Teachers might feel like they need reasons to teach short stories in lieu of or in addition to novels. Short stories often hold an interesting place in language arts classes. While some teachers do focus on them as a specific unit, many of us use them as fillers or a fun aside between our larger units. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this strategy, today I want to talk about some reasons why you may consider being more intentional in your teaching of short stories.
Reason One: Short Stories Can Be Less Intimidating
For struggling and reluctant readers, a novel or a play can be a very intimidating prospect. No matter how you break it up, you are still handing your students a 200+ page document, most likely written in small, closely spaced font and telling them that they will be completing it all in the next few weeks.
Even if the reading load is technically the same for an assignment based on a short story as it would be for one based on a novel, the short story is often much less intimidating. Fifteen pages and done is often much more manageable for a student than the same amount of reading out of a novel.
Reason Two: You Can Teach Many Short Stories In The Time It Takes To Complete A Single Novel
I love teaching novels — they are some of my favourite units in my classes. I can easily list many reasons why they are valuable and enjoyable things to teach. They do have some drawbacks though, and one of the primary ones is that a novel unit takes a large chunk of time to complete. Depending on your students and the text, a novel can take upwards of two months to teach well. With everything else you need to cover; this means that you might only be able to complete two or three of them in any given year. Because of this, your variety will be significantly limited.
Short stories are not like this. Within the two months that you might spend on a given novel, you can feasibly cover eight to ten (or more) short stories. Instead of one novel by one author from one genre, you can cover many stories by many authors from many genres. Through this variety, you can not only appeal to a much wider range of students, but students who dislike a given text are not facing weeks and weeks of reading and learning about something they are uninterested in.
Need two more reasons to teach short stories?
Reason Three: You Can Teach The Same Skills As With A Novel
Often literary terms and devices are an important component of a novel study unit. For good and important reasons teachers need to cover these things. There are very few of these things that cannot be taught equally as well through short stories though.
If you are considering replacing a novel with some short stories in your curriculum, consider how many of these terms and items you can work into your study of these shorter pieces of literature. You may be surprised at the number of them that you can cover (including a number that you may not have covered before) as you teach a larger variety of pieces and genres with this new material.
Reason Four: Encouraging Writers
In addition to reading, writing is an important component of the language arts curriculum. Many people believe that if you want to be a good writer you need to read a lot. A good novel is a work of art, but few students can actually picture themselves writing a story that goes on for three hundred pages.
This is not the case with short stories – many students can actually picture themselves writing something the length of a short story. By providing students with a myriad of quality examples of this type of literature, you can also encourage them to see themselves writing this sort of composition and even possibly open the door to something longer or branching out into more diverse genres.
Don’t discount or downplay the value of the short story. There are so many reasons that the short story can be an integral part of your curriculum. If you use them already, wonderful; if you don’t, you may want to consider working them in.