My Favorite Way to Teach Short Stories

    Raise your hand if you begin every school year with a short story unit...
    You, too?
    Of course, like many English teachers, beginning with short stories just makes sense.  They're stuffed full of literary devices, figurative language, and themes to dig into.  They give teachers a great way to teach analysis skills, and they're short!  We can make sure that students are "getting it" before moving on to longer, denser novels.
In just about all of my 21 years as an English teacher, I've started this way. But, a few years ago I got tired of the textbook and the graphic organizer handouts and the boring comprehension questions... and, and, and.  I knew I wanted to keep the short stories, but I wanted to present them in a way that was more student-friendly and engaging.  I wanted them to be visually appealing and digital so that students could keep their work in their Google Drive for whenever they'd need it.  And finally, I wanted the students to benefit from the rigorous work we're doing while analyzing the stories without me suffering from the tedious work of making copies, collecting loose paper, and creating waste.  In other words, I wanted to up my short story game.

Enter my Paperless Short Story Notebooks!

    OK, hear me out.  I know reader's notebooks are not new, but, by creating these online digital notebooks, I've upped student engagement and differentiated tasks for my wide variety of students.  Before getting into the nitty-gritty, though, let's clarify a few things, first...

What is a Digital Notebook?
    Digital Notebooks are an online "notebook" in which students can do their thinking, brainstorming, reflecting, note-taking, close-reading, annotating, and synthesizing.  Rather than have students complete these tasks on loose paper, or even in a traditional bound notebook, the digital version allows them to work on this anywhere they can connect.  Additionally, the digital notebook requires no cutting, gluing, hole-punching, or any other task...instead it keeps all the work neatly in an online file that's always accessible to them.  

How do Students Use Digital Notebooks?
    I first assign the notebooks to students, either posting in my school's LMS, which makes a copy for each student in my class, or by sharing the Force Copy link with my students, which adds a copy of the notebook to their Google Drive (or whatever platform you're using).  Once they open their notebook, they work through the slides in "Edit" mode, typing, highlighting, and dragging and dropping pieces where necessary.  These notebooks make great study guides and make essay writing much simpler since the prewriting is all right there for students to mine from.

    I see you getting on board with this idea, but you might be wondering what I include in these notebooks.  Most of my notebooks include some pre-reading tasks, comprehension questions, literary devices (characterization, conflict, theme, setting, etc.),  reading strategies, close reading and annotations, and writing tasks.  All of my digital notebooks are standards-aligned and rigorous.  

    Not only do students and I read and discuss the story, but I am also able to create a unique learning experience for each of my learners. We all know that students have different needs and digital notebooks allow teachers to ~privately~ differentiate for students by assigning exactly what each student needs.

Close reading passage from my "The Necklace" notebook.

Here's the beauty: while each of my notebooks averages around 18-25 slides, I rarely give students all of that work at once.  These notebooks are completely customizable.  Maybe your students are really good at summarizing, so you want to focus on other skills.  Take out the summarizing slide!  Or maybe some of the tasks are new to your students and you want them to work together?  Assign that slide to a group and let them collaborate?  Want to check their understanding of the story?  Have them submit the comprehension questions slide as a quiz.  There are many options for differentiation, which I love, although, to be honest, I have assigned the entire notebook to my students before, and they've done well with it--it all depends on what you're hoping to accomplish.

Still questioning the benefits?  Here are a few more of my favorite things about Digital Notebooks:
  1. No germy papers to collect, touch, and hand back.  Quarantine has permanently changed my feelings about collecting papers! I plan to go almost 100% paperless.
  2. Digital takes no space in a binder or file cabinet.  And, students are less likely to lose something in their Drive than they are in their messy backpack.
  3. Grading has many can grade it all, OR, you can have students only turn in the slides you want to see, you can share slides for collaboration and only collect one set of slides per group, or you can create a form with questions and have students copy and paste the work from the slide that answers the question you're asking...the possibilities are endless!
Thinking of switching to Digital Notebooks?  Here are a few hints: create in PowerPoint or Canva to get the slides looking exactly how you want them and then upload as an image file to Google Slides.  By inserting the image as a background, students cannot move the images around, saving you lots of headaches.  Also, once you have your Digital Notebook created, make a copy of it and only share the copy with your students.  This allows you to keep the original intact, and if anything happens with the copied file, you have your perfect master copy.

Looking for a way to simplify your own short story unit?  Try one of my notebooks!  The link offers you a FREE notebook for Sandra Cisneros's vignette, "Salvador Late or Early."  Once you and your students work through it, you'll see that you'll always want to teach stories this way!

I have over 25 Digital Reader's Notebooks in my TpT store and more are being added weekly!  Save yourself time and find a notebook that will work for you.  PS, my Digital Short Story Notebook Bundle has 7 stories linked and ready to go, plus Literary Device Notes included. :)

If you're still deciding, here's what one of my sweet students wrote to me at the end of the year: "I loved the digital notebooks that we did and the mini-lessons we did with them. The notebooks were easy to understand and helped me keep my thoughts straight. Plus, I like how you always make our assignments look pretty, which makes it fun to do them!"

So, what are you waiting for?  I can't wait to hear what your students think, so be sure to let me know in the comments!

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