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.
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 Grade||Stray by Cynthia Rylant||Rikki, Tikki, Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (Week 1)||Rikki, Tikki, Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (Week 2)||Eleven by Sandra Cisneros|
|7th Grade||Seventh Grade by Gary Soto||Oranges by Gary Soto (Poem)||Thank You Ma’am by Langston Hughes||The Lady or The Tiger by Frank R. Stockton|
|8th Grade||Geraldo, No Last Name by Sandra Cisneros||The Sniper by Liam O’Flaherty||The Dinner Party by Mona Gardner||All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury|
For fifth grade, these are some short stories that would interest and grasp attention.
|5th Grade||Marble Champ by Gary Soto||Her Hands that Held the Stars by Rebecca Birch||Sometimes a Dream Needs a Push by Walter Dean M||Tamitha & 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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