Dan Jago

Short Story Unit


“Coming of Age”

Their Stories and Yours


Prefatory Statement:


              This unit will incorporate both the reading and the writing of short stories that fit into the theme of “coming of age.”  Students will be reading stories from multiple cultures around the world, as well as stories from different generations in America and stories from people in different social classes.  In order to keep the unit interesting, the class will combine group readings and out of class readings.  The class will incorporate literature circles for some stories, large class discussions, and the option to do short presentations.

              Their stories will be the culminating project.  We will study aspects of the “coming of age” story as we go along, and they will be required to incorporate some of them into their own stories in order to make them fit the theme.  The stories can be non-fictional about their own lives or completely fictional, and should fit into the genre of “coming of age narratives.”  They will work on their stories in writing groups, presenting them to the instructor in a portfolio that shows their work as they have gone along.  The class will also incorporate some media into the story, giving them time to type them in the lab, and possibly add artwork and pictures to the story as well.

              The main justification for this unit is the relevance that it has in their lives.  As high school students they will be going through many of the same changes and experiences that we read about.  I think that many students will be excited to get the chance to create their own stories, but also to tell a little bit about their own troubles and experiences.  On top of this, the unit will help educate students on a broad scale.  Not only will they be able to identify with some of the characters in the stories, they will also learn about problems that others face that they may not understand.  For instance, most of the males will be seeing things in a different light when reading about a girl growing up; almost all of the students will gain insights when looking at stories from other cultures and other socio-economical classes.

              The unit addresses the need for people to learn about things outside of their sphere.  It presents an interesting way to study different cultures, class structures, and socio-economic classes.  Ideally this lesson will help students be more understanding and more tolerant of one another, which would benefit the world in the long run.  It addresses race, gender issues, social justice, and class simply by juxtaposing stories.  The unit will teach some valuable lessons and give students a chance to be heard, but it also presents the material in an interesting and engaging way.


Class Specification:  


This unit is designed for 10th grade students.  It could probably be used effectively in any of the high school grade levels, but the texts and requirements are designed for 15-16 year old students.  The unit should apply effectively to all socio-economic groups, especially since any necessary computer work will be done in school.


Significant Assumptions:


It is important for students to learn about various cultures in the world.  Students learn best when the material is relevant to their lives.  In this way, it makes sense to teach students about the world through the experiences of others their own age.  Students benefit from a variety of teaching strategies, and this is also an effective way to reach out to students with unique learning styles.  It is important to incorporate lecture, discussion, small group work, large group work, student choice, and a few other varieties of instruction in order for them to learn effectively.  Varied techniques will also help keep the unit interesting over the three weeks of studying similar materials.

              In order for the students to most effectively understand concepts, they need to be willing to learn them.  Therefore, having the unit be relevant to the students is the most important aspect of it.  However, it is also important for the students to understand why they are studying the texts that they do, and why it is important to their lives.

              Students do not need a lot of prior knowledge in order to complete the unit.  Obviously it is important that they are able to read and write, but the unit plan will cover the aspects of short stories, the differences in the cultures that we read about, and will provide opportunities for students to work together and help one another to build toward their own short stories.  Therefore, this unit requires little previous knowledge, but will help build toward a multi-cultural understanding, and give students an opportunity to creatively express themselves and issues that their age group is dealing with today.


Desired Outcomes/Standards:


 I. Reading and Literature

                            D.  Literature

              II. Writing

Objectives:         -     Students will demonstrate the ability to plan, organize, and
compose a narrative story.


Possible Whole-Class Activities: 


Group discussions:  Students will have a chance to discuss ideas with a partner or small group, but then will move toward a larger whole group discussion.  Texts will be interpreted as a whole group in order to assure that students are exposed to a variety of ideas.


Lectures:  Some of the thematic lessons and concepts will be taught as a question and answer sort of lecture.  The whole class will work toward the main attributes of a short story, as well as toward identifying characteristics of “coming of age” stories.


Reading:  One of the stories will be read to the entire class.  This gives students a chance to follow along, and has been shown to help increase comprehension and reading speed for students.  The class will also have a chance to read an e-text as a whole group.


Teacher Materials:


Appleman, Deborah. Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents. Teachers College P, 2000.


Daniels, Harvey. Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups. Stenhouse, 2001.


http://www.bcactionpoet.org- For Billy Collin’s poetry


http://www.ferrellweb.com/notes/handouts/dragonquestions.pdf- For “The Powder Blue Dragon.”


