Short Stories in the Classroom

Teaching short stories during the first month of school is a simple and effective way to get upper elementary to middle school students acclimated to Language Arts or English classes. As novel units are the new paradigm for reading instruction for older students, short stories in the classroom still have a place too. With so many fascinating short stories written by amazing authors, educators can teach a variety of standards. 

A short story eases students into the year without the overwhelm of beginning a novel and diving into a long unit. A short story unit, normally a week-long, is quick and can hold the students’ attention just long enough to begin another short story. During that first month of school, a child’s attention is so divided. Between learning new schedules, new teachers, and even just the craziness of navigating school and lockers after a long summer, various short stories, broken up over a month, help lessen stress, hold attention through the differing storylines, and overall ease students back into reading. This is why I always spend the first month of school exploring short stories with students. 

Short Stories in the Classroom: What to Focus On

When exploring how I teach short stories, I like to focus on specific common skills that students will need that will carry them into the rest of the year.  For example, when teaching 6th-8th grades, the very first short story I would complete with them focused on comprehension questions and detailed answers. Students would learn or relearn the RACE method for answering questions. 

  • R – Restate
  • A – Answer
  • C – Cite
  • E – Explain

I find that the RACE method is a wonderful way to prepare students for essay writing. In the second week, I would then focus on various standards such as Theme, Characterization, and Genre on top of practicing the RACE method. These are solid standards that students will continue to use repeatedly throughout the year. 

Written Responses

Next, in the third week, I would start incorporating 1-paragraph written responses as well as learning about plot development and plot lines. Students can take what they learned during the RACE method and expand it in these 1-paragraph responses. These paragraph responses are a skill students perfect over the course of the year, as a well-organized paragraph helps prepare them for longer essay writing and more formal MLA-style reports. Plot lines are taught to emphasize the arc of a storyline, plus various terms such as climax and resolution. 

During the fourth week of a short story unit, I introduce more skills that will be utilized throughout the year such as setting analysis and types of conflicts on top of the RACE method, 1-paragraph written responses, and plot development. By focusing on concrete standards that are applied year-long in a way that eases them back into English class, students get a solid foundation for the year. Additionally, if you are tasked with teaching multiple grade levels, changing the short story but keeping the same standards streamlines your lesson plans and helps review for all the differing grades. 

Short Stories in the Classroom: What Stories to Teach?

When I taught 6th-8th grades, I utilized varying difficulty, interest, and maturity levels to grasp student attention. I also made sure to choose differing lengths so students wouldn’t be overwhelmed by a longer short story or bored by a shorter one. Additionally, throwing in a narrative poem for 7th was a great way to compare and contrast authors while providing a shorter read for the week. Here is the layout of what short stories I would teach the first month for each grade level.

6th GradeStray by Cynthia RylantRikki, Tikki, Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (Week 1)Rikki, Tikki, Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (Week 2)Eleven by Sandra Cisneros
7th GradeSeventh Grade by Gary SotoOranges by Gary Soto (Poem)Thank You Ma’am by Langston HughesThe Lady or The Tiger by  Frank R. Stockton
8th GradeGeraldo, No Last Name by Sandra CisnerosThe Sniper by Liam O’FlahertyThe Dinner Party by Mona GardnerAll Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury

For fifth grade, these are some short stories that would interest and grasp attention.

5th GradeMarble Champ by Gary SotoHer Hands that Held the Stars by Rebecca BirchSometimes a Dream Needs a Push by Walter Dean MTamitha & the Dragon by Elizabeth C. Desimone

How to Assess a Short Stories Unit

I completed a variety of formative and summative assessments during the short stories unit. The 1-paragraph responses and the comprehension questions that required the RACE method were the type of formative assessments that would help me gauge how the students were doing. I also did a variety of end-of-week quizzes as a summative assessment. With my older students, they would have an end-of-month test that assessed their understanding of all the short stories we had read. Students also received a study guide for a larger test like this because oftentimes they would not exactly remember all the details of the earlier stories we had read.

More Opportunities for Short Stories

The first month of school is a great time for short stories, but I utilized them throughout the entire year as well. After completing a novel unit, we would dive into a 2-week to even a month-long short story unit.

I have taught Edgar Allan Poe stories during the week of Halloween. From The Tell-Tale Heart to The Pit & The Pendulum, I would reserve these stories for 7th-8th graders.

In December, my eighth graders would complete a three-week O. Henry unit with The Gift of the Magi being the focus. My seventh graders would dive into the play version of A Christmas Story by Charles Dickens.

After coming back from holiday break, we did a 1-week short story unit for 6th-8th grades. One of my favorites to complete was The New Year’s Stockings by Francis A. Durivage. 

Sixth graders would complete a picture-book unit. Picture books are short stories in and of themselves. We read Radiator the Snowman by Tami Parker. Additionally, we would compare and contrast that picture book to the Snowmen at Christmas and Snowmen at Night books by Caralyn Buehner. Then, we would focus on a snowman narrative writing piece.

