5 Short Stories to Start Your Year

During the summer, I teach for a program where I have complete autonomy in choosing the texts we read. On Instagram, I asked people for their recommendations of short stories that work for 9th grade that feature a variety of lived experiences and identities, and I received tons of great examples.

During our summer program, I decided to pick five short stories to read with the students.

These stories are the following:
"The 'F Word'" by Firoozeh Dumas
"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid
"Thank You, Ma'am" by Langston Hughes
"The Bus Ride" by Sahar Sabati
"The Stolen Party" by Liliana Heker

Each week, we spent time with one story. Below, you will see a brief synopsis of each story and some activities you might consider doing with your classes. Note: I did all of these digitally through Schoology, so I do not have actual handouts to share at this time (June 2020), but please check back because when we return to school (hopefully in September), I'll make handouts :)

"The 'F Word'" by Firoozeh Dumas (from Funny in Farsi)

This is a fantastic short story detailing Dumas' experiences moving from Iran to the United States and "having a foreign name in this land." She says, "All of us immigrants knew that moving to America would be fraught with challenges, but none of us thought that our names would be such an obstacle."

  • Ask students for their preferred names/pronunciation/pronouns (if they wish to)
  • The Power In Your Name Assignment (these are the directions I gave the kids):
    • I'd like to you spend some time reflecting on your name. You can do this before, during, or after reading the short story.
    • You can complete this assignment in a way that is best for you. Perhaps you want to write a poem, a paragraph, a journal entry, make a presentation, draw something (you can take a picture of it and upload), or some other creative way of your choosing.
    • You can use the following questions to guide your creation:
      • What is your name/preferred name?
      • Does your name have more than one meaning? How did you get your name?
      • Is there anything you wish people knew about your name?
      • Why are names important? How are they important?
  • Listen to a brief bio recording in which she also pronounces her name
  • Watch Dumas' video on Muslims in the Media
  • Questions to ask:
    • What is your overall opinion about the short story? Did you have a favorite line or part? Discuss your reasoning.
    • Identify three choices that Dumas makes as a writer. You might focus on her writing style, strategies she uses, her tone, style, word choice, etc. Why do you think she made those choices as a writer? What is the impact of her choices?
    • What are the internal and external conflicts in the story? (Consider ones such as character vs. character, character vs. self, character vs. society, character vs. nature).
    • Why do you think the author chose the title?
    • What message might Dumas be sending with this short story?
    • Based on the video and short story, how would you describe her personality?
    • Through the video and her story, what commentary does she make about the media and people’s preferences?
    • What do you think we can learn by listening to Dumas’ story and experiences?
"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid

As we continue working with culture, identity, names, and more, we see Kincaid's story as a way to look at what we are taught to do based on who we are and how we are raised. Her style and tone are great to analyze as is her word choice where we can learn a lot of vocabulary relating to Caribbean culture in 1978.

  • Watch this style analysis video
  • "Girl" Inspired Writing Assignment (these are the directions I gave the kids):
    • Create a piece inspired by “Girl.”
    • Consider what stylistic elements you can borrow from Jamaica Kincaid but also think about your own style and approach.
    • Minimum 350 words (about half the length of “Girl”)
    • You can be however creative as you want with the topic.
    • For example, I could write one called “Teacher” and have a list of all the responsibilities my job requires. I could reflect on life during quarantine, I could think about my identity as a sister, daughter, friend, etc. It can also be about someone or something else.
    • Specifically focus on how you use style, tone, and mood.
  • Questions to ask:
    • What do you notice about the way "Girl" is written?
    • Is there anything in the story that you felt a particular strong reader reaction to?
    • How is "Girl" different from "The 'F Word'"?
    • What are some techniques or elements authors include in their writing to develop their style?
    • What is tone? Mood? How do certain words help develop tone and mood?
    • How did the style, tone, and mood of “The ‘F Word’” compare to “Girl”?
    • What does Jamaica Kincaid teach us about Caribbean culture in 1978?
    • What are some norms or expectations you grew up with that maybe differ from other homes, cultures, and families?
    • For example, I cannot show up empty handed to an event such as a barbecue or birthday party, but sitting down for dinner was not an expectation in my family.
"Thank You, Ma'am" by Langston Hughes

After spending some time looking at who we are and our cultures, we start getting into people, humanity, our choices, our inferences, and our biases. It also opens conversation for intersectionality, morality, and restorative justice.

  • Before Reading Questions:
    • What does it mean to be a good, honest person? What makes someone good?
    • If someone does or says something wrong (note that what we all think of as wrong can vary), how do we make that situation right? Perhaps you want to discuss a specific example.
  • "Thank You, Ma'am" Short Film Analysis
    • Watch the short film
    • Assignment:
      • After you read the story and watch the film version, answer the following questions in a paragraph:
        • 1. What are some similarities or differences between the text and film?
        • 2. What are some choices the filmmaker made? Think about lighting, camera angle, sound, casting, etc. What were the effects of these choices? Did they help?
        • 3. Which version was more powerful? Why?
  • After Reading Questions:
    • Do you think the story is realistic?
    • What’s your reaction to the fact that he never saw her again?
    • What are some choices that Langston Hughes made as a writer? What did you notice about his style?
    • What have you noticed about the titles of the stories we have read in relation to the actual story?
    • What did you think about the film version?
    • How did the style, tone, and mood of “Girl” compare to “Thank You, Ma’am”?
I'll update this post as we finish the unit :)

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