Extracts from novels can be really useful, helping students to practice language analysis and all sorts of other important skills. However, using complete short stories is often far more interesting. There is something satisfying about reading a complete text. While short stories often dispense with traditional narrative structures, instead offering vignettes or extended thoughts on a specific theme or idea, the fact that they are fully realized pieces potentially allows us to do more with them: structural features are often more apparent; characters begin to take on three dimensions and the stories themselves can act as templates for students to emulate when writing creatively. (Thanks to Di Leedham for this suggestion!)
Here are some short stories that I enjoy teaching. Thanks to all the teachers on Twitter-many of these stories have come from their recommendations.
Eleven by Sandra Cisneros
What does it mean to be a year older? Do you suddenly change into something different when another year has passed? This short story perfectly captures the embarrassment that children experience in school.
The Compass and Torch by Elizabeth Baines
A boy who lives with his mother and her partner is taken on an adventurous camping trip with his estranged father. The boy is keen to please and impress; the father stumbles in his attempts to forge a bond between them.
Charles by Shirley Jackson
One boy at kindergarten is causing quite the commotion: violent, rude and obstreperous, he is the subject of every story that Laurel tells his parents about school.
All Summer In A Day by Ray Bradbury
In this story, a group of children who live on Venus victimise a recent arrival from Earth who claims to have actually seen the sun.
Games at Twilight by Anita Desai
A group of children explode into the garden, finally allowed outside now that the heat of the day has subsided. A game of hide and seek ensures but how far will the main character go to beat his nemesis, Ravi?
The Darkness Out There by Penelope Lively
Two teenagers offer to help a sweet elderly lady with her housework. Beneath her kindness, however, lies a dark and shocking past.
The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin
A woman receives the tragic news that her husband has died. Her reaction is not as would be expected.
The Knowers by Helen Phillips
If you could find out when you would die, would you? Would knowing change how you live your life? This story investigates this very idea.
The Vendetta by Guy De Maupassant
When her son is murdered, an old woman plots her violent revenge.
Paper Menagerie by Ken lui
This is a poignant story about a Chinese American boy who begins to resent his mother as he struggles to find his identity.
Flowers by Alice Walker
A young girl stumbles upon something shocking whilst out collecting flowers.
The Gift of the Magi by O.Henry
An impoverished couple make huge sacrifices to buy each other Christmas presents.
The Murderer by Ray Bradbury
A psychiatrist visits a patient in a mental hospital who has been locked up for serially destroying electronic technology. This story raises interesting questions about who is really suffering from problems: is it the patient or is it society itself.
The Rain Horse by Ted Hughes
When a man returns to a place from his childhood, he feels anger and disappointment. A mysterious horse seems to attack him and the encounter leaves his shaken.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber
An old man daydreams of a more exciting life as he trudges through his bland humiliating existence. In real life, his wife annoys him; in his dreams, he is a war hero .
Birdsong by Chimamande N’Gozi Adichie
Stuck in a Lagos traffic jam, a woman stares across at another driver who reminds her of her lover’s wife. A story of infidelity and life in Lagos, Birdsong is both captivating and amusing.
Sew my Mouth by Cherrie Kandie
Sew my Mouth is a harrowing story about forbidden love in Kenya.
What’s Expected of Us by Ted Chiang
This very short story, exploring the nature of free will, will leave your head reeling.