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There are hundreds of short stories to read at Christmas with ELA students of all ages, but middle schoolers can be an especially tricky group in the run-up to the holidays. They are too old for Santa, but deep down, they’re still kids at heart!
In my experience, even the most skeptical middle schoolers appreciate a bit of festive fun. Christmas short stories are a great way to add a bit of seasonal magic to ELA lessons in December while still moving learning forward. With this in mind, I’ve compiled three of my favorite short stories to read at Christmas in ELA, complete with ideas for activities to keep students engaged right up until the winter break!
O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is one of my favorite short stories to read at Christmas. This classic holiday tale, first published in 1906, tells the story of a young couple, Jim and Della, who make great sacrifices to buy Christmas gifts for each other. It’s an excellent example of a parable – a story that uses a simple situation or plot line to make a more complex point, usually a moral one. While times have certainly changed over the last hundred years, I find the themes really resonate with students, especially around the holidays.
Before we read the story, I like to get students thinking with a little bit of physical movement. I begin by asking them all to stand up and remain standing if they agree with the following statements (if they disagree, they can sit down):
Many middle and high school students are developing a greater understanding of the value of money and budgeting in their own lives. They might even be shopping for holiday gifts of their own! With this in mind, I find it is effective to frame “The Gift of the Magi” in the context of budgeting and household finances.
My favorite activity to do this is Budgeting: Then and Now. Using a provided graphic organizer to support the process, students can interview an adult about the challenges of budgeting. This person can be a parent, grandparent, teacher, neighbor, or even an older sibling.
In the interview, the student and their chosen subject reflect on what they could buy for $8 a week (the same amount Jim and Della pay in weekly rent in the story), steps they take to sae money for important holidays (Christmas, birthdays, etc.), and other considerations in a monthly budget.
Finally, referring back to specific details from “The Gift of the Magi,” middle schoolers can draw conclusions about how household budgets have changed over time!
Technically, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” is not a conventional story at all, but I couldn’t write a post about short stories to read at Christmas without including it! This holiday reading has a really unique backstory that students are fascinated by!
In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon expressed doubt over the existence of Santa Claus and shared her concerns in a letter to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper. An editor of the paper, Francis Pharcellus Church, replied to Virginia with a moving, thoughtful essay on the true meaning of Christmas.
While the reading is short – only a single page – it provides several opportunities for students to engage with a nonfiction text (with a holiday twist!). Because it contains advanced vocabulary, reflective of the time when it was written, I like to encourage students to use context clues to determine the meaning of some of the words and terms used in the letter. Once they have made inferences about the meaning of words like boundless, dreary, skeptical, and abiding (among others), they can use a dictionary to check their work!
I also love using “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” to support middle school ELA students in identifying the main idea of an excerpt of writing. For this activity, students analyze the letter one paragraph at a time, noting the topic or theme of each paragraph, and rewriting it in their own words.
Although A Christmas Carol is technically more of a novella, I still consider it one of the classic short stories to read at Christmas! Written by Charles Dickens in 1843, it tells the story of miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge, who is visited by a series of ghosts on Christmas Eve. These ghosts, including his former business partner Jacob Marley, as well as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, help him embrace the true meaning of the season.
I find the original 19th-century novella can be a bit challenging for middle schoolers, due to its length and complexity. The good news, however, is that there are countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol for audiences of all ages! In the middle school ELA classroom, I really like using the play A Christmas Carol: Scrooge and Marley by Israel Horovitz in the lead-up to the holiday season.
Teaching a play in middle school ELA can be a lot of fun and is a great way to channel the excitement of the holidays into a meaningful learning task! I like to use the reader’s theater method to engage as many students as possible. The day before the reading, I find it helpful to ask for volunteer readers. I recommend printing out a script for each character, highlighting their part. Sending students home with this the night before can ease student nerves, and generally tends to make the next day go more smoothly!
To add to the atmosphere, it can be fun to bring in some basic props, either from home, or found while raiding the school’s theatre costume room! Some props you might like to consider are:
I also love projecting a video of falling snow or a crackling fire in the background!
There you go! I hope these short stories to read at Christmas in middle school ELA inspire you to infuse your classroom with a bit of festive fun.
Looking for more holiday inspiration for your middle school ELA classroom? Check out my post about one of my all-time favorite Christmas activities, The Reindeer Games!
You may prefer some fun and creative learning tasks to share with your students in December that are not about Christmas. If this is the case, my post on 3 Winter ELA Activities That are Not Christmas Specific might help!
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