Short stories allow students to see basic plot structure in a condensed form and learn more about elements, such as foreshadowing, imagery and alliteration. A study of short stories is also a good introduction to writing them.
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
This sweet Christmas story is a classic that students are certain to encounter again should they go to college. Middle school is a good place to introduce O. Henry's story about true love and sacrifice. It was originally published in 1905 and is in the public domain, so it's readily available online at places like Amazon for free download for Kindle. You can also read online through The Literature Network.
Why Read It
The Gift of the Magi is a popular story for middle school studies because it clearly illustrates the concept of irony. There are multiple free lesson plans and activities online, such as How Ironic! and Scholastic's Vocabulary Activities.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a short story that was penned in 1948 and first appeared in the June 26, 1948 edition of the New Yorker. The short story appears in numerous short story anthologies and works of Shirley Jackson. For example, it is available on Amazon in The Lottery and Other Stories, which includes Jackson's short story and twenty-four other unusual tales.
Why Read It?
Middle schoolers love something different and shocking, so this story will engage them. It is also a good story to use to teach about foreshadowing and symbolism. However, be warned that it is a disturbing topic where "the lottery" is actually choosing someone in the town to stone to death as a sacrifice of sorts. It is probably best suited for older middle school students.
The Rocking Horse Winner by D.H. Lawrence
The D.H. Lawrence story entitled, The Rocking Horse Winner was first published in Harper's Bazaar in 1926. You can read the story online at Classic Shorts or in paperback through Amazon. The story is about a woman who believes she has no luck, a son determined to show her she does and the tragic consequences of wishes gone wrong.
Why Read It?
Want to teach your students about satire? This short story illustrates Lawrence's satirical style at its best. It is also a good example of nonverbal communication, such as the way the mother and son communicate with their eyes. You'll find a nice list of the nonverbal clues in the study guide for this story on Cummings Study Guides.
Voices by Alice Munro
Canadian storyteller Alice Munro received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013. This short story, entitled Voices, appears in the anthology Dear Life: Stories, which was published in 2012 by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. The entire anthology can be purchased at any major book retailer and online at Amazon.
Why Read It?
The stories are a good look at modern storytelling by an award-winning author. The short stories in the anthology touch on strong emotional topics that young readers can relate to, such as childhood in rural Canada.
The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository by John Connolly
Every spring the Edgar Awards are given out by the Mystery Writers of America. 2014's winner in the short story category was The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository by John Connolly. The story is available in paperback for $6.95 through The Mysterious Bookshop, but has also been published under the title, The Museum of Literary Souls through Amazon in Kindle format for only $1.99.
Why Read It?
This book should interest middle school readers who enjoy science. The story looks a quantum mechanics and atoms, so science is entwined in an interesting story. Mr. Connolly has also written several novels for young adults and is well-known in the genre.
Advantages of Short Stories
There are many advantages to using short stories to teach students about specific literary devices or themes. Whether students prefer to read mysteries, romances, adventure or any other genre, there is likely a short story in that genre. Reluctant readers also are more likely to finish a short piece than a full-length novel, so you'll want to include short stories in your overall lesson plan structure.