Best short short stories for high schoolers that stimulate discussion
May 18, 2022 11:51 PM   Subscribe

Hi! I am looking for some recommendations for short short stories that are great for getting students talking. I have had great success with The Lottery.

The group that I work with in fact are adult English teachers in Spain, but ideally the texts we use could be used in their own high school classrooms. They seems to like more modern and contemporary stuff, as most of them have seen the classics in their university education.

I am a big reader, but not so much of short stories, so any recommendations would be extremely helpful!
posted by maca to Education (38 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: If they are available online, even better!
posted by maca at 11:58 PM on May 18

Would they be able to see the subtle change in diction in the classic "Flowers for Algernon"?

Is "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry considered a classic as well?
posted by kschang at 12:31 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

We read Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" in Grade 10 English, and the whole class enjoyed it very much.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:33 AM on May 19 [4 favorites]

How about stories by O’henry (The Last Leaf)? Margaret Atwood has written excellent short stories (I love Moral Disorder but she has a newer colllection out too). Toni Morrison. Maeve Binchy for some lighter fare.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 12:35 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

Also Wilderness Tips!
posted by Tandem Affinity at 12:39 AM on May 19

I'm also a big fan of Fritz Leiber's "A Pail of Air."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:42 AM on May 19 [2 favorites]

George Saunders Escape from Spiderhead (fair warning - lots of disturbing stuff). He's written a lot of short stories though, and quite a lot are short short.
posted by crocomancer at 12:47 AM on May 19 [2 favorites]

The Lady, or the Tiger by Frank Stockton
posted by pangolin party at 3:21 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

"The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin is probably good: "when I get to teach my speculative fiction unit to jaded 15 year olds, it’s Omelas that comes through with the goods every time."

You mentioned "short short stories" -- could you suggest a length limit? Maybe around 1500 words?
posted by brainwane at 3:26 AM on May 19 [13 favorites]

I had a great discussion with a group of 15-16 year olds about "The Yellow Wallpaper."
posted by basalganglia at 3:44 AM on May 19 [3 favorites]

Since a lot of the writers being suggested here are problematic, I'll add Hemingway and Hills Like White Elephants.

But I'm sure people have written things in the last 75 years, we (including me) must be able to do better than this.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:57 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

I've used Joyce Carol Oates's "The Assignation" from grades 5-college and it's a wild ride. It's a 1-paragraph story with so many possibilities.
posted by archimago at 4:11 AM on May 19

"To build a fire" by Jack London...

Hemingway "Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and "Snows of Kilimanjaro"....
posted by rhonzo at 4:37 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

Omgg “the Use of Force” by William Carlos Williams - about a country doctor who tries to examine a child for diphtheria but the subtext is about power, coercion, medicine, gender and more…

You can start by having students read the story and have a blind poll to see whether the use of force was justified. Then discuss why!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:52 AM on May 19 [3 favorites]

STET, by Sarah Gailey. The form is very unusual, the story is very short, and the moral question in it is very current and interesting.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:54 AM on May 19

Two words for you:

Dorothy. Parker.

She was a very, very keen observer of human nature and her work reflects that. Some particularly good options:

The Standard of Living: two young women are secretaries in an office, and have a game they play on their lunch break - they go for a walk and window-shop in the various boutiques near their workplace, fantasizing about "suppose someone left you a million dollars, what would you buy?" Then one day they decide to actually go in and find out how much one of the items in a boutique really costs...

You Were Perfectly Fine: A man wakes up after a very eventful night drinking. So eventful, in fact, that he can't really remember what happened - and his girlfriend, about whom he feels ambivalent, takes great delight in telling him all about things he said and did.

Good Souls is a character study of a certain type of self-deprecating person - it starts out sounding like a tribute, but gradually you catch on that it really, really isn't.

A Telephone Call is the internal monologue of a woman waiting for a call from the guy she has a crush on.

Arrangement In Black And White concerns a woman who is attending a party where a famous African-American singer is also a guest; she asks the hostess for an introduction, because she's not prejudiced, goodness me not at all...

She has a few collections of short stories out there; any one of them will yield several good options.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:01 AM on May 19 [3 favorites]

Anything by Flannery O'Connor. My students especially enjoyed Good Country People.

Another one that might be currently relevant is Desiree's Baby by Kate Chopin. This one always got them pretty emotional and conversational.
posted by SamanthaK at 7:22 AM on May 19

“Mother of Invention” is one of my favorite short stories but I also really love African futurism. It’s written by Nnedi Okorafor and is much more current than many of the short stories references above. Great themes about motherhood, relationships, taking care of those around you, roles of technology in our lives and climate change.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:24 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of great options in Friday Black
posted by thivaia at 7:27 AM on May 19

If they liked The Lottery, Shirley Jackson's Charles would probably go over well too. It's lighter in tone but still pulls the rug out from under you at the end.
posted by cakelite at 8:01 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

The Necklace by Guy De Maupassant!! Rug is pulled!!
posted by blazingunicorn at 8:05 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned "The Husband Stitch"! (Bonus: here's an essay about classroom discussion around this story.)
posted by babelfish at 8:05 AM on May 19 [3 favorites]

How would they feel about a story originally written in Spanish, but with an English translation? If that's acceptable, I'd recommend The Axolotl by Julio Cortázar.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:46 AM on May 19 [2 favorites]

"The Long Sheet" by William Sansom
posted by honeybee413 at 8:55 AM on May 19

When I was teaching teenagers a couple of decades ago they really got into Walter Mosley's Socrates Fortlow books. Each chapter, some of which I remember as very short, was a complete story. Major discussions ensued.

They also got into short stories by Sherman Alexie, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros.

If I were still teaching I would add more contemporary stories.
posted by mareli at 9:18 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

I usually recommend T. C. Boyle's "Back in the Eocene," but I'd be interested in whether that would be resonant with folks who don't have explicit "say no to drugs" programs in their schools (does Spain do this?).

If you're interested in messing around with style, Daniel Orozco's "Officers Weep" is a charmer.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:38 AM on May 19

How about some Alice Munro? Runaway has some interesting short stories. The Spanish film Julieta is an adaptation of three of these stories that feature the same characters, which might appeal to your Spanish audience.
posted by emd3737 at 10:01 AM on May 19

The Swimmer
posted by perhapses at 10:42 AM on May 19 [2 favorites]

chekhov's the bet
posted by 20 year lurk at 12:13 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]

Perhaps some of these, they appear to be from an English class in 2019 and include Omelas and The Lottery.
posted by Awfki at 12:25 PM on May 19

Seconding The Bet, and now I'm going to send it to my son to read.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 2:00 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]

Cakelite mentioned Charles which I think I read in 8th grade. I haven't thought of it in forever but the minute it was mentioned I remembered the ending.
posted by wittgenstein at 4:10 PM on May 19

"Do You Want My Opinion?" by ME Kerr. I read it in high school. It made for great discussion.
posted by virve at 7:56 PM on May 19

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury.

A Day’s Wait by Hemingway.
posted by katie at 2:42 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]

If you use Le Guin's "Omelas," you might pair it with N.K. Jemisin's "The Ones Who Stay and Fight," a response to the former story.
posted by xenization at 8:03 AM on May 20

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