogy of the bomb. You and I sit here talking. We're having a very innocuous conversation about nothing. Boring. Doesn't mean a thing. Suddenly, boom! A bomb goes off and the audience is shocked – for 15 seconds. Now you change it. Play the same scene, show that a bomb has been place there, establish that it's going to go off at 1 p.m. – it's now a quarter of one, ten of one – show a clock on the wall, back to the same scene. Now our conversation becomes very vital, by its sheer nonsense. Look under the table! You fool! Now the audience is working for 10 minutes, instead of being surprised for 15 second.'”





3. Students and the teacher will then watch the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window .

Rear Window is about a photojournalist who has broken his leg and is in a cast from the waist down. He is homebound and bored so he has taken to looking out his rear apartment window, which overlooks the courtyard, and through the windows of other peoples homes. He is chastised by his girlfriend and visiting nurse for being a voyeur even when he believes that a murder has occurred.


4.The class will then discuss what they thought of the film as the teacher records responses that pertain to elements of suspense on the overhead projector.


Examples of students' responses to the elements of suspense:

•  Dark setting.

•  Protagonist deals with threat or conflict that is physical, emotional or psychological.

•  Protagonist either learns new skill or utilizes old skills to survive.

•  Protagonist's paranoia, no one believes him.

•  Primarily character driven.

•  To control the amount and type of information given to or kept away from the audience/reader.


This culminating activity is linked to the social constructionist theory that social verbal interaction develops through thought and language, and is not autonomous (Theorizing Composition 290-291). As the students openly discuss ideas concerning the genre models, they simultaneously form their personal definition of primary characteristics of the genre; they create meaning for themselves

The teacher will hand out graphic organizers to be completed for homework. The double-entry journal will ask students to critically analyze a)What is LB. “Jeff” Jeffrey internal conflict? b) does he have mor than one? c) How does the setting affect the mood? d) Document and analyze the event where the suspense peaks (climax). The graphic organizers will be assessed for cogency and interpretation. Have students read “Lather and Nothing Else” as possible touchstone text (see

Appendix A)

Pursuing a Genre Study on Suspense Short Story Writing


1. Introduction to the Genre

When you introduce your students to writing and expressing themselves through genre you “give legitimacy to forms and subjects with which students are already familiar” (Hubert 19). Since genres are a direct result of real world experiences and are found in literate communities they must also serve an apparent need. Genres that are written are found in any literate community and your students will encounter them in real life situations. Help your students become aware of the ways genres serve particular functional and social needs; for example, road signs direct a driver when driving and restaurant menus indicate choices of food items (Cooper 25-26).


To introduce your students to a genre study you should inform them of the characteristics of the genre. Some students may not be equipped with the same level of literary skills as others and their familiarity with certain genres may vary (Theorizing Composition 139-140). It is important for you to use examples of the genre to determine a point of reference in an introduction to the genre.



For this genre study I have selected four texts. I have chosen “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe because he is known for being the father of the American short story and has written many suspense short stories. I find this piece to be unified in building suspense, every time I read it! The mood of it chills me to the bone. I selected “Lather and Nothing Else” because I did not expect the ending. This is not to say there was a huge and sudden surprise. No, as Patricia Highsmith said, “It's a cheap trick merely to surprise and shock the reader, especially at the expense of logic” (60). The tension of this piece and the conflict of the protagonist was so constrictive that I did not know where to turn. Therefore, I thought the ending would have matched my senses, instead it relieved them. I chose this story because it takes place in another country and it is written by a Latino, a Columbian writer. We should let students know that good literature is not only written by older, white men. Literature is also written by people like themselves; a diverse community. I chose “The Waxwork” by A.M. Barrage because it is older, its European and it is longer than the others I have selected. The story has more than two characters, a fair amount of dialogue and the action is not confined to one setting. I chose this story because it is very different from the others. The last text I chose is a piece of mystery micro fiction for the students to transform into a suspense short story. It is titled “A Late Night Visitor” by Janet Kay Ballock. This I selected for a mini-lesson for crafting elements of suspense.