Possible Small-Group Activities:


Writing Workshops:  Detailed below.


Literature Circles:  Students will use literature circles to discuss two of the stories during the semester.  The groups will be different than their writing groups, but will be chosen in the same way.  (Detailed below under Ongoing Activities).


Presentations:  Instead of one of the writing prompts, students could group up and do presentations about a story, either doing interpretations, re-enacting a scene, or providing an alternate ending.  These could be used to prove story comprehension in an interesting and active way.


Possible Individual Activities:


Writing:  Much of their writing will be individual.  Journaling, rough drafts, and a few other small writing assignments will be individual.  They will be asked to write a few prompts about stories to demonstrate a deep understanding of the theme.


Reading:  Students will be asked to read most of the stories on their own.  Some of the reading will be in class, and some of it will be outside on their own time.



Ongoing Activities:


Journaling:  Students will write 5-10 minutes every day.  Some prompts will be random, some will be completely student choice, but about half of them will be used in conjunction with the short stories that they are reading.  It will be a good way to get them writing, but also a good way for them to demonstrate knowledge and understanding about the texts.  Prompts are included in the weekly plans.


Writing Workshops:  By the second week in the unit students will be placed in writing groups.  They will hand in an anonymous list of students that they want to work with and a list of any students that they cannot work with.  In order for them to be in comfortable groups, ideally they will have at least one other student of their choosing, and not need to be in a group with any students who they are not comfortable with.


Student Resources:


The class will need access to a computer lab for two or three days near the end of the four week block.  Otherwise students will only need to bring writing materials for rough drafts, prompts, etc. and a writing utensil.  Also each student will need a notebook to act as their journal, which could be a spiral notebook that remains in the classroom for the whole year.




Edwards, Jorge. “Weight Reducing Diet.” Into the Widening World: International

Coming of Age Stories. Ed. John Loughery. Persea Books, 1994.


Forte-Escamilla, Kleya. “Coming of Age.” Storyteller with the Nike Airs and

other Barrio Stories. Aunt Lute Books, 1995.


              Lim, Shirley. “Mr. Tang’s Girls.” Into the Widening World: International Coming

of Age Stories. Ed. John Loughery. Persea Books, 1994.


Joyce, James. “The Boarding House.” Dubliners. New York, NY: Penguin Press,



Rodereda, Merce “That Wall, That Mimosa.” Into the Widening World:

International Coming of Age Stories. Ed. John Loughery. Persea Books,



Tan, Amy. “Two Kinds.” Growing up Female. Ed. Susan Cahill.  New York, NY:

Penguin Books, 1993.


              Viramontes, Helena Maria. “Growing.” The Moths and Other Stories. Arte

Publico Press, 1995


Vonnegut, Kurt. “The Powder Blue Dragon.” The Bagambo Snuff Box. New

York, NY:  The Berkeley Publishing Group, 1999.



Vonnegut, Kurt. “Runaways.” The Bagambo Snuff Box. New York, NY:  The

Berkeley Publishing Group, 1999.




Possibly to be tied into stories along the way:

Animated Poetry by Billy Collins, found at [http://www.bcactionpoet.org/]

              “Forgetfulness”  “Hunger” “Now and Then” “Some Days”


Unit Launch:  See the lesson plan attached.


Organization of the Unit:


Week 1: Readings: “Growing,” “Runaways,” “Mr. Tang’s Girls.”

              For “Growing” see Unit Launch.


“Runaways” will be used as a mode to further explain the idea of “coming of age.”  Have a discussion about Rice and Annie.  Why were they running away?  What prompted them to come back?  Does it seem realistic?  Why do they decide to call off the wedding? How does this demonstrate “growing up?”  Then have students use their journals to answer prompt: Do you know anybody whose relationship seems based on something other than true love?  Write about it without using any names.  Be sure it is appropriate.

“Mr. Tang’s Girls” Use this story to start a comparison between cultures.  Things to consider: The girl’s experiences, and the final actions, how does it compare to American experiences? What is similar? What is different?  This can be either in the form of a discussion, or an informal writing prompt. 

Writing: At the end of the first week, have students write a rough paragraph explaining things that students their age struggle with.  This will serve as a “brainstorm” for their own stories.

Also to be completed:  Have students hand in list of people they would like to work with and people they cannot work with.  Develop literature circle groups and different writing groups.

Journals: Write the phone conversation that Rice and Annie have after the story is


-Write about a relationship that you see that isn’t based on true love.  This can either be fictional or true.

