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10 Must-Teach Short Stories for Your Middle School Students

Top ten short stories to teach to and read with your middle school English language arts class! They are engaging, challenging, and accessible to all students! Definitely a must read blog post!
While we love centering our ELA lessons around a great novel, we’ve recently started incorporating more short stories into our curriculum, and we couldn’t be happier with the results: higher student engagement, increased proficiency in citing and justifying textual evidence, and more complex analysis just to name a few! You can read more about this here.

Below, we’ve outlined the short stories that we use in our middle school Literature classes and why our students (and us!) LOVE them!

1. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros. 
This super-short story (22 paragraphs!) is great to start off the year with because it’s totally relatable to students. It’s about a girl excited about celebrating her eleventh birthday, but having a horrible day at school. There are ample opportunities for connections, and it gets students opening up with each other about their own birthdays or embarrassing experiences. Great for building classroom community!

2. “Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway. 
This is the perfect short story to use around Veterans Day. We’ve found that having an anchor text (a boy named Krebs returns home to his family after World War I to find that the town hasn’t changed but he has) helps create a more meaningful discussion centered on remembering and honoring all who have fought for our country. We revisit another Hemingway story later in the year and our students really start to grasp his signature writing style.

3. “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen” by O. Henry. 
We read this in the week leading up to Thanksgiving and students enjoy the twist ending O. Henry is famous for. Stuffy Pete has just finished a charitable feast on Thanksgiving Day in New York City. After, he meets up with the Old Gentleman, as he does every Thanksgiving, and the Old Gentleman buys him another meal. Stuffy Pete stuffs himself yet again and ends up in the hospital with a sick stomach. Ironically, the Old Gentleman also ends up in the hospital suffering from “almost starvation.” He has spent all his money on Stuffy Pete. We include some art analysis with this unit using Norman Rockwell’s famous painting, “Freedom from Want” and our students always impress us with their artistic interpretations.

4. “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. 
Swift on the heels of “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen,” we segue into this heartwarming story with another of O. Henry’s twist endings. Jim and Della can’t afford Christmas gifts for one another and each sacrifice their most prized possession for the other. Students love debating who made the bigger sacrifice and why!

5. “Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes. 
We’ve taught this as young as fifth grade, although it’s often considered standard in 8th grade anthologies. It’s perfect to teach in January/the New Year as it focuses on starting fresh and making better choices. We like to begin the unit by having students make predictions using only a few words/phrases from the story (Thank You, M’am, blue suede shoes, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones) and comparing their predictions to the actual plot. We also have our students write formal thank you letters using a template (FREE HERE) from Roger (the protagonist) to Mrs. Jones--perfect practice for this time of year when hopefully students are writing thank you notes to family and friends for their holiday gifts. We think thank you card writing is a lost art, and this is a perfect activity that ties into the short story!

6. “The Chaser” by John Collier.
This short story sparks lively discussions and students are completely engaged in higher level thinking and writing skills! It’s about a young man totally in love with a girl who is somewhat indifferent to him. He buys a love potion (for a mere dollar!) from a mysterious old man and is promised that the girl of his affections will become completely devoted to him. However, the old man spends a lot of time telling our protagonist that he will inevitably be back to purchase a poison later on (costing thousands of dollars) that will be necessary to end this “perfect” relationship. Definitely aimed at Junior High and beyond...we like to have our students analyze the theme, participate in a Socratic Seminar, do some persuasive writing, and write some love advice! A perfect story to read around Valentine’s Day!

7. “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant. 
This is the twist ending to end all twist endings and students eat it up! Spoiled, but poor, Madame Loisel is invited to a ball but has nothing to wear. She borrows a necklace from a friend, and with a dress purchased with her husband’s savings, becomes the belle of the ball and experiences what it must be like to be rich and admired. At the end of the night, she realizes that she has lost the necklace. Instead of telling her friend, Madame Loisel and her husband go into extreme debt (we’re talking years of manual labor debt!) to quickly purchase a replacement without the friend knowing. Ten years after the incident, an unrecognizable Madame Loisel runs into her friend and finally tells her the truth about the lost original necklace, only to be told the necklace was a fake! Our students love analyzing this story and we try to make it even more fun by having them work with symbolism, evidence, and justification in an Instagram activity.

8. “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. 
The hunter becomes the hunted in this creepy short story about a man trapped on an island whose main inhabitant likes to hunt humans for sport. It’s filled with symbolism, irony, and figurative language that paints a vivid picture for students to analyze. This is one of those stories students don’t want to put down, and there’s audible groans if you pause at a cliffhanger! Recommended for mature middle schoolers (grades 7+).

9. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. 
We must really have a thing for twist endings, and this story does not disappoint! It starts off on a beautiful summer day, June 27th to be exact, and the town is gathered for the annual lottery. All is pleasant and happy, but on closer inspection, subtle clues are adding tension and suspense. We won’t spoil the ending, but it definitely sparks an interesting conversation among students! We like to get our classes excited for this unit by hanging up posters all around the classroom about a week before we read the story, that read: “June 27: All villagers meet in the town square. Everyone is expected to attend. No excuses!” We don’t address the posters at all and let the kids wonder what could possibly be happening. Talk about building suspense…

10. “The End of Something” by Ernest Hemingway. 
This is the perfect story to end the school year, as students analyze the end of a relationship and the end of the town as the characters know it. Kids sure enjoy some teenage love drama and this story definitely has it! We like to have our students act out some of the scenes, which is always entertaining! Since this short story (along with “Soldier’s Home") appears in Hemingway’s anthology In Our Time, we end the unit with students writing their own narratives titled “The End of…” and compile them into a class anthology for students to keep. Some of our favorite titles from this year’s collection: “The End of the World as we Know It,” “The End of Everything,” and “The End of Papa.”


We’re so happy we’ve made the switch to more short stories in our middle school curriculum. We’re constantly on the lookout for other stories to add to our growing list. Let us know your own favorites in the comments below or by sending us an email at ebacademiccamps@gmail.com!


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Top ten short stories to teach to and read with your middle school English language arts class! They are engaging, challenging, and accessible to all students! Definitely a must read blog post!

2 comments

  1. I do several of the stories you listed in the article and love them. A couple of others that I like are "Lady and the Tiger" and "The Monkey's Paw." I love teaching short stories! Thamk you so much for sharing with us!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for sharing those titles - we will definitely check them out! Glad you love teaching short stories like we do :)

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