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May 27, 2016
13 short stories for engaging secondary students & teaching literary elements.
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These are great selections. I don't, however, think Big is similar to Sound of Thunder or Groundhog Day.
I'm not a teacher but your list prompted me to sigh up for your blog. thought provoking and well written
I would love a list of engaging short stories for my 10th grade English class that include African American characters
Sharon, That would be a great list to have. "Thank You Ma'm," which is one the above list, would work. I've also taught "Marigolds" and used excerpts from larger works like Black Boy and Invisible Man.
"A Worn Path" is a great option.
Great list! I've used many of them in my high school English classes over the years. The Scarlet Ibis is one of my personal favorites, too.
What short stories by a Mexican-background or Central American-background writer might you suggest? I saw the Cisneros' recommendation. Thank you.
Hi Christine, "American History" by Judith Ortiz Cofer or any of her other short stories would be good. I've used excerpts from Jimmy Santiago Baca's autobiography, A Place to Stand, excerpts from Luis Rodriguez's autobiography, Always Running, and short stories from Drown by Junot Diaz with high school students. Hope those help! Thanks, Brynn Allison
I purchased the lesson 4. The Lady, or The Tiger? by Frank Stockton, however I am not able to open it. It keeps giving me an error message.
Hi Stacy, Thanks for reaching out to me. It sounds like a tech issue with the download so it might be best to contact TPT Help directly about your purchase or send me an email at [email protected] and I can put in a help ticket for you. Thanks, Brynn Allison
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Secondary 10 Short Stories High School Teachers Love
These compelling short stories are sure to engage your students!
When it’s time to plan a new unit, it can be daunting to find high-quality, relatable short stories your students will enjoy. That’s why we’ve put together a roundup of engaging, thematically rich stories that high school teachers love.
Whether you’re new to CommonLit or a longtime CommonLit fan looking to refresh your lesson plans, you’re sure to find a great text for your students from this list!
“ Showdown ” by Shirley Jackson (9th Grade)
In this short story, the town of Mansfield is haunted — stuck reliving the same day because the townspeople stood by and watched Thad Ruskin kill Tom Harper, his daughter’s beloved. Once Billy figures out they are reliving the same day, he realizes that he needs to stop the murder, which might help the town escape the haunting. This is a great story for analyzing how authors build suspense.
“ The Pedestrian ” by Ray Bradbury (9th Grade)
In this dystopian science fiction story, set in a technology-dominated society, Leonard Mead is out for an evening walk. He is stopped by an automated police car, which asks him why he does not own a television. The police car determines that because of Mr. Mead’s “regressive” view of technology, he must be brought to a psychiatric center, and it takes him away. This text provides students with an interesting opportunity to reflect on the use of technology in society.
“ Two Kinds ” by Amy Tan (9th Grade)
In this excerpt from The Joy Luck Club , June’s mother is determined to make June some kind of prodigy. Eventually, she decides June will be a piano prodigy, but June is determined not to try very hard. When June plays wrong note after wrong note at a recital, her mother is stricken, and they have a terrible fight. June reflects on this experience later in life and comes to reconcile her mother’s ambitions for her with her own. This is a great text for analyzing character development and relationships.
“ Rules of the Game ” by Amy Tan (9th Grade)
In another excerpt from The Joy Luck Club , Waverly recounts her memories of growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown and her relationship with her mother. One Christmas, Waverly’s brother receives a chess set and she is determined to learn how to play. Waverly becomes a skilled player, but she also begins to feel suffocated by her mother’s pride. This is a great text for studying the use of metaphor, as chess represents the conflict between Waverly and her mother.
“ He — Y, Come On Ou — t! ” by Shinichi Hoshi, translated by Stanleigh Jones (9th Grade)
This allegorical science fiction tale tells of a small village that discovers a newly formed hole nearby. After shouting into the hole and tossing in a pebble, the townspeople hear no echo and start squabbling over what to do about this curiosity. Soon, a businessman claims the hole and starts charging people to dispose of their trash. The townspeople forget all about the mystery of the hole until the day they hear a shout from the sky and see a single pebble falling down. This text offers commentary on the consequences of acting selfishly and not respecting the environment.
“ Eraser Tattoo ” by Jason Reynolds (10th Grade)
In “Eraser Tattoo,” teenagers Shay and Dante sit on a stoop in Brooklyn reflecting on their relationship as they wait for Shay’s parents to finish packing up to move out of town. Shay uses a pencil eraser to give Dante a friction burn in the shape of an “S.” As they make their final goodbyes, Dante knows that the hurt of the moment will fade but he is forever changed by Shay–just as his arm will retain the scar of the eraser tattoo. This text offers an opportunity for students to analyze how dialogue develops characters and reveals theme.
“ Safety of Numbers ” by Lucy Tan (10th Grade)
In this story, a Chinese-American teenager just wants to hang out with her friends; she doesn’t understand why her mother pressures her so much to study for the SATs. Over time, she begins to understand her mother by learning of her experiences in China and with the Tiananmen Square Massacre. This is a great story to analyze complex characters and how characters may change over time.
“ Cooking Time ” by Anita Roy (10th Grade)
Set in a dystopian future, “Cooking Time” tells the story of a world in which all natural sources of food have been destroyed. People subsist on synthetic food tubes produced by a large and powerful corporation. A passionate young girl aspires to taste and cook real food by way of a competition reality TV show in which contestants time travel to retrieve real ingredients. This poignant story offers an opportunity for students to understand how science fiction is used to make social commentary about the real world.
“ Marigolds ” by Eugenia Collier (10th Grade)
In this classic short story, Lizabeth recalls a moment from her childhood that marked the end of her innocence. In the midst of the Great Depression, young Lizabeth feels confused and afraid of the upheaval in her family and community. Her inner turmoil drives her to destroy Miss Lottie’s beautiful marigolds. This thematically rich text is great for analyzing symbolism, as the marigolds represent different things to Lizabeth and Miss Lottie.
