Hardcover books, standing upright, with their pages splayed

This post originally appeared on the blog The Literary Maven.

15 more short stories for engaging secondary students, and teaching literary elements. Plus suggested activities and resources for teachers. Last year, I wrote about 13 of my favorite short stories to read with middle school and high school students. While those are my go-to stories for teaching literary elements and pairing with other texts, there are so many other options out there. Here are 15 other short story recommendations from middle school and high school English Language Arts teachers.

1. “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs
“My students love this creepy story! But more than that, they love the suspenseful ending that leaves them wondering, questioning, and debating. This story is perfect for teaching foreshadowing, point of view, and irony. A fantastic gem of a story that students referenced throughout the school year.”
*Recommended by Marypat from Just Add Students

2. “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl
“I love teaching this story for its surprise actions from a seemingly harmless protagonist. I start off with a PBL exercise written from the cop’s perspective, and students make inferences to decide how and why Mrs. Maloney killed her husband. Once students have solved the mystery, we read the full story. Then, students choose whether to write a closing argument as either Mrs. Maloney’s defense lawyer or as the prosecution. Even though we all know she’s guilty, it’s fun to hear the arguments they come up with!”
*Recommended by Danielle @ Nouvelle ELA

3. “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
“Bradbury is by far one of my favorite authors. He manages to convey so much emotion and use so many different forms of figurative language, and yet his language is pretty simple. I’ve used it with high elementary students, middle school, and high school students. EVERYONE connects to the story. Even though it takes place in a strange time in another planet, EVERYONE can relate to the concept of bullying. Especially in this time of cyberbullying, it is important to bring up the conversation of advocating for others, in your class. This story not only is great for analysis; it also allows you to really delve into this topic without seeming preachy. It’s great for summer school students stuck inside, or for a story in the midst of winter when you’re craving sunshine. Heck, use it at the start of school as you feel summer leaving you. I promise you your students will love creating their own ending, finding the literary devices, and applying this story to their lives!”
*Recommended by Carissa, mELTing Teacher

4. “Ruthless” by William De Mille
“This story is an absolute hidden gem! Judson Webb, an arrogant business man, gets caught in his own nefarious web. Webb wants revenge against a supposed thief. He sets a trap and… (well, I’ll let you discover what happens). This short story provides an excellent introduction or revision activity for close analysis of language, inference, characterization, and narrative structure. Furthermore, it will allow your students to debate issues of justice, cause and effect, responsibility, and revenge. A perfect package for engaging analytical and critical thinking.”
*Recommended by Louisa Enstone, Literature Daydreams

The Chaser by John Collier always provokes spirited conversations in the classroom5. “The Chaser” by John Collier
“If you like story lines filled with mystery, manipulation, and magic, you’ll love ‘The Chaser’ by John Collier. This little story poses big questions like:
1) What constitutes criminal intent?
2) What qualifies someone as a victim?
3) What types of decisions (if any) determine destiny?
As the story unfolds, Collier compels every reader to wonder, ‘What would I be willing to do to gratify my deepest desires?’ This well-crafted story — which was also turned into a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode — inspires lively (and sometimes heated) discussions in middle/secondary classrooms.”
*Recommended by Janice Malone, ELA Seminar Gal

6. “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
“Can a person die of a broken heart? Kate Chopin poses this question with her classic tale, ‘The Story of an Hour.’ The surprise ending provides an ironic twist that will engage your students and make them reconsider the obvious answer. Despite being set in the late nineteenth century, students will no doubt relate to the themes of love and personal freedom. This brief, yet poignant story, is packed with teachable literary elements and demonstrates the brilliance of Chopin’s craft.”
*Recommended by Kim, OCBeachTeacher

7. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
“I enjoy reading and teaching this story to my special education middle school students in the beginning of the year. Although some of my students may not be eleven at the time we read this story, the lesson is one that we can all identify with. There are times when we all can act mature and our age but there are other times where for no apparent reason, we act immature and childish. We all get embarrassed and are put in situations where we wish we could’ve acted differently. I like teaching this story in the beginning of the year because it gives my students and myself a common experience to draw from. I get to learn about my students from their personal experiences and they get to see that I am not perfect but a human also who makes mistakes, just like them.”
*Recommended by Kristin Muse, Samson’s Shoppe

Your students will think twice about their driving habits... in Test by Theodore Thomas.

