If there is one thing that my students and I share, it’s our love for short stories. High school kids may not choose to read short stories on their own time, but they get very excited when the story I choose to teach a concept is short. I find that short stories pack a stronger emotional punch. They elicit real reactions, especially if the author manages to surprise them. In fact, short stories are the thing I use most often in my high school lessons to teach literary devices, act as mentor texts for our writing, and get students excited about reading. Here is a collection of 50 of my favorite short stories for high school students.
“‘I’ll fix some supper,’ she whispered. When she walked across the room, she couldn’t feel her feet touching the floor. She couldn’t feel anything except a slight sickness. She did everything without thinking. She went downstairs to the freezer and took hold of the first object she found. She lifted it out, and looked at it. It was wrapped in paper, so she took off the paper and looked at again—a leg of lamb.
Why I love it: The dramatic irony. The discussion that follows: Who is the innocent lamb in this story?
“The world is made up of two classes—the hunters and the huntees.”
Why I love it: This is one of those short stories for high school that engages all of my students. I love to ask them what they think the most dangerous game in the world is. I like to watch them figure out what is about to happen as we read through the story.
“‘I stuff all my little pets myself when they pass away. Will you have another cup of tea?’”
Why I love it: This story is great for suspense, irony, and characterization. It always creeps students out.
“I think the sun is a flower / That blooms for just one hour.”
Why I love it: This story is heartbreaking and truth-telling. Bradbury takes us to Venus and uses the setting to drive the conflict and focus on the character’s behavior.
“Too much of anything isn’t good for anyone.”
Why I love it: It’s a dystopian story about the power of technology in our lives. It’s easy to connect to students’ lives.
“There’s always been a lottery.”
Why I love it: The brutality of this story sneaks up on you. For a while, you’re convinced this town is ordinary until you find out the dark consequences of blindly following tradition.
“It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night.”
Why I love it: My students love a murder mystery. This one is made even more alluring while the narrator tries to convince the readers of his sanity.
“Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.”
Why I love it: It’s one of the best stories for high school to teach irony during the holiday season.
“Never mind, dear … perhaps you’ll win the next one.”
Why I love it: One of the classic short stories for high school about what can go wrong when granted three wishes. Students also love to know that there was a Simpsons episode based on this short story.
“Lately, I have been wondering if there is time left for daydreaming in this 21st-century world of constant communication.”
Why I love it: This story moves from the ordinary to the extraordinary. It highlights the mundane adult life while the main character escapes to fantastical situations, inspired by his surroundings. Bonus: The movie version that was released in 2013.
“This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”
Why I love it: This story encourages high school students to consider the cost of happiness.
“Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration.”
Why I love it: It’s about growing up and developing a crush that is all-consuming.
“It fell to the floor, an exquisite thing, a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time. Eckels’ mind whirled. It couldn’t change things. Killing one butterfly couldn’t be that important! Could it?”
Why I love it: It’s a short story about the butterfly effect. The plot asks the question many have asked before, if we could travel back in time, how would it change the future?
“My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America.”
Why I love it: It explores the complex mother-daughter relationship.
“Next time win more, lose less.”
Why I love it: Use this for an example of extended metaphor and, again, the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship.
“He knew the sting wouldn’t last forever. But the scar would.”
Why I love it: I love a teenage love story. Focus on the symbolism of the eraser tattoo.
“All of us must have something or someone to be proud of.”
Why I love it: A beautifully written heartbreaking story about brothers.
“‘It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that you can trust,’ she said. ‘And I don’t count nobody out of that, not nobody,’ she repeated, looking at Red Sammy.”
Why I love it: It’s a great story for studying characters, their flaws, and their transformation by the end of the story.
“When it comes to protecting my property, I make my own laws.”
Why I love it: It’s a tale of revenge with unexpected twists and turns.
“When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of joy that kills.”
Why I love it: Can a person die of a broken heart?
“What they don’t understand about birthdays, and what they’ll never tell you, is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one.”
Why I love it: I use this when I teach creative writing. What changes when we turn 11? How are we different from when we were 10? Most agree that it is a significant change.
“Nobody should want to drive a car after going through what you just went through.”
Why I love it: Your students will not see the ending coming.
“And one voice … read poetry … until all the film spools burned, until all the wires withered and the circuits cracked.”
Why I love it: Use this futuristic story to teach setting, foreshadowing, and theme.
“It is beyond all understanding … why God gives beauty, this graciousness, and sad, sweet eyes to weak, unlucky, useless people—why they are so charming.”
Why I love it: We get to see simple moments become symbols for larger happenings in her life.
“Some people choose their dogs, and some dogs choose their people.”