“ The Wretched and the Beautiful ” by E. Lily Yu (10th Grade)
This science fiction story asks the reader to consider what it truly means to be human. In it, one group of aliens — who appear to be grotesque and in poor health — arrive and ask for asylum on earth. Another group arrives, but they are fewer, have more resources, and appear incredibly beautiful. This story uses symbolism to discuss the concepts of prejudice, immigration, and charity.
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15 More Short Stories for Engaging Secondary Students & Teaching Literary Elements
This post originally appeared on the blog The Literary Maven .
1. “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs “My students love this creepy story! But more than that, they love the suspenseful ending that leaves them wondering, questioning, and debating. This story is perfect for teaching foreshadowing, point of view, and irony. A fantastic gem of a story that students referenced throughout the school year.” *Recommended by Marypat from Just Add Students
2. “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl “I love teaching this story for its surprise actions from a seemingly harmless protagonist. I start off with a PBL exercise written from the cop’s perspective, and students make inferences to decide how and why Mrs. Maloney killed her husband. Once students have solved the mystery, we read the full story. Then, students choose whether to write a closing argument as either Mrs. Maloney’s defense lawyer or as the prosecution. Even though we all know she’s guilty, it’s fun to hear the arguments they come up with!” *Recommended by Danielle @ Nouvelle ELA
3. “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury “Bradbury is by far one of my favorite authors. He manages to convey so much emotion and use so many different forms of figurative language, and yet his language is pretty simple. I’ve used it with high elementary students, middle school, and high school students. EVERYONE connects to the story. Even though it takes place in a strange time in another planet, EVERYONE can relate to the concept of bullying. Especially in this time of cyberbullying, it is important to bring up the conversation of advocating for others, in your class. This story not only is great for analysis; it also allows you to really delve into this topic without seeming preachy. It’s great for summer school students stuck inside, or for a story in the midst of winter when you’re craving sunshine. Heck, use it at the start of school as you feel summer leaving you. I promise you your students will love creating their own ending, finding the literary devices, and applying this story to their lives!” *Recommended by Carissa, mELTing Teacher
4. “Ruthless” by William De Mille “This story is an absolute hidden gem! Judson Webb, an arrogant business man, gets caught in his own nefarious web. Webb wants revenge against a supposed thief. He sets a trap and… (well, I’ll let you discover what happens). This short story provides an excellent introduction or revision activity for close analysis of language, inference, characterization, and narrative structure. Furthermore, it will allow your students to debate issues of justice, cause and effect, responsibility, and revenge. A perfect package for engaging analytical and critical thinking.” *Recommended by Louisa Enstone, Literature Daydreams
6. “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin “Can a person die of a broken heart? Kate Chopin poses this question with her classic tale, ‘The Story of an Hour.’ The surprise ending provides an ironic twist that will engage your students and make them reconsider the obvious answer. Despite being set in the late nineteenth century, students will no doubt relate to the themes of love and personal freedom. This brief, yet poignant story, is packed with teachable literary elements and demonstrates the brilliance of Chopin’s craft.” *Recommended by Kim, OCBeachTeacher
7. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros “I enjoy reading and teaching this story to my special education middle school students in the beginning of the year. Although some of my students may not be eleven at the time we read this story, the lesson is one that we can all identify with. There are times when we all can act mature and our age but there are other times where for no apparent reason, we act immature and childish. We all get embarrassed and are put in situations where we wish we could’ve acted differently. I like teaching this story in the beginning of the year because it gives my students and myself a common experience to draw from. I get to learn about my students from their personal experiences and they get to see that I am not perfect but a human also who makes mistakes, just like them.” *Recommended by Kristin Muse, Samson’s Shoppe
8. “Test” By Theodore Thomas “My students love this short story because it has a huge twist at the end which is completely unexpected. It is also realistic fiction/science fiction cross-over, which are two genres most students really enjoy reading. This story is great to teach story elements of plot, characters, theme, setting and conflict, and is just one of the stories students read during my short story unit, which culminates with a Short Story Choice Board . Students are given a choice board with the main focus areas of reading, writing, oral, visual/media. Each topic has three different choices for each focus area. Students are required to select one option from each column to complete and then hand in to be assessed. *Recommended by 2peasandadog by Kristy Avis
9. “Lob’s Girl” by Joan Aiken “Its tale of loyalty and friendship combined with mystery and suspense make it an incredibly engaging read. Students develop skills in understanding short story elements, mood development, theme, foreshadowing, vocabulary, dialect, and writing while reading this story. ‘Lob’s Girl’ taps into students’ natural love of animals and keeps them intrigued until the very end!” *Recommended by Mary Beth, Brain Waves Instruction
10. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson “This dark short story is an awesome way to spark great conversations OR jump-start a unit on a dystopian novel; for example, I teach this short story right before we start reading The Giver in 8th grade. It’s a fairly easy read, since there’s so much dialogue, but it raises great questions about whether or not societies should follow traditions and why. We also like to build ‘conspiracy theories’ about whether or not dystopian authors of books like The Giver and The Hunger Games were inspired by (or plagiarized) this short story.” *Recommended by Secondary Sara
11. “ Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambara “‘Raymond’s Run,’ by Toni Cade Bambara, is a story I love teaching with my middle school students. The first-person narrator, Squeaky, grabs everyone’s attention with her ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ attitude. Bambara uses long, rambling, descriptive sentences to show us Squeaky’s confidence as a runner, her fierce loyalty to her mentally-challenged brother, Raymond, and her determination to rise above peer pressure. There are an abundance of theme topics for discussion and writing! Also, it’s a perfect story to track the way a character changes over the course of a text, since at the story’s end, Squeaky has a different perception of both her brother and her opponents. After reading, my students enjoy creating a foldable Story Brochure, which focuses on several different tasks including character traits, illustrating a conflict, new words, theme, summary, and close reading questions.” *Recommended by Joy Sexton
