7 Thought-provoking Short Stories

A truly enjoyable experience to share with students is the discovery of great literature. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of reading short stories with advanced students. They bravely take on the challenge of facing unfamiliar vocabulary and sometimes dated wording. They apply their keen minds to the task of understanding themes and symbolism, and I’ve seen them take on the role of a psychologist as they analyze characters belonging to the world of fiction. I love engaging a student in discussion once we’ve finished a story and the impressions are still fresh in our minds, just waiting to be picked apart.

Thankfully, quite a number of short stories can be found online, so with a little digging, you can share links for easy accessibility. I’ve also encouraged U.S.-based students to visit local libraries for access to books.

Here are seven stories you may consider reading with advanced students.

  1. Virtuoso by Herbert Goldstone (1953). This is one of my favorites. We observe how a robot learns how to play the piano under the instruction of an accomplished musician. Who performs better in the end? Can a robot truly master any art form? The potential of robots and artificial intelligence is even more relevant today than it was back when this story was written. What is the value of our humanity?
  2. Truth and Consequences by Brendan Gill (1941). Another great read. The story follows a young man’s discovery about the life path he is supposedly committed to. There’s a lot packed into this one. Themes include self-awareness, self-determination, and relationships between parents and older children.
  3. The Test by Angelica Gibbs (1940). This story never fails to win over the reader, who must applaud the main character’s sense of dignity and justice as she faces racial discrimination during a driver’s exam. Just who is being tested? What is being tested? In the end, who failed?
  4. The Chaser by John Collier (1940). The reader can’t help but delight in how deplorable the idea of a love potion is. What can we control in life and in our relationships? What is the ideal love relationship? The story lends itself to a discussion of what ifs.
  5. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (1948). Once readers comprehend what the lottery is for, they can only feel shock…and soon after that disgust. This story makes us question tradition and the power of “a mob mentality.” The theme of group vs. individual can be discussed in a modern-day context.
  6. The Use of Force by William Carlos Williams (1938). Similar to “The Lottery,” this story isn’t meant to be a pleasant reading experience. This short portrait of a house call by a family doctor explores the theme of authority and submission. As we watch a struggle unfold, we wonder what we should admire more, stubbornness or self-control? When a person lets go of professionalism, do they lose anything else?
  7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber (1939). If students can learn to go with the flow and deal with made-up words, this story is an absolute hoot! I never get tired of considering who Walter Mitty is as a person, what influence his wife has had, and how many of us understand what it means to live the life you don’t really want to live.

I could certainly add to the list, but I’ll stop with these seven recommendations for now. If you’d like to share a title, please do. I always appreciate a good read, and many students do as well!

Photo credit: Adult, Blur, Chair, Education by Pexels. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/adult-blur-chair-education-1867751/.


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