17 Short Stories for your ELA Classroom


Short stories sure are handy. You can pair them with longer works, read them in isolation when you have a random day or two between units and vacations, or pull them all together into a beautiful diverse unit with many voices and perspectives.

You can focus in on their language, themes, and meaning, or you can use them as springboards to inspire student writers in crafting their own stories. You probably do both.

In graduate school I built my own travel literature elective after spending two years abroad, and my final project was to read all of Ernest Hemingway's short stories and then write a travel story of my own in imitation of his style. I loved sitting at my favorite cafe in Santa Fe, reading his stunning spare prose and using it as a mentor text for my own. Yet until recently, the short story wasn't really a favorite genre of mine.

But over and over this year I've seen the amazing teachers in my Facebook group discuss their favorite short stories (check out this huge variety of themed threads on short stories). And I've listened to some wonderful Education podcasters talking about their favorite short stories and how to use them in unique and wonderful ways. And then there are the rave reviews I keep hearing about this cool (and free) short story fair project from Read Write Think.

So now I'm in. Short stories are pretty awesome. I think I just never got into them as a young reader because I loved diving into the world of novels and staying there so much. Short stories felt too fast to me. But I'm learning, and I'm enjoying the process.

This summer I reached out to a bunch of my English teacher blogger friends and asked them to share their favorite short stories with me, for you. I've collected them here across some loose categories to make it easier for you to find a related set you can use if you're looking for top hits for a certain themed course. Or just browse through and pick the ones you like the best if categories aren't a concern for you.

AMERICAN LITERATURE: STORIES

Title: "A Jury of Her Peers"
Author: Susan Glaspell
Category: American Literature
Themes: reality vs. appearance, mystery
Why it's worth teaching: The main characters are informally investigating a murder. As they put the pieces together, they won't dare say what really happened because it's just too horrible for them to even comprehend. Since the conclusion is never said aloud, students need to make their own inferences to determine the identity of the murderer and their motive. This mystery generates lively discussions and offers opportunities for hands-on learning as students recreate scenes and the setting.
-Amanda, from Engaging and Effective

Title: "Amigo Brothers"
Author: Piri Thomas
Category: American Literature
Themes: Friendship
Why it's worth teaching: Students love this story about friendship and boxing. They love the ending!
-Kristy, from 2 Peas and a Dog

Title: "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"
Author: Ursula LeGuin
Category: American Literature, Scifi/Fantasy/Ethics (defies genre)
Themes: Fantasy, dystopia, social justice
Why it's worth teaching: This story describes a utopia in a way that is both specific and vague. LeGuin leaves room for you to imagine it to be however you want it to be, and seems to draw attention to the fact that it only exists in your imagination, as a way to think about an issue. The utopia becomes a dystopia partway through, when you discover that all that is good in the society exists because of the torturous life of one small child, who can never be released from misery or the society will collapse. This story pairs well with any dystopian unit, but would also stand alone as a very interesting springboard for discussion about how societies care for those who suffer.
-Betsy, from Spark Creativity 

Title: "Harrison Bergeron"
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Category: American Lit
Themes: Dystopia
Why it's worth teaching: Vonnegut has so many levels of complexity in this piece, making it perfect for so many different student audiences.  On its surface, it's a stark look at the dystopian genre and what happens when the world becomes overly desensitized to violence.  It's also a great entry point into the topic of equality versus equity:  what do we really need in America?  On it's many deeper levels, Vonnegut uses dark, satirical humor to point out some major flaws in American society.
-Amanda Cardenas, from Mud and Ink Teaching

Title: "The Zoo" by Edward D. Hoch
Category: American Literature, Science Fiction
Theme: Be careful of Technology
Why it's worth teaching: Students love this story because of the twist at the end.
-Kristy, from 2 Peas and a Dog

Title: "Hills like White Elephants"
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Category: American Literature
Themes: travel, relationships, abortion
Why it's worth teaching: If you don't have room for a Hemingway novel in your course, it's nice to share his striking, spare descriptive style with students through a short story. In this one, a couple drink at the train station while discussing whether to have a procedure. While the man continuously argues that the procedure will put their lives back to what they have always been, happy and full of hope, the woman argues that they have now lost that freedom but that she will do it because she doesn't care about herself. As the story ends, it's entirely unclear what will happen.
-Betsy, from Spark Creativity