When teaching formal MLA essays to 8th graders, we would read Mark Twain’s short stories before learning all about and writing formal reports. Popular Twain stories included The Californian’s Tale & The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

End-of-Year Short Stories and Movie Pairings

As novel units are wrapped up and there are a couple of weeks of academic instruction left, I would use this time to teach various short stories. I would utilize the end of the year as the perfect time for short-story units while pairing it with a fun movie or show.

For sixth grade, The Smallest Dragonboy by Anne McCaffrey is a fun read. We would then compare it to the How to Train a Dragon movie. (Which is a novel series.)

Seventh graders loved diving into eerie stories such as The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs and The Monsters are Due on Maple Street by Rod Serling. Both have short movies on Youtube.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an interesting and fun read for 8th graders. It’s a hilarious movie to watch and compare as well.


Short stories in the classroomare full of interesting characters, fascinating storylines, and captivating events. Short story units are wonderful to teach at the beginning of the year, in between novel units, aiding in teaching formal essays, during holidays, and at the end of the school year. Short stories are great quick reads to teach a variety of standards. With so many amazing short stories existing, there’s bound to be some fascinating ones that your students will love.

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Johnny Appleseed Activities in the Elementary Classroom 

Apples, pumpkins, and gourds…oh my! It’s almost the most wonderful time of the year! Not the Christmas season, but the autumn season! We are “fall-o-philes.” We love fall, y’all! With fall, comes Johnny Appleseed activities in the elementary classroom. One of our favorite things.

My mother and I have tons of elementary teaching experience collectively. In fact, I taught elementary school longer than middle school. 

We have a fondness for the elementary grades, and one of our favorite features of elementary school is the opportunities to incorporate fun, interesting lessons with artistic elements. Learning all about Johnny Appleseed in the fall is a way to do this!

The apple activities, the fun fall books, and the interesting facts about Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman, are all perfect ingredients for a September lesson.

Johnny Appleseed’s birthday is September 26, so here are enjoyable and educational ideas you can use to teach about him this fall.

Books and More Books!

Here is a list of our favorite Johnny Appleseed books: 

Johnny Appleseed by Anastasia Suen (Adorable facts read to the tune of “The Muffin Man”)

Johnny Appleseed by Reeve Lindbergh (rhymed text and illustrations)

Johnny Appleseed: My Story (Step Into Reading) by David Harrison (a fun biography of his life) My mom said this one was her favorite because it answered so many questions about Johnny Appleseed in a fun, easy way.

Johnny Appleseed by Stephen Benet (Johnny in his later years, beautiful illustrations and verse)

Who Was Johnny Appleseed? By Joan Hubb (a chapter book for your advanced or older readers)

Arts & Crafts

Students can make apple stamping paintings.

Johnny Appleseed Activities in the Elementary Classroom 

Have students design their own apple orchard on construction paper. Kiddos cut out apple trees and apples and glue the apple trees onto green or blue construction paper. Have students cut out multiple trees for their orchards and encourage them to choose their own types of apples (green, yellow, or red!) for them.

Students can paint a brown paper bag the color of their favorite apple. Stuff with tissue paper and top with a stem. This makes a 3-D apple craft. 

Using a round coffee filter, students use watercolors to paint their own apples. Top with a stem and leaf. 

Students can even make a Johnny Appleseed Hat to wear. Here is a cute free version from Simply Kinder that we found. 


Speaking of arts and crafts, “craftivities” are the emergence of writing with an art project. We love “craftivities!” 

Here is our own Johnny Appleseed craftivity. Students research all about Johnny’s life, write a paragraph about their research findings and then glue it all together into a craft that can be displayed. They are “apple-so-lutely adorable!” 

The video below shows my son putting one together. 

Grab your Johnny Appleseed Craftivity today!

Another writing craftivity is having students write fun facts on Johnny Appleseed’s famous hat. 

Since Johnny Appleseed made the world a more beautiful place by planting apple trees, read the story Miss Rumphius, as a way to compare and contrast how Miss Rumphius added beauty to the world. Next, have students write a paragraph on what they would choose to do to make the world a more beautiful place just like Johnny Appleseed did.

 Check out our blog on Miss Rumphius HERE.  

Click over to learn more about
Miss Rumphius today.

Apple Fun 

Using a variety of apples, students can make predictions as to which apple will taste the best. Make a predictions apple pictograph, and then have a fun taste testing. Next, you can graph the actual favorite results and compare and contrast. 

Using an apple per group, have students predict how many seeds are in their apple. Cut open the apple for students to count. Then, they can compare their prediction to the actual total. Bonus points for graphing this as well!

When I taught upper elementary school, we would work together to make applesauce. Using supervision, guidance, and kid-friendly utensils, we would peel the apples. I would cut them into chunks and we threw them into a crock-pot in my classroom. We worked together measuring out the cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, butter and water and adding it to the apple chunks. It would cook all day and make our classroom smell lovely. I would refrigerate it overnight and the next day, we would enjoy our creation!

Similar to taste testing apples, taste test applesauce. There are so many variations on the market, that students can make predictions and graph them. Have them taste a variety of applesauce and then graph the actual results. Compare and contrast the findings. 

