After Twenty Years Lesson Plans

This year, I tried something different with my After Twenty Years lesson plans.  I began with the following essential question:  What makes someone a good friend?  After asking this question, the discussion in the class took off, as you can imagine with all of the drama surrounding middle school friendships.

Next, I asked the students to read only the first paragraph of the story and then stop.  I wanted to see if they were reading close enough to get a picture in their heads of what was happening.  To make sure, I gave them a close read guidance worksheet, one that asks the questions that the students should be be asking in their own heads.  It includes questions like, what does “depeopled the streets” mean and what does it mean that the officer walked “impressively”? Adding this close read activity into my After Twenty Years lesson plans has made a huge difference.  It seems that they actually realize what they are missing if they simply read the paragraph without stopping to figure things out.

Once we have a discussion to make sure students understand what is happening in the first paragraph, I let the students read the rest of the story independently, encouraging them to do a close read by underlining and annotating by writing in the margins, etc.  When students finish, I ask them to simply write down what happens in the end in one or two sentences and then turn it in.  This allows me to see which ones “got it”.

The next step in my After Twenty Years lesson plans is to allow students to read the story readers’ theater style in groups.  I actually typed up the story with different parts: narrator, Jimmy, Bob, etc.  In groups, students assign parts and read the skit. They love this! It does not take a lot of time, as the story is pretty short.  Once they are done, they discuss what happened.

Finally, I allow students to rewrite the skit, modernizing it.  For example, Jimmy could send his old friend a text.  Once skits are complete, I allow them to perform them for each other.  We discuss O.Henry’s style of having a surprise ending, and then I follow up by letting students read “Hearts and Hands” by. O. Henry.


Click here to download our close reading guidance sheet for the first paragraph of the story.

Click here if you would like to download our entire teaching unit for “After Twenty Years”.  With this unit, you will have a prereading activity, a vocabulary preview sheet, an activity to teach theme, the readers’ theater script, and two performance task activities.  In addition, you will also receive the story “Hearts and Hands” along with activities and handouts to teach that story too!

Happy Teaching!



Middle School Short Stories Lesson Plans

Check out our list of middle school short stories lesson plans printables, and look at how we use these middle school short stories lesson plans and printables in our classrooms.

We teach 7th grade ELA. Sometimes, what is included in our literature books is just not enough, and that’s what we found with the following stories. We have created standards-based handouts, guided questions, and activities to accompany many middle school short stories. If you do not have these stories in your book, google the titles to see if you can find the stories online.  These are some of our very favorites! Click each title below to download a free sample from the following middle school short stories lesson plans.

Print Common-Core lesson plans for the following middle school short stories.

If you have Pinterest, be sure to pin this page because each time we create a new short story unit, we will add free middle school short stories lesson plans and printables to this page! Check back often.  More are to come!

After Twenty Years by O. Henry”

“All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury

Amigo Brothers” by Piri Thomas

Duffy’s Jacket” by Bruce Coville

The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson

Hearts and Hands” by O. Henry

“The Highwayman” (narrative poem) by Alfred Noyes

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (teleplay) by Rod Serling

The People Could Fly

Rikki-tikki-tavi” by Rudyard Kipling

Rogue Wave” by Theodore Taylor

Sorry, Wrong Number” by Lucille Fletcher

Three Skeleton Key” by George G. Toudouze

The Ruum” by Arthur Porges

Fall and Halloween Activities for Middle School ELA

So, this fall here are some of the fall and Halloween lessons plans and activities for middle school ELA that I’m brewing up in my 7th grade classroom.

1.  We will read the play “Sorry, Wrong Number”.  This super suspenseful play is in our Literature book, but it can also be found online. Last year was my first time teaching this story, and let me just say that it was hands down the highlight of my year.  I think my students felt the same!   Before reading, I will show my students a PowerPoint that explains the history of the telephone.  Some of my kids have never heard a busy signal, and some do not even realize there was a time when there was no caller ID.  I feel 100 years old when I tell them about growing up with a rotary phone where you put your finger in a hole and turned the little plate to dial a number!  The PowerPoint gives needed information about operators too, and it is complete with lots of pictures.  After reading, we will practice answering open-ended response questions and then watch the movie.  I ordered it last year on Amazon, and it was well worth the money.  I created a movie watching guide and students took notes of the differences and clues as they watched.  This year, I plan to do that again.   The movie is very different from the play, so it is a wonderful activity.  Once the movie ends, I will give them a test that compares the movie and the story.  Check out our resource for Sorry, Wrong Number and you will have everything needed for meaningful lessons that will engage and challenge your students.  Plus, it’s the perfect way to kick off your fall and Halloween activities for middle school ELA!

2.  We will also read the teleplay “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street“.   This year, we will complete interactive activities after reading this story.  These activities will help us analyze the setting and plot and practice supporting answers to questions with textual evidence.  This is one of the Twilight Zone episodes, so after reading the play, we will watch it.  It’s on Netflix!  This story and episode should fit perfectly in your fall and Halloween activities for middle school ELA!

3.  We will have our Dead Word Funeral in Mid October.  This is the perfect way to teach students about word choice.  Each student chooses an overused word to “lay to rest”.  They write obituaries and eulogies for the word, and then illustrate the word on a note card.  I call the local mortuary, borrow a small casket, and we go outside during the class period and hold our funeral.  It’s a very sad affair, as I give my students points for acting the part by crying and carrying on.  Students take turns reading their eulogies and placing their word cards in the casket.  We sing a couple of songs, and then sadly return to class.  After the funeral, we eat cake squares.  Later, we display the cards on a bulletin board, and I inform students they can no longer use these words in their writing. 

