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How to Create an Awesome Short Story Unit: Part 1 of 4


Welcome to our 4-part series that will walk you through 4 easy steps to creating an awesome short story unit! Using the framework we're about to share is going to make this an incredibly easy and streamlined process for you - saving you tons of time AND keeping your students engaged!

When creating our short story units for middle school, we always aim to include four main elements:
  • A hook 
  • A high interest story (see our list of favorites in this post
  • Standards-aligned activities 
  • An assessment 
Sticking with this framework ensures that our students are engaged from the beginning (even anticipating the lessons!) and have plenty of opportunities to interact with the text through high level thinking opportunities.

In this 4-part series, we're going to show you exactly how we applied the four elements to our short story unit to Shirley Jackson’s, “The Lottery,” one of our 8th graders’ favorites! Use this example and framework to begin creating your own :)

PART 1 of 4 STARTS WITH ...

A HOOK
A few weeks before the start of our "The Lottery" unit, we hang posters all around our classroom that read: “June 27: All villagers meet in the town square. Everyone is expected to attend. No excuses!” (This date is significant in the short story and the posters make sense to students once they start reading.) We don’t address the posters at all and let the kids wonder what could possibly be happening. Talk about building suspense … 

Picture via @amrikastumpf
We hook students even more on day one of the unit by introducing a “popcorn predictions” activity (which you can read more about and grab a free download here). This can easily be done with any short story or novel your students will be reading. 
  • We type up enough sentences from the text that are intriguing without giving away key information from the story so that each student can receive one sentence. (It’s also fine to double up the sentences and have repeats.) 
  • Organize the sentences on sentence strips and distribute one to each student. Students will then walk around the room, partner up with a classmate, and in one-minute intervals, read their sentences aloud to each other and predict what the story is about. 
  • Rotate a few times (four seems to work well for us) so that students are able to build on their predictions. On the fifth rotation, have students create a final prediction and then share out with the class. 
  • By this point, students are more than eager to start reading and see if their predictions are accurate! 

Another hook we like to use is what we call a "5 Words Hook." We list five words that are important to the story on the board and have the students create a prediction about what the story will be about based on those 5 words. Generally, we like to have students work with a partner for this activity because they tend to be a bit more creative!

Finally, one of my favorite hooks to use is called "Popcorn Predictions," which you can read all about in this blog post.

Now it's time to start thinking about your hook! How can you pique student interest before you even begin a novel? Think about certain themes or specific dates or time periods that you could possibly tie into your hook. 

Part 2 of our 4-part series will be on the blog next week! We'll be getting more in-depth with choosing a high-interest story :) See you then!


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2 comments

  1. Thank you - such a helpful post! I'm excited to read part 2 next week! :-)

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    1. So glad you enjoyed the post, Tara! Part 2 will be going live tomorrow :)

      Caitlin

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