Title: "The Lottery"
Author: Shirley Jackson
Category: American Literature
Themes: horror, dystopian
Why it's worth teaching: “The Lottery” is a wonderful story to teach if your students enjoy dystopian literature. The surprise ending raises questions about morality, persecution, traditions, and rituals. It’s the perfect story to work on making connections because it overlaps with common YA literature, like The Hunger Games.





Title: "The Jacket"
Author: Gary Soto
Category: American Literature, Memoir
Themes: Poverty, bullying, identity
Why it's worth teaching: This story is perfect to use with middle schoolers. Teens can connect with the pain of being outcasted because of your clothing. Teachers can delve deep into symbolism and character development with this short story. These are two of the hardest concepts to teach students to integrate into their writing!
-Amanda Werner, from Amanda Write Now

Title: “The Scarlet Ibis”
Author: James Hurst
Category: American Lit
Themes: tragedy, coming-of-age
Why it's worth teaching: I love reading “The Scarlet Ibis” with freshmen for many reasons! It’s a great model text for author’s craft. Teachers and students can explore how flashbacks and foreshadowing as well as description and narration are used to impact the overall story’s flow.

Title: "Test"
Author: Theodore Thomas
Category: American Literature
Themes: man vs. technology, psychology, dystopian
Why it's worth teaching: The narrator explains in great detail his afternoon drive which turns into a deadly car crash. Spoiler - it's actually a simulation for his driver's permit. But students are always surprised when he fails the test and the harsh reprogramming and punishment that follows. This story is especially relevant as our students are learning to drive and as changing technology is drastically changing how our society functions. A fun activity I pair with this is an online driver simulation; as a bell ringer, we have a contest to see who's the best driver. Obviously, a free online driver test is not accurate, and this leads to lively discussions about what makes a good driver.
-Amanda, from Engaging and Effective

Title: “Eleven”
Author: Sandra Cisneros
Category: American Literature, Chicana Literature
Themes: realistic fiction, coming-of-age
Why it's worth teaching: “Eleven” is inspired by a real experience Cisneros had in 3rd grade. It provides opportunities to explore isolation, misunderstanding, and stream-of-consciousness writing. Because it is so short, it is an excellent mentor text for workshop classrooms. With a lower reading level, it’s also good for engaging struggling readers.

BRITISH LITERATURE: STORIES

Title: "The Landlady"
Author: Roald Dahl
Category: British Literature
Themes: reality vs. appearance
Why it's worth teaching: This story is told from the perspective of a young man renting a room in a small town with which he's not familiar. Students really enjoy putting together all the pieces (making lots of inferences) and figuring out what's going on before the narrator does. It's a dark story with a shocking ending, so it's always a crowd-pleaser in my classroom.
-Amanda, from Engaging and Effective

Title: "Lamb to the Slaughter"
Author: Roald Dahl
Category: British Literature, Thriller
Theme: Be careful how you treat people
Why it's worth teaching: Students love this story because the character is so seemingly "harmless" and tricks the police.
-Kristy, from 2 Peas and a Dog

GOTHIC LITERATURE: STORIES

Title: "A Rose for Emily"
Author: William Faulkner
Category: American Literature

Title: "The Fall of the House of Usher"
Author: Edgar Allen Poe
Category: American Literature

Title: "The Company of Wolves"
Author: Angela Carter
Category: British Literature

Why they're worth teaching: There's no doubt that when it comes to highly engaging themes in literature, the Gothic genre can't be beat.  This is my go-to genre to engage readers across levels, and these three stories in particular use literary elements in innovative ways that leave plenty of room for discussion and interpretation.  "A Rose for Emily" provides a platform for discussing how point of view affects the theme of a story as well as the consequences of strict gender roles.  Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher" not only uses eloquent vocabulary in typical Poe style but also explores a narrative technique that builds mystery.  "The Company of Wolves" by Angela Carter is a fantastical retelling of the traditional "Little Red Riding Hood" tale that allows readers to examine how we perceive similar stories.  Since students will already (most-likely) be familiar with the plot, they can focus on the language and narrative techniques Carter uses to build mystery and suspense.  As a grouping, these three short stories will draw students in to literary analysis.
-Meredith, from Bespoke ELA