12. “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury “One of my favorite short stories to teach is Ray Bradbury’s futuristic, yet cautionary tale, ‘There Will Come Soft Rains.’ This story is phenomenal for teaching setting, foreshadowing, and theme. When I teach this story, I really focus on setting. I want students to pay attention to every detail of the house. I want them to understand the way in which this family lived in this smart house. As they look at and analyze the setting of this story, I urge them to discuss why they think this house is empty, and where they think its occupants are. As we finish reading the story, I ask them to tell me what happened to its occupants and why they think it happened. This generally leads to a conversation about theme – which usually revolves around technology and war. After reading the story, I like to complete a poetry analysis activity where I have my students analyze the poem for which the story is titled. There Will Come Soft Rains’ is a must-read in the secondary English classroom.” *Recommended by The Daring English Teacher
13. “ The Schoolmistress” by Anton Chekhov “It’s no secret that when learners link their lives to literature as they do through contrasts in this story, they gain and retain far more. What’s less known though, is how teens make relevant links between literature and learning – in ways that cultivate curiosity, build on their diverse intelligences, and lead to meaningful and brain based takeaways. This story invites personal links that help students to enjoy and learn literature in ways that offer lived experiences to bring alive Anton Chekhov’s classic story, and their own. They start by recalling similar experiences to those they predict in the story, and end by pass a talking stick to share and compare story parts that relate to their interests and experiences.” *Recommended by Ellen Weber – Brain based tasks for growth mindset
14. “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury “‘The Veldt’ is a chilling dystopian short story about the power of technology in our lives. We all enjoy various electronics as they make our lives easier, but can it go too far and be too much? I love to use this idea to ‘hook’ my middle school students at the beginning of the year as they love their technology. You can imagine that a Socratic Seminar revolving around this theme really fires them up! We discuss how technology impacts our lives, both positive and negative, and even about how doing some things for yourself might be better than having all things done for you. It’s a perfect lead-in to establishing expectations for the year and creating an environment of personal responsibility and self-motivation that can be supported by technology but hopefully not dominated by it!” *Recommended by Lisa at Mrs Spangler in the Middle
15. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce “‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce is one of the short stories that I use as part of my fall boot camp . I use it to teach the point of view; it is written in third person but as a stream of consciousness. The story is a frame story where the middle section is an alternate reality. In addition the story takes place during the Civil War, which makes it an excellent choice for any American Literature or American History class. My students are usually drawn in by the alternate reality and shocked by the ending.” *Recommended by Sarah from Kovescence of the Mind
Samantha in Secondary
10 Best Short Stories for High School English Class
May 30, 2022 by Samantha H.
Finding the best short stories for high school English class can be difficult, but it’s definitely a worthy pursuit. I totally believe that high school English classes need more short stories, not less. Short stories are the best compromise with my reluctant readers, and I’ve yet to find an ELA standard that I couldn’t cover with a short story. Short stories are perfect for covering a variety of topics if you are pressed for time, and they are great for digging deep into singular topics if you’re looking for variety. Read on for some of my favorite works and learn how I use them in my ELA classroom below.
#1: “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
I almost always start any short story unit with “The Veldt”. It’s a Ray Bradbury classic. This work focuses on letting children be raised by technology. Students certainly have strong opinions about the topic. Parents, George and Lydia, have a wonderful automated home – including a virtual entertainment nursery that their children Peter and Wendy spend most of their time in. When some of their fantasies turn disturbing, George and Lydia go so far as to decide they will move to the country and abandon the house entirely. The twisted ending is enough to keep this in the “best of’ list. Students are ALWAYS shocked by the ending.
I love this short story as a literary element review. I start with it to show students that short stories can be interesting and have a lot of depth, but this one in particular tends to be very easy to point out literary elements. I have a great literary element review activity that you can use for this story right here . It is definitely one of the best short stories for high school you will be able to find.
#2: “The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury
This story follows a single night in the life of Leonard Mead in 2053. I find it highly telling to discuss Bradbury’s premonitions about the future of our society’s dependence on technology and its effects. It’s a great example of a strong man vs. technology conflict. You can also discuss what “authority” or “majority” think about those who stand out from the crowd and are nonconformers. You can find activities for this short story here .
Ray Bradbury’s writing is full of intriguing plot lines, ties to technology and science fiction, and focuses on strong themes. If you’re looking for insight on why Bradbury is still a relevant author to your secondary ELA classrooms, read my input and suggestions here . He’s one of my favorite “classic” storytellers that I still include year after year.
#3: “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
This short story follows young husband and wife, Della and Jim, and their quest to find each other the perfect gift. I love this classic. It’s so wholesome, and a great story for around the holidays or before a break when you aren’t quite ready to start a whole new unit. The theme is strong and it’s a great reminder for anyone. I have a bundle of activities that are ready to go and easily modified to fit the timeframe you are working under. Before, during, and after reading activities are all available, as well as a quiz and children’s book activity. The book activity is a PERFECT day before holiday break activity. Students can even use the template to share with their families as a gift if they’d like.
#4: “Marigolds” by Eugenia Collier
This is a story about moments we lose our innocence or learn we’re leaving our childhood. This story is a reflection for the narrator, remembering her childhood during the Great Depression. Your high school students can reflect on their own childhood, moments they realized they were dealing with “grown up” issues, or felt like the innocence of childhood was over. This touching story is also available in my store with a variety of activities to choose from. “Marigolds” is certainly one of the best short stories for high school.
#5: “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a classic short story that has been read by high school students for generations. The story is set in a small town where the residents hold an annual lottery to determine who will be sacrificed to ensure a good harvest. Although the story is fiction, it contains many elements that are relevant to real life. For example, the theme of mob mentality is something that everyone can relate to. Additionally, the story highlights the dangers of blindly following tradition. As a result, The Lottery is a thought-provoking story that can encourage high school students to question the status quo and think for themselves.