You will need to provide several powerful examples of suspense short story for the students, to be read aloud in the class. Sample stories which provoke strong responses from your students should be used as the class' genre study. Lucy McCormick Calkins refers to these examples as touchstone texts for your students to “examine and reexamine, talk about, and admire and learn from” (364-365). These texts will be employed for their diversity of theme, author and for how you can relate them to mini-lesson study.


Prompt your students to ask themselves if the writers of the example texts create a response in them. Have your students maintain writer's notebooks , not only for responding to literature in class, but for whenever they need to jot down thoughts for their stories. The notes and entries that your students accumulate over time will be helpful when they search for a strand of an idea they thought they had lost. These notebooks will be helpful to your students as they move toward drafts of their stories. They will be able to navigate the direction of the plot, characters or setting (Bomer 128).The students' responses, written and oral, will provoke more thought. Write them down on a transparency for an overhead projector. This reader-response theory developed by Louise Rosenblatt states reading is directly affected by the reader's personal experiences which are necessary in order for the reader to make meaning of the text (Theorizing Composition 261). The combination of the social constructionist and reader-response theories used in the classroom create an environment of student and teacher-based activity. There is a greater possibility for new knowledge to be added to the students' literate genre schema, the literacy that they bring to the classroom and is already present in their daily lives; such as magazines, letters and recipes (Bomer 116-117).


For your students to write suspense short story it will be useful for them to live as writers. “Poets hangout with other poets; they go to poetry reading together and workshops in which they talk about digging into the images of their lives, and they live through the lens of poetry” (Calkins 364). So why shouldn't you and your students. If your class is a large group of students, say between 25 and 35, divide them up into smaller collaborative groups. Each collaborative group will ruminate, discuss and discover a main element that contributes to a suspense story. As the teacher elicits and helps to add to the meaningful written and oral responses from the students, they will continue to build on the current definition of suspense short story. A complete list of the elements of suspense short story will be the result:



•  Generally a dark, eerie setting.

•  Character vs. internal/external conflict that is physical, emotional or psychological.

•  Character learns a new skill or utilizes an old skill to survive.

•  Plot is primarily character driven.

•  Appropriate title.

•  Character is fully developed, interesting and necessary.

•  Control of amount and type of information given to or kept away from the audience; tension.

•  Resolution of tension.



The last exercise of this introductory phase is to prompt students to search for models of suspense short stories on their own to bring them into the class and share with their discussion groups and the entire class. They may find examples in the library, on the Web (see Bibliography) or maybe even bookshelves in their own homes. This task will not only prompt further class discussion of the genre but it will also show students that the genre can be found in the “real world” and not just within the pages of a textbook (B'Omer 125).


2 . Developing Ideas for Suspense Short Story

Once students have developed an understanding of the elements of an effective suspense short story the teacher should then help them to develop ideas. Many proponents of fiction and non-fiction genre study, as well as teachers of traditional composition instruction, suggest as I already have, that student writers maintain a writer's notebook to record their ideas. Students at the onset may not feel the need to write down their ideas or even believe that a germinal idea has any merit. The late Patricia High smith, an author of suspense fiction has written, “Write down all these slender ideas. It is surprising how often one sentence, jotted in a notebook, leads immediately to a second sentence” (36). Reassure your students that sometimes ideas stall but they come back. They can always re-open the notebook and continue to build upon the germ of an idea. Another way to help your students with the development of ideas is to show them how you work when you write. Bring in some of your own notebooks or, as Nancie Atwell refers to “taking off the top of my head,” draft ideas in front of them on the overhead projector (331).


Another helpful exercise for generating ideas is taking a short trip. For those who may not be going on vacation or have limited resources and time, short walks may be inspiring. Suggest to students that “receptivity and an awareness of life is an artist's ideal” (High smith 26). They need to get accustomed to using their eyes and noticing everything in their environment. They should look at the slightest occurrence and “crack it open,” flesh it out, while taking notes to review later. If they live in a rural area, take a walk in or near the woods. Listen to how the leaves rustle in the wind. Notice how the trees create shadows. Ask them how does it feel when a brittle branch cracks under your foot? If your students live in an urban hub, ask them to listen to the police siren with new ears. Ask them to think of who is lying in the ambulance. What happened to them? Are they afraid of something and if so what is it? Is there heart beating fast or is it about to stop? What does a beating heart really sound like? Does that steam that rises through the subway grates, during winter really, have a smell?


