Middle schoolers love stories about pushing boundaries, understanding complex social situations, and learning about the world around them.
Short stories can cater to these concepts without taking too much of their time. Although some middle schoolers can sit with a book for hours on end, others will lose interest as soon as something else comes their way.
To make sure your class completes their reading assignments, give them something they can actually finish – a gripping and insightful short story.
Martin loves his Grandpa. He loves learning about his Native Indian heritage and showing off unique aspects of reservation culture.
However, he and his sister Cheryl embellish their stories to make their history sound more glamorous than it is.
When Grandpa shows up, they are mortified. Soon everyone will know they have been lying, and it’s all his fault.
In this short story, we see Martin learn about his grandfather’s history. He realizes he has been disrespecting his own culture by failing to connect to their family.
Instead, he has been “selling out” his culture for friendship and bragging rights.
In the story Martin’s outlook on life profoundly changes, and so will yours.
Our main character is plain. Plain in outfits, plain in beauty, and plain in husbandry. Living in a time where a lady is only as good as her looks, our protagonist is desperate for anything to beautify her.
Her charming and wealthy friend has many things, but there is something our unnamed protagonist cannot get away from – the necklace.
She borrows it hoping to increase her social status but loses it almost instantly.
This story twists and turns as our main character is desperate to repay her debt. If you’re hoping to teach your class about characterization, this short story is a great case study.
If your class prefers dark stories, then this classic by Edgar Allan Poe could be just the ticket. It follows the story of a man on a mission of revenge against someone who insulted and injured him.
Arguably the most interesting part of this story is the narrator themselves. We don’t know if they are a reliable source.
Throughout the story, the level of suspense leaves us gripped by every word and what the secondary layers might mean.
It’s gripping, it’s intense, and it will get your class thinking.
The story “Plate of Peas” is unique, direct, and speaks to all of us.
We follow a young boy who doesn’t like peas. His loving mother doesn’t force peas onto him, but his grandmother demands he eats them. She offers him money for the plate of peas, and he accepts.
This causes a fight between all three people. Mother against grandmother for forcing her son. Mother against son for showing her up. Son against mother for changing her mind. Son against grandmother for manipulating him.
Grandmother against no one, because she was proven “right”.
Although this story is about a plate of peas, it is so much more than that. It’s about trust, boundaries, manipulation, and innocents.
And yet despite all of those large concepts, because the story is written about peas, it’s easy to understand and grasp the message.
A Sound of Thunder is a classic tale. It follows a future where you can go back in time and kill any animal. A trophy hunting story, but something goes wrong.
This is a story about the butterfly effect, the importance of life, and how your actions can affect something you never thought they could.
From a literary point of view, the story is told mostly in dialogue which is unusual. You can see the change in character dynamic as the story continues, and how their actions affect each person based on their words alone.
Thank you, Ma’am is a story about right and wrong. It comes from both angles as Roger and Mrs. Luella’s path crosses.
Roger tries to steal from Mrs. Luella, and instead of calling the police, kicking him to the curb, or shouting bloody mary at him, Mrs. Luella takes him home and shares her food.
Mrs. Luella sees a boy in need, while Roger sees someone who is caring and willing to help.
The dialogue in this story is, again, an important tool. The difference in speech patterns tells the reader a lot about the characters and their backgrounds, without going into too much detail.
Lamb To The Slaughter is a Roald Dahl classic. Instead of talking about chocolate or a giant peach, this time Dahl takes on the perspective of a woman who has just murdered her husband.
Its creepy horror doesn’t focus on the murder as such, but on the guilt she feels and her desperate need to hide the evidence.
For kids in Middle School, the most horrifying part of the story isn’t the murder itself, but how our main character justifies her actions.
Here you can talk about persuasive writing techniques, and ask them to create a story about an illegal or immoral action and how the person who committed those actions try to justify themselves.
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is a tragic story that isn’t entirely fictional and definitely wasn’t based on one person’s story.
We are taken back to 1890, where through a series of events a Southern Planter is brought to hang by the Union Soldiers.
Just as the noose breaks his neck, something happens. The rope breaks and he is free and escapes. Or, is this part of his imagination, as his mind is finally free from his torment?
Valediction is a story about two friends on the cusp of deviance. They are both jocks, ready for mischief, and in their haze for adventure they start shoplifting.
It was an accident, they tell themselves, and it won’t happen again.
But it does, and the guilt starts creeping up on Pete. He backs out and says he wouldn’t do it another time. That was it. No more.
This time Pete sticks to his word, but John doesn’t. And on that final time, John gets caught.
The arrest becomes the talk of the town. People start gossiping, saying that Pete must have known or John was getting Pete into trouble.
Only the boys knew what really happened, and even then they both blamed the other.
In a story about loyalty, what do you do when you’re pulled between your convictions and your friendships?
The story of Hearts and Hands shows a police officer and a criminal locked together in handcuffs. Although the story comes from Miss Fairchild’s point of view, the main character in this story isn’t even Mr. Easton, her old friend. It’s all about Mr. Watson.
It’s clear to all that Miss Fairchild doesn’t think much of her old friend, until she learns that he is a Marshal, and is taking Mr. Watson – a gruff-looking fellow – to prison.
However, as they leave, we overhear other passengers saying that a marshall would never handcuff themselves to a prisoner with their right hand – suggesting that Mr. Watson was actually the marshall, and he was helping his prisoner save face when meeting an old friend unexpectedly.
It’s a story about not judging people based on appearances, and being kind when there is no need to be truthful.
This is a story about perspective. We start off with Greg, annoyed by his father who doesn’t understand his dreams of becoming a basketball player.
Greg runs out into the rain and finds a homeless man called Lemon Brown.
Lemon talks to Greg about treasures, and how everyone has them. They can be anything, but they give you meaning, purpose, and drive.
Through their adventures, Greg comes to understand his father through the words and actions of Lemon.
In this story, we follow a sniper sitting in position on top of a rooftop during the Irish Revolution. He accidentally blows his cover and has to escape before he is captured or killed.
It’s an action story, fast-paced and dramatic, but the real shock comes at the twist ending.
This story isn’t as powerful as the rest but is a great way to bring non-readers into reading, as it draws on stereotypical shooting cliches.
Middle schoolers can handle more social confusion and dramatic stories than before. They don’t need to read William Shakespeare to understand the nuance of moral confusion, loyalty, and betrayal.
Instead, giving them stories they can picture or relate to can help them consider the literacy and social impacts of the stories.
Plate of Peas is a great example of modern issues brought forward using basic imagery.
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