This is the type of short story that stays with you long after you’ve read. Students love this one and it creates great discussions. The ending is both morbid and insightful. Your students will love digging into this one.
#6: “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst
The Scarlet Ibis is a novel by James Hurst that tells the story of two brothers who are very different from each other. One brother, Doodle, is born with a heart condition and is not expected to live very long. The other brother, no larger than Doodle and just as frail, strives to make his brother stronger. This heart-warming story not only teaches the importance of family, but also highlights the power of determination and perseverance. High school students can relate to the challenges that the brothers face, and they will be inspired by the lengths to which the older brother goes to ensure Doodle’s survival. The Scarlet Ibis is a novel that will stay with readers long after they have finished it.
#7: “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Black Cat” is a perfect choice for high school students. For one thing, it’s a quick read—perfect for when you’re short on time. But don’t let its brevity fool you; “The Black Cat” is a complex and intricately crafted tale of guilt, madness, and revenge. Poe masterfully builds suspense throughout the story, leaving readers on the edge of their seats until the very end. What’s more, the story provides valuable insights into the dark side of human nature. Through the narrator’s downward spiral into madness, Poe shows how easily good people can be driven to horrific acts by their own demons. In today’s world, where mass shootings and hate crimes seem to be all too common, “The Black Cat” serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of remaining aware of our darkest impulses. For all these reasons, high school students would be wise to give this classic story a try.
Any of Poe’s short stories rank under the best short stories for high school. If you’re studying Edgar Allan Poe, I have a great research organizer to help your students learn more about him, plus an entire blog post with more activity ideas.
#8: “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
The most dangerous game is a thrilling tale of survival and suspense. Set on a remote island, the story follows the hunt for a human prey by a ruthless hunter. While the novel may seem like a simple tale of good versus evil, it is actually much more complex. The most dangerous game raises important questions about morality, justice, and the nature of violence. As such, it is an excellent choice for high school students who are looking for something more than just entertainment value. In addition to being a great story, the most dangerous game can help to foster critical thinking and discussion among students.
I can clearly remember the first time I read this story myself. It was one of the stories that intrigued me enough to consider that maybe there were books out there worth reading. It’s such a formative memory in my reading history that I can remember it clearly. Short stories can be so powerful in that way. I truly believe your students will love this one.
#9: “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes
High school students should read “Thank You, Ma’am” because it is a relatable story with an important message. The story is about a young boy who tries to steal a woman’s purse, but she ends up teaching him a lesson about respect and compassion. Although the story is set in the past, the themes are still relevant today. Students can learn a lot from the characters in the story, and they will be able to relate to the challenges that they face. In addition, the story is beautifully written and it has a powerful ending that will stay with readers long after they finish reading it. This is truly one of the best short stories for high school English class.
#10: “The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty
The Sniper is a classic war story that has been thrilling readers for generations. The story follows a sniper as he tries to survive during the Irish Civil War. It is an excellent example of the human capacity for endurance and courage in the face of impossible odds. As such, it is an inspiring read for high school students who may be facing their own challenges. The story also highlights the importance of quick thinking and resourcefulness, both of which are valuable skills for students to develop. In addition, the Sniper provides a realistic and harrowing look at the horrors of war, making it an important read for any student who is interested in history or current events. Overall, The Sniper is a timeless tale that is well worth reading for high school students.
I really love combining short stories into their own unit. If you want to mix classics with contemporary into a seamless unit, look no further than my Short Story Unit . It’s flexible and thorough and offers many of the titles you see above.
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Short Stories for High School
We recommend these stories for high school students based on their literary significance and to deepen student appreciation for the short story genre. Many are iconic works, often anthologized, and serve as common cultural reference points in literature, film, music, and popular culture. These are the stories that well-read students should know as they prepare for college and life! Short Stories for High School II is our encore collection. You may also enjoy Poetry for Students , Civil War Stories and WWI Stories .
- An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce This famous story, set during the American Civil War, is widely regarded as a short story masterpiece. The story of Peyton Farquhar is about a man about to be hanged, whose love for his wife and children help him envision his escape. We offer a useful Study Guide
- The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin This short story takes the reader on an emotional journey and was quite controversial when it was published in 1894 as The Dream of an Hour before being republished under this title in 1895. Most readers experience varying degrees of discomfort while reading this story, a testament to its power. This selection is an excellent entry point for a discussion about why feminist literature began to appear at this time and how people reacted. Here's our Study Guide
- The Storm by Kate Chopin If you have read The Story of an Hour then you probably understand that Ms. Chopin was willing to write about love and relationships in their entirety, embracing the complexities and mysteries of that realm. In this story she takes on the sensitive issue of infidelity. This is a story for more mature and advanced high school classes.
- A Dark Brown Dog by Stephen Crane This is a story that works at several levels and is easily read as a sad and tragic morality tale about animal cruelty. For advanced readers, this story merits classroom discussion as a symbolic tale. Probably written in 1893, it's an interesting cross-section of literature and history that might be commenting on Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. What if the dog, still dragging a rope, is representative of recently freed slaves? If we accept that symbolic starting point, who is the little boy? The mother, the father? And what does the story mean in that context? Use our Study Guide
- Trifles by Susan Glaspell Before Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll's House, he noted in 1878 that, “A woman cannot be herself in the society of the present day which is an exclusively masculine society with laws framed by men and with the judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a masculine point of view.” Glaspell drives the point home brilliantly in this short play, which she later adapted into a short story, A Jury of Her Peers .
- The Hanging Stranger by Philip K. Dick Ed had always been a practical man, when he saw something was wrong he tried to correct it. Then one day he saw it hanging in the town square.