Students may apply a personal growth approach and use writing to better understand themselves and what they see in the world. Erika Lindemann says writing encourages students “to explore experiences and locate themselves in relation to a complex society” (Seven 203). Students can write what they know' by connecting the learning experience to experiences outside of the classroom, thus the student has greater potential to build language development (Seven 204).


As aforementioned, newspaper headlines contain elements that can provide fodder for suspense short story ideas. Have students to pick-up today's newspaper and see what catches their attention and discuss them in class. This is an activity you can model and share with them.

Mini-lesson #2: Style

Suspense short story writers come from an array of backgrounds, cultures and are of various ages. As they are all different they also have developed different writing styles. One such writer

is Edgar Allen Poe. Often described as being the father of the American short story, Poe wrote many suspense, detective and horror short stories during the first half of the Nineteenth Century. He is well known for his suspenseful plot, dark settings and characters wracked with internal struggles. (Appendix A)


1. The teacher will provide students with copies of Edgar Allan Poe's short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843) which will be read aloud by a student who read very well orally in order to insure the sound of proper “unified effect” or “unity of action.”


2. The teacher will then prompt the students for responses to the story by asking what suspense elements they can identify. The teacher will record responses on the overhead projector. The teacher will call attention fo Poe's choice of word, his declamatory simple sentences and the single unifying effect of emotion that provokes suspense.


3. The teacher will then provide the students with the definition for unity of action.


Unity of action is commonly used to describe a plot or a piece of literature if is thought to have a complete and ordered structure of actions, directed toward the intended effect, in which all of the prominent component parts, or the incidents, are functional and have purpose.



The teacher will place the opening paragraph on the overhead projector.


“True!–nervous–very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! And observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story. (Thompson:384)


4. The students will form groups of three to work together on composing an effective opening paragraph for a “Poe- Style”suspense short story. They will discuss with one another the elements that contribute to the solitary emotional effect in the opening of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” They will use this opening paragraph as a model and imitate its style to write their own paragraph. They are not to write a full short story, only the first paragraph.

Example response :


•  suspenseful, stylized language

•  figurative language

•  vivid, descriptive imagery

•  necessary characters

•  effective setting

•  variation of sentences and structure

•  building of tension



5. When each group has finished the teacher will have the students copy their paragraphs onto transparencies, for overhead projector use. Each group will share its first draft of the opening paragraphs with the whole class the next day for feedback and suggestions.


3. Suspense Short Story Assignment

As students read suspense short stories, research germinal ideas, seek out strands of thought and intermittently refer to their writer's notebooks, you will present the full assignment with

a rubric of required details and the mode of evaluation. Rubrics are helpful to students and teachers, not only for the purpose of evaluation but for the conception and completion of the assignment. As written in Bridging English , “the nature of the assignment is reinforced, it is based on the writing lesson that takes place daily in the classroom, let the (students) know exactly what you expect before they begin” (Milner and Milner 311). Rubrics are a way for a teacher to reinforce and communicate clearly what matters most (Burke 281). Rubrics are also a method of keeping a teacher in check so he does not neglect the standards he has set for himself.


Suspense Short Story Writing Assignment


Using your knowledge of Suspense Short Story writing, write s suspense short story, that includes the common elements of the suspense genre that were discussed in class. Your story should: have a dark setting, or seemingly idyllic in the beginning, protagonist deals with threat or conflict, learns new skill or utilizes old skill to survive, no one believes him, character(s) fully developed, interesting and necessary, an appropriate title, primarily character driven, control of the amount and type of information given or kept from audience, resolution of tension.



Tomorrow the class will be going to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Be sure to “open up your eye” to the landscape(backdrop of Central Park); the people(catch snatches of conversation); the wildlife(pigeons and squirrels) and the weather. All this may assist you with ideas for character and setting. Be certain to refer to your peer group responses from in-class activities, as well as your writer's notebook, to help provoke germinal ideas for your story.


