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 share)
    • If you need a great resource for learning about your students, I recommend checking out Ace's (@teachingoutsidethebinary) resources here! Just make a copy of the document.
  • 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”?
"The Bus Ride" by Sahar Sabati

Sahar Sabati creates a fantastically creepy, mysterious mood in her story that allows us to reflect on our assumptions about other people, but also asks us to question that gut feeling we sometimes have. This story is great to continue working with understanding humanity while also focusing on style and mood.

  • Before Reading Questions:
    • When you walk into a room or get on a bus, where do you choose to sit? Why?
    • Take a look at just page 4 of the reading document and preview the vocabulary. Based on the vocabulary words, make two predictions about the story.
  • Vocabulary Assignment:
    • After reading the story. summarize it in your own words in a paragraph. Use at least five of the vocabulary words from the vocabulary page.
  • The Other Perspective Writing Assignment:
    • In "The Bus Ride," we see the scene from only the perspective of the nurse.
    • Write a diary entry from the perspective of someone else on the bus. It could be another passenger, the bus driver, or the man himself.
    • Try to keep the same style and mood of Sahar Sabati and borrow elements from her writing.
  • After Reading Questions:
    • At what point would you have started to become suspicious of the man?
    • What do you think was in the bottle he was drinking?
    • What did you think of the ending?
    • How did the main character, the nurse, seem unreliable at times?
    • What details helped build the mood of the story?
    • How was this story similar or different to the other stories we have read?
    • Compared to the theme/central message of "Thank You, Ma'am," what do you think the main message of this story is?
"The Stolen Party" by Liliana Heker

This story allows us to return to learning about culture and our expectations and interactions with people. Similar to "Girl," we see a young girl and her mother engage about what to do in social situations. Yet again, we also see the nuances of humanity and choices that we make.

  • Reader Reactions Activity
    • In "The Bus Ride," we saw a woman analyze a man, make assumptions, and later learned that she was right all along. Throughout that story, you probably thought that the man was suspicious at one point or another, that the woman was being too analytical, and you made predictions.
    • As you read "The Stolen Party," I want you to stop at each page and record your feelings, reactions, questions, predictions, etc. regarding the short story and what will happen. You can do this in bullet points or by small paragraphs.
    • You can submit this in whatever fashion works best for you (such as a Google Doc, PowerPoint, handwritten + take a picture, etc.)
  • Comprehensive Activity for All Five Stories
    • We have spent some time looking at style and mood in each of the stories we have read.
    • Create a chart in which you reflect on the five stories and detail some elements of the writers' styles and mood of the stories. When thinking about how the mood is developed, consider including direct quotes to support your analysis.

1 comment:

  1. I just randomly found your blog post, which included my story -- thank you! It's been pretty amazing, finding all these resources helping teenagers to read my story and understand it better!