- Home Burial by Robert Frost This is a poem. Not a short story. Don't let that stop you. Frost uses about 1,010 words to teach you something about the complexity of life, death, marriage, longing, loss, and parenthood. Take note of the emotional and physical position of the characters in relationship to one another over the course of the poem. And please take the time to consider the historical context: Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Lincoln, McKinley, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan, Bush. An incomplete list of presidents? No. That is an incomplete list of presidential couples that lost at least one child. This poem was not addressing a remote emotional experience when written in 1914. It was addressing a tragedy and emotional trauma that was all too common in the United States then and is still too common in many parts of the world today.
- The Girl Who Got Rattled by Stewart Edward White This story was adapted in the Coen Brothers' movie, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), in the vignette titled The Gal Who Got Rattled .
- The Interlopers by H.H. Munro In this man versus man versus nature story, two feuding neighbors venture into the woods carrying guns; one to hunt, the other to put down a trespasser. The two are fated to meet and reap the rewards of their bitter quarrel over a piece of land.
- The Fly by Katherine Mansfield We now turn to New Zealander Katherine Mansfield for a short story that is multi-themed and laden with symbolism. What are the messages the author delivers in this story? What does the fly represent? Are there any ideas that reappear in the story? The Fly is a great candidate story for an essay or classroom discussion. The story provides the literary experience of looking at a mountain field; the longer you look, the more you see. Every student's perspective is different and so is their view of this story's field.
- Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson A delightful mosaic of stand-alone, but related stories describing the development of a young man, George Willard , as he comes of age. The stories mark the significant episodes and relationships that have shaped his life and formed his character. The stories build toward the moment when he will leave Winesburg and his youth behind. Each story can be enjoyed independently, revealing flawed yet endearing characters in Anderson's naturalist style.
- Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock This is a fantastically funny short story collection from the Canadian author Stephen Leacock. Though largely lost to modern readers, it was once commonly said that "more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than Canada." If this one is not on your reading list, I advise you to negotiate with your teacher for some extra credit and read this one independently.
- The Open Boat by Stephen Crane This sublime story is based on the true-life ordeal that Crane endured in 1897 when a ship he boarded for Cuba ran aground and sank off the Florida coast. A ten-foot long dinghy is a small boat for four men in calm water, it must have been rather harrowing in rough seas. While this is another man versus nature story, it focuses more on nature's indiscriminate carelessness, and I admire this narrative's understated style.
- Desiree's Baby by Kate Chopin It is hard to comment on this story's content without spoiling its powerful effect on the reader, so I will refrain other than to recommend it for classrooms that are ready for mature discussions of sensitive topics. I think this story is best when previewed by the teacher, then assigned to the whole class for reading and a follow-up discussion.
- Araby by James Joyce Araby is a compelling short story with valuable lessons and revelations for the adolescent reader. It deals with the hazards of romance and follows a young man that has developed a crush on his friend's sister; "I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood. " Many readers consider Araby to be their favorite James Joyce short story, perhaps a precursor to Ulysses .
- Two Friends by Guy de Maupassant A story about loyalty in which Sauvage and Morissot share far more than a passion for fishing during wartime.
- Eve's Diary by Mark Twain In this playful and funny short story, Mark Twain makes a humorous accounting of the differences between the sexes, writing first from Eve's point of view and then following up with Adam's point of view. This story is a gentle reminder that it's okay to lighten up and laugh at our differences.
- The Minister's Black Veil by Nathaniel Hawthorne Hawthorne's story is one of the finest in the genre of Dark Romanticism. Why will no one ask Reverend Hooper why he wears it? Read our helpful Study Guide
- The Boarded Window by Ambrose Bierce "There is a point at which terror may turn to madness . . ." Physically, this story is set on the American frontier -- hint coming -- but that may not be where all the action takes place! The Boarded Window is a great story for in-class reading and discussion.
More recommended titles are available in Short Stories for High School II . You may also enjoy Morality Tales and 25 Great American Novels
8 Short Stories Your Picky High Schoolers Will Love
A short stories unit is a staple in many literature classrooms. Somet teachers use short stories to begin the year . Others use short stories as complements to larger units . And others use short stories for another purpose like teaching literary criticism .
However, selecting short stories can be a challenge. Finding a short story that is at grade-level, engages readers, and lends itself to content skills and standards can be time consuming. And once you have the story, you still have to make instructional decisions.
To make that process easier, I’ve collected 8 short stories that work well for 9-12 ELA (most of which are bundled together here ). As I was making selections, I was inspired by Women’s History Month . Check out these 8 short story suggestions!
The Starter Pack
A short story unit is a great way to calibrate students’ strengths and needs. Even if you don’t have time for an entire unit, using one or two short stories can be an effective way to assess student ability and/or to teach classroom expectations for reading and interacting with texts .
When selecting short stories for diagnostic or introductory purposes, teachers are looking for shorter pieces without new content. If you want to determine what students already know, it’s not fair to throw a new literary technique (like irony ) at them. Similarly, if the goal of a lesson is to teach close reading expectations, then you will undermine the lesson by choosing an intimidating piece.
Here are two text suggestions:
– “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid : Because it is so short, this is a great piece for introducing close reading strategies or reading expectations. Kincaid’s entire story is one long sentence, so this text is also an opportunity to teach syntax and author’s purpose . This would also be a great text for Women’s History Month because it focuses on complex family relationships. Check out my resources for this story here .
– “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett : While this piece is longer than “Girl,” the plot is fairly straightforward. For this reason, this is a good diagnostic piece. Additionally, this piece lends itself to analysis of character, symbolism, and American regionalism. Check out my resources for this story here .
Short Stories for Literary Elements
Short stories can also be great tools for teaching specific literary elements. Here are suggestions for stories that relate to specific literary techniques.
