We have given a lot of space to short stories in Step by Step. There are several reasons for this:
The following very short short stories (maximum 60 words) have proved to be a useful introduction. It is easy for pupils to grasp the concepts of plot and setting, and although they are short, they illustrate the basic elements of a short story.
I let them work in pairs or small groups and try to come up with a good ending within the word limits. The original endings were “Your wife, she said, shooting him” and “Will you marry me? Yes.” The last time I used this exercise, several groups came very close to these endings, while others were acceptable, but to varying degrees.
The first story also illustrates how an author can hint at things without stating them specifically. The wine in the bedroom suggests intimacy. Mention of the wife introduces a complication. The reference to the gun is potentially ambiguous until the woman asks if he is going to shoot his wife himself. The man’s tone towards the woman is rather condescending, adding to the irony of the ending, when it comes.
It is of course possible to give pupils the complete stories at the outset, and spend more time on a discussion of the various aspects of the stories, rather than asking them to make up endings.
Usually a short story (=novelle) focuses on one incident; has a single plot, a single setting, a small number of characters and takes place in a short period of time.
The following very short stories have a maximum of sixty words. The endings are missing. See if you can think of a good ending.
She lay on the bed as he came in with more wine.
“Is this for your wife? she asked, waving the gun she had found in the drawer.
“Yes,” he smiled.
“Are you going to shoot her yourself?
“Don’t be silly, darling, I’ll hire a professional.”
“Why not me?”
“Who’d hire a woman hitman?”(6 words)
“Remember, the maximum is sixty,” she said.
“Miles per hour?” he asked, gripping the steering wheel harder.
“No, words. We cannot use more than sixty words.”
“But there are so many things I want to tell you. And things I want to ask you.”
“Sixteen?” he asked, shocked.
“Now we have exactly five.”(5 words)
Spend time exploring other possible themes that the story might touch on, in addition to what stands out as the main one. This is useful because:
Look at the structure of the short story and discuss setting, time, characters, plot, etc. This will help pupils to:
Testing and facilitating understanding of the content
This can be done first in pairs or small groups, then together.
When pupils are used to doing this, they can pick the words themselves and ask each other for the explanation and context.
Make some sentences about the story. Some should be true, some false, and in some cases there should be insufficient information in the story to decide.
Once pupils have become familiar with this exercise, they are generally quite good at making these statements themselves. They can then read them to each other in pairs, groups and/or the whole class.
Make a small number of correct statements about the story, but in a jumbled order. Ask pupils to find the correct order.
Pupils can also be asked to make questions to which the statements are answers.
Creative activities do not necessarily have to be written. Pupils can share ideas orally, either before or instead of writing.
This is an amusing story with a serious undertone. Vera is a girl with a lively imagination, who seems to enjoy making up dramatic stories. Unfortunately, Framton Nuttel, the visitor who is treated to one of her more tragic and ghostly tales, is also of a nervous disposition…
There is a very good video of the story here.
Possible themes: honesty, friendship, love, first impressions, adolescence, jealousy, envy.
Ask pupils if they can suggest themes, then ask if they can relate to any of the ones you give.
You could even put in one or two that are not relevant, just for the sake of discussion.
Some points to think about:
A School Newspaper Report: “Lie Detector Plan Backfires”, by Ben
The mother of a young Sri Lankan woman has found a “suitable” husband for her daughter. He is older, wealthy and lives in Australia. Her daughter, however, already has a young man (Vijay) whom she likes a lot. Vijay, on the other hand, does not seem to take the relationship quite so seriously. At least he refuses to say anything about his girlfriend’s suitor.
Themes: love, obedience, parenting, arranged/forced marriage, marriage of convenience, happiness, migration
This is a sad story about a fourteen-year-old boy and his mother whose lives are blighted by the violent, selfish father. There is a happy ending of sorts, which solves the problem this week. But what will happen next week?
Possible topics for discussion: child labour, physical punishment, loyalty, white lies, bravery, bullying, greed
The relationship between two teenage girls becomes complicated when they meet a young man at a party. The problem is that only one of the girls knows about the complication – mainly because she is the one that caused it.
Themes: friendship, jealousy, honesty, status
In this very short story a cruise ship captain decides to find out what is at the other end of a chain his propeller is entangled in, with potentially far-reaching if not disastrous results.
The moral of this story seems to be “let sleeping dogs lie”, or perhaps “leave well enough alone”.
In any case it is a timely reminder that we should not interfere in nature if we do not know the consequences of our actions.
Marian is a young African American woman who is taking her driving test for the second time. Her examiner at first appears to be friendly and jovial, but as the test progresses, his behaviour towards Marian goes from condescending to downright insulting. In the end Marian loses her temper, and the examiner fails her.
This story touches on a number of themes: racism, sexism, prejudice, intolerance, abuse of authority, inter alia.
It also raises the question of the extent to which these problems still exist, and where/how?
Warona is a young single mother with a small daughter. The child’s father was unreliable, and Warona is struggling with her situation. One day she meets Silas, who makes a deep impression on her. After a while they leave the village together.
Is this a case of opposites attracting each other, or has Warona finally met Mr Right? Will their relationship last?