Teaching Mark Twain Short Stories


The Best American Short Stories for High School


There are hundreds of short stories by Mark Twain suitable for high school. Here’s a rundown of my favorite Mark Twain short stories with lesson ideas.


It’s Time for Mark Twain Short Stories

I looked forward to grading the short story power point project. After the thirteenth consecutive meaningless set of slides, I realized I had failed to motivate my students to read short stories. As punishment, I checked War and Peace out of the library, called in sick, and read it to my dog for 33 consecutive hours.

In hour 34, my dog began commenting on what I was reading. She said, “Maybe you should try short stories by Mark Twain?” I was stupefied. Why hadn’t I thought of that earlier?

“What stories by Mark Twain would you recommend?”

“I really enjoy ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,’ all except for the part about the dog who got his legs sawed off. I’ll write down a list of Mark Twain short stories with lesson ideas, if you’d like.”

Here’s the list of short stories by Mark Twain that my dog gave me.

ELA Common Core Standards Covered

Teaching Twain’s short stories can accomplish the following ELA Common Core Standards.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. RL.9-10.5 Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise
  4. W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

A List of Twain’s Short Stories for High School

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County – The narrator gets more than he bargains for when he approaches “garrulous old Simon Wheeler” to ask about his friend’s friend Leonidas W. Smiley in Mark Twain’s most famous short story.
Lesson Idea – This is a frame story–a story within a story. Discuss Twain’s purpose in structuring his narrative as a frame story. You may want to draw a frame on the board with “Narrator looks for Leonidas W. Smiley” on the frame, and a list of the different stories Simon Wheeler narrates where the picture would go.

Punch Brothers Punch– The narrator is unable to get an annoying jingle out of his head, with disastrous consequences, and warns his readers to “punch brothers, punch with care, punch in the presence of the passenjare!”
Lesson Idea – Twain uses hyperbole, irony, and humorous situations to create a fun tale to read and teach. Use this analyzing humor lesson plan to dazzle your colleagues and students.

Cannibalism in the Cars– What do you get when numerous politicians end up in a broken down train? Twain explains as he lampoons politicians and the political process.
Lesson Idea – You can use the aforementioned lesson on frame stories and humor. For advanced students, you may want to review how Congress functions and how laws are passed (or not passed)

The Story of the Bad Little Boy and The Story of the Good Little Boy– Twain turns conventional wisdom on its ear as the bad little boy prospers and the good little boy gets destroyed.
Lesson Idea – Discuss stereotypes and what Twain’s purpose is for reversing stereotypes in this story.

A Medieval Romance– Twain’s heroin finds herself in an impossible situation. She either keeps quiet and dies or tells the truth and dies.
Lesson Idea – Twain pulls a fast one on the reader by not providing an ending–the perfect time for a creative writing assignment. Instruct students to write the ending to Twain’s satire on romantic tales.

My Watch– The narrator laments his efforts to get his watch repaired.
Lesson Idea – Instruct students to write about a frustrating experience or an experience that should have been easy, but turned into a giant mess.

Teaching Literary Elements with Short Stories

Understanding literary elements is necessary for literary analysis.  These short stories will help you teach literary elements.

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