-Write an alternate ending for “Mr. Tang’s Girls” using all three of the girls in the story.

-Have two “choice” prompts, where students can write anything at all as long as it reaches half of a page.


Week 2: Readings: “The Boarding House,” “That Wall, That Mamosa,” “The Powder-

              Blue Dragon”


“The Boarding House”  Do a read-aloud for half of this text since it is a little more difficult.  Have students use their journals to re-write the ending of the story. 

“That Wall, That Mamosa”  Use this text in comparison to Joyce’s story.  Have students do a more formal comparison.  Compare Mamosa to Polly.  What about their romantic interests are similar?  What is different?  What part does culture seem to play in it?  Would you consider this positive or negative?

Writing: Have students do a rough draft using some of the ideas above to compare the characters.  Introduce them to their writing groups.  Explain the process of helping and reading for content, not just grammar.  Have students look at each others work and conference on them.  Have the final copy due at the end of the week, just a two to three page paper comparing the characters.

“The Powder-Blue Dragon”  At some point during the week use this story for a class discussion.  Have them start out in small groups, and move it to a full class discussion.  Discussion questions:  What does the car symbolize?  What does the melting of the engine symbolize?  How does this story present a “coming of age” theme?  What specific examples show that the character has changed?  Do many people project their personalities onto objects they own?  What are some examples?  What about you? (To students in the class.)  Etc.

Stories: Have students come up with a few ideas for their own short stories.  Have them write a casual note to the instructor with one main idea and a couple back ups.

Journals:  Write a brief story that could be about one of your coming of age experiences.

-How do Kiah and Mamosa show that they have changed?  What is similar and what is different?

-Write about why an occurrence like “The Boarding House” wouldn’t happen in America today.

-Give the students two choice journals again, perhaps on Monday and Wednesday.


Week 3:  Readings:  “Weight Reducing Diet,” “Two Kinds,” “Coming of Age”


              Use these stories to further discuss differences in cultures and upbringings.  They

can be used to discuss childhood in America, and how childhood can differ greatly from one person to another, as in “Two Kinds.”  Again these stories can be used with informal journal prompts in order to check that students have been reading and understand the themes.  Questions: How do the three main characters differ from one another?  What role does their cultural background play in it?  What things would probably be the same regardless of culture?  What things do they experience that are comparable to what you have experienced?  What is different?  What are some similar traits that seem to appear in adolescents regardless of their cultural background and economic class?  Do you see those traits in students today?

Stories:  Give students a good deal of time to work on their own stories.  Have them move from an idea to a story.  This should be narrative style short story that would qualify as having a “coming of age” theme.  Give them the rubric that is attached, and have them evaluate their rough draft based on it.  If time allows, develop some aspects of the rubric along with the students.  Have them make a rough draft, peer edit it, grade it themselves based on the rubric, write an informal note about what they can do to fix the areas that they think need work, and hand the draft in.

Journals:  Write about the struggles that you are having in working on your own short story.

-What elements of “Weight Reducing Diet” do we see in everyday culture? Do you think that this is a good or bad thing?

-Have you experienced anything with your parent/s like the narrator has in two kinds? Write about how it is the same or different from her experience and why.

-What could you do to make your story better?  What could your teacher do to help you move along in the writing process?

-One choice journal.


Week 4:  Working on short stories and creating a final product.

Start the week off with a grammar mini-lesson if any grammatical or stylistic errors stand out in the student’s stories.  Hand them back their rough drafts with any notes or ideas on them.

Create a writer’s atmosphere in the classroom.  Give students class time to work on their drafts, edit with each other, and help one another out with their stories.

If an art or technology teacher is willing to comply, this would be a great area to incorporate media.  The stories could be illustrated, have a graphic cover, or even include photographs.

Give the students two days at least to work on their stories in the lab.  Make sure that they still have the rubric with them.  Encourage them to add graphics or pictures to make a really presentable product.

Friday:  Before the students hand in their final product, have them break into groups.  Use their writing groups as a base, and then completely mix them so they are with all new people.  Have them exchange stories.  As a final journal prompt, have them compare the story they read to one read in class earlier.  It should be compared to a story from a different culture or a different time in America.  Have them point out similarities and differences, commenting on what students are facing today compared with other times and other places.

              This will just be a closing activity to have them continue using their journals, but also to be able to share stories with one another.  In their journal they could write about what elements the writer incorporated to fit the story into the “coming of age” genre.