DYSTOPIA: STORIES

Title: "The Lottery"
Author: Shirley Jackson
Category: American Literature
Themes: horror, dystopian
Why it's worth teaching: “The Lottery” is a wonderful story to teach if your students enjoy dystopian literature. The surprise ending raises questions about morality, persecution, traditions, and rituals. It’s the perfect story to work on making connections because it overlaps with common YA literature, like The Hunger Games.

Title: "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"
Author: Ursula LeGuin
Category: American Literature
Themes: Fantasy, Dystopia, social justice
Why it's worth teaching: This story (with some mature themes) describes a utopia in a way that is both specific and vague. LeGuin leaves room for you to imagine it to be however you want it to be, and makes it seem that it only exists in your imagination, as a way to think about an issue. The utopia becomes a dystopia partway through, when you discover that all that is good in the society exists because of the torturous life of one small child, who can never be released from misery or the society will collapse. This story pairs well with any dystopian unit, but would also stand alone as a very interesting springboard for discussion about how societies care for those who suffer.
-Betsy, from Spark Creativity 

Title: "Harrison Bergeron"
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Category: American Literature
Themes: Dystopia
Why it's worth teaching: Vonnegut has so many levels of complexity in this piece making it perfect for so many different student audiences.  On its surface, it's a stark look at the dystopian genre and what happens when the world becomes overly desensitized to violence.  It's also a great entry point into the topic of equality versus equity:  what do we really need in America?  On it's many deeper levels, Vonnegut uses dark, satirical humor to point out some major flaws in American society.
-Amanda Cardenas, from Mud and Ink Teaching

Title: "Test"
Author: Theodore Thomas
Category: American Literature
Themes: man vs. technology, psychology, dystopian
Why it's worth teaching: The narrator explains in great detail his afternoon drive which turns into a deadly car crash. Spoiler - it's actually a simulation for his driver's permit. But students are always surprised when he fails the test and the harsh reprogramming and punishment that follows. This story is especially relevant as our students are learning to drive and as changing technology is drastically changing how our society functions. A fun activity I pair with this is an online driver simulation; as a bell ringer, we have a contest to see who's the best driver. Obviously, a free online driver test is not accurate, and this leads to lively discussions about what makes a good driver.
-Amanda, from Engaging and Effective

WORLD LITERATURE: STORIES

Title: "Apollo"
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Category: World Literature (Nigerian)
Themes: identity, disconnect with parents, first love, betrayal
Why it's worth teaching: I love Adichie's Ted Talk, "The Danger of a Single Story," and went searching for more of her work. In this story, the protagonist reflects on a childhood in which he felt highly disconnected from his academic parents, and sought solace in a fellow Kung Fu-loving friend who worked for his family in a position with no power at all. The story ends with a brokenhearted betrayal that comes as quite a surprise.
-Betsy, from Spark Creativity

THE SIX WORD SHORT STORY
Another category of short stories, invented by Hemingway, is the six-word story. Narrative Magazine online shares several examples and invites readers to submit their own (though you probably won't want to, because of the submission fee - ew). This could make a fun project to go along with any short story unit, perhaps creating a gallery of stories with related images in the hallway outside your classroom or the school library.

"For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn." —Ernest Hemingway

"Longed for him. Got him. Shit." —Margaret Atwood

"All those pages in the fire." —Janet Burroway

You can find more examples over here at HuffPost. 

Hopefully you've discovered some great short stories to add to your curriculum and perhaps some project ideas too. What's your favorite short story to teach? What do your students like about it? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

2 comments

  1. Awesome sauce! We use quite a bit of these stories, and we plan to add some from the list. Thanks for sharing. We love the six word story strategy.

    ReplyDelete

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