Teaching short stories in the high school English classroom can be very difficult. They are such short pieces of literature that it sometimes seems there is just nothing left to be said about the piece after about an hour of discussion. However, there are actually a lot of ways you can get your students engaged in these short pieces of literature, and you can keep them interested throughout the unit.
One way to build interest in short stories is to organize them by theme and explore those common themes in each of the stories you choose to tackle in class. If you spend a lot of time teaching the structure of short stories - plot, setting, mood, tone, characters, dialogs, etc. - this can get boring very quickly. Students grasp these concepts in no time. However, when you entice them to get into a story with a theme they care about and can relate to, you’re more likely to hold their attention. For example, if you read, "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "A Pair of Tickets" by Amy Tan, "Desirée’s Baby" by Kate Chopin, and "Eveline" by James Joyce, and "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner etc
You can focus on the common themes in these stories such as women’s roles throughout history, the function of families, love and loss, the function of communities, and the idea of home. Students will have personal connections to all of these themes, and will therefore be able to connect with the stories and synthesize their personal experiences with the text at hand.
Before you’re reading a short story, especially if you are focusing on a particular theme, it is a good idea to get students thinking about their personal ideas. This creates anticipation for the story. If the students think they can connect to the work of literature, they will be more likely to enjoy reading it, and the information will be more likely to stick with them. A quick anticipation builder is having the students write journal entries that ask the students to reflect on something that relates to some aspect of the story. Be sure to have students share their journals in class if they feel comfortable. It’s good for other students to hear what the journals are all about.
Stop and Write
If you have to read an entire story in class rather than sending it home to be read for homework, 'Stop and Write' is a great idea for an activity to be sure students are on track. 'Stop and Write' is exactly what it sounds like: you read the story aloud with the students, and at certain points in the text, you stop and ask them a question. Instead of discussing the answer, though, they have to write their answers down. This is also a great way to be sure even the shy students are participating and understanding what is going on in the text. Even if a student doesn’t want to share his or her answer aloud, they can write it down for you to read later. This also works really well to keep students on track while reading.
Students love to write creatively. It is easier for them than writing an analytical paper. If you have students rewrite stories while changing a specific piece such as the point of view, setting, or one plot point, this can not only bring out their creative side, but also help them understand and analyze the importance of these elements as they are being changed. If you allow your students to be creative, they will connect with the story on a deeper level.