Short stories offer a wealth of teaching opportunities for students of all ages and abilities. For high school students in particular, short stories provide a platform for teaching about both the English language and life itself.
When you’re looking for exciting, meaningful material, refer to this list of contemporary short stories your students are guaranteed to love. There are plenty of collections here that are built around specific themes that you might want to address in your classroom. Find essays within these books that touch on the immigrant experience, climate change, growing up, and embracing LGBTQ+ identity.
The Frontline: Essays on Ukraine’s Past and Present
Serhii Plokhy has put together a collection of essays that talk about key events in Ukrainian history and culture. This book was published in 2021 before the current war broke out and highlights the political conflicts the country has been facing long before it became international headline news.
Browse some of these essays and see if any are appropriate or relevant to your literature class. You can also break your students into groups and select passages that highlight different parts of Ukrainian history at different times.
Roxanne Gay is a powerhouse writer who has published 15 short stories on the Haitian experience in “Ayiti.” Some of the stories take place in the United States while others are located in Haiti. In “Voodoo Child,” a student’s college roommate assumes that she practices voodoo simply because she is from Haiti.
This collection of short stories was published in 2018 and should be appropriate for older students.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Sherman Alexie is the author of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which frequently tops lists as one of the most banned books in American schools. The graphic novel has several illustrations about what life was like growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
If you still want to bring Alexie into your classroom, pick up “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” This is a collection of short stories that continue to highlight Indigenous life in Spokane.
There are plenty of lesson plans and study guides related to this book, but note that some of the essays might not be appropriate for your students.
Old Babes in the Wood
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is another commonly banned book that teachers wish they could bring into the classroom. Fortunately, there are other ways to introduce the work of Margaret Atwood. “Old Babes in the Wood” is a collection of 15 short stories, many of which have appeared in The New Yorker. “My Evil Mother” touches on a contentious mother-daughter relationship while “The Dead Interview” is an interview with George Orwell through a psychic medium.
One or more of these short stories could serve as an alternative to “The Handmaid’s Tale” or provide a contemporary piece of Atwood’s to read with it in the classroom.
Tell Me Pleasant Things about Immortality
If you are looking to bring ghosts, zombies, and demons into your classroom, check out this essay collection by Lindsay Wong. She touches on the immigrant experience from Shanghai to Vancouver and the horror stories that come with it. There are literal ghosts in these short stories along with metaphorical ones that haunt the characters.
This is a great collection for showing how writers can tap into different genres and play up creative themes while still addressing important messaging.
This is Earl Sandt by Robert Olen Butler
This 4,800-word genre-bending story was written online, in a series of seventeen, two-hour live webcasts. As one of the first stories ever composed in this manner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler offers a wealth of educational initiatives for high school students with this creation.
The story begins with a single vintage postcard, plucked at random, an exercise teachers could emulate in the classroom. Butler is also a creative writing teacher himself and says the experimental writing process was very much about teaching and learning. The entire exercise can be watched on YouTube, by searching Inside Creative Writing.
Places Like These
Lauren Carter is a powerful Canadian author who recently published a collection of short stories. There is one essay in particular that is described as “a grieving teenager confronts the unfairness of his small-town world and the oncoming ecological disaster.” This could be a powerful short story to share with your students who are also grappling with climate change and the helplessness that comes with it.
15 Beloved Fairy Tales Reimagined
One of the best ways to spark creativity in your students is with fairy tales. These stories are told endlessly to kids but often have darker source material than we let little ones know about. Many teens who start to read The Brothers Grimm are shocked by stories like “The Little Mermaid,” which looks nothing like the Disney version.
Dahlia Adler curates 15 well-known fairy tales that are retold by well-known YA writers. This book has all of the classics from “Rumpelstiltskin” to “Little Red Riding Hood.” You can build these stories into a Halloween lesson plan and highlight how there are always opportunities to add fresh takes to classic tales.
Fools In Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales
This is another great curation of essays by a wide variety of authors. Editors Rebecca Podos and Ashley Herring Blake challenged some of the best-known YA authors to retell classic love stories with a modern twist, many of which feature LGBTQ+ couples. There are stories about superheroes, fantasy dog-sledding competitions, and various other tales that incorporate modern themes.
This collection is certainly worth reading for your own enjoyment and you can highlight passages and essays that your students would love.
Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu
Kim Fu tells 12 captivating tales in this collection that debuted in 2022. The stories are about everything from haunted dolls and bug infestations to runaway brides and growing wings. This is a great collection for teachers who want to inspire students and highlight the beauty of creative writing.
“Lesser Known Monsters” was one of the most praised essay collections in 2022 and is ideal for introducing contemporary fiction to your students. There are some adult themes, so you might want to pre-select an essay or two to review in class.
This contemporary essay collection by George Saunders is a great option for students who feel like the world is ending around them. The Chicago Review of Books says the short stories explore the “distinctions between trying to be good and being good.” Many of the characters question their actions and experience self-doubt while trying to do their best with what they have.
Depending on the essay or essays you select for your students to read, this could lead to exciting debates in your classroom and passionate reflections in student reading summaries.
Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
Sidik Fofana is the author of this book, which features several stories with interconnected characters. Each can stand on its own, but there are small nods to the other characters and events that occur in other chapters.
Fofana examines the relationships we have with others and elaborates how we depend on the people around us — even if we don’t realize it. Everyone is struggling with their own problems while doing what they can to support others.
Post updated 9/26/2023. Originally published 6/5/2018.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com.