These compelling short stories for high school are sure to engage your students!
When it’s time to plan a new unit, it can be daunting to find high-quality, relatable short stories your students will enjoy. That’s why we’ve put together a roundup of engaging, thematically rich short stories that high school teachers love.
Whether you’re new to CommonLit or a longtime CommonLit fan looking to refresh your lesson plans, you’re sure to find a great text for your students from this list!
“Showdown” by Shirley Jackson (9th Grade)
In this short story for 9th graders, the town of Mansfield is haunted — stuck reliving the same day because the townspeople stood by and watched Thad Ruskin kill Tom Harper, his daughter’s beloved. Once Billy figures out they are reliving the same day, he realizes that he needs to stop the murder, which might help the town escape the haunting. This is a great story for analyzing how authors build suspense.
“The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury (9th Grade)
In this dystopian science fiction story, set in a technology-dominated society, Leonard Mead is out for an evening walk. He is stopped by an automated police car, which asks him why he does not own a television. The police car determines that because of Mr. Mead’s “regressive” view of technology, he must be brought to a psychiatric center, and it takes him away. This short story provides students with an interesting opportunity to reflect on the use of technology in society.
“Two Kinds” by Amy Tan (9th Grade)
In this excerpt from The Joy Luck Club, June’s mother is determined to make June some kind of prodigy. Eventually, she decides June will be a piano prodigy, but June is determined not to try very hard. When June plays wrong note after wrong note at a recital, her mother is stricken, and they have a terrible fight. June reflects on this experience later in life and comes to reconcile her mother’s ambitions for her with her own. This is a great text for analyzing character development and relationships.
“Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan (9th Grade)
In another excerpt from The Joy Luck Club, Waverly recounts her memories of growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown and her relationship with her mother. One Christmas, Waverly’s brother receives a chess set and she is determined to learn how to play. Waverly becomes a skilled player, but she also begins to feel suffocated by her mother’s pride. This is a great text for studying the use of metaphor, as chess represents the conflict between Waverly and her mother.
“He — Y, Come On Ou — t!” by Shinichi Hoshi, translated by Stanleigh Jones (9th Grade)
This allegorical science fiction tale tells of a small village that discovers a newly formed hole nearby. After shouting into the hole and tossing in a pebble, the townspeople hear no echo and start squabbling over what to do about this curiosity. Soon, a businessman claims the hole and starts charging people to dispose of their trash. The townspeople forget all about the mystery of the hole until the day they hear a shout from the sky and see a single pebble falling down. This text offers commentary on the consequences of acting selfishly and not respecting the environment.
“Eraser Tattoo” by Jason Reynolds (10th Grade)
In this short story for 10th graders, teenagers Shay and Dante sit on a stoop in Brooklyn reflecting on their relationship as they wait for Shay’s parents to finish packing up to move out of town. Shay uses a pencil eraser to give Dante a friction burn in the shape of an “S.” As they make their final goodbyes, Dante knows that the hurt of the moment will fade but he is forever changed by Shay–just as his arm will retain the scar of the eraser tattoo. This text offers an opportunity for students to analyze how dialogue develops characters and reveals themes.
“Safety of Numbers” by Lucy Tan (10th Grade)
In this short story for high school, a Chinese-American teenager just wants to hang out with her friends; she doesn’t understand why her mother pressures her so much to study for the SATs. Over time, she begins to understand her mother by learning of her experiences in China and with the Tiananmen Square Massacre. This is a great story to analyze complex characters and how characters may change over time.
“Cooking Time” by Anita Roy (10th Grade)
Set in a dystopian future, “Cooking Time” tells the story of a world in which all natural sources of food have been destroyed. People subsist on synthetic food tubes produced by a large and powerful corporation. A passionate young girl aspires to taste and cook real food by way of a competition reality TV show in which contestants time travel to retrieve real ingredients. This poignant story offers an opportunity for students to understand how science fiction is used to make social commentary about the real world.
Have students read “Cooking Time” and analyze how science fiction is used to make social commentary.
“Marigolds” by Eugenia Collier (10th Grade)
In this classic short story for high school, Lizabeth recalls a moment from her childhood that marked the end of her innocence. In the midst of the Great Depression, young Lizabeth feels confused and afraid of the upheaval in her family and community. Her inner turmoil drives her to destroy Miss Lottie’s beautiful marigolds. This thematically rich text is great for analyzing symbolism, as the marigolds represent different things to Lizabeth and Miss Lottie.
“The Wretched and the Beautiful” by E. Lily Yu (10th Grade)
This science fiction story asks the reader to consider what it truly means to be human. In it, one group of aliens — who appear to be grotesque and in poor health — arrive and ask for asylum on earth. Another group arrives, but they are fewer, have more resources, and appear incredibly beautiful. This story uses symbolism to discuss the concepts of prejudice, immigration, and charity.
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