When I was in junior high, my dad travelled to Australia and brought back a short story collection for me: “UnReal” by Paul Jennings. He thought I would enjoy it because each ending was a twist and the stories were funny and unusual. When I was getting ready for my first week of teaching I thought that the students may enjoy them too. Every since then, we have gone through a few of the stories at the start of each year to get a lay of reading comprehension and writing activities. You can find listings here: The “Un” books: https://www.pauljennings.com.au/index.php/en-au/books/latest-book-releases/unreal
Novels can be tricky to use in the classroom due to the increased needs of students: some fall out of favour over time due to re-examining content, they can be intimidating for students in early ESL stages or on IEPs, and it can be hard to take a novel adapted into a movie without the inevitable comparisons to the big screen version. Short stories also allow for the reader to not have to worry about missing days and being confused by the story, or being bored and feeling stuck with finishing listening to an unmotivated tale.
In the “Unreal” short stories, I allow the students to be creative in doing activities that integrate other subjects. We have done everything from drawing a scene, creating a drama sequel, and writing a diary entry from a character’s perspective. Many students that are reluctant readers find they are more easily able to digest the content and get motivated to be involved in thinking up predictions to the endings. Every year I enjoy seeing a new point of view from someone that I haven’t considered.
Another advantage for short stories is that with a variety of topics, you can also get students to vote on their choices, or perhaps find other pieces similar to the style of an author (think of the “we recommend” section of a book store). I try to look at what has been selected in my book clubs, and the operative is that: not “novel” but “book.” Gone are the days of long texts and only fiction; in fact, my book clubs look at memoirs which coincides with research that non-fiction that attract more reluctant readers. In bringing this into the class, there are some great selections out there, like ‘YA friendly’ versions of adult books like Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”. Students also enjoy the “Who Is/Was” books which is a great connection: if they liked “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, they might enjoy reading about the author Jeff Kinney. Once again, the illustrations assist students with visualizing the biographies of celebrities from the past and present.
The other short stories I would recommend include “Sideways Stories from Wayside School” by Louis Sachar. There are a wide variety of characters with different personalities that can be re-interpreted in a variety of races and backgrounds. Many students nowadays consume media in ‘chunks’ like short Tik-Toks and quick Youtube clips. It may be time to take a look at how we engage using 21st century learning in the classroom as well.