Suspenseful Literature Lesson with Neverworld Wake


Beatrice Hartley and her five best friends were the cool kids, the beautiful ones. Now–one year after the shocking death of her boyfriend that changed everything–she reunites with her friends, hoping she’ll get to the bottom of the dark questions gnawing at her about Jim’s death.

Then a mysterious man knocks on the door. Blithely, he announces the impossible: time for them has become stuck, snagged on a splinter that can only be removed if the former friends make the harshest of decisions.

Now Beatrice has one last shot at answers . . . and at life.

And so begins the Neverworld Wake.

Connect modern suspense with classic short stories

Teaching suspenseful literature taps into students’ desire to read scary stories and, at the same time, helps them explore story structure and develop critical thinking skills. Have 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.

Try out the following activities with your class. Use the activities with commonly-taught short stories like “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe or “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, as well as with Neverworld Wake. Examine how the elements of a modern thriller compare and contrast with classic short stories. Then have students try their hand at a thriller of their own!

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 on the left side and “where” words 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. 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. Read a section of the book or short story aloud and 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.

Lesson provided by Read Write Think.

Random House Teachers and Librarians