I’d like to share with you a list of my favorite short stories to teach to high-schoolers. This list might surprise you—not because of what is listed, but because of what isn’t. Since I don’t teach an age group younger than sophomores, my students have already read many of the most famous short stories: “The Monkey’s Paw,” “The Telltale Heart,” “The Lottery,” “The Most Dangerous Game,” “The Gift of the Magi,” etc. So that means I have to get creative! The result is that my favorite short stories to teach might be ones you’ve never heard of before!
- “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe This short story still has the power to shock modern readers (and that’s saying something). When the unnamed narrator mutilates and later hangs his pet cat, simply out of a spirit of perverseness, my students are genuinely horrified (and rightfully so). Their horror is soon replaced by intrigue as the cat (seemingly) comes back from the dead to seek its revenge. The ending, which I won’t say here in case you’ve never read the story before, is pure Poe!
- “Man from the South” by Roald Dahl Leave all your preconceptions about the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory behind as you see that Roald Dahl wrote stories for adults, too. This story centers around a bet: A man will win a car if he can light a lighter ten times in a row. If he loses, he will have his pinky finger severed with a chopping knife. Morbid? Yes. Intriguing for high-schoolers? You betcha. This story is perfect for teaching rising action and climax—as well as twist endings.
- “The Bass, the River, and Shelia Mant” by W.D. Wetherell I had never heard of this story before until I found it in the sophomore-level literature book. Judging from the title, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be a story that I would use with my students, but I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s the premise: A teenage asks out a dream girl, but he’s too young to drive, so he takes her for a date in a canoe instead. Along the way, he accidentally hooks his dream fish on a fishing line he has hidden from his date. Now he must choose: the girl or the fish? It’s an entertaining story that gets kids debating what the main character should do. I usually begin the school year by reading this story.
- “Miriam” by Truman Capote I read this short story when I was in high school, and because I remembered it years later, I teach it to my students. It’s creepy—in a good way. An elderly woman, who lives alone, is haunted by a pale, little girl named Miriam. Is Miriam a ghost? A psychological projection of the woman’s fears? No matter what she is, Miriam seems to have moved in for good.
- “A & P” by John Updike Going into the mind of a teenage boy is a startling journey for some! The first person narrator of this short story (a teenage boy) witnesses a very mundane experience (watching three girls violating the dress code of a grocery story) and decides to take a stand. This story is a great springboard for discussing when to stand up for what you believe to be right.
- “Prey” by Richard Matheson Written by the author of I Am Legend (which I also highly recommend), this story is a small masterpiece. When a miniature idol, given as a gift, comes to life in a young woman’s apartment, the result is pure horror. I would read this story ahead of time to make sure it is suitable for your students, but if you’re looking for a creepy thrill near Halloween, this story fits the bill perfectly!
All of these short stories are under copyright protection—except for “The Black Cat,” which is available as a script-story download on this website. Happy reading!