Running · Teaching

Short Stories with Diverse Characters for Middle School

One way to get students invested in reading is to expose them to literature that contains relatable characters. Sometimes our classics don’t always do a great job of representing our diverse student body. Here’s a few really great short stories to teach in middle school whose characters have a wide range of backgrounds.

1. Seventh Grade by Gary Soto

I love teaching the writing of Gary Soto. He’s a Mexican-American author and writes wonderfully relatable stories. In Seventh Grade, the main character, Victor Rodriguez, is looking forward to being in French class with his crush during his seventh grade year. You can find a copy of this story here.

2. Heartbeat by David Yoo

This short story features a Korean-American kid trying to alter his “scrawny” appearance to impress a girl at a party. Find a copy of this story here, and take a look at these supplemental activities for this short story.

3. Men on the Moon: Collected Short Stories by Simon J. Ortiz

In this collection of short stories, Ortiz draws on his own Acoma Pueblo experience. This is a wonderful book to have in the classroom to bring a Native American voice into your lessons. Many of the short stories deal with the intersection of Native American culture and modern technology. While the stories are not available for free online, the book can be found on Amazon and other similar sites.

4. Civil Peace by Chinua Achebe

I like teaching this short story for a number of reasons. Chinua Achebe is absolutely an author that all students of literature should be familiar with, and my 8th grade students will encounter the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran War) in their 9th grade world history classes. As both an English and a history teacher, I love the opportunity to introduce history through literature. This story takes place in the aftermath of the war. A copy can be found here.

5. One Friday Morning by Langston Hughes

This short story follows Nancy Lee Johnson, a high school student, who faces discrimination in her new high school after her parents moved to the North from the South in search of better opportunities. This story can be found on commonlit.org if you’re a user of that platform, or find a copy of it here.

6. The Scholarship Jacket by Martha Salinas

The protagonist of this short story is Martha, an 8th grade student facing an unfair situation at school because of her Mexican ethnicity. This story resonates with students that have to navigate the difficulties of school and parents. You can find a copy of this story here.

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