Teaching Short Stories: Ideas for a Short Story Unit

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Why Teach Short Stories?

Short stories are an excellent source of literary masterpieces, in easy to consume lengths for your students. Think of them as “snack size” versions of novels. Fewer pages and less content seem to make a big difference in whether or not a student will attempt the piece. You may not be able to wave Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in front of your students and convince them to read it, but you might have luck if you challenged them to peruse one of his short stories. By teaching your terminology and strategies with short stories at the beginning of the year, you can call upon a student’s prior knowledge of those same skills when you are exploring novels.

Depending on the grade level you teach, you may want to explore different stories than what I’m offering. However, these five short stories are challenging enough for high school students, but are also great for middle school. You may have to go slower and explain the stories piece by piece if you are dealing with middle school students, but I’ve found that even middle school students can benefit from harder pieces. This is especially true if you tell them from jump street that the stories you are about to teach them are difficult, but you know that you are dealing with a very smart class that is up to the challenge! Even your lowest performing students will surprise you when you raise the level of expectations!

I teach the following short stories in my unit:

1. Explore “The Story of an Hour”, by Kate Chopin.

2. “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and other short stories that teach setting.

3. “The Tell-Tale Heart” and other short stories by Edgar Allan Poe

4. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

With each story, I focus on a literary element to expand upon and analyze. For example, you can start with teaching the steps of the plot pyramid, then break down the story and use it to find examples for each step. In this series, you will find a study guide and literary terminology lesson related to each story. I’ve had great success implementing this unit at the beginning of the year, and I’m sure that you will find great benefits from the short story lessons in your classroom as well!


  • Teaching experience.