The 12 Best Short Stories for Middle School Students

Middle school boy reading a book
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Short stories offer middle schoolers an excellent entryway into literary discussion and analysis. Their length isn't intimidating, and they allow students to sample a wide variety of genres, authors, and literary styles. Many short stories feature meaningful topics and themes, giving students who are just starting to think more deeply the opportunity to display their insights.

When choosing short stories for middle school students, look for a variety of tales with broad themes with which your students can connect. Those themes might include growing up, friendship, jealousy, technology, or family. The following short stories feature these and similar themes, and all of the stories are ideal for the middle school classroom.

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“To Build a Fire” by Jack London

Synopsis: A newcomer to the Yukon territory sets out on a short journey into dangerously frigid weather to meet his friends at a nearby settlement, despite warnings from an older, more seasoned man. The older man warns the newcomer about the temperatures and traveling alone, but his warnings go unheeded. The newcomer sets out with only his dog, a choice that proves foolishly fatal.

Talking Points: man vs. nature, the wisdom of experience, the dangers of excessive self-confidence.

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“The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury

Synopsis: The Hadley family lives in a fully-automated home that does everything for them. It even brushes their teeth! The two Hadley children spend most of their time in a nursery that can simulate any environment. The Hadley parents become troubled when the children use the nursery to visualize hostility toward them, so they shut down the room. However, a temper tantrum by one of the children convinces them to give the youngsters one last hour in the nursery—a fatal mistake for the parents.

Talking Points: the effect of technology on family and society, reality vs. fantasy, parenting, and discipline.

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“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

Synopsis: Charlie, a factory worker with a low IQ, is selected for experimental surgery. The procedure dramatically increases Charlie’s intelligence and changes his personality from a quiet, unassuming man to a selfish, arrogant one. The changes brought about by the study are not permanent, however. Charlie’s IQ returns to its previous level, leaving him unable to understand what happened to him.

Talking Points: the meaning of intelligence, societal attitudes towards intellectual difference, friendship, grief, and loss.

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“The Landlady” by Roald Dahl

Synopsis: Billy Weaver steps off a train in Bath, England, and inquires where he can find a place to stay for the night. He winds up at a boardinghouse run by a strange, eccentric older woman. Billy begins to notice some peculiarities: the landlady's pets aren't alive, and the names in the guestbook are the names of boys who previously disappeared. By the time he connects the dots, it may be too late for him.

Talking Points: deception, naiveté, mystery, and suspense.

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“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” by Rudyard Kipling

Synopsis: Set in India, "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" tells the tale of a mongoose separated from his family. Rikki is nursed back to health by a young British boy named Teddy and his parents. An epic battle ensues between Rikki and two cobras as the mongoose defends Teddy and his family.

Talking Points: bravery, British Imperialism, loyalty, honor.

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“Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes

Synopsis: A young boy tries to snatch the purse of an older woman, but he trips, and she catches him. Rather than call the police, the woman invites the boy into her home and feeds him. When the woman learns why the boy tried to rob her, she gives him the money.

Talking Points: kindness, equality, empathy, integrity.

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“Seventh Grade” by Gary Soto

Synopsis: On the first day of seventh-grade French class, Victor tries to impress his crush by claiming that he can speak French. When the teacher calls on Victor, it quickly becomes clear that Victor was bluffing. However, the teacher chooses to keep Victor's secret.

Talking Points: empathy, boasting, the challenges of middle school.

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“The Mustache” by Robert Cormier

Synopsis: A visit to his grandmother in a nursing home reveals to seventeen-year-old Mike that people exist outside their relationship to him. He realizes that everyone, including his parents, has their own hurts, disappointments, and memories.

Talking Points: aging, forgiveness, young adulthood.

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“A Visit of Charity” by Eudora Welty

Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Marian begrudgingly visits a nursing home in order to earn Campfire Girl service points. She meets two elderly women; one woman is friendly and happy to have company, and the other woman is cantankerous and rude. The encounter is strange and almost dreamlike. The two women argue with increasing intensity until Marian runs out of the nursing home.

Talking Points: the true meaning of charity, selfishness, connection.

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“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe

Synopsis: In this dark tale, a mysterious narrator attempts to convince the reader that he is not a madman, even though he murdered an old man. Worried about getting caught, the narrator dismembers the victim and hides his body in the floorboards under a bed. Later, he becomes convinced that he can still hear the old man’s heart beating, and thus that the police must be able to hear it too, so he confesses to the crime.

Talking Points: the insanity defense, the power of a guilty conscience.

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“The Lady or the Tiger” by Francis Richard Stockton

Synopsis: A cruel king has devised a brutal justice system in which accused criminals are forced to choose between two doors. Behind one door is a beautiful lady; if the accused opens that door, he is declared innocent and must marry the woman immediately. Behind the other is a tiger; if the accused opens that door, he is declared guilty and is devoured by the tiger. When one young man falls in love with the princess, the king sentences him to face the door trial. However, the princess attempts to save him by figuring out which door holds the lady.

Talking Points: crime and punishment, trust, jealousy.

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“All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury

Synopsis: The elementary children of colonists on the planet Venus have no memories of ever seeing the sun. The rain on Venus is constant, and the sun shines for just few hours once every seven years. When Margot, a recent transplant from Earth who faintly remembers the sun, arrives on Venus, the other children treat her with jealousy and contempt.

Talking Points: jealousy, bullying, cultural differences.