– “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty is a great text for teaching deliberate ambiguity and symbolism. The story of Phoenix Jackson also provides unique commentary on Americana. Check out my resources for this story here .
– “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” by Katherine Anne Porter is a great text for analyzing stream of consciousness, flash back, and unreliable narrators. Check out my resources for teaching this text here .
– “Editha” by William Dean Howells is a great piece of analyzing historical context . With “Editha,” teachers and students can explore American Realism, characterization, and irony. Check out my resources for this text here .
CommonLit (one of the great websites to use for finding new texts ) also has a search feature that allows teachers to filter text by literary technique. This is a great tool for working backwards to design lessons focused on specific literary elements.
Short Stories for Literary Criticism
Short stories are also a great way to introduce literary criticism . Because short stories are so brief, they make great tools for students to approach for various critical angles. Additionally, short stories provide authors with a finite amount of space, which means that author’s purpose is often easier for students to find. Literary criticism is a great friend of author’s purpose , so each short story is a critical opportunity!
– “A New England Nun” by Mary E. Freeman is my absolute favorite short story. The main character Louisa is unlike anyone else in American literature. And her story is fit for feminist, psychoanalytical, and Marxist criticism! Check out my resources for this story here .
– “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is the gold standard in American short stories. Reading the text alongside Gilman’s “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’?” also provides students with the opportunity for biographical and historical criticism . Check out my resources for this story here .
-Finally, in a post inspired by Women’s History Month, it might also be worth exploring the way men have portrayed women in literature. “Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “Editha” by William Dean Howells are both good opportunities to apply a feminist lens to literature. Evaluating the way these male authors portray women is a great way to practice criticism. But Fitzgerald and Howells’ portrayals of women should also be read up against a woman’s portrayal of women. The contrast is startling and should lend itself to a powerful classroom conversation.
How do you use short stories?
Regardless of how you use short stories in your classroom, these texts provide teachers with countless opportunities. Short stories can be diagnostic tools, can teach literary elements, and can provide the grounds for literary criticism. To help you use short stories in your classroom, I’ve bundled together 7 great titles and resources in this 9-12 Short Stories Bundle . It can be used as the foundation for an entire unit!
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Kristi at Moore English
14 comments, 14 texts to engage reluctant readers in high school.
[…] stories are another important classroom staple. Choosing short stories for the classroom can be tricky. Teachers have to balance standards against classroom limitations […]
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[…] “A New England Nun” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman is one of my favorite short stories! If you’ve been following Moore English for a while, you’re probably tired of this […]
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[…] my favorite text for teaching deconstruction is “A New England Nun” by Mary E. Freeman. In this short story, readers encounter Louisa, whose decision to call off her […]
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[…] I started putting together this list, these short stories were at the top of my mind. My juniors will read most of these titles in our next unit, which is […]
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[…] 7 Short Stories for 9-12 ELA […]
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[…] Employing guided reading requires an instructional spiral, moving students gradually to longer and more complex or nuanced texts. This is where lesson planning and intentionally choosing texts becomes so important. Here’s an example instructional spiral from my short stories unit: […]
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[…] student readers. While students absolutely can and should discuss other forms of literature like short stories and poetry, the length of novel study allows students to participate in multiple discussions over a […]
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[…] brevity of teaching short stories makes them great vehicles for focusing on specific skills. Some teachers use short stories at the […]
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[…] laser-focus to one skill, shorter texts might be better options. Of course, teachers could choose short stories. But if you want texts to be even shorter, then poetry may be your best bet. For this reason, […]
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[…] To begin, formalist or New Criticism is all about the unified whole. So look for a text that’s every choice points to a specific author’s purpose. Of course, students don’t usually know the lit crit lingo. However, they have been doing this type of work because formalism is the default position of most literature classes. For this reason, you may only need a short story. […]
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[…] I need to know about students’ formal skills, I choose a short story or let students choose a short story. And then I give them this prompt: How does the author use […]
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[…] critical lenses, you can either add more layers or move on to the more challenging positions. These short stories make great texts for introducing these […]
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[…] Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is such a powerful short story. It’s ripe for literary criticism. But its main character also provides commentary on women […]
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[…] I mentioned in an earlier post, instead of doing a traditional short stories and/or poetry unit, I prefer to teach a novel or drama and then supplement with thematically […]
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10 Excellent Short Stories for High School Students
As a high school English teacher, the quest to keep my curriculum relevant to my students is ongoing. I’m always on the lookout for new stories or authors that I can bring in the classroom to ensure that it’s something my students haven’t read or seen before. Of course, I’m constantly trying to change the activities to make them develop critical thinking skills. But if those activities are based around the same old tired (read: white) short stories for high school students, it often doesn’t matter how fun or innovative the activity is, the students are not interested because they can’t relate.
Why are new short stories for high school students important?
In education, we are constantly selling the idea of acquiring knowledge. Teens’ attention is being fought over by exponentially more distractions than they were even as recently as ten years ago. Instead of complaining about “kids these days” and taking the “when I was your age” stance, educators need to learn to adapt and offer students high interest stories that they can use to develop their own ideas.
I can already hear the arguments coming against this. Classics are classic for a reason. Students should be held to a high standard. I already have a year’s worth of lesson plans around The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird and am over-worked, and now you want me to change?
I get it. I’m also fighting fatigue and burnout. So keep teaching some classics if you think they are excellent works of literature that you’d hate to have students miss out on, but trying pair each in a text set with a contemporary short story with similar themes. I’m not saying that adapting means less rigor or holding students to lower standards. Kids are smart and capable. Adding in texts from diverse perspectives will only enhance the breadth of work students are exposed to, making them draw connections from their own lives and perspectives outside their own, increasing critical thinking skills. Students today also have their finger on the pulse of the world in a way most educators can’t relate to from when they were the same age. We are doing them a disservice by not acknowledging that in how we teach. We also are being willfully ignorant if we only assign “the classics” and believe the students are reading them in their entirety. Come on, y’all. We were students once, too, and know a lot of these kids aren’t starting, much less finishing, the stories we assign.
