Are you struggling to inspire your class with engaging, effective, and significant short stories for high school?

Perhaps you’ve been unable to find passages that suit 9th-grade short story requirements for your class. Whatever the reason, finding the best short stories for your class may take a little extra effort – but it’s more than worth the extra time spent. These ten short stories for high school students are an excellent place to start, with 10th-grade short stories and more included to get your high schoolers excited about learning.

Read on to discover 11th-grade short stories and 12th-grade short stories that are the perfect fit for your classroom and curriculum, as well as a brief overview of why they’re so important in the first place.

Education resources


Why are short stories important for high schoolers?

While the average high school student is more than capable of reading and enjoys long-form texts such as novels and plays, short stories are still a vital part of their education. Shorter passages enable your class to deepen their understanding of common literary themes and concepts without getting lost in all the extra words. Short stories are more comfortable to consume, more practical to include in a lesson plan, and an excellent way to introduce new genres, complicated concepts, and authors to your students.

Finding the best short stories for high school isn’t just about picking what fits into the curriculum. It’s also about finding text that resonates with your students and improves their appreciation for writing. Getting students excited about reading is one of the best things a teacher can do – so why not choose stories that have meaning? Culturally relevant and meaningful short stories can be as compelling as any novel in the right hands.

10 short stories to try with your high school students

  1. An Occurrence at Owl Creek: This famous story by Ambrose Bierce is well-known by many teachers. With a setting of the American Civil War and a somber plot, this short story will surely provoke an emotional reaction from your students. The story centers around a man who is to be hanged but whose love for his children and wife leads him to an escape. This story explores many complex themes and proves that even short passages can be as impactful and engaging for students as longer bodies of text.
  2. The Storm: This short story by Kate Chopin takes on complicated emotions surrounding love and relationships. The Storm is based on the concept of infidelity and the complexity of loving relationships. This text makes an excellent class discussion point and generally invokes strong student reactions that can be analyzed and discussed. However, it’s only recommended for older and more mature students due to the sensitive nature of the content included.
  3. The Nightingale and the Rose: This famous short story by Oscar Wilde is the ideal choice of text for higher-level students and those able to grasp complex themes and advanced literary techniques. Centered around the idea of true love and whether or not it truly exists, this story will certainly have your students thinking. With plenty of symbolism and ambiguous storytelling, this story can engage students in the right setting, provided they’re invested in the story itself.
  4. The Invisible Girl: Mary Shelley’s literary classic is a fantastic addition to the curriculum, especially for classes that have yet to study the prolific author. As an introduction to the Gothic world of Shelley, this bite-size tale is a great head start – and an excellent piece of work in its own right. For more fantasy-based learning, this short story is a fantastic way for high schoolers to plunge themselves into a new and strange world.
  5. The Cat: A more upbeat, interesting, and unusual short story by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, this tale has a cat take on the role of the protagonist, providing insight into the daily lives and thoughts of our feline companions. This text is sure to be engaging, interesting, and thought-provoking for students that enjoy animal-based stories. This short story also provides the perfect launchpad for students creating their writing centered on an animal protagonist in this specific style.
  6. A Sound of Thunder: A complex story hidden under an unusual and entertaining theme; this short story by Ray Bradbury has it all. Time machines, dinosaurs, and even political elections are just some of the themes found within this text, in which a man goes back in time to hunt dinosaurs but ends up causing a lot more harm to the future than expected. Well worth a read, with plenty of distinct themes to explore, this story is an excellent option to start a discussion on cause and effect, the butterfly effect, and even political extremes.
  7. The Lady or the Tiger: A story with a central plot of jealousy, conflict, and irony, this short story by Frank Stockton is sure to have your students wanting more. In this story, the daughter of a king has an affair with a suitor. The suitor is captured and put on trial, in which behind one door is a tiger, and behind the other is a bride. The princess must pick the door for her suitor, knowing what lies behind each. With no real ending, your high schoolers must decide which answer is the most likely. Will the suitor be betrothed or killed by a tiger? That’s up to your class to figure out.
  8. Contents of a Dead Man’s Pocket: With a touch of humor and plenty of suspense, this short story by Jack Finney is a favorite of many teachers – and their students. The story is about Tom Benecke, a man that chooses to stay in and work rather than go out with his wife. Bencke’s important papers are scattered, with a particularly vital paper finding its way out the window and onto the ledge. The story commences with Benecke attempting to reach his paper and return to safety – only to have the paper fly out the window again. For students, this amusing tale can be enjoyable to analyze, with plenty of adrenalin to get them excited about the protagonist’s death-defying acts.
  9. The Lottery: For students that enjoy stories like The Hunger Games or Battle Royale, this short story by Shirley Jackson may be a familiar premise. In this tale, a large group gathers to pick a lottery at an annual gathering. Much of the story deals with discussions about who draws, the rules, and whether the lottery is necessary. The story ends with a shock as the lottery is declared, and the unlucky winner is stoned to death. Symbolism, shock factor, and subverting expectations are big themes in this story and ones your students will enjoy discussing at length.
  10. The Veldt: It wouldn’t be a high school reading list without a little dystopia, and that’s exactly what Ray Bradbury’s short story provides. This may be the second of his stories on the list, but when it comes to sci-fi, there are no better short stories to turn to. Wirth very real modern overtones, the story focused on parents struggling to keep up with technology in their own homes, unable to connect with their children due to the overuse of virtual reality. Despite being written in the 1950s, the themes are just as fresh as ever, and students will immediately connect to the overwhelming amount of technology in their lives.

Getting students excited about short stories

For any modern teacher, the challenge isn’t picking which short stories you’d like to teach. Finding the middle ground between what you enjoy and what will engage your students. A great way to provide more autonomy for high schoolers is by providing a list like the one above. Please give them a brief synopsis of each piece, and let them decide which story they like the sound of best. As with us adults, teenagers have wildly differing tastes – while some may enjoy romance, others prefer comedy and other tragedies. Provide a range of options, and you’re far more likely to have students excited about their work. American Literature is a fantastic resource for more short stories to add to the list.

Are you struggling to decide on a lesson plan for existing materials? ELA has a small selection available, which can be used to design and develop your lesson style with your chosen materials. Think about a short story’s themes, concepts, and discussion points, and encourage your students to build upon that with their thoughts and opinions. Literature can be subjective, and by bringing your class into the discussion, they’re far more likely to retain that information and succeed in analyzing and even developing their own short stories.

What short stories do you work with within your classroom? Do you have specific recommendations for each grade?