Your suspense short story should:

be 1500 words long, double spaced

engage the reader with apprehension

develop the internal conflict of a main character

have vivid, striking sensory detail (touch, sight, sound, etc.)

have defined mood

be aware of the intended audience

stylized suspenseful language

necessary character(s)

figurative language

variation of sentences and structure

build tension

resolution of tension

Your story will be submitted to “Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine”.


Due dates


Draft 1 is due_______

Peer Review id due_________

Draft 2 is due___________

Final Draft is due__________



4. Rubric for Developing Your Suspense Short Story


The following rubric will serve as a guide while develop you suspense short story. Use the rubric as tool to help you identify and improve your draft short story. The same rubric will be used to the final draft of your short story. (See Appendix B)



5. Peer Review:

Peer review is very important part of writing comprehension and instruction. Your students will find it helpful to have another peer look at and critique their work. There is no added pressure of poor grading by you, the teacher, and by looking over other students' writing they can see what changes they might make themselves in their own work.


Have your students conduct the following peer review for their writing assignment as well as for Mini-lesson #3: Developing Suspense/Searching for Suspense. You may see a marked improvement as the write, revise and edit their work. They will respond to suggestions of others while enhancing their own craft. The peer review is designed to reflect previous lessons on craft, reading of touchstone texts and other aspects of this genre study.


Peer Review and Revision


Exchange your draft of the suspense short story with one of your classmates.

Read your partner's short story draft and respond to the following questions:


1. Describe your initial, gut reaction to the short story.


2. Is the opening paragraph compelling and does it urge you to read further?


3. Is the main character(s) struggling with a problem or internal conflict? Does this aspect engage you? Do you feel Apprehension?


4. Is this character suffering the effects of the conflict?


5. Is the tension of the action causing elements of suspense? What are they?


6. Are the characters interesting and realistic? Are they memorable? Why?


7. Is the situation/problem plausible and authentic?


8. Does the writer use vivid and striking details? Underline where this occurs.


9. Is the conflict resolved by the resolution?

10. Does the story have unity of action; is it well organized?



Mini-lesson #3: Developing Suspense/Searching for Suspense (given between Drafts 1 and 2 of writing assignment, additional peer review activity)


The third mini-lesson will focus on enhancing the suspense in piece of mystery micro fiction. Micro fiction is very short fiction (250 words) that was developed by writer Jerome Stern. The stories were originally written for National Public Radio and America Online as performance pieces in annual contests. They are required to have all the elements of a working story (Burke191). This mini-lesson is designed to assist student with their editing process. The will be redesigning this piece to fit the form of a suspense short story. They need to ask themselves real questions about voice, figurative language, setting (especially for this piece) character, and be as creative as possible.


1. The teacher will ask a student to read the example piece of mystery micro fiction aloud while the class reads along.


Detective Mallory was called on the scene in the middle of the night to investigate a lat night visitor. Becky and Cindy were sound asleep until they heard Sparky barking up a storm. Becky climbed out of bed and peeked out the window in the door. She saw a car parked in the middle of the street. After watching a few minutes, she saw a someone get out of the car and walk behind it. Becky noticed the person was a woman. She saw the woman try to bounce the car up and down. Then, she saw the woman get back into the car and try to start it. Becky realized the woman was having car trouble, but since it was 2:00 AM, she decide to go back to bed. Within minutes, Sparky barked louder, Becky listened and then realized someone was knocking on the screen door. She woke up Cindy and whispered to her, “Someone's at the door.” “What?” Cindy asked, as she rubbed her eyes. “Shhh! Someone's at the door.” “What time is it?” “It's 2:00 AA.” “Who would be calling on us at this time of night?” “I saw a woman having car trouble a few minutes ago. It might be her.” “Call Detective Mallory,” Cindy replied. After Becky called Detective Mallory, she went to talk to the woman. She opened the door and walked onto the screened porch. The woman was standing on the front steps by the screen door. “It's 2:00 AM. What are you doing here at this time of night?” “I'm having car trouble. Could you take me to a nearby gas station?” “I don't think so.” “Well, I guess I just have to walk.” “Sorry, but I can't help you,” Becky replied as she walked back inside. Detective Mallory arrived and captured the woman. Then, he went to talk to Becky and Cindy. “I'm glad you contacted me. This is a woman we've been looking for. She has been claiming to have car trouble and then tries to get someone to take her to a gas station for help. When they take her, her partner comes into the victim's house and robs them.” “I'm glad I called you too,” Becky replied. “I almost went with her, but I told her I couldn't help her. I want to help people not in the middle of the night.” “You did the right thing. However, it's not a good idea to even open your door to strangers, especially in the middle of the night. You never know what they might do.”


