CommonLit 360 “Bad Behavior”: A Short Story Unit from CommonLit 360 that Will Spark Incredible Discussions In the Beginning of 8th Grade

A screenshot of the 8th Grade Unit 1 on a computer with the logo "CommonLit 360 Curriculum" over it.

This ELA Unit includes high-interest stories about moral dilemmas and distinguishing right from wrong from authors like Roald Dahl and Richard Matheson.

What Is CommonLit 360?

CommonLit 360 is a free English Language Arts curriculum for grades 6-12 that includes content-rich units and compelling texts. Each fully-built out unit integrates reading, writing, listening, and speaking lessons. It is easy for teachers to use, with clear facilitation tips, actionable assessments, and ready-made tools to support differentiation.    

Why Unit 1 Is Perfect for Back to School

The first unit in 8th grade is called “Bad Behavior.” This unit is anchored around four engaging short stories that depict characters struggling between right and wrong, including characters who willingly make immoral decisions by reasoning that the end result justifies their bad behavior. Students also engage in a nonfiction text to help them further engage with the short stories. As students progress through this unit, they will answer the Essential Question: “How do we know what is right? Why do people choose to do wrong?”  

This unit engages students by encouraging them to voice their personal opinions through collaborative class discussions. The short stories open students’ eyes to the nuances of the universal debate over what is right and wrong.

The Core Texts in This Unit

  • Ruthless” by William DeMille: a short story about a vindictive man’s plan for revenge featuring a shocking twist ending that will help students analyze how point of view and situational irony are used to affect readers
  • Button, Button” by Richard Matheson: a short story about a couple faced with a mysterious and tempting offer that forces them to choose between their own happiness and greed and someone else’s life. This text will also help students understand how authors build suspense through different points of view
  • Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl: a story about how one woman reacts to her husband’s shocking betrayal and then decides to cover her tracks in an unexpected way that will show how authors build suspense through drama and irony
  • Lather and Nothing Else” by Hernando Téllez: a short story about a barber’s internal conflict who struggles to decide between taking revenge and maintaining his integrity as he shaves the beard of a cruel officer
A screenshot of the text "Lather and Nothing Else."

These compelling and engaging fictional texts allow students to consider the experiences and events that lead people from childhood to adulthood. There is also an informational text about the three levels of moral development to help students gain background knowledge.

Unit 1 Is a Driver for Student Success

In this unit, students will learn about how theme is developed, how dialogue and events propel action, reveal character, or provoke a decision, and how different points of view create dramatic irony and suspense. Students will also practice argument and expository writing, learning how to write strong arguments, introductions, and conclusions.

This unit also includes incredible writing lessons that are grade-level appropriate and rigorous. Meanwhile, these lessons are effectively scaffolded for students so that they can meet the end of unit goals and outcomes. As a former teacher, I know how difficult it is to teach writing. CommonLit’s writing lessons are laid out in a way that sets teachers up for success. Each CommonLit 360 unit gives teachers all the steps they need to get students to meet end of unit goals that will accelerate their writing success. Through carefully scaffolded lessons, students will practice writing a strong argument, planning an essay, and writing introductions and conclusions.

By the end of the unit, students will plan and write a full literary analysis essay that includes paragraphs with strong argument statements and complete introduction and conclusion paragraphs. This is a key skill for 8th graders! Future units built on this skill. If students can master this skill in Unit 1, they will be ready to move on to Unit 2 of the 360 Curriculum, where they will be asked to improve upon their literary analysis writing skills by backing their clear arguments with contextualized evidence and strong explanations. Unit 2 is called “Courageous Choices,” making it a perfect complement that is thematically connected to Unit 1.

Students will love the Discussion Lesson, where students answer the following question: “In ‘Ruthless', Judson’s plan to punish a thief leads to his own death. In ‘Button, Button,” Norma’s desire for a better life leads to her husband’s death. In these stories, do you think people get what they deserve? Why or why not?” These discussion lessons will help students hone their speaking and listening skills, practicing referring to evidence in discussion to build on or challenge others’ ideas. There are many opportunities for informal discussion, but this formal whole class discussion will help students be set up for success for future classroom discussions critical in 8th grade and into high school.

One of the most engaging lessons in this unit is the Related Media Exploration. In this thought-provoking lesson, students will work with their peers to examine the famous moral dilemma known as the Trolley Problem. Students will discuss if they would kill one person to save four others. This lesson allows students to hone their discussion skills while also relating the Trolley Problem to unit texts like “Button, Button,” and asking students to think about what position characters would take if presented with the Trolley Problem. This lesson will be an easy sell for students, who will be eager to discuss and debate this popular moral dilemma.

A screenshot of the Related Media Lesson.

To add depth to the texts, this unit includes three supplemental texts in English and in Spanish, including a short story by renowned author Langston Hughes about a boy who tries to steal a woman’s purse but instead learns a valuable lesson about kindness.

Additionally, the unit also includes:

  • A book club guide
  • Vocabulary and grammar lessons
  • Diagnostic, formative, and end-of-unit assessments

How Unit 1 Drives Teacher Success

CommonLit 360 provides a wealth of tools that will make the beginning of the year a breeze. Each comprehensive unit is set up for teachers and includes everything from fully-fleshed out lesson plans to vocabulary quizzes to discussion prompts and more. If your school purchases our School Essentials PRO package, you can access our Professional Development Portal. These self-paced tutorials are specifically designed to help teachers utilize all CommonLit 360 has to offer in their classroom.

Additionally, digital grading and feedback tools, interactive reading and writing lessons, and data tracking can save you hours previously spent on planning and grading. Working within contract hours will no longer be an unattainable pipe dream, and you can use the extra time to continue to focus on relationship building in your classroom.

Next Steps

Sign up for a CommonLit 360 webinar to get a comprehensive overview of how the curriculum works and how to use the digital platform.

Interested in gaining access to on-demand professional development that will help your team take full advantage of CommonLit 360? Reach out to partnerships@commonlit.org. You can also request a quote for School Essentials PRO via this link.

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