Short Story Unit Plan with Student Choice

I never teach the same short story unit twice. I begin standard English classes with short stories which allows me to encourage student choice and assess student needs. Read on for ways that I use short stories in the first nine weeks!

I use a short story unit to build relationships, evaluate my students’ needs, and build expectations. Also, I love to have fun with the short stories I teach. Since I teach short stories during the first quarter, I establish that reading and literature offer students more than words.

In the past, I’ve presented themes or essential questions that shape our short story units. Common ones include:

  • Is war part of human nature?
  • Where and how does oppression still exist?
  • What influences our beliefs and customs?
  • When is acceptable to break rules?

Those are common essential questions that apply to many pieces of literature and of course, you can think of others. Aside from connecting the literature to students’ lives and understanding of the world, I work in the following methods to my short story units.

Student Choice

Since I teach short stories first, I use that time to establish that student voices matter. I want students to have ownership of the class, and I give them a say in what stories we read. You can make a list of choices and ask students to vote (I use Google Forms).

The caveat is that I won’t fill the unit with one type of literature. Students typically do a wonderful job of choosing a variety of authors, but I would never let a class only experience all male authors, for example.

Allowing students a voice in which stories they read greatly contributes to my classroom management and community. Students see that I genuinely care about their interests, and I don’t want to teach a story which they are already familiar.

Mentor Sentences

No matter what we read, my students and I analyze the language. We typically do this through mentor sentences. I do direct instruction with grammar, but then I pull sentences from stories and study the language in what we read.

With freshmen, we study the eight parts of speech, and typically I review nouns with freshmen the first week. For example with “The Monkey’s Paw,” I ask students to find proper and common nouns from the story. Then we can review the story from the student-generated list. Other times, I will hand students a sticky note as they walk into class. I’ll direct them to find dynamic verbs from their story. Students are studying grammar, but they are also taking another look at their literature. Whatever part of speech students need to study, I will provide focused practice.

Mentor students allow me to study the eight parts of speech, which I really need my students to understand for vocabulary lessons! (You can read about my first nine weeks grammar lesson plans.) Connecting grammar to literature shows students that their language is part of what they read and that grammar is everywhere. It also emphasizes the importance of domain-specific vocabulary.

Variety of Components

I cover public speaking, poetry, grammar, nonfiction, and writing with short stories. Since I strive to create relationships with students at the start of the year, I have built that notion into my lessons. I want each student to feel success those first nine weeks with me. By connecting other curriculum areas to short stories, students can find a passion.

We have fun exploring our new classroom community with a variety of ELA components. As I establish procedures and routines, we can implement those practices in small chunks since short stories are short. We have plenty of options to practice getting into groups, working with partners, and asking for help.

For instance with the short story “Marigolds,” I teach topic sentences. I narrow paragraph topics for students, and then they write the topic sentence. That assignment is an individual one and connects writing to literature. For a group activity, we study figurative language with task cards. That collaborative work leads to review, preparing students for the quiz.

Graphic Organizers, Task Cards, Interactive Notebook Pieces…

Yep! Students cannot sit and take notes all class period. Part of teaching underclassmen is showing them a variety of ways to learn. I specifically tell them when we use charts or graphic organizers that these are tools for learning—tools they can duplicate in other classes! Not only do students appreciate the movement and choices in learning, I am modeling metacognition.

Plus, some classes really enjoy stations while others tend to perform better with partner work. During our second nine weeks, we read a novel. I can create activities based upon what I learn from the short story unit.

A dynamite short story unit that allows for student choice. Every short story activity provides mentor sentences as well as graphic organizers, quizzes, vocabulary, and more. #MiddleSchoolELA #ShortStory

I teach short stories during the first nine weeks of my ELA classes. These reasons provide me with structure and help me build a rapport with students. You can find the complete short story unit here. The short story bundle contains many short stories because I always change with my students’ choices.

Still need more ideas for the first quarter of ELA? Melissa teaches short stories, too. You can read her ideas for short stories.

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