4.  Close to Halloween, we will write “body part” lunes using gummy candy.  I find the big bags of gummy eyeballs, feet, hands, and ears.  Lunes are short and fun to write.  We will also write candy corn haiku, of course while eating the delicious little triangles!  Check out this resource if you want to have printable handouts and examples for these types of poems.

5.  On Halloween day, I always read the short story “Duffy’s Jacket“.  It’s just the right length for one class period, and full of spooky suspense.  My students are always on the edge of their seats listening to this story.  Of course, at just the right spot in the story, I always slam my hands down and scare ’em a little! 🙂  I hope you enjoyed these fall and Halloween activities for middle school ELA!

Happy Fall!

Duffy’s Jacket Lesson Plans

My favorite story to read in October around Halloween time is “Duffy’s Jacket” by Bruce Coville.  Click the link below for a FREE handout to help you teach this awesome story!

It can be read in one class period, it is highly suspenseful, and I can bang my hands on my podium at just the right point in the story and get a nice scream out of my students!  They absolutely LOVE this story, and they hang on to every word.  This is why I read it out loud to them.  I do not stop to discuss the plot or characters or any other literary device because they would certainly protest and roll their eyes, or worse, read ahead!

Once we are done with the story, however, I have plenty of time to include some good Common Core activities.  This story lends itself perfectly for a discussion on how the setting affects the plot.  It also is a great text to analyze suspense and how foreshadowing helps create it!  Check out a sample packet that I have put together for this story by clicking the link below.


Download a FREE sample packet to teach “Duffy’s Jacket” by clicking here!

Amigo Brothers Lesson Plans

My lesson plans for  “Amigo Brothers” by Piri Thomas include the right amount of Common Core standards and fun!  Click the link below for our FREE handouts!

Before we read the story, I teach my students a little boxing terminology and even have them mimic a few boxing moves (not on each other LOL, but in the air).  Together we complete a vocabulary preview handout, and then  I usually read the story out loud as students follow along, stopping along the way to discuss the characters, conflict, and author’s craft.

After reading, I teach my students how to answer a constructive response question by using examples and non-examples.  Then, I give students fifteen questions.  These questions require them to return to the text, draw conclusions, and analyze various elements of the story, including suspense, conflict, setting, and characters.  Many Common Core standards are addressed within these questions.  To add the element of fun, I put the students in groups to answer the questions, and play a fun card game with them once they have their answers.  They can earn points based on the cards, and of course the group with the highest number of points wins a prize!  Click the link below to see the table of contents for the packet I have put together, and download a free handout!


Download our sample packet for “Amigo Brothers” and print a FREE prereading handout!

Three Skeleton Key Free Common Core Activities and Handouts

Every October, we read the short story “Three Skeleton Key” by George G. Toudouze  in my seventh grade classrooms.  My lesson plans for “Three Skeleton Key”  include Common Core standards as well as a lot of fun!  This story is great to read around Halloween because it has some of the elements of horror!  Being trapped in a lighthouse with hoards of rats would be nightmarish to most!  One year, I purchased a battery operated, remote control rat, which I sent wheeling out into the middle of my classroom right in the middle of the horror!  Needless to say, it made sure all of my students were awake!  These days, to keep the screams down,  I simply place a few rubbery rats around the room on the day we read the story.

Prior to reading, my students complete an anticipation guide, a vocabulary preview, and read an informational article about lighthouses and ships.  You can print the vocabulary preview in the link below.  I feel it is important that students have this background information before reading because the story can be hard for seventh graders to comprehend.    Also, due to the complexity of the text, I usually read this story aloud to my students, of course stopping along the way to question them.  Once we finish, we are ready to analyze the setting,  and theme of the story.  The setting in this story tremendously affects the plot, so together we discuss this.

Once our whole-class discussions are complete, it is time for students to work independently.  Before letting them begin, I use a handout to explain how to support answers with text.  It is best if you show examples and non-examples when doing this.  So many times, students are simply not taught how to answer open-ended questions.  Students work to complete ten questions using the text to defend their answers.  Sometimes I allow them to work with a partner to complete these questions.   Next, students write poems about the story.  Finally, they work in groups to create a tableau based on the story.  They really get into this activity and enjoy presenting them to the class!

You can download all of our handouts and activities for this teaching unit today!  Also, preview the table of contents and print the vocabulary preview free in our “Three Skeleton Key” sample pack!

Happy Teaching!

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street Common Core Activities

“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” is one of the best teleplays to read with middle school students!  We use The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street Common Core activities while reading this play, but we have a little fun as well!

Before students even know anything about the story, odd things begin to happen in our classrooms.  For instance, in my room, my class phone rings several times, but noone is ever there.  My timer goes off by itself, and so does my cell phone alarm.  Just as the kids are starting to wonder what in the world is going on, I announce, “I’m sure it’s nothing.  We don’t have time to waste.  We are going to read a play today.”  They forget all about the strange happenings as they eagerly shout out which part they want to read.  It’s only once things start eerily going wrong on Maple Street that they remember the peculiar things happening in our own room!

Take a look at our sample packet to view our detailed table of contents and print a prereading activity FREE!

Before reading, students complete some prereading activities including an anticipation guide and a vocabulary preview handout.  We then assign parts and have fun reading with expression.  After reading, we are ready to dig into some The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street Common Core based activities.  We take a look at how the setting affects the plot and examine the theme of the story.  In addition, students answer a set of questions in which they must return to the text, analyze different elements, and support their answers from the text. When we are finished, we watch the teleplay, which can be found in the Twilight series on Netflix!