When it comes to getting high school students interested in classic literature, short stories are a fantastic resource. Concise yet compelling, they can spark discussions on literary analysis without the need for a weeks-long literature unit. But finding the right short stories for your class can be challenging, especially because there are so many great choices!

Whether you're adding to a larger literature unit or creating a standalone lesson, our staff has curated a selection of five short story classics that are sure to captivate your students. Each of these short stories brings something unique to your lessons, whether it's a timeless theme, a distinctive style, or a fascinating narrative structure.

"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin

One day, Louise Mallard learns her husband has died from a railroad accident. Initially devastated, she's soon overwhelmed by a profound and unexpected wave of freedom and relief. As Louise imagines her new life, her emotions and thoughts rapidly unfold, leading to an intense and poignant end.

"Kate Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour' was always a favorite of mine to explore irony. Students will love reading the detailed, complex emotions surrounding loss, independence, and fate that Louise experiences after hearing news of her husband's death. Also the twist ending… is simply classic."

— Anna L., Curriculum Developer

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"The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs

In this classic horror story, the White family receives an unusual gift: a magical monkey's paw that can grant them three wishes—but at a cost. Despite being warned of the paw's dark powers, the family makes wishes that ultimately lead to tragedy. "The Monkey's Paw" warns readers not to be greedy, else terrible things may happen to them, too.

"'The Monkey's Paw' by W. W. Jacobs is a short story with a Twilight Zone twist. Its suspenseful pace will hold your students' interest regardless of the time of year. The theme of 'be careful what you wish for' comes to life through foreshadowing, irony, and symbolism that will ignite great discussions in class."

— Christie C., Associate Writer

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"To Build a Fire" by Jack London

A perfect example of the conflict between man and nature, Jack London's "To Build a Fire" tells the story of an inexperienced traveler in the Yukon who faces the deadly consequences of underestimating the harsh wilderness. Despite his efforts to survive the extreme cold, his failure to build a crucial fire leads to his doom.

"When I was in high school, there was nothing I loved more than a gripping tale of adventure in the wilderness. Jack London's use of vivid and concrete details burned this story into my subconscious and is sure to grab your students' attention."

— Keith B., President

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"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain

One of Mark Twain's most famous works, this humorous short story is narrated by a man visiting a mining camp. He encounters Simon Wheeler, who starts telling a long-winded story about Jim Smiley and his talented jumping frog, Dan'l Webster. Smiley's obsession with betting on everything, including frog jumping contests, leads to an unexpected twist that leaves the narrator entertained yet tricked by Wheeler's storytelling talent.

"Mark Twain's 'The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County' is the perfect introduction to his writing. I love the voice that he invokes, and no matter how many times I read it, it remains as funny as the first."

— Jason S., KeyLit Specialist

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"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce

Set during the American Civil War, this short story follows Peyton Farquhar, a Southern civilian sentenced to execution by hanging. As he stands on the bridge, he experiences a sense of heightened awareness in the face of imminent death and considers escaping. Bierce's narrative shifts forward and back in time to show Peyton's journey, all while blurring the lines between reality and illusion.

"I remember first reading this story in high school and feeling absolutely awestruck by the conclusion. I didn't see it coming at all. The vivid descriptions of Peyton's perception of the world around him made it feel like I was escaping with him, which made the twist ending all the more impactful."

— Alana D., Content Marketing Specialist

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