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High School Short Story Essays

One of the most important goals of any English class should be to help students learn how to express themselves to an audience — how to tell their own stories, how to provide much-needed information, and how to convince others to see things from a different perspective.

Below are some essays students can read, not only to help them see how such writing is done in the real world, but also to learn more about the world around them.

Need a #mentortext for student essays? Check out these exemplars for personal narrative, argumentative, and expository essay writing. Click To Tweet

Note: This is a living list. I will continue adding to it as I find important essays and articles, and as my readers make suggestions.

If You Think Racism Doesn’t Exist by Jordan Womack | Lesson Plan

A 17-year-old Oklahoma author details incidents of discrimination he has faced within his own community. Brief, yet impactful, the author’s authenticity strikes readers at their core and naturally leads the audience to consider other perspectives.

Letter from a Vietnamese to an Iraqi Refugee by Andrew Lam

Vietnamese lecturer, journalist, and author Andrew Lam offers advice in this letter to a young Iraqi refugee he sees in a photograph on the Internet.

Allowing Teenage Boys to Love Their Friends by Jan Hoffman

Learn why early and lifelong friendships are as vital for boys as they are for girls and what happens when those friendships are fractured.

Chris Cecil: Plagiarism Gets You Fired by Leonard Pitts Jr

The Miami Herald columnist and 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary winner castigates a Georgia newspaper editor for plagiarizing his work. This column would go great with this followup article from The Boston Globe: Ga. Editor is Fired for Lifting Columns.

Class Dismissed by Walter Kirn

The author of Lost in the Meritocracy postulates that getting rid of the high school senior year might be good for students.

Complaint Box | Packaging by Dylan Quinn

A high school junior complains about the impossible-to-open packaging faced by consumers of everything “from action figures to zip drives.”

Drowning in Dishes, but Finding a Home by Danial Adkison

In this 2014 essay, a teenager learns important lessons from his boss at Pizza Hut.

How to Tame a Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldua

An American scholar of Chicana cultural theory discusses how she maintained her identity by refusing to submit to linguistic terrorism. 

Humble Beast: Samaje Perine by John Rohde

The five-time Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year features the University of Oklahoma’s running back.

In Praise of the F Word by Mary Sherry

An adult literacy program teacher argues that allowing students to fail will actually help them.

The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me by Sherman Alexie

A Native American novelist recounts his experience loving reading and finally writing in spite of a culture that expected him to fail in the “non-Indian world” in order to be accepted.

Lane’s Legacy: One Final Ride by Keith Ryan Cartwright

A heartbreaking look back at the hours before and the circumstances surrounding Lane Frost’s untimely death, followed by reflections on his rise to fame — before and after death.

Learning to Read by Malcolm X

The 1960s Civil Rights leader writes about how educating himself in prison opened his mind and lead him to become one of the leading spokesmen for black separatism.

Learning to Read and Write by Frederick Douglass

A former slave born in 1818 discusses how he learned to read in spite of laws against teaching slaves and how reading opened his eyes to his “wretched condition, without remedy.”

Learning From Animal Friendships by Erica Goode

Scientists consider studying the phenomenon of cross-species animal friendships like the ones you see on YouTube.

Losing Everything, Except What Really Matters by Dan Barry

After a 2011 tornado destroys a house, but spares the family, a reporter writes about what’s important.

The Marked Woman by David Grann

How an Osage Indian family in Oklahoma became the prime target of one of the most sinister crimes in American history.

Meet Mikey, 8: U.S. Has Him on Watch List by Lizette Alvarez

Read about what happens if you happen to share a name of a “suspicious person” on the U.S. No-Fly List.

Newly Homeless in Japan Re-Establish Order Amid Chaos by Michael Wines

After the tsunami that resulted in nuclear disaster in 2011, a reporter writes about the “quiet bravery in the face of tragedy” of the Japanese people.

No Ordinary Joe by Rick Reilly

Why in creation did American Football Conference’s 1981 best young running back Joe Delaney jump into that pit full of water that day, even though he couldn’t swim?

Politics and the English Language By George Orwell

Animal Farm and 1984 author, Orwell correlates the degradation of the English language into multi-syllabic drivel and the corruption of the American political process.

Serving in Florida by Barbara Ehrenreich

The Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America author tells about her experiences attempting to survive on income of low-paying jobs.

Starvation Under the Orange Trees by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck, who later authored the fictionalized account of Okies in California, The Grapes of Wrath, first wrote this essay documenting the starvation of migrant workers in California during the Great Depression.

To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This by Mandy Len Catron

Is falling in love really a random event, or can two people “love smarter?”

We’ll Go Forward from this Moment by Leonard Pitts

The 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary winner pens a column chronicling the toughness of the American family’s spirit in the face of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks. He wrote the column one day after the attacks.

