CommonLit Secondary Classrooms 7 Short Stories About Greed for Secondary Students

CommonLit’s digital library contains stories about greed with lessons and discussion questions you can pair with each text.

From ancient myths, to folktales, to modern short stories, the theme of greed is a theme that appears throughout our library.

Secondary teachers can assign these tales of greed individually, or ask students to compare and contrast the stories’ similar messages about how people are driven by greed. Students will love dissecting these fanciful stories while improving their reading comprehension skills and understanding of literary themes.

The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen (6th Grade)

In this classic folktale, an emperor spends all of his money on being well-dressed. The emperor wants extravagant, new clothes, so he hires two weavers to make his new wardrobe. The weavers trick the emperor into parading around naked, fooling him into thinking he is wearing expensive garments.

After reading this story about greed, have students respond to Assessment Question 5, “Why does the Emperor hire the weavers, and how does this contribute to a major theme in the text?” Look for responses that analyze how the Emperor’s actions develop the theme of power and greed throughout the story.

The Fisherman and His Wife” by The Brothers Grimm (6th Grade)

In this folktale about greed, a fisherman catches a magical fish that grants every wish demanded by the fisherman’s wife. At first, the fisherman and his wife are enchanted, but then their wishes go too far, and the fish’s powers backfire.

Teachers can start a discussion using Discussion Question 1, “Is it easier to control greed when a person has access to anything they could want? Why or why not?” Ask students to extend their answers by citing evidence from their own experiences, other literature, art, or history, to support their understanding from the text.

The Story of Prometheus and Pandora’s Box” by James Baldwin (8th Grade)

In this version of the ancient Greek myth, author James Baldwin rewrites the well-known tale of Prometheus and Pandora. The language of this adaptation makes the plot and morals of the story even more accessible to secondary students, as the characters abuse power, seek revenge and justice, and fall victim to their own greed.

To extend the students’ understanding of greed and abuse of power, pair this tale of greed with “The Stanford Prison Experiment” from the Paired Texts tab. Have students discuss the central ideas of both texts, and ask, “What can happen if someone is given too much power? How do they act when they feel that their power is threatened?”

Paired texts for “The Story of Prometheus and Pandora’s Box” by James Baldwin.

The Golden Touch” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (8th Grade)

In this story about greed, Nathaniel Hawthorne retells the myth of King Midas. King Midas wishes for everything he touches to become gold, and wakes up to his wish come true. In an attempt to comfort her shocked father, Midas’ daughter goes to hold him and is turned into a golden statue. Midas despairs, and seeks to reverse his power so that he can have his daughter back.

After reading this story, assign informational text “You Can Buy Happiness, if It’s An Experience” from the Paired Texts tab. Have students contrast the news article with Hawthorne’s story to strengthen their reading comprehension of both stories and informational texts.

The Treasure in the Forest” by H.G. Wells (9th Grade)

In this short story about greed, two men in search of a buried treasure let their greed get the best of them. In their attempts to uncover the treasure at any cost, they attempt to pull up the treasure from underneath a dead man’s body. In doing so, the men end up poisoned by the thorns that surrounded the dead body, preventing them from reaching the gold.

Engage students in the theme of greed by showing “The Science of Greed” in the Related Media tab. Continue the discussion by asking, “How does wealth and power affect people? Can these effects be avoided?”

Related Media tab for “The Treasure Forest” by H.G. Wells

The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant (9th Grade)

In this short tale of greed, a woman who yearns to appear wealthy at a fancy dinner borrows her friend’s diamond necklace and loses it. She buys a replacement, landing herself in debt that she spends a decade working to repay. Only after her years of tireless work, she finds out that the necklace she lost in the first place was not made of real diamonds after all.

Spark a deeper investigation of the main character, Mathilde, using Discussion Question 3, “Consider Mathilde’s motives throughout the text. What role does greed play in this story?”

The Pied Piper of Hamelin” by Robert Browning (10th Grade)

This poem about greed tells the German legend of the Pied Piper, who can get rid of all the town’s rats with his flute music. The Piper leads the rats to drown in the river as they follow his music. But when the mayor of the town refuses to pay the Piper, he seeks revenge on the town, leading all the children of the village into a portal where they disappear forever.

Use our online reading program to create a custom annotation prompt when assigning this reading lesson. Ask students to annotate for the characterization of both the Pied Piper and the Mayor. After annotation, have students discuss what roles both characters play in developing the story’s theme of greed.

Next Steps

Looking for more stories about greed for your ELA curriculum? Check out our Power & Greed Text Sets for collections of powerful stories and nonfiction texts or come to one of our webinars!

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