12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

ELA teachers love a good short story… and there are some short stories that are so beloved that are worthy of teaching year after year. If you’re looking for a curated list of those “year-after-year-worthy” short stories to incorporate when teaching the story elements, you’ve come to the right place. I’m dropping 12 of my favorites for middle schoolers. Narrowing it down to 12 was so much harder than I thought it would be.

See how many of these short stories are already on your list of most-loved and which ones might be new additions for you and your students!


12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

Eleven – Sandra Cisneros

This story is both relatable and sad. It focuses on an 11-year-old girl on her birthday who is treated poorly by her teacher. Rachel explains how she is not just 11 but all the ages that came before rolled into one as she attempts to deal with a teacher who forces her to take responsibility for a sweater the teacher believes belongs to her, but Rachel is clear that it is not hers. This story is perfect for 6th graders and is a great option to pair with Gary Soto’s “Seventh Grade” short story for an activity in compare and contrast.


Thank You Ma’am – Langston Hughes

With an interesting twist in how an older woman treats a young boy who tries to rob her, Hughes focuses on the human need to help others. There is a great film to pair with the story that can help to deepen students’ understanding of the action. This story is also a great focus for character study. 

12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

This story works well for students to explore characterization & character motives – why the boy acts as he does and why the older woman responds in such an unexpected way to him. Examining the inclusion of direct and indirect characterization will give your students the tools they need for character analysis.  Check out my character analysis resources here.


12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

Stray – Cynthia Rylant

Stray is a simple and sweet story about an innocent little girl who finds a stray dog. She bonds with the dog but knows she won’t be allowed to keep it because her family wouldn’t be able to support another mouth to feed. Many 6th-grade students will connect with Doris due to her deep desire to keep and care for the pet.

Because this story is easy to relate to, it can be used to explore character growth, character traits, and analysis. It’s also got a relatively straightforward plot, so it makes a solid choice to use when teaching the plot diagram.


Fortune Cookie – Avi

With an interesting twist in how an older woman treats a young boy who tries to rob her, Hughes focuses on the human need to help others. There is a great film to pair with the story that can help to deepen students’ understanding of the action. This story is also a great focus for character study. 

12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

Use Parker’s perspective as a gateway to exploring point of view. After students gain an understanding of POV through a mini-lesson, they can extend or change the story’s perspective to gain a deeper understanding of the character and plot in Avi’s story. 


12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

The Bracelet – Yoshiko Uchida

This short story is all about one girl’s experience as a Japanese American during WWII. Ruri lives on the West Coast and is one of many who are evacuated to inland internment camps. This historical moment is framed through Ruri’s personal experience as she shares about her family and life in her community before and after their forced evacuation. Once they’re evacuated, Ruri shares about the initial day trying to settle into horse stall 40. Late in the day, she notices that she has lost the bracelet her best friend gave her and this leads to great upset and further reflection about what we keep with us in our memories. 

The story is an excellent option to explore story elements such as setting, theme, plot, and characterization. Whether students already know about Japanese internment or not should not hinder their understanding of the story since Uchida incorporates some context into the early parts of the story. This is a good opportunity, though, to spend a bit more time on setting so that the historical moment can be better understood. You can grab my free mini-lesson on setting by signing up for my email newsletter below.


All Summer In a Day – Ray Bradbury

Another classic from Bradbury! This one, set on Venus, is about an interaction with a group of students who are excited to have their first experience seeing the sun. Where they live, the sun only appears once every seven years so it will be a first experience for many. There is, however, one student who has experienced the sun since she lived on Earth before migrating to Venus. The other students in the class don’t believe her stories and force her into a closet while they head outside for their first experience with the sun. When they return to class, the children remember Margot and let her out of the closet. This is when they feel shame when they realize Margot was telling the truth, and now she’d missed out on the experience. 

12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

If you’ve been around for a while, you know Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors to turn to for middle school short stories. This one is no different. Read more about Bradbury’s short stories and how I use them in class in this post


12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

The Dinner Party – Mona Gardner

This super short story–it’s about 500 words–has a great ending! Set in India, a group gets together for a dinner party when one spots a snake. It turns out that another guest was aware all along and kept her calm to address the situation much to the surprise of all of the other guests.

With it being so short, this story includes sparse detail, so it is great for inference practice. Students can piece together the moments before the story’s big reveal!