One thing I’m doing to help my students buy into reading the whole story is to make sure I have stories with people who look like them. Also, I’m making sure they have stories full of people who don’t look like them. Teenagers don’t have much life experience yet, and that makes their world views narrow because the world they live in is small, many never having left the state where they were born. Exposing them to stories from different authors of different races, religions, and cultures helps them see beyond their school district. Yes, yes, they have the internet at their fingertips and could search for these things, but the algorithm learns them quickly and continues to feed them more of the like to keep views up and keep them engaged. As teachers, we need to learn to keep them engaged by doing just the opposite.
Finding diverse short stories for high school is daunting. Just typing “contemporary short stories for high school” into Google brings back 143,000,000 results. Most of us are already working long beyond our contracted hours, and now I’m asking you to spend even more time reading stories that might not even be good or usable in class?
Don’t worry. I have some lists of short stories for high school students to get you started. The titles below are a jumping off point, not a comprehensive list. Note: Some of these stories have strong language.
- Weight by Dhonielle Clayton
- Show Me Yours by Richard Van Camp
- Goat Mouth by Pamela Mordecai
- After ‘While by Cherie Dimaline
- Bliss by Sofia Mostaghimi
- Pact by Mark Oshiro
- Origin of the Lullaby by Canisia Lubrin
- Tequila by Laura Gonzalez
- One True Love by Melinda Lo
- Valedictorian by N.K. Jemisin
Another tip I wanted to mention, but doesn’t fit neatly in the above themes, is that you can find collections of short stories online by different racial or cultural groups by switching up your default search terms. For example, Viewfinders: 10 Y.A. Novelist Spin Fiction from Vintage Photos from The New York Times came up when I searched “short stories for asian teens” but it took a little digging and clicking through to find. This collection features authors such as Malinda Lo, Soman Chainani, Marie Lu, Sabaa Tahir, and David Yoon.
Please, go back to your lesson plans and ask yourself these questions: Who’s missing? Who’s not represented? Do I have a student in my class who can’t see themselves in anything I’m teaching all year? Then find the story for that kid. That’s how we reach them, by showing them that we see them.
Here are some other resources from Book Riot that can help you on your resource search as well:
- YA Short Stories
- Find Free Short Stories
- Free Short Stories Online
- Short Story Examples in (Almost) Every Genre
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The Best Funny Short Stories To Teach in Middle and High School
I don’t know about you, but I could use a chuckle!
At least once a year, one of my freshmen would ask me why everything we read in ninth grade English was so depressing. A quick look at our curriculum revealed they did have a point. “Romeo and Juliet,” Of Mice and Men , short stories like “Lamb to the Slaughter” and “The Most Dangerous Game” all told tales of death and despair. While all are excellent, I began to wonder if I could find some different texts to add to the mix. It turns out, while scary short stories and dramatic short stories are easy to find, good funny short stories for middle and high school students are a bit trickier to track down.
With that in mind, here’s a list of funny short stories to use in your classroom when you want to bring a bit of humor to your lesson.
1. They’re Made Out of Meat by Terry Bisson
I love introducing students to science fiction. We really don’t use it enough in our English classes. In this story, two aliens discuss the bizarre new life form they’ve discovered and try to figure out how it thinks and lives. Your students will laugh out loud when they discover that the aliens are talking about humans and love figuring out the everyday activities and items the aliens just can’t seem to make sense of.
In class: This is perfect for introducing a new genre to students. After reading, ask students to craft their own science-fiction short story. As a class, brainstorm a list of activities of events that take place all the time that we think are totally normal. Then, ask students to write their version of an alien race trying to figure out a birthday party, after-school detention, or lunch in the school cafeteria.
2. Charles by Shirley Jackson
Written by the same woman who wrote the eerie short story “The Lottery,” this story is guaranteed to make students of all ages chuckle. The tale of the worst kindergarten student ever, as told by a student in the same class to his mother at the end of every school day, your students will love hearing all about Charles’s antics. The twist at the end of the tale will make students gasp and giggle.
In class: Perfect for lessons on irony , your students can debate whether Jackson’s funny short story demonstrates verbal, situational, or dramatic irony. I’ve also used this story to show students how an author can utilize dialogue as a method for developing characterization.
3. Thank You, Ma’am by Langston Hughes
Like “Charles,” this is another classic, well-known story. An older woman takes a young man under her wing after he attempts to steal her purse. As they spend time together, she teaches him a valuable lesson about life. It’s perfect for upper-elementary and middle school students.
In class: This is one of those funny short stories that lends itself to lessons about dialogue, diction, theme, and characterization. It’s also a great text to use for practice discussions or Socratic seminars. Students could easily develop questions about the actions of the characters. They could consider how they would have responded in the same situation. And they could even reimagine the story as if it were written today.
4. Lord Oakhurst’s Curse by O. Henry
While many students will have read “The Gift of the Magi,” this short story by the same author is much less well known. Lord Oakhurst is dying, his wife is grieving (or is she?), and a doctor arrives to try to help. Your students will be shocked and amused by this quick read.
In class: Indirect characterization leaps to the foreground in this funny short story as students can debate whether Lord Oakhurst’s wife is truly as sad as she says she is throughout the story. The story also makes use of flashbacks, making it great for introducing or reviewing that concept.
5. Wealthy Teen Nearly Experiences Consequence by The Onion Staff
Satire is a tough genre for so many students. The popular satirical online news magazine The Onion comes to the rescue here with a hysterical piece that, while not a short story exactly, certainly tells a tale students will guffaw over. In the article, students learn the plight of a young man who almost received severe consequences for driving while under the influence. Some satirical pieces are almost too serious for students to see as satire, but this one does a great job of taking a serious subject and turning it on its head to make a point.
