". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Teaching Short Stories

All year long I have been teaching an introductory literature course to a small group of homeschoolers. I am organizing our study by genre (fiction, drama, poetry, etc.) so as to enable an analytical approach to the major elements of each.

In December the class completed a unit on short stories. For any of my readers who might be interested, here are the stories we used. Some are slightly more challenging than others, but I would recommend them all as high-interest, enjoyable "reads" suitable for the average junior high or high school student. After each story, I have included a brief annotation highlighting a significant element of the story.

Frank Stockton, "The Lady, or the Tiger?" (lots of good vocabulary and an indeterminate ending that provides a great writing prompt!)
Shirley Jackson, "Charles" (fun, easy story with a surprise ending about an incorrigible kindergartener)
Guy Maupassant, "The Necklace" (another surprise ending; great for studying symbolism)
William Saroyan, "An Ornery Kind of Kid" (excellent growing up story about a father & son; postive portrait of family life; good story for teaching characterization)
Ray Bradbury, "All Summer in a Day" (short, riveting sci-fi with another unexpected ending)
Richard Connell, "The Most Dangerous Game" (Gothic suspense with a twist; especially useful for teaching setting and irony)
O Henry, "The Last Leaf" (not too long, extremely touching with another surprise ending, good for teaching theme and irony), "The Ransom of Red Chief" (just a lot of fun), & "The Gift of the Magi" (a classic, great for irony and theme)
Katherine Mansfield, "The Garden Party" (thought-provoking story about class stratification & caring for others; has an admirable and interesting main female character)
W.W. Jacobs, "The Monkey's Paw" (a touch of horror with another indeterminate ending--lends itself well to "what would you do" discussion)
Somerset Maugham, "The Verger" (interesting story about a humble church janitor who dares to "buck" the system--includes some all-too familiar "church politics" commentary--also great for teaching irony)
Jack London, "To Build a Fire" (setting & descriptive language, naturalistic philosophy, theme of fate)

Many (but not all) of these stories can be found online at ClassicShorts.com. In addition to the stories themselves, I have used as a general reference Laurence Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense (HBJ, Fifth Edition, 1988). If you can put your hands on a copy of this or another of Perrine's books you will have an invaluable aid to understanding and teaching the reading and appreciation of literature.

In addition to reading the stories, students were required to keep a journal in which they recorded their responses to the stories as well as unfamiliar vocabulary words. At the conclusion of the unit they wrote an analytical essay and took a test on their understanding of literary terms. I don't believe in testing on minor details of plot--heck, I can't even remember them all!--because I just don't think it serves any useful purpose other than to test for reading, and I know these students are doing the reading (unlike many in the public school classes I used to teach).

Our class is currently wrapping up a study of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and preparing to move on to Orwell's Animal Farm and then a unit on poetry. In the future, I hope to be able to include some comments on our experience with those texts as well.


Holli said...

To Build a Fire - Is that the story that takes place in the arctic? and the main character kills his dog to stay warm? It rings a bell but, it has been SO long since I read it. I think I got all choked up over it - 7th grade, Mr. Meier's class :)

Cheryl said...

I think you're thinking of the same story--the man does try to kill the dog--but his hands are already so frozen that he is unable to do so. The man ends up freezing to death and the very end of the story describes the dog running off to find camp (implying the dog survives).

elephantschild said...

Ooooo, I want to hear more about your Poetry unit! (Can I come?)

Cheryl said...

Can you come? Judging from the quality of original work that you have shared on your blog, I think the operative question is, can you teach the class for me?

elephantschild said...

Argh! Never actually taught... anything. Ever.

We'll talk, ok? If I can help some teens not be scared of poetry, that would be time well spent, although I'm hardly the type to be plowing thru Keats... :)

Karen said...

I had planned on starting Animal Farm last week, but decided that I needed to split my children up into two groups. The younger ones will be reading through the book for exposure, while the older two will be studying it in depth. I would love to hear more about your Animal Farm unit. Karen