8. “Test” By Theodore Thomas
“My students love this short story because it has a huge twist at the end which is completely unexpected. It is also realistic fiction/science fiction cross-over, which are two genres most students really enjoy reading. This story is great to teach story elements of plot, characters, theme, setting and conflict, and is just one of the stories students read during my short story unit, which culminates with a Short Story Choice Board. Students are given a choice board with the main focus areas of reading, writing, oral, visual/media. Each topic has three different choices for each focus area. Students are required to select one option from each column to complete and then hand in to be assessed.
*Recommended by 2peasandadog by Kristy Avis

9. “Lob’s Girl” by Joan Aiken
“Its tale of loyalty and friendship combined with mystery and suspense make it an incredibly engaging read. Students develop skills in understanding short story elements, mood development, theme, foreshadowing, vocabulary, dialect, and writing while reading this story. ‘Lob’s Girl’ taps into students’ natural love of animals and keeps them intrigued until the very end!”
*Recommended by Mary Beth, Brain Waves Instruction

The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson. "For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened."

10. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“This dark short story is an awesome way to spark great conversations OR jump-start a unit on a dystopian novel; for example, I teach this short story right before we start reading The Giver in 8th grade. It’s a fairly easy read, since there’s so much dialogue, but it raises great questions about whether or not societies should follow traditions and why. We also like to build ‘conspiracy theories’ about whether or not dystopian authors of books like The Giver and The Hunger Games were inspired by (or plagiarized) this short story.”
*Recommended by Secondary Sara

11. Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambara
“‘Raymond’s Run,’ by Toni Cade Bambara, is a story I love teaching with my middle school students. The first-person narrator, Squeaky, grabs everyone’s attention with her ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ attitude. Bambara uses long, rambling, descriptive sentences to show us Squeaky’s confidence as a runner, her fierce loyalty to her mentally-challenged brother, Raymond, and her determination to rise above peer pressure. There are an abundance of theme topics for discussion and writing! Also, it’s a perfect story to track the way a character changes over the course of a text, since at the story’s end, Squeaky has a different perception of both her brother and her opponents. After reading, my students enjoy creating a foldable Story Brochure, which focuses on several different tasks including character traits, illustrating a conflict, new words, theme, summary, and close reading questions.”
*Recommended by Joy Sexton

12. “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury
“One of my favorite short stories to teach is Ray Bradbury’s futuristic, yet cautionary tale, ‘There Will Come Soft Rains.’ This story is phenomenal for teaching setting, foreshadowing, and theme. When I teach this story, I really focus on setting. I want students to pay attention to every detail of the house. I want them to understand the way in which this family lived in this smart house. As they look at and analyze the setting of this story, I urge them to discuss why they think this house is empty, and where they think its occupants are. As we finish reading the story, I ask them to tell me what happened to its occupants and why they think it happened. This generally leads to a conversation about theme – which usually revolves around technology and war. After reading the story, I like to complete a poetry analysis activity where I have my students analyze the poem for which the story is titled. There Will Come Soft Rains’ is a must-read in the secondary English classroom.”
*Recommended by The Daring English Teacher

13. The Schoolmistress” by Anton Chekhov
“It’s no secret that when learners link their lives to literature as they do through contrasts in this story, they gain and retain far more. What’s less known though, is how teens make relevant links between literature and learning – in ways that cultivate curiosity, build on their diverse intelligences, and lead to meaningful and brain based takeaways. This story invites personal links that help students to enjoy and learn literature in ways that offer lived experiences to bring alive Anton Chekhov’s classic story, and their own. They start by recalling similar experiences to those they predict in the story, and end by pass a talking stick to share and compare story parts that relate to their interests and experiences.”
*Recommended by Ellen Weber – Brain based tasks for growth mindset

"The Veldt," by Ray Bradbury. Can technology replace human relationships?

14. “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
“‘The Veldt’ is a chilling dystopian short story about the power of technology in our lives. We all enjoy various electronics as they make our lives easier, but can it go too far and be too much? I love to use this idea to ‘hook’ my middle school students at the beginning of the year as they love their technology. You can imagine that a Socratic Seminar revolving around this theme really fires them up! We discuss how technology impacts our lives, both positive and negative, and even about how doing some things for yourself might be better than having all things done for you. It’s a perfect lead-in to establishing expectations for the year and creating an environment of personal responsibility and self-motivation that can be supported by technology but hopefully not dominated by it!”
*Recommended by Lisa at Mrs Spangler in the Middle

15. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce
“‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce is one of the short stories that I use as part of my fall boot camp. I use it to teach the point of view; it is written in third person but as a stream of consciousness. The story is a frame story where the middle section is an alternate reality. In addition the story takes place during the Civil War, which makes it an excellent choice for any American Literature or American History class. My students are usually drawn in by the alternate reality and shocked by the ending.”
*Recommended by Sarah from Kovescence of the Mind


The Literary MavenAfter teaching middle and high school English for eight years, Brynn Allison currently specializes in delivering literacy interventions for grades 3-8. Her past and present work as an educator has emphasized the need for differentiation in the classroom. You can find resources that support all levels of students, especially struggling readers and writers, in her TpT store. Brynn co-hosts a #2ndaryELA Twitter chat and Facebook group to support middle and high school English Language Arts teachers. You can find her writing about teaching and young adult literature on her her blog, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.