Great Short Stories for Teaching Theme
These short stories are excellent for teaching theme in fiction. Use the accompanying writing lesson ideas to engage students.
Teaching Theme the Hard Way
"OK class, Let's talk about theme," I bellowed from the front of the room.
Johnny raised his hand. "I'd rather not." He said. "What does it matter whether or not you begin teaching theme in fiction today?"
"Well," I replied. "It says here in the school district guidelines and in the ELA Common Core Standards that I have to begin by the end of the week."
Johnny raised his hand again, middle finger extended. "Maybe teaching theme in fiction should be done by reading great short stories instead of listening to you."
I picked up a CD rom from my desk, threw it at him, and sliced off his hand at the wrist. I then took his advice. Here are some excellent short stories for teaching theme.
Use this graphic organizer.
I just want to make sure everybody that visits this page gets something useful right away: Theme in Literature Graphic Organizer
"The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant
Madame. Loisel learns the danger of pretending to be someone you're not.
Class Discussion Ideas: This story is so outdated. No one ever buys things they can't afford to impress their neighbors who bought too big a house and can't make the payments. Explain to students that in the past, people often pretended to be wealthier than they were in order to gain social status. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's true.
Lesson Idea: As a prewriting assignment, have students write about a time they pretended to be someone they weren't and what the results were.
For example, I bragged about my daring feats on a diving board, so my friend took me cliff diving on the Colorado River. Luckily, nobody noticed I peed my pants on the way down. They did, however, notice I was crying as I floated in the fetal position on the water.
We've got more free lessons and activities for "The Necklace."
"The Blue Hotel" by Stephen Crane
A stranger accuses another of cheating at poker and pays a steep price for the accusation.
Lesson Idea: False accusations can ruin a man, but what if the accusation is true? Instruct students to write about a time they accused someone falsely or they were accused falsely.
For example, when my wife was three months pregnant and suffering from morning sickness, I decided to sautee onions and garlic for the evening meal. She accused me of purposely trying to make her sick. In reality, I was just stupid.
"The Interlopers" by Saki
Class Discussion Ideas. Those familiar with Naturalism will recognize one of the story's major themes, that of an indifferent Universe. Pay attention to the forces that determine the story's outcome.
Lesson Idea: Write a found poem. Instructions along with a discussion on theme can be found by following the link. Check out these free "Interlopers" lesson plans.
"Chee's Daughter" by Juanita Platero and Siyowin Miller
A Navajo father honors tribal traditions with a great sacrifice. Can Chee honor the tribe and get back his daughter?
Lesson Idea: "Chee's Daughter" explores the conflict between tradition and modern life. Instruct students to write about a time they faced an inner conflict with tradition, what they did, and what were the results.
For example, it was a tradition in my family to watch football every Sunday. As I got older, I found better things to do on Sunday and no longer participated in the tradition. Because I'm a Cleveland Browns fan, I've really missed nothing.
"The Minister's Black Veil" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Lesson Idea: The story's theme revolve around a mysterious black veil worn by the Reverend Hooper. Discuss what the veil symbolizes. These 4 of the most common interpretations: (1) Individual sin; (2) Original sin; (3) Life and death; (4) Excessive pride.
Extend the lesson: Create a 3-column chart with "symbolic meaning" in one column, "specific example" in one column, and "interpretaion in one column. Fill out the chart and discuss.
"The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" by Ernest Hemingway
Francis is a coward. His wife is ashamed of him and treats him rudely. All that is about to change.
Lesson Idea: Hemingway explores what it means to be a man in this short classic. Instruct students to write about something they did that took courage and nerve and what the results were.
For example, after humiliating myself on the Colorado River cliffs, I returned to the top, did a flip, and completed one of the grandest back smacks in the history of cliff diving. Although I'm still unable to put a shirt on, or walk, or sleep at night due to the ringing in my head, I proved to everyone there that I AM A MAN!
"A White Heron" by Sara Orne Jewett
Sylvia's living a nice peaceful life with her dilatory cow, her Grandmother, and her friends of the forest...until a handsome hunter shows up to bribe the young girl and get her heart-a-fluttering.
Themes: They abound in "A White Heron." There's the whole coming of age angle. There's the whole environmental movement angle. There's the whole feminist angle. There's even a tall tree that lends itself to the hero's journey angle. There's lots of angles.
Lesson Idea: Find evidence for each of these themes as students read or pick a theme and find evidence of it in the story. Either way, you'll be engaging in analysis and critical thinking. Yay critical thinking!
ELA Common Core Standards Covered
Teaching theme in short stories can accomplish the following ELA Common Core Standards. This is for your administrator, not your kids. Kids need student-friendly worded objectives.
- RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
- RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
- RL.11-12.2 Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
- RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Teaching Literary Elements with Short Stories
Understanding literary elements is necessary for literary analysis. These short stories will help you teach literary elements.
- The Best American Short Stories
- Short Stories for Teaching Theme
- Short Stories for Teaching Irony
- Short Stories for Teaching Symbolism
- Short Stories for Teaching Conflict
- Short Stories for Teaching Foreshadowing
- Short Stories for Teaching Imagery
- Short Stories for Teaching Characterization