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Four Easy Approaches to Using Short Stories in Groups in Middle School

Try these four approaches to using short stories in groups to add variety to your existing lessons.

Try these four approaches to using short stories in groups to add variety to your existing lessons. Have you ever considered combining short stories with group work in your middle school classroom? There are plenty of short story ideas for students from elementary to high school because they are so flexible. Short stories work well in school for a variety of reasons: 

  1. They can be tackled in a shorter amount of time
  2. There are so many stories to choose from! You can diversify topics, authors, and more
  3. They are a great way to focus on skills. 

One way of using short stories for skill building that is underrated but shouldn’t be is collaboration.

Why collaboration and short stories?

The reasons for using short stories also explain why collaboration can be so successful. 

Shorter tasks with short stories allow students to try different groups (and stories) and develop their abilities to collaborate and adjust to different group dynamics. 

If a group isn’t working, it’s a great learning opportunity. There’s a chance to provide guidance on how to navigate such situations, which encourages additional soft skills for students. Plus, take heart because the shorter timeline means the group isn’t as stuck together as they could be for a novel study, which could then feel incredibly long with a dysfunctional group dynamic! 

Finally, reading should be fun, so using short stories in groups can often freshen things up and provide some social aspects for students. For more on making reading fun, check out this post.

Four Easy Approaches to Using Short Stories in Groups in Middle School

Step one in using short stories in groups is to decide on an approach. Below are four easy options.

Explore the Basics of Short Stories in Groups

With this option, students can all read the same story to complete a similar task. To differentiate or provide choice, students could work in groups on different stories. One way to kick off collaboration and short stories is to have everyone work together to trace the plot using Freytag’s pyramid or create profiles of different characters in a story. 

This is a good way to start because there are not many “moving parts” to the group work component or the short story analysis, so it can encourage students to get comfortable working in a group setting.

This approach works for any grade but would be perfect for grade 6 or 7 students, particularly with a short story bundle ready to go with many activities and short story suggestions. You can find the Grade 6 Short Story Unit on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD or the Grade 7 Short Story Unit on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD

Combine Short Stories with Literature Circle Options 

This is a favourite when using short stories in groups because it means including many different stories and providing students with choices. Along with the two short story units mentioned previously, the Grade 8 Short Story Unit is also a great choice for this option. It has short stories and activities – everything you need to facilitate this process. 

It also includes differentiated and engaging stories and activities focusing on literary elements and literary devices (plot, character, setting, theme, conflict, similes, metaphors, symbols, and foreshadowing). You can find the Grade 8 Short Story Unit on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD

Students could begin with exploring the basics of literary elements and then shift to more challenging aspects such as symbols and foreshadowing or even analyzing a big idea in a story. Literature circles are also an opportunity to incorporate discussion using pre-established questions or having students generate their own. 

Do you use literature circles often in your middle school classroom? Check out this post, Organizing Literature Circle Sets, for ideas on keeping all of your materials organized. 

Allow Each Group to Study a Different Aspect

Using short stories in groups by creating skills focus groups is an easy way to differentiate for the variety of skill levels in your classroom. You can have groups study the same story but focus on different aspects or skills, including summary, theme, tone, mood, etc. 

Using this approach as a second step after an initial short story study, you can pinpoint who needs more practice or review and create a group with a specific assigned story and skill.

You may also want to check out Tips and Tricks to Help You Improve Your Assessment Skills.

Provide a Chunk of the Story to Each Group Member

This option, when using short stories in groups, allows different groups to study the same story but focus on different sections. It can be used in several ways.

First, it can help with a particularly difficult or long story, so it’s another option for differentiation. This approach is a good way to introduce and practice summary skills. When students read their own chunk, they can summarize it in 2 sentences or less. 

Make it a jigsaw, and have students from the different sections get together to share their summaries and see if a consensus can be reached about the “true” summary of the story. Or add in some movement, with the different groups using their summaries to create a tableau or freeze-frame to share with the class.

Secondly, chunking a story for different groups allows students to complete a very close reading of their particular section. Use this to establish tone and mood in different parts of a story, to examine foreshadowing or irony, or even to trace the different steps in a character’s journey.

Additional Resources For Using Short Stories in Groups

Creating Short Story Groupings

Step two for using short stories in groups is to establish how you will group students. Options include randomized or planned groupings, and each has its benefits. 

Randomization can keep things fresh, and its flexibility is helpful since it only includes the students who are there on the specific group work day(s). There is no need to revise at the moment because of absences when you’ve planned out groups in advance.

Planned groupings, whether by skill, personality, interest, etc., take a bit more time and effort but can bring about greater success. 

Don’t Forget To Observe!

The third and final step to using short stories in groups is to observe your students. Make notes or use a checklist with the key components of collaboration as a learning skill:

✅ Accepts various roles and an equal share of the work within the group.
✅ Responds positively to the ideas, opinions, values, and traditions of others.
✅ Works on building healthy peer relationships.
✅ Works with others to resolve conflicts and build consensus to achieve group goals.
✅ Shares information, resources, and expertise to solve problems and make decisions. 

A Final Word on Ideas for Short Stories in Groups

Because collaboration is a learning skill students will be assessed on throughout the year, it’s always a good idea to observe repeatedly. You can use short stories at different points in the year to observe skills, including collaboration. 

You might consider short stories a good gateway to practicing any number of skills with your middle school students. But starting with a focus on collaboration as a learning skill by using short stories in groups is an easy choice. 

You can get started today with any of my short story units that can be used for any of the suggested group options.

For even more ideas when planning your short story unit, check out this post: 3 Considerations For Planning a Middle School Short Story Unit

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