2. The teacher will ask students to jot down a bulleted reader response to the piece in their notebooks. Before doing so, the students are to take blank sheet of paper and fold it in half . On one side of the paper, they are to write what questions they would ask the writer of this piece. For example the following: What kind of night is it?

What is the weather like?

What is Becky thinking and feeling when she is awakened out of sound sleep?

How are Cindy and Becky familiar with Detective Mallory?

Are one of these character struggling with an internal conflict?


On the other half of the paper they are to suggest “to the write” ways she can add element of suspense. They are not to turn the piece into a full blown short story. They are only to add certain elements that will assist them in answering their questions. They may add metaphor, simile, foreshadowing or personification. They may choose to work on characterization or setting.


3. The teacher may want to model some, as Atwell calls, “taking off the top of my head,”alterations of her own while working on the overhead projector (331) .


4. Students will work in pairs and re-read the example mystery micro fiction story provided by the teacher in hand outs. They are to collaborate on developing this piece. Students should not attempt to write more than 250 extra words.


5. At the end of the class the teacher will collect the developed stories. For those who need extra time, they can finish working on it in the next class. For all others, they will read their work in the next class and discuss why they made the changes they made. Your students will then exchange stories for peer review.


Preparation for the Regents “Task III Unified Essay”


Your students will be required to take the New York State Regents Examination in English in their junior year of highschool. This exam creates much anxiety for students and teachers and it is imperative that you arm them with the skills to pass it. Failure to pass this exam will leave student back to spend another year with you. Parents enlist tutor and students cram information into their heads for weeks, even months. You have an opportunity, through genre-based instruction , to make the transition to the Task III “unified essay” seem more natural.


For this task you will be given two short texts, a poem by Jill Eisnaugle “Adele Lee” an excerpt from a short story by A.M. Burrage, “The Waxwork.”(see Appendix C pp. 380-381-bracketed)


Your task is not to simply to summarize, paraphrase or give your opinion of these passages.


“What you will be asked to do is establish a controlling idea. The controlling idea is what you have determined to be the point the authors are trying to make about the topic; what the topic is all about according to the author” (Regents Task III).


You can summarize briefly , and quickly.

Look at the literary devices (figurative language) or elements (setting, mood, point-of-view) that the authors use to demonstrate the controlling idea. If they are significant, quote them directly from the text, but not excessively.

Make sure you properly signify which element is which. i.e If the literary element is tone, make sure it is tone.

Explore the meaning of the example you cited, both the text and the citation in 3-4 sentences or more.

Repeat the previous steps using another literary device.

In your conclusion try to find a broader, global significance to the topic and the controlling idea. What is the larger meaning of these two texts?


After you draft the essay exchange with your partner for peer review.




Works Cited


Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms . Boston: Heinle and Heinle, 1999.


Atwell, Nancy. In the Middle: New Understandings about Writing, Reading, and Learning . Portsmouth, N.H.: Boynton-Cook, 1998.


B'Omer, Randy. Time for Meaning: Crafting Literate Lives in Middles and Highschool . Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1995.


Burke, Jim. The English Teacher's Companion . Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2003.


Calkins, Lucy McCormick. The Art of Teaching . Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1994.


Cooper, Charles R. Evaluating Writing: The Role of Teacher's Knowledge about Text, Learning, and Culture. NCTE. 1999.


Enos, Theresa. ed. Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times to the Information Age . New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996.


Floyd, John. “What is a Mystery Short Story?” Writing-World. Com, 2003



High smith, Patricia. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction . Great Britain: Poplar Press Limited, 1983.


Hubert, Karen M. Teaching and Writing Popular Fiction: Horror, Adventure, Mystery and Romance in the American Classroom . New York: Teachers and Writer Collaborative, 1976.


Kennedy, Mary Lynch. ed. Theorizing Composition: A Critical Sourcebook of Theory and Scholarship in Contemporary Composition Studies . Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.