Assessment:  Students will be assessed in various ways.  They will be using a rubric for their individual short stories.  The rubric is attached.  They will be asked to demonstrate their knowledge through journals and small writing prompts.  They will also be formatively assessed through literature circles.


Grades:  The grades for the unit will be split between the reading portion and the writing portion.  The reading will be worth half, and the writing will be worth half. 


Journaling will be a big part of the reading section.  Journals will be used for students to show that they have read the texts and that they understand the concepts and themes within them.  Journals and the few writing prompts will be worth half of the reading section grades, with the other half being from the literature circles.  The journals will be graded on a few things.  First of all, students must make entries for everyday, and make up the days that they missed to receive an A.  To earn B credit the students must miss three or less of the fifteen journals, and for a C they must have at least ten journals done.  On top of this, some of the journals will be graded on presenting knowledge of the story.  For those prompts that relate to a text, students must accurately demonstrate that they understand the story and its characters through their responses.  If it appears that they did not read the story, they will only receive half credit for at least doing the writing.  If they demonstrate a solid understanding they will receive full credit, and partial credit will be awarded for understanding some things but misidentifying a character or showing some other minor misunderstanding.


The other half of the unit will be the short story writing portion.  Half of this section will be the final product, with the other half coming from the writing process.  Students will hand in initial ideas and rough drafts, conferencing with one another and the instructor to demonstrate the writing process.  They will be given a rubric for their final product.  They will be asked to evaluate their rough draft using this rubric, and hand it in with an explanation of how they can increase their grade in each area.  The final product should demonstrate an attempt to upgrade in all of the areas that they felt they could, and they should self-evaluate their stories again.  The teacher will have the final say, but should be sure that students understand areas that their grading differed greatly from the instructors.


50% Reading- 25% in journals, 25% in literature circles

50% Writing- 25% in the process work, 25% in the final draft


The rubric is attached.





Stage 1 – Desired Results

Content Standard(s):

 I. Reading and Literature   D. Literature

Understanding (s)/goals

Students will understand:

-Thematic concepts in “coming of age” genre.

- The importance of studying what causes change in young adults.

Essential Question(s):

What does growing up mean?

What issues do students face in today’ world?

What role does gender play?

Student objectives (outcomes):

Students will be able to:

-Identify thematic concepts in “coming of age” stories.

Stage 2 – Assessment Evidence

Performance Task(s):

-Students will be asked to identify the “enlightenment” moment in the story “Growing.”

-Students will fill out worksheets in groups.

Other Evidence:

The class discussion will show whether or not students understand the thematic concept of “coming of age.”

Stage 3 – Learning Plan

Materials: A computer and a projector to watch online clips in front of the class.

Copies of story “Growing” for the whole class.

Handouts that correspond with “Growing” for both males and females.

Learning Activities:



 Show students Billy Collins “Forgetfulness” animated poem. 3 min.

Discussion: Ask what “growing up means.”  Have a class wide discussion and write ideas on the board.  What is growing up?  When does it happen? What affects it?  When is somebody an adult? 5 min.

Show Billy Collins “Now and Then.”

Discussion continued:  Ask them how this relates to growing up.  How does culture affect growing up?  How does a time period affect it?  What are some things that young adults have growing up that their parents didn’t have?  5 min.

Introduce Unit: Explain the reason for the short story unit.  They will study and compare coming of age stories to learn about other cultures and learn more about themselves. 2 mi

Aspects: Loss of innocence. Dropping of preconceptions. Gaining important knowledge.  Maturing from child to adult or irresponsible to self-responsible. Changing of one’s beliefs. Growing to change a false view of something to a correct view of something.  A move from idealism to realism.

Reading:  Hand out “Growing” and give students time to read it.  When students finish have them start filling out the sheets (attached)  15 min.

Groupwork:  Split the students into homogenous groups based on gender.  Have them work through all of the questions and discuss them.  10 min.

Discussion:  Bring the group back together.  Have students discuss the differences between their answers based on sex.  Use these ideas to discuss how many things play into maturation, i.e. social class, culture, parents, historical time period, etc.  Have students point out the defining moment in the text when readers see that Naomi has had a maturing moment.  Use this to talk about “coming of age” stories, and specifically what thematic concepts exist and what they look like.  Talk about the “loss of innocence” moment, or how the character gains an understanding that is noticeable and definable.  Explain once again the idea of the unit, and give them a heads up to start thinking about specific issues that affect how young adults age and understand the world.  Technology, contