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Short Stories

Students read three masterful works of fiction by Sherman Alexie, Karen Russell and Alice Walker, and practice skills, habits, and routines that will be used regularly in the high school classroom.

Unit Summary

This short introductory unit serves as the bridge between middle school and high school literature courses. In this unit of study, students will practice skills, habits, and routines that will be used on a regular basis in the high school classroom: vocabulary practice, close reading, annotating text, collaborative conversation, and evidence-based writing. These skills will be developed and honed as students read three masterful works of short fiction. Simultaneously, students will review essential literary skills and concepts they have learned in middle school and apply them to ninth grade-level texts.

The year will begin with the “How to Fight Monsters” chapter from Sherman Alexie’s novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  This chapter follows the protagonist, Junior, through his first day at his new off-reservation school as he struggles to understand the social norms and expectations in this foreign environment. Students will investigate the author’s craft, examining the techniques Alexie uses to characterize Junior and develop the theme of identity.

Students will then work to further develop close reading and annotating skills as they examine St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a contemporary short story by Karen Russell. The story is structured around a handbook that describes various stages of adapting to a new culture, with powerful advanced vocabulary, and strongly developed young characters who struggle to adapt in this strange new setting. The complex text and thematic treatment of identity make the story particularly appropriate as one of the first high school texts that students encounter. As students read, discuss, and write about the text, they will again examine how the author’s deliberate choices, such as text structure and diction, create character, meaning, and theme. Students will practice taking a thematic topic (like “identity”) and developing it into a theme statement that reveals the author’s message on the thematic topic. (Some of the concepts and questions from this portion of the unit have been adapted from Engage New York Module 9.1.)

Finally, students will read Alice Walker’s powerful short story, Roselily. In this very brief story, Walker creates a complex characterization of the narrator, Roselily, a young woman who jumps into marriage with a man she barely knows, who is of a different faith and who is from a faraway city. Her desperate attempt to abandon her past and start fresh develops the thematic topic of identity that is echoed in all three stories.

At Match, students have a Composition class 4 days per week in addition to English class. Below, we have included Supplementary Composition Projects to reflect the material covered in our Composition course.  For teachers who are interested in including these Composition Projects but do not have a separate Composition course, we have included a “Suggested Placement” to note where these projects would most logically fit into the English unit. While the Composition Projects may occasionally include content unrelated to English 9, most have both a skill and content connection to the work students are doing in their English 9 class.

In the literature lessons of this unit, students read several short works of fiction focused on the theme of identity. While not explicitly tied to any of the works of short fiction in the English 9 unit, the supplementary Composition Projects are tied to the theme of identity and develop some of the same skills the students will need to be successful on the writing portion of the Unit 1assessment. All of the Composition Projects in this brief unit are narrative pieces, but the focus on selecting evidence and providing context for that evidence is the same skill students will use in the literary analysis writing in the English 9 unit. While not recorded as an area of focus in the project descriptions below, a focus on using advanced vocabulary could also be very smoothly woven into these projects. The emphasis on analyzing diction and on mastering new and complex vocabulary in the English unit could be reinforced in the Composition Projects by requiring students to use some of the vocabulary in their writing. Words that would be particularly applicable to the writing projects are bewildered, inevitable, assimilation, and latent. The concept of culture shock could also be referenced by students in “The Snare” essay. The writing focus areas of this unit come directly from the “Proficient” column of the Match High School composition rubric rows for Thesis, Evidence, Explanation, and Revision. 

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 1 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep


  1. Read and annotate the three short stories with the essential questions in mind.
  2. Consider the essential questions in light of the stories. How would you answer them? Also, consider possible sub-questions that students should investigate/debate to deepen their answers.
  • Who or what defines who we are? Can each individual decide and shape his or her own identity
    • Do I decide and create who I am? What are the limits to that? What role do family, friends, teachers, past experiences, and societal expectations play in defining who I am? What else defines me?
  • How does an author create character and develop theme?
    • What techniques do we see all three authors using? What variety do we see amongst them?
  1. Read and annotate the two paired texts.
  2. Consider possible connections between the paired non-fiction texts and the short stories.
  3. Take the exam and write your mastery response to the essay portion of the exam.
  4. Read and annotate paired composition projects.

Essential Questions


  • Who or what defines who we are? Can each individual decide and shape his or her own identity?
  • How does an author create character and develop theme?

Writing Focus Areas


English Lessons Writing Focus Areas

It is the beginning of the year and we are introducing 9th grade levels of rigor for the three standards listed below, all of which are spiraled from 8th grade. Below are the three rows of the rubric that are the focus areas for this unit. Assess students relative to the "proficient" column of our Composition Writing Rubric.