Johnny Appleseed Compound Word Game

Johnny’s last name or nickname was “Appleseed,” a very famous compound word. This game’s main objective is to use a variety of separated words to form compound words that then get transferred to Johnny’s basket. This Johnny Appleseed Compound Word Resource can also be used as a center for students to play individually. Check it out!

Myth buster / Fun Facts:

Have students discuss what they believe they know about Johnny Appleseed. Teaching students about reliable resources, have them use books and the internet to find what they believe they knew about him to see if it’s true. Discuss the various myths they know about him and using those reliable resources, test to see if it’s fact or false. Students can present their myth-busting facts to the class. 

Myths/Fun Facts You Can Share with your Class: 

Johnny Appleseed didn’t actually wear a pan on his head, but carried a pan with him to cook. 

Johnny Appleseed wasn’t poor, but was actually very wealthy. He was not into material possessions. He did walk barefoot, and he only had one pair of pants. 

Johnny Appleseed was a vegetarian. 

He also didn’t just scatter seeds. He would spend time planting acres of apple tree orchards before moving on to another location. 


Teaching Johnny Appleseed this September is the “core” activity that will awaken fun, joy, and passion into your students’ learning. They will “apple-aud” your efforts! We hope these activities were “ap-peel-ing” to you!

Okay, we’re done with the apple puns for now. 🙂 

Author of Blog

Teaching During a Pandemic: 5 Tips for Cart Teaching During Covid

I am going into my second year as a traveling teacher utilizing a cart as my classroom due to teaching during pandemic year 3. My school made this decision as part of the protocol to lessen the spread of Covid. With this, I have decided to share 5 Tips for Cart Teaching during Covid to hopefully make your life a little easier if this is your situation as well.

My laptop has stickers on it that show my personality.

I still get to decorate my homeroom class and that is still my home base, as I am in there before and after school. I am in my homeroom when I also teach my two classes for sixth grade. I am thankful I can still use my creativity and classroom decorating interests in my homeroom.

I’ve had other teachers ask if I mind cart teaching, and I really don’t. It’s actually nice to travel and get a change of scenery every period, and I understand the reasoning behind it.

With some teachers going into the classroom for the first time since the pandemic, I’m hearing of more and more schools shifting to cart teaching. Since I have a year of it under my belt, I thought I’d offer some tips to those who are doing this for the first time.

Here are five tips I have for cart teaching!

Tip #1: Pack EVERYTHING you Need on that Cart

Pack EVERYTHING you need on the cart! Then, try not to move it! On top of my cart, I have a large basket with my folders, a pail of markers, a stapler, scissors, pencils, and pens. I also try to keep whatever else I may need like my grade book, textbooks, novels, and any technology. I bring extra paper with me for students as well. Oftentimes I’ll forget something and have to run back to my homeroom to get it, but I try to keep everything I need on the cart at all times. Then, I try not to move it from my cart. If I take something from it, I try to put it back right away, so I’m not feeling scattered over so many classrooms.

Tip #2: Stay Organized

Stay organized! I use color coded folders for each grade to keep all the materials I need and to gather papers I need to grade. In one folder, it is labeled 6th Materials and on one side of the folder flap are my English papers and in the other flap are my Social Studies papers. I label each flap as not to mix it up. Then, I have a separate folder for 6th grade papers I need to grade and it’s labeled “6th-Papers to Grade.” Inside that folder, I have the two flaps labeled as well. On side is labeled: Needs Grading. The other side says: Graded. I have two separate folders for each grade I teach. At the end of every week, I try to remember to clean out the folders. Bonus points if you can keep both folders for each grade the same color!

Tip #3: Decorate your Cart

Decorate your cart. I have to say I didn’t really take advantage of this tip this past year, as I was trying to survive pandemic teaching. I did have my large basket and tin pail match the colors of my classroom. I love cohesiveness. My laptop has stickers on it that show my personality. Since some students can’t see your personality portrayed in a classroom, think of ways to portray it in your cart. I am planning on sprucing up my cart here soon with some paper tassels and some pom-poms from Target. Here’s a link to the paper tassels I plan on using!

Tip #4: Travel with Technology

Travel with your technology. Keep all the technology components you need on your cart. My projector travels with me, so I also keep a basket at the bottom of the cart with extra tech gear in case something goes wrong. I have extra USB and HDMI cords, speakers, my laptop charger, and anything else I may need.

Tip #5: Be Mindful of your Personal Needs

Be mindful of your personal needs. Lastly, think about your day and what you normally reach for and need. Whatever it is, put it on your cart. Here are some personal items I keep on my cart: my water bottle, coffee cup, personal hand sanitizer, lotion, sunglasses (for when I take the kiddos outside), and extra masks. Put whatever it is you use on a daily basis on your cart to make yourself as comfortable as possible.


With these five tips for cart teaching, we hope it will make the year go smoothly for you in a year that seems to be pivoting so much already. We are now entering the third school year of pandemic teaching! Wow! Can you believe it? Cart teaching may not be your ideal situation, but we can always make the best of it!

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