Two Were Left – Hugh B. Cave

A young boy named Noni and his husky, Nimuk, are stranded on an ice flow in the Arctic and both are starving for food. Noni puts a plan into motion to kill his dog to save himself but before he can commit the act he changes his mind. Then suddenly Nimuk begins to act aggressively and Noni worries he is set to be a meal for Nimuk. Finally, the dog chooses to lick Noni rather than eat him and in that moment a plane spots the two because the pilot’s attention was caught by the shiny knife that Noni had thrown out of his reach. 

12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

I love using this story for teaching conflict since it’s accessible with its simplicity and clear language to build suspense for the reader!


12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

Charles – Shirley Jackson

Author Shirley Jackson is known for her short stories featuring a good twist, and this one is no exception. A young boy named Laurie recounts his initial days in kindergarten, with a particular focus on a mischievous classmate named Charles. As the story unfolds, Charles’s behavior gradually improves.  When Laurie’s mother attends a parent meeting and discusses his progress with the teacher, an unexpected revelation emerges when the teacher reveals that there is no student named Charles in the class, leaving readers to question the true identity of Laurie’s troublemaking companion.

The plot of this story can be a bit more challenging, and the ending might need a bit of explanation for some students. The takeaway from the story is that things aren’t always what they seem.


The Medicine Bag – Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve

Martin’s first-person narrative revolves around his Sioux grandfather’s visit to his home in North Dakota. Martin attempts to shield his friends from meeting his grandfather to preserve the fictional image he has created. However, despite his efforts, his friends meet him and are taken with him and his differences from them. Martin and his grandfather have a heartfelt conversation about Martin’s emotions, and the grandfather shares his cultural history, of the medicine bag the grandfather wears around his neck. The story concludes with Martin wearing the medicine bag after his grandfather’s passing, symbolizing his acceptance of his mixed identity.

12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

Use this story for close reading activities about character development or use it to facilitate discussions on identity and culture. Once students have read the story, you can even complement their reading with some contemporary news about Native Americans in contemporary society.

Friendly Warning: there are a few lines that may send your class into giggles!


12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

Amigo Brothers – Piri Thomas

In this story set in New York City, best friends Antonio and Felix are competing against one another in a boxing match to decide who will continue to represent their club in the Golden Gloves tournament – a famous boxing match. In the lead-up to the match, we learn more about their friendship and their approaches to boxing. The story spends a fair bit with a play-by-play of the match and the story ends without a clear resolution.

The lack of a clear resolution is why this is a great short story for teaching theme! It’s all about friendship and loyalty, and the ending makes that clear. With this theme focused on a simple conflict, it is also a good story to focus on the two main characters. Since theme can sometimes be difficult for students to grasp, get them to work their way to it. Use a Venn diagram to see where Antonio and Felix are the same and different and how they face the conflict in the story. This exercise should help to illuminate the story’s theme and bring a bit more depth to students’ analysis, too.


Broken Chain – Gary Soto

I think nearly every middle school teacher has taught a Gary Soto story; his stories are beloved for taking small moments and making them more universal to all readers. In “Broken Chain,” Alfonso has a crush on Sandra, and he wants to impress her on their first date. Alfonso and Sandra plan to go bike riding on their date, but all the things that could go wrong leading up to it seem to go wrong. Alfonso worries about his appearance and what impression he’ll make on Sandra. On the day of their date, there are issues with the bikes they’re going to ride. Finally, they meet up and make the best of the situation with Sandra riding on the handlebars of the bike Alfonso borrows from his brother. While the situation is not ideal, the end makes up for everything else! 

12 Must-Read Short Stories for Teaching the Story Elements in Middle School

Since this is yet another story that is great for character development with strong themes of identity, I spend time on characterization, point of view, and theme! From there, it might make sense for you and your students to examine not just the social and cultural elements of identity in the story but the economic influences, too. The story mentions a lot of brand names, and these carry social value in the story (and in real life). This could make for a great topic of discussion and post-reading/discussion reflection. 


I always start my short stories unit with a strong focus on story elements. Then, I find ways to deepen their understanding of each element by selecting a short story based on students’ interests and what the story can offer.

Check out this post if you want to know more about teaching the elements of fiction.

Have a few short stories to recommend for teaching the story elements? Drop a comment below and share them with me!

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