  • Thesis: Clear and Relevant
  • Evidence: Draws relevant evidence to support topic
  • Diction: Uses some advanced vocabulary

Composition Projects Writing Focus Areas

Students will begin the unit by working on a process writing piece about “The Freshman Snare,” in which they will work on all the Writing Focus Areas listed below. The second project is an on demand piece in which students will show their progress on the first three Writing Focus Areas. In general, on demand pieces do not allow for the in-depth revisions possible during a process writing project. Assess students relative to the "proficient" column of our Composition Writing Rubric.

  • Thesis: Includes a clear and relevant thesis statement
  • Analysis: Demonstrates clear and logical reasoning
  • Evidence: Draws relevant evidence to support position
  • Professionally Revised: Complete and follows guidelines; adequate revisions



Literary Terms

text features, epigraph, diction, characterization, conflict, theme, narrator, point of view, evidence, juxtaposition, diction, tone

Roots and Affixes

in-, re-, super-, bi- [bilingual (227), bipedal (230)], lukos-/lupos-, anthropos-


Absolutely True Diary: betray (55), translucent (56)

"St. Lucy’s": couth (225), remedied (225), agitation (226), ostracized (227), exultant (227), menacing(229), bewildered (229), taunt (230), latent (231), inability (236), ferocity (237), rehabilitated (246)

"Roselily": superficial, usurped, inevitable

Other: assimilation (thematically tied)

Idioms and Cultural References

Absolutely True Diary: crucifixion (55), “the rez” (56), “fisticuffs” (61)

"St. Lucy’s": lycanthropic, boarding school, culture shock, “backwoods” (226), “apiary” (226), “purgatory” (227), “naturalized citizens” (227), “Caramba!” (231), “wolf in sheep’s clothing” (232), “catechism” (233), “the Charleston” (237), sotto voce (240), “the Sausalito” (241), “prosciutto” (246)

"Roselily": “Dearly Beloved…” (1), “covered head” (1), “cinder” (1), “yoke” (2)

Content Knowledge and Connections


Students will become familiar with the concept of “culture shock” as well as biculturalism.

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

  • The discussions of race, culture, and identity in this unit will build a foundation for Grade 9 English Language Arts Unit 2: The Bluest Eye, in which students will continue to investigate the impact of societal expectations on individual identity, through the lens of race and beauty in American society.

Lesson Map


  • ATDPTI pp. 54 – 57

Explain how Sherman Alexie uses juxtaposition to characterize Junior.

Practice the systems and routines (vocabulary acquisition, annotation, independent reading) of the high school literature classroom.


  • ATDPTI pp. 59 – 66

Explain the techniques Alexie uses to reveal and develop theme.

Practice the systems and routines (same as yesterday, plus evidence-based writing) of the high school literature classroom.


  • “4 Stages of Culture Shock”

  • St. Lucy's p. 226 — Stage 1 Epigraph

Explain how the author uses specific diction to characterize the girls on p. 225.

Practice the systems and routines (same as yesterday, plus root study) of the high school literature classroom.


  • St. Lucy's pp. 226 – 229 — Stage 1

Explain how the author uses diction to reveal important information about characters, plot and conflict.

Practice the systems and routines (same as previous day's, plus vocabulary in context) of the high school literature classroom.


  • St. Lucy's pp. 229 – 235 — Stage 2

Explain how the author is using the central conflict and characters to develop the theme of identity.

Practice the systems and routines (previous routines, plus habits and expectations of rigorous discussion) of the high school literature classroom.


  • “History and Culture: Boarding Schools”

  • St. Lucy's pp. 235 – 240 — Stage 3

Explain how the author uses the characterization of Claudia, Mirabella, and Jeannette to further develop the conflict.


  • St. Lucy's pp. 240 – 246 — Stages 4 and 5

Explain how the author continues to develop theme in the final pages of the text.


Discussion & Writing

  • St. Lucy's — Whole Text

Discuss the theme of identity and write a thematic statement about the author’s message in "St. Lucy’s".



  • St. Lucy's — Whole text

Draft a written response to the prompt using brainstorming from day 8.


  • “Roselily” pp. 1 – 6

Explain how the author creates character and establishes conflict in the first four paragraphs of the story.


  • “Roselily”

Explain how the author uses the story’s structure to convey theme.


Discussion & Writing

Compare the authors' craft and the theme development of all three stories through discussion and writing.



Composition Projects

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.9-10.6 — Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.9-10.2 — Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.9-10.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RL.9-10.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.9-10.3 — Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

  • RL.9-10.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

  • RL.9-10.5 — Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.9-10.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9—10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Writing Standards
  • W.9-10.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.9-10.1.a — Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

  • W.9-10.1.b — Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level and concerns.

  • W.9-10.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

  • W.9-10.2.a — Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

  • W.9-10.2.b — Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience's knowledge of the topic.

  • W.9-10.4 — Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

  • W.9-10.5 — Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

  • W.9-10.6 — Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology's capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

  • W.9-10.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

  • W.9-10.10 — Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.