The primary strategy of this unit is to present pivotal stories to the students that embody and exemplify most elements of a short story. These pivotal stories had to be by a master(s) that were written within the reading and interest level of the middle school student and one which could spark the imagination of the students’ which would help them create their own short story.
It was important, therefore, that the introductory stories used in the unit met these criterias. I decided that the first stories introduced would be written by the master himself, Edgar Allan Poe. Though some of his stories are filled with immensely sophisticated vocabularies, many were quite appropriate for the beginning lessons planned. They are,
Through the use of both these stories in the introductory section most of the unit’s objectives will be taught from the very first lessons. The Subsequent lessons will repeatedly use learned knowledge and broaden the reading experience of the students in the works of other master writers and short stories.
Throughout this process students will write their own short stories. Some assignments will be directly related to the readings, others will be thematic. For example, one assignment may be to change the murderer in the
. . . same crime but different villain! Or a student may write on the theme of obsession . . . real or not.
After the introductory section after which students should be familiar with the definitions and terminology used in the discussion and analyzation, in addition to these understandings, students should begin to find ease in their discussion, a series of short stories will be introduced that will expand the students reading experience. The final section of the unit will deal with the student developing their own ability to write a good short story with the understanding as to how all the elements fit into their own creation.
Other strategies deal with classroom organization. In order to achieve some of the above objectives, a classroom which facilitates the activities that this unit proposes is of the utmost importance. It will be essential to have a “library” of short stories within the classroom. Some of these stories will be presented within an anthology, but others would only be available as individual stories found in adult anthologies.
The classroom should be set up in clusters of five or six to facilitate the small group discussions that will be had. It is essential for students to get the opportunity to interpret their insights and “hear” those of others. This will be done frequently during their involvement in the unit.
Creative writing notebooks are required and should be kept in an accessible part of the classroom. These notebooks will be use in each lesson in one capacity or another. Small group records will be kept by the recorder of each group within their own creative writing book. Recorders will change periodically during the year.
Once the classroom is set up, the activities can be maintained and taught with a minimum of management preparation. A large amount of character charts should be run-off and available throughout the year. Students will fill out these charts many times and with different objectives in mind. This repetitive use of the character chart eventually lead the students to a comfortable knowledge and use of the chart in analyzing characters and developing their own.
Students will read selections from Edgar Allan Poe, an anthology,
, which includes stories by Kipling, Steinbeck, Buck, Faulkner, et al. In addition, D. H. Lawrence’s “Rocking Horse Winner,” will be used. If a teacher does not have access to these stories mentioned, any of the lessons can be used with different stories. If the substituted are “good” these lessons should be able to be used with them.
Students’ activities will involve readings, reporting, group discussions, character chart activities, and creative writing assignments. Creative writing, eventually, original short stories, is one of the main objectives of this unit. It will flow naturally from the kinds of lessons and knowledge found within this unit.
For example, students will use the character chart and change just one characteristic of the hero or heroine within the short story. They should be able to see the effect of this one change on the other elements of the story and also see that they can write a totally different story themselves just by using their own imagination.
For example, if we change Paul’s obsession with his rocking horse in Lawrence’s “Rocking Horse Winner,” to Pac-Man might not a whole other story formulate? Each student, changing that one fact could develop that many more short stories bases on a boy’s losing himself in his imagination and fear.
The character chart is an assignment I think the students will definitely enjoy. It is because of this that I showed a lesson using the character chart, though its possible uses can be endless. Its main purpose is to teach students the complexity of character development and interrelationship with the other elements of the story. It will be through this understanding that the student will experience the intricacy of supporting that character and his movements in the story and that the expertise with which this is done separates a mediocre story from a good one.
Finally, the selection of relevant, good and appropriate short stories is essential to a good unit on the short story. It has been this writer’s most difficult task, as it will be for the classroom teacher to collect enough copies of the stories for classroom use. However, those stories mentioned, will be well worth the effort of the teacher for they meet the criteria of excellence, understandability, reading levels, and interest.
Included on the following page is a copy of the character chart that has been discussed and will be used in the lessons of this unit. It can be considered a guideline in the study of character development and creation.