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Plenty of middle schoolers love to read, while others need a bit of convincing. No matter where your class falls on the spectrum, it’s important to engage your students with material that will make them fall in love with reading — stories that make them want more.
One of the most common mistakes educators make when assigning fiction and short stories to their middle school students is picking material that feels antiquated and boring — or even selecting stories the kids have read many times before in other classes. When creating a plan for what to teach your students, it can be helpful to create an eclectic mix. The last thing you want is for your students to leave class thinking short fiction is all written by dead white men about other dead white men.
You can get creative in your classroom! Mix the old with the new, pull in engaging questions, and drive conversations and curriculum in directions that will rope your students in. If you’re on the hunt for some short fiction to offer your young readers, here are a few great options for your middle school students.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson is a total powerhouse of the creepy, uncanny, and unconventional. “The Lottery” is one of her most famous stories, and for good reason.
With questions of humanity, morality, and an overcast of darkness, this short story will make your students feel thrilled. It’s often taught in middle school classrooms because it’s almost perfect for that age bracket — it encourages critical thought, but it isn’t dark enough to be inappropriate.
“The Years of My Birth” by Louise Erdrich
Although Louise Erdrich has written children’s’ literature before, “The Years of My Birth” is a contemporary fiction piece intended for adults. Originally appearing in The New Yorker and later finding itself incorporated into her novel, The Roundhouse, this short story is a bit more mature in nature, but that could stand as a strength in your middle school classroom.
The tale deals with big questions of morality and makes a great base for a “What would you do?” style class discussion. This short story is also a great gateway to contemporary fiction for kids who find themselves wanting more.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe
Some classics are just too good to toss, and “The Tell-Tale Heart” is definitely one of them. The culture, lore, and discussions around this short story often make kids excited to read it, which is reason enough to include it on the syllabus.
Kids often love directly creepy stories, and you can’t go wrong with this one. Plus, reading Poe often makes kids feel cool — and really, why shouldn’t it?
“A Ride Out of Pharo” by Dina Nayeri
Another contemporary gem, “A Ride Out of Pharo” is often recommended for high school classrooms, but it could absolutely work for older or more mature middle schoolers too. By examining culture and identity while writing from a unique perspective, Nayeri offers so many great discussion points in this story which can rope students in.
“Breatharians” by Callan Wink
Another contemporary, literary short story originating in The New Yorker, “Breatharians” by Callan Wink follows a teenage main character working on his family’s farm. The story was written for adults, and there are mature themes, but the mix of a more mature tone with a younger character can be a great gateway to more contemporary fiction — especially because this story was later expanded into his novel, August.
“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant
This short story is definitely on the older side, and it may even be a bit played out depending upon how many of your students have heard of it or read it before. However, it’s quite short, and the twist ending alone is worth the price of admission. Often, even the disinterested students will find the ending shocking enough to spark some natural discussion.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber
Perhaps the oldest on this list from the archives of The New Yorker, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is short, sweet, and fun for anybody. It’s living proof that not all fiction needs to be drab and disturbing and that even older characters are sometimes just regular people. There was even a 2013 film adaptation, which you can show in class if you have extra time.
“Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway
“Soldier’s Home” is often taught in high school — or even college — classes, but it could absolutely work for middle school. The story explores darker themes and hardships that are often still relevant in our world today. This story is also a great introduction to Hemingway and can get kids interested in reading more.
Exploring Short Fiction in Middle School
There is so much amazing short fiction out there to explore in your classroom. While many people believe that short stories are old or boring, you can turn that opinion around right in its tracks. By introducing your middle schoolers to a variety of short stories and styles, you might just get a few of them hooked on literature for life.