Why I love it: Read it for a tale of friendship paired with elements of suspense.
“He had power only to feel, and feeling was torment.”
Why I love it: The ending will shock your students.
“‘She will want to know all you do,’” said the old man. ‘All that has happened to you during the day. Every word of it. She will want to know what you are thinking about, why you smile suddenly, why you are looking sad.’
“‘That is love!’ cried Alan.”
Why I love it: For the discussion afterward, what would you be willing to do for love? Bonus: Pair with a Twilight Zone episode.
“She feels at home beyond the skies. She lied and said she came here to be close to God, but she feels further away from Him than ever.”
Why I love it: The creative plot created in this story launches deep discussion after reading.
“Root canal is one fifty, give or take, depending on who’s doing it to you. A migraine is two hundred.”
Why I love it: The plot is intriguing enough for students to be invested. Imagine a world where you outsource negative feelings and experiences to other people.
“I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.”
Why I love it: I still remember the first time I read this story in high school and the discussion about women and mental health and the symbolism throughout the story.
“Oh, well, women are used to worrying over trifles.”
Why I love it: It’s a story about women being misunderstood and underestimated.
“‘I shall not die of a cough.’ ‘True – true,’ I replied.”
Why I love it: It’s a revenge story that allows students to see examples of irony throughout.
“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.”
Why I love it: This story is great for any adventurous soul.
“[The sniper’s eyes] were deep and thoughtful, the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death.”
Why I love it: It’s a story that illustrates the pain and loss of war.
“It mattered not that he might already possess a wife and family, or that his affections might be engaged upon an object of his own selection: the king allowed no such subordinate arrangements to interfere with his great scheme of retribution and reward.”
Why I love it: Use this as a short story that illustrates that actions have consequences.
“Yet mad I am not … and very surely do I not dream.”
Why I love it: This is one of the classic Poe short stories for high school about madness.
“Smiley said all a frog wanted was education, and he could do ‘most anything—and I believe him.”
Why I love it: A Mark Twain story about a man who bets on anything. Use this next time a student says “Bet!” to you.
“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”
Why I love it: Read this story for symbolism, as the main character turns into an insect overnight. It’s an excellent story that illustrates alienation and loneliness.
“Depending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind.”
Why I love it: A great read for American literature that explores the nature of humanity and questions of faith.
“They were of that coast; all of them were burned smooth dark brown and speaking a language he did not understand. To be with them, of them, was a craving that filled his whole body.”
Why I love it: A story that focuses on overcoming limitations while an 11-year-old trains to swim through an underwater hole in a rock.
“Up in her bedroom window Sally Carrol Happer rested her nineteen-year-old chin on a fifty-two-year-old sill and watched Clark Darrow’s ancient Ford turn the corner.”
Why I love it: Fitzgerald was gifted in writing about tension in love. This story is about the tension between lovers from the North and the South. Read it for the story and the poetic language of Fitzgerald.
“‘Oh! mother, how happy I should be,’ said she, as she passed a toy-shop, ‘if I had all these pretty things!’”
Why I love it: It’s a simple story of the conflict between what we desire versus what we need.
“There was nothing conspicuous about them, nothing particularly noticeable, until the end of their meal, when it suddenly became obvious that this was an Occasion—in fact, the husband’s birthday, and the wife had planned a little surprise for him.”
Why I love it: This is a very quick read and still manages to pack a punch.
“You ought to be my son. I would teach you right from wrong.”
Why I love it: The story is relatable and sends an important message.
45. “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
“This is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely.”
Why I love it: It’s a message from a mother to a daughter on how to behave.
“But then I didn’t have to. My father was driving. My father in his forty-eighth year, rumpled, kind, bankrupt of honor, flushed with certainty. He was a great driver.”
Why I love it: This is one of the great short stories for high school that explores the complexity of a father-son relationship.
“Once, at the German Market, I stood before a rack of pies, my sweet tooth gleaming and the juice of guild wetting my underarms. I nearly wept.”
Why I love it: This is one of the best short stories for high school about the strength and power of guilt in the presence of childhood and into an adulthood.
“The pole was Dad’s only concession to glee.”
Why I love it: This super-short story is about a father’s tradition of decorating a pole in the yard and all that the pole represents.
“For one does not have to be ignorant and poor to find that one’s life is barren as the dusty yards of one’s town.”
Why I love it: This is a story about realizing when we’re growing up. This is one of the great short stories for high school students that they can connect to.
“The multicolored or grey lights touching their faces, but never really touching them …”
Why I love it: This story takes place in 2053. Ray Bradbury has a way of making the future feel like the present. Bradbury reminds us how important it is to not lose our humanity.