In class: This piece is perfect for students who aren’t ready to grapple with some of the more complex satirical pieces they’re often given in school. If your group isn’t quite ready for Swift’s A Modest Proposal , this is a great place to start. As an introduction to satire, pairing this piece with actual news reports of cases where privileged young people have received shockingly light sentences for serious crimes will definitely keep your students engaged (and enraged?).
6. Maddened by Mystery or The Defective Detective by Stephen Leacock
This short story caper takes on the classic detective trope and mocks it mercilessly. Over-the-top costumes, mistaken identities, and a ridiculous reveal make this a truly funny short story to share with your students.
In class: I wish I still taught the mystery unit I taught for many years so that I could add this funny short story to the mix. This is a perfect piece to introduce satire. It mocks many of the most common elements of typical detective stories in a truly hilarious fashion.
7. There Was Once by Margaret Atwood
Given her popularity in current popular culture, Margaret Atwood is an author our students should know. This short story about a fairy-tale writer receiving some “constructive criticism” on how to make their story more inclusive is sure to inspire reactions among your middle or high schoolers.
In class: This is a great short story to use when teaching the importance of how dialogue can impact tone. Additionally, it would be a great piece to bring to any discussion of whether or not students should read “old” stories that have language or ideas that are considered problematic today.
8. Machiavelli in Kindergarten by Peter Schooff
Definitely one for older students, this short story had me literally laughing out loud. It is written as a series of concerned letters/emails from a kindergarten teacher to the parents of young Niccolò Machiavelli. The reports of his plans to overthrow his teacher and replace her with the school janitor are hysterical.
In class: I don’t know if The Prince is still used in many English or political science classes, but if so, what a phenomenal accompanying text this would be. It would also work as a paired text with nonfiction readings about Machiavelli. As the word “Machiavellian” appears frequently in the news stories, it could also be used as a vocabulary unit. Finally, it could be used to show students that stories can be written in a variety of formats. Ask your students to imagine what an email or text exchange between one of their favorite characters and a teacher/doctor/neighbor might look like. The results could be hilarious.
9. Joy by Anton Chekhov
The main character in this funny short story becomes famous. He rushes home to tell his family. Your students will love the reactions of his stunned family. They’ll also have plenty to say about the protagonist’s glorious new stardom.
In class: Perfect for units covering tragic heroes or characters who fall from grace, Chekhov’s work is a pretty searing commentary on the ideas surrounding what it means to be famous. Your students will have a great time making comparisons between the protagonist and various YouTube or TikTok stars of today.
10. A Dish Best Served Cold by Tristan Jimerson
Time to throw a curveball into the game. Have you heard of The Moth ? It’s an organization with the mission to “promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience.” They have open-mic storytelling nights in different cities around the country where people just stand up and tell stories based on a pre-set theme. You can find lots of them on the Moth’s website and on YouTube. This one is about a man who has his identity stolen by a Domino’s Pizza employee. His mission to get revenge will have you and your students laughing out loud.
In class: Many of the stories do include a swear word or deal with adult themes, so be sure to preview the story first. I love the idea of sharing verbal storytelling with students of all ages, especially in the context of a funny short stories unit. It’s great for reluctant readers and could make an awesome alternative assessment option.
11. The Catbird Seat by James Thurber
Written by the same author who wrote “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” this story is also about an unhappy man who dreams of improving his life. The way he accomplishes this, however, is where the humor (and some shock!) comes in.
In class: Introducing students to more challenging text can always be a bit of a tough sell, so it’s nice to have a few short stories to warm students up to the idea. Students can practice transacting with text, asking questions about sections that confuse them, and working together to build comprehension.
12. “I’m a Short Afternoon Walk and You’re Putting Way Too Much Pressure on Me” by Emily Delaney
Another curveball! I love introducing my students to examples of real-life writing that is actually going on today. While many funny short stories on this list are from the early 1900s, this piece was written in 2020 and appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. The site features humorous pieces on a variety of timely topics. While many aren’t appropriate for school, others, like this one, are perfect examples of how people are still writing and creating today. In this piece, the personified “afternoon walk” explains to the person taking it that it can’t be everything the walker needs it to be.
In class: Best suited for older middle school and high school students, I would love to use this as a mentor text. Imagine the creative writing pieces students could create if asked to personify something in their lives.
13. My Financial Career by Stephen Leacock
Confession time—I hate ordering food by phone. It doesn’t matter if it’s healthy or not, or if I’m ordering for one person or twenty. I hate it. I get flustered and almost always end up messing something up. Hence why this story, about a man who gets nervous in banks, spoke to me. Leacock’s description of the main character fumbling his way through opening a bank account had me laughing out loud.
In class: Finding characters from the past that students can relate to is tricky. I like the idea of asking students to free-write or discuss what situations make them feel anxious or uncomfortable. They could write down feelings, descriptions, and images. After reading this story, they could create their own humorous (or serious) stories about their own scenario.
14. Growing Down by Shel Silverstein
Yes, it’s a poem. But it also tells a story, which makes it a great addition to this list of funny short stories. In this poem, we meet a grumpy old man who is always telling people to grow up. But one day, someone tells him to “grow down.” When he does, he discovers he likes it much more than growing up.
In class: This piece would be perfect for students who are struggling to grasp concepts like theme or characterization. There’s plenty of direct and indirect characterization throughout the poem and the message is pretty obvious throughout. Additionally, Shel Silverstein’s voice is perfect for discussions about tone.
What funny short stories do you like sharing with your students? Tell us in the comments.
Looking for even more funny short stories to share with your class check out 70 great short stories to teach in middle school, want more articles like this be sure to subscribe to our newsletters .
Meghan is an Associate Editor at WeAreTeachers. She spent 18 years teaching English/Language Arts in the public school setting and holds a Master's Degree in Special Education.
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