Not sure where to start with teaching foreshadowing? Learn why short stories are my go-to method for teaching this literary technique. I’ll also share my favorite titles and best tips for using short stories for teaching foreshadowing.
Using Short Stories for Teaching Foreshadowing in Literature
Your students are likely familiar with the phrase “Hindsight is 20/20,” right?
However, they may not be as familiar with foreshadowing—even though the two concepts have a lot in common. And that’s where explicit instruction and engaging short stories come into play. Because, much like hindsight, foreshadowing in a story can make things a lot clearer and help the plot, tensions, characters, and themes (you name it) make much more sense.
Lucky for you, my teacher friend, I’m spilling all my secrets about using short stories for teaching foreshadowing in literature. Better yet, I’m sharing 15 short story titles with teaching-worthy foreshadowing that will engage your students.
Now, before jumping into a short story, you need to ensure your students know what the heck foreshadowing is.
What is Foreshadowing in Literature?
Foreshadowing is a storytelling technique where authors weave direct or subtle hints or clues about future events or development within the narrative. These hints can come in the form of setting, tone and mood, symbols, imagery, character, or recurring motifs and work to build a sense of anticipation and tension in the story. As a result, readers begin to speculate and make predictions or interpretations about where the story is going. Authors use foreshadowing to add depth to the plot, enhance character development, and engage readers on a deeper level.
Two Types of Foreshadowing
There are two main types of foreshadowing in literature: direct and indirect. Direct, or explicit, foreshadowing is when an author provides an overt heads-up about future events or plot twists in a story. These straightforward hints give the reader clear expectations of what’s to unfold as the story progresses. In these cases, the reader is often privy to this information while the characters are not, leading to dramatic irony.
Indirect, or implicit, foreshadowing is far more subtle. With indirect foreshadowing, authors often rely on subtle clues, symbolism, or recurring motifs to hint at what is to come for the story’s characters and plot. Unlike direct foreshadowing, these indirect clues require a closer look as readers may overlook them the first time, only making complete sense of these hints at the very end or in hindsight after analyzing the text more closely.
Why Short Stories?
The key to teaching foreshadowing is compelling short stories. Thanks to their compact nature, short stories offer a manageable plot for analyzing foreshadowing in literature. Since foreshadowing isn’t always clear until a story’s end, shorter narratives allow students to fully understand the impact foreshadowing has on the plot, characters, and readers. Rather than taking weeks for a narrative arc to come together, students can comb through a story multiple times, looking for implicit and explicit hints from the author that they may have missed the first time around.
Overall, short stories provide a focused narrative for students to analyze the author’s use of foreshadowing techniques. Moreover, students can explore diverse themes, settings, and characters as they look at various uses and effects of foreshadowing across multiple works written by different authors.
15 Short Stories for Teaching Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is literally used for the sake of building suspense or anticipation, drawing a reader into the text—Even your most reluctant readers are sure to be engaged with these short stories perfect for teaching foreshadowing. Let me start by sharing 6 of my favorites.
1. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
Students are always shocked when they realize what winning the lottery means in this short story. They will be on the edge of their seats as a town’s annual tradition takes a dark turn. Jackson employs subtle foreshadowing throughout her story to build tension until the big reveal: the “winner” is stoned to death by their fellow townspeople. This unexpected plot twist challenges readers to question the blind acceptance of tradition and the darker side of human nature.
2. “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl
Much like Jackson’s “The Lottery,” this story has a rather horrific ending—and students devour it every. single. time. When young Billy Weaver checks into a quaint bed and breakfast, he has no idea what he is truly in for. Despite the innkeeper’s initial warmth and friendliness, Dahl drops subtle hints that she may be hiding a more sinister side. Like Billy, students are quick to take note of the inn’s increasingly eerie décor and atmosphere and the landlady’s eccentric behaviors. Dahl keeps readers on edge as the story unfolds, building tension and suspense until finally revealing the landlady’s true intentions.
3. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
Poe is the master of foreshadowing, with “The Tell-Tale Hearts” being one of my (and my students) favorite examples. The story is told from the perspective of a “very dreadfully nervous” narrator as he attempts to convince the reader of his sanity as he, ironically, falls into a spiral of madness and guilt. The narrator’s obsessive focuses, such as the old man’s eye and the heartbeat, hint at his murderous act and the plague of insanity that follows. Poe skillfully employs foreshadowing as he builds suspense leading up to the narrator ultimately confessing the crime.
4. “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs
Jacobs brings the classic saying “Be careful what you wish for” to life while this suspenseful tale. The story follows the White family and how their life changes after they come to possess a (creepy yet) magical monkey’s paw. As the narrative unfolds, Jacobs foreshadows the story’s tragic ending through various warnings and superstitions surrounding the paw. With every wish the Whites make, there’s another warning that things may not be as they seem. However, as the Whites continue to push their luck, they find themselves faced with an unexpected—though expected if you understand the foreshadowing—tragedy.
5. “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
What happens when humans become too reliant on technology? Nothing good, according to Ray Bradbury. The story begins by introducing the Hadley family and their highly tech-advanced Happylife Home. However, as soon as the parents start trying to limit their children’s dependence on technology, things slowly begin to hint at the not-so-happy ending for Mr. and Mrs. Hadley. Leave it to Bradbury to masterfully employ foreshadowing to create an atmosphere of eerie suspense and impending doom.
6. “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
Students will be on the edge of their seats as a hunter becomes the hunted in this thrilling tale.
When Rainsford, an experienced hunter, finds himself trapped on a remote island with only two other people, including the mysterious General Zaroff, he doesn’t realize he will soon become victim to a rather sadistic game—at first. And neither do the readers. That is, until Connell starts to sprinkle various (and rather creepy) clues throughout the story, leading readers to anticipate the danger that lies ahead for Rainsford.
More Engaging Short Stories for Teaching Foreshadowing
The list above is far from exhaustive, and there are tons of short stories you can use to teach foreshadowing. Here are some other titles that I would highly recommend for teaching foreshadowing:
7. “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier
8. “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe
9. “Death by Scrabble” by Charles Fish
10. “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” by Neil Gaiman
11. “The Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury
12. “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl
13. “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst
14. “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant
15. “Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tips for Teaching Foreshadowing with Short Stories
Short stories are a great teaching tool when it comes to foreshadowing. Pair a good short story with the following tips to engage even those reluctant students.
- Start with the Title: Begin the lesson by displaying the short story’s title (and cover image if applicable). Discuss how titles can serve as foreshadowing elements and ask students to make predictions about the narrative based on these initial clues. Not only does this get students thinking about foreshadowing, but it builds anticipation for the story ahead.
- Press Pause after the Story’s Beginning: If students are focused on reading comprehension, they may fail to pick up on both subtle and more direct foreshadowing clues authors drop at the beginning of a story. After reading the first paragraphs of the story, work as a class to analyze the setting, tone, mood, and characters. Prompt students to use their observations to speculate about what lies ahead.
- Connect to Author’s Craft: Teaching foreshadowing gives students a glimpse into the power of author’s craft. Make this connection even stronger by having students read and compare works from various authors to showcase a variety of uses of foreshadowing. Discuss how each author’s unique approach enhances the narrative and the reader’s experience.
- Provide Graphic Organizers: Foreshadowing, especially when indirect, can be a challenging concept for many students, especially struggling readers. Providing graphic organizers can help students process their thoughts and track foreshadowing elements as they read, rather than attempting to keep track of it in their head (or not at all).
- Post-Reading Close Reading: Readers don’t always pick up on, or make complete sense of, foreshadowing the first time around. In other cases, an author’s subtle hints don’t make sense until the story’s end. After reading, have students closely analyze instances of foreshadowing for a deeper understanding of how the literary technique impacts a narrative.
- Write an Alternate Ending: If you’re looking for a challenging yet creative way to get students thinking about foreshadowing, have them write an alternative ending to or continuation of the short story. This activity requires students to think critically and creatively as they must look closely at the author’s hints and consider how foreshadowed events could have unfolded.
Time to Get Planning!
If you’ve made it this far, you have the information you need to start outlining a highly engaging foreshadowing lesson using short stories. Between definitions, short story titles, and teaching tips, you’re ready to go! Talk about a worthwhile read.
So, what are you waiting for? Choose one (or several) of the titles and tips above and start planning. Just make sure to come back to let me know how it went. And if you have any other short stories to add to the list, leave a comment below. The more short stories the merrier! If you love using short stories in your classroom as much as I do, don’t miss my posts about using these short narratives to teach setting, tone and mood, inferences, point of view, and plot.