These compelling short stories 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 stories that middle school teachers love.
Whether you’re new to CommonLit's literacy program 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!
“Inside Out” by Francisco Jiménez (6th Grade)
In this story, Francisco struggles in school because he doesn’t speak English. However, he is drawn to the caterpillar that lives in a jar in the classroom. After some time, the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, Francisco becomes acclimated to school, and he is recognized for his artistic talents. This is a great story for studying symbolism, as the butterfly’s metamorphosis represents Francisco’s growth.
“My Side of the Story” by Adam Bagdasarian (6th Grade)
In this relatable short story, the narrator is upset when his older brother Skip sticks tape on his head. The narrator goes to tell his mother but comes across his father, who yells at him instead of his brother. The narrator breaks Skip’s baseball trophy, hoping his brother will make the same mistake of trying to complain to their father. Students with siblings will relate to the narrator’s pursuit of justice after his conflict with his brother.
“Unusual Normality” by Ishmael Beah (6th Grade)
In this memoir, Ishmael Beah describes transitioning to life in America after his experience as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. When Beah’s new school friends invite him to play paintball, they are all amazed at his uncanny abilities to win their games of war. Beah is faced with the decision of revealing his background or staying quiet to enjoy being seen as a child. This text provides a great opportunity for students to consider what they take for granted and think of ways to express gratitude for what they have.
“Button, Button” by Richard Matheson (7th Grade)
Nora and Arthur Lewis receive a package that contains a mysterious button. A man named Mr. Steward explains that if they push the button, someone they don’t know will die and they will receive $50,000. Arthur is horrified, but Nora is intrigued. Eventually, Nora pushes the button and Arthur dies. She calls Mr. Steward, who asks her whether she thinks she really knew her husband. This story, with its shocking twist ending, is useful for analyzing how authors build tension through character interaction and conflict.
“The Party” by Pam Muñoz Ryan (7th Grade)
In this relatable short story, the narrator is not invited to the popular girl’s party. She spends the day at school full of resentment that Bridget, the popular girl, can make her life so miserable. When Bridget ends up inviting the narrator to the party, she must decide if she actually wants to go. The narrator doesn’t reveal her decision, which will spark debate among your students about whether the narrator actually accepts the invitation and why.
“The Save” by Joseph Bruchac (7th Grade)
In this short story, third-string goalie Oren is playing lacrosse and wishing he was better at the sport that his ancestors, the Iroquois, invented. He makes an incredible save, which his team celebrates but Oren believes was just dumb luck. His grandfather, though, tells Oren that he actually has good reflexes, which Oren demonstrates a moment later when he saves his grandfather from flying metal shards. This thematically rich text will get your students talking about the nuances of luck, bravery, and skill.
“The Fan Club” by Rona Maynard (7th Grade)
In this short story, Laura is perceived as weird by her popular classmates. Throughout the story, she is worried Diane, Terri, and Steve are preparing to humiliate her in some way. It turns out that these classmates have been getting ready to publicly embarrass Rachel, a loner who is also seen as odd. The twist ending, in which Laura chooses to take part in mocking Rachel, will spark meaningful discussion about integrity and fitting in.
“Lather and Nothing Else” by Hernando Téllez (8th Grade)
In this gripping short story, which takes place during the Colombian civil war, a barber shaves a military captain’s beard. The barber, a clandestine revolutionary, is deeply uneasy throughout the shave as he wrestles with whether or not to kill the captain. This text provides a great opportunity for students to analyze internal conflict, as the barber wavers back and forth between the idea of being a murderer or a hero.
“The Stone Boy” by Gina Berriault (8th Grade)
In this compelling short story, a young boy named Arnold accidentally shoots his older brother Eugie. Instead of running for help, he goes to pick peas. The adults around him are stunned at Arnold’s reaction and begin to label him as cold and mean. Eventually, Arnold begins to perceive himself as emotionless as well. This is a useful text for studying characterization, as Arnold’s identity is shaped by how others see him over the course of the story.
“The Last Dog” by Katherine Paterson (8th Grade)
In a dystopian future, Brock decides to leave the dome that protects his community from the poisonous atmosphere of the outside world. He comes across a puppy that has lost its mother and he brings her home with him. When the scientists want to perform experiments on his new pet, Brock is determined to save her. This is a great text for analyzing character development, as Brock’s controlled life is deeply changed by the love he has for his puppy.
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