Milner, Joseph O'Beirne and Luck Floyd Morcock Milner. Bridging English . New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2003.


O'Connor, Flanders. Mystery and Manners . New York: Farrar, Strauss and Cudahay, Inc., 1961.



Roberts, Edgar V. Writing Themes About Literature . New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. 1964.


Shaw, Valerie. The Short Story: A Critical Introduction . London: Longman, 1983.


Seven, Margot Iris. Teaching Writing in the Middle and Secondary Schools: Theory, Research and Practice . Needham Heights, Mass.: Allyn and Bacon, 1999.


Thompson, G,R. ed. Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Harper and Row, 1970



Touchstone Texts


Ballock, Janet Kay. “A Late Night Visitor.” Suite.101.Com, 23 November, 1993.



Burrage, A.M. “The Waxwork.”


Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart.”


Telez, Hernando. “Lather and Nothing Else.” Stories to Remember. Solomon and Schlakman, ed. New York: Macmillan Company, 1967.


Internet Sources


“The Perfect Poe Paragraph - Branching Out” author unknown. <>


“Regents Task III” < http://> 12/4/2

Eisnaugle, Jill. “Adele Lee.” Author's Den (2004): 9 Dec. 2004






Meaning: the extent to which character is necessary, developed, interesting and in definite internal conflict.



the extent to which the opening paragraph engages the reader, vivid images, effective setting.


Organization: the extent to which the story revolves around character, builds tension. Tension is resolved by conclusion.


Language Use: the extent to which the story reveals awareness of audience, uses effective figurative language, sentence variation and struture.


Conventions: the extent to which story exhibits conventional spelling, grammar and usage and punctuation for suspenseful effect.



responses at this level


-has one or more very interesting, developed, necessary characters.

-clearly in internal conflict.

-reader cares about character.


-opening paragraph is striking, engages reader.

-very effective images.

-setting is effective and suspense-ful.


-story is very well organized.

-very clearly revolved around character.

-very success-fully built tension.

-tension very clearly resolved by conclusion



-shows great awareness of audience.

-very highly stylized use of figurative language.

-very good sentence structure and variety.


-demonstrate control of the conventions, essentially no errors, even with suspenseful stylized effective language.



responses at this level


- has one or more well-developed characters.

-characters fit story.

-reader is encouraged to continue.


-opening paragraph is clear and developed.

-effective, clear, vivid images.

-setting is definitive.


-well organized.

-clearly revolved around character.

-body builds tension.

-tension clearly resolved by conclusion.


-shows good awareness of audience.

-very stylized use of figurative language.

-good sentences variety and structure.


-demonstrate control of the conventions, occasional errors only when using sophisticated language with some stylized suspenseful effect.



responses at this level


-characters are interesting and developed.

-characters involved in definite conflict.

-reader can relate to character.


-opening paragraph is somewhat developed.

-fairly clear images.

-setting visually appealing at times.



-appropriately revolved around character.

-has definite intro, body, conclusion.

-tension is fairly effective.

-tension is moderately resolved by conclusion.


–shows appropriate awareness of audience.

-uses appropriate figurative language, sentence structure and variety.


-demonstrate partial control, exhibiting occasional errors that do not hinder comprehen-sion or stylized suspenseful effect.



responses at this level


-characters are not fully developed, somewhat necessary.

-internal conflict is unclear.

-reader confused.


–opening paragraph is moderate-ly clear.

-images that are moderately clear


-fairly organized.

-not truly revolved around character.

-tension is moderately effective.

-conclusion is ineffective.


-shows fair awareness of audience.

-uses figurative language, sparingly.

-fair sentence structure, little variety.


-demonstrate emerging control, exhibiting occasional errors that hinder comprehension and stylized suspenseful effect.



responses at this level


-character not very interesting and not developed.

-reader is apathetic.


-opening paragraph lack appropriate focus.

-images unclear.

-setting not developed.



-lack of character involvement.

-story lacks conclusion.


-is unsure of audience.

-rarely varies simple sentence structure.

-no figurative language.


-demonstrate a lack of control, exhibiting frequent errors that make comprehension difficult, no stylized suspenseful effect.