Scaring the Sceptics

story by Melissa Miles , illustrated by Peter Sheehan

Learning intention:

I am learning to analyse text structures and language features so that I can explain the purpose of a text.


Success criteria:

  • I can identify the codes and conventions of the horror genre.
  • I can analyse how text structures and language features work to meet the purpose of the text.


Essential knowledge:               

  • The term trope is used in the analysis and teacher notes. This is a literary term that refers to a figure of speech expressing a meaning different to the literal interpretation of a word or phrase.
  • More information about genre can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Genre.
  • More information about codes and conventions can be found in the English Textual Concepts video Code and Convention.


Prior to reading, ask the class to name a horror book, movie or television show. Ask students what attributes they think makes a horror story i.e., how they know something is in the horror genre. Students may suggest the use of monsters, scary things and high tension. Note these down on the board.


Tell students to note down the codes or conventions of the horror genre they notice as you read the story Scaring the Sceptics or listen to the audio recording. Tell them to look out for themes, tropes, characters, topics, plot beats and situations. Also ask them for look for specific language that is used in horror stories. Once they’ve heard the story, students can compare their answers with a partner and parse the text a few more times to find anymore examples.


A sample list:

A haunted inn (situation)

Set at night time (situation)

Sceptics (characters)

Mention of characters who believe in ghosts (characters)

Isolating the characters (trope)

The stories of death (theme)

Flickering shadows (trope)

Mysterious rattling (trope)

Isolating the main character completely (trope)

Candle extinguishes/gets cold (trope)

Hairs on my arm stand up (language)

Denial of supernatural (theme)

The presence of ghosts (situation)

Ghosts attack main character (plot beat)

Nails on chalkboard (language)

Blood-curdling (language)

Safety in the morning (situation)

Cameras don’t pick up everything (trope)

The admittance that ghosts exist (theme)

A final glimpse of the ghost (trope)


Invite students to share their answers with the class, and mention anything that was missed. Compare this story to the other stories that were mentioned at the beginning of the lesson and ask students whether Scaring the Sceptics matches the attributes they listed on the board. Ask whether there are any other attributes they want to include now they’ve taken a closer look at a horror text.


Also guide students towards considering:

  • The theme of death, either literal or metaphorical
  • The use of monsters, either literal or metaphorical
  • Using language and tropes to create high tension (e.g. night time setting, shadows in candlelight, lights go out, freezing air)
  • Isolating a cast of characters until there’s only one left
  • The main character is usually an ordinary person who must overcome something or someone much stronger than themselves


Now they have a better understanding of the conventions of horror, ask students the following focus question:

What is the purpose of a horror text?


To help students answer this question, display the following questions on the board:

  • How do you feel when you read/watch a horror story?
  • Why do you think people like to read/watch horror stories?
  • Why do people write/film horror stories?
  • Language features and tropes work together to create high tension in horror, but why does horror need high tension in the first place?
  • Why is the main character usually an ordinary person?
  • What is the purpose of monsters in horror?

Assessment for/ as learning:

Students can form their answer for the focus question by group discussion or using thinking skills strategies such as Five Whys (asking a question such as What is the purpose of monsters in horror? and continuing with a string of four more “why” questions for each answer) or Crazy 8s (choosing a statement such as “The horror genre makes life better” and give students eight minutes to come up with eight reasons how horror stories make life better).


Some possible answers for the purpose of horror texts:

  • It shows that ordinary people can defeat evil
  • People want to experience a thrill from the safety of their homes
  • To feel a rush of adrenaline
  • To examine the darkness of humanity using monsters as metaphors
  • To experience things that could never happen, such as a zombie apocalypse
  • To confront our fears