What’s Wrong with Black English? by Rachel L. Jones

Jones, a student at Southern Illinois University in the 1980s, wrote this piece for Newsweek. In her essay, Jones adds her story and perspective to the debate over Black English.

Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood by Sherman Alexie

Alexie speaks on the importance of Young Adult literature in the lives of students struggling to survive abuse, racism, poverty, depression, gang warfare, negligent parents, drugs, and poverty.

Explore highly relevant issues & practice reading comprehension through short essays written for authentic audiences. #litchat Click To Tweet

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma graduate student, and a NBPTS candidate. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify my students’ voices and choices.

Filed Under: PedagogyTagged With: Model Essays

The Short Story Essay

by Owen Fourie

Yes! A short story!”

I have found that most students react favorably to an assignment requiring them to write a short story. They sense that the straitjacket has been removed, and the creative juices begin to flow.

Of course, for some students who have a long tale to tell, the shackles are still there in the form of a restriction to a certain number of words. If you find yourself in such a position, take it as a challenge that will serve to heighten your creativity as you teach yourself to write a complete short story in 1,000 words or 1,500 words. Occasionally, you could also feel restricted if your instructor rules out a certain genre, such as romance.

Bear in mind that writing a short story is a measure not only of your ability to write but also of your appreciation of how literature works. Good storytelling always has a structure, which we call a plot or a plotline, and this is what you need to demonstrate in your essay. Before dealing specifically with the development of the plot, you must choose your topic for a short story.

Hatching the plot

When you receive your assignment, make a list of your ideas taking into account the required length and the permitted genres. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my interests? Skiing? Ice skating? Coin collecting? Egyptology? Ballet? Skateboarding?
  • Which of these interests will serve as a good vehicle for a short story?
  • What will be the problem or the conflict to be resolved?
  • Who will be the hero, the heroine, the protagonist?
  • Who will be the villain, the antagonist?
  • Where will the story take place? Choose a setting familiar to you.
  • When will it take place? Is it historical, contemporary, futuristic, science fiction? Remember that it is easier and better to keep the time frame of a short story spanning only a matter of a few days, perhaps an hour, but generally not less than that.

By asking these questions, your answers to some of them will already prepare the way for the development of the plot. At this point you need to work on your outline. To do so, you need to take the elements of the plotline into account. Simply stated, the plotline reveals the following stages:

  1. The exposition giving the time, the place, and the characters involved;
  2. The rising action revealing the problem, the conflict;
  3. The climax: the high point of the story where the action will take the characters one way or the other;
  4. The falling action telling of events leading from the climax to the resolution;
  5. The resolution telling how all the tensions and complications of the problem or the conflict have been resolved.

Plot Diagram

As you work on your outline, you need to work according to the plotline. The simplest form for the shortest of stories will devote one paragraph to each of these stages, perhaps two or three paragraphs for the rising action. With your outline complete, you are ready to write your story.

Getting down to writing … and a twist

Your writing should proceed through several drafts. In the first draft, you simply write without hesitation or much care about grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Your objective is to get the story down on paper without being troubled by any thoughts of whether this is correct, although you must keep to your outline.

As you come to your second draft, you take more care, you edit, and you correct obvious errors. With each draft, you improve your story, and the more drafts you make, the better your story should be. Once you have typed what you hope will be the final copy, leave it for a day or two–more, if possible–before returning to it and proofreading it. That proofreading will probably reveal more errors that have to be corrected before you print out the real final copy.

There are two more important points that you need to bear in mind as you write your story:

  1. Description versus dialog: When you write a short story, you should focus on narration rather than dialog. While some dialog is permissible–dialog that is essential to move the story forward–remember that you are not writing a play. Your narration can be in the first person as one of the characters telling the story or in the third person (or third person omniscient) as an outside observer. If you write in the first person, avoid telling a story that amounts to an autobiographical narrative.
  2. The best short stories contain a twist that comes at the very end to catch the reader off guard. Throughout the story, the writer gives hints of what will be revealed in the end, but they are subtle hints that will still leave the reader saying, “Of course! I should have seen that,” as the twist in the tale is given.

An excellent example of this is seen in O. Henry’s “After Twenty Years.” It is a little under 1,300 words in length and is easily and quickly read. Interestingly, the writer makes good use of dialog that moves the story forward–not one-word lines of exclamations, or only a few words in a series of single-line exchanges, but paragraphs of several lines spoken by each character. That is proper use of dialog in a short story. You will find the link to “After Twenty Years” at the end of this post.

If you follow all that I have told you here, you should be able to write a good short story and enjoy doing it too.

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What is your experience with writing short stories? Do you have any useful insights? What are your particular struggles? What are your thoughts about O. Henry’s “After Twenty Years” as a model for short story writing? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Link to O. Henry’s short story “After Twenty Years”:http://www.enotes.com/best-o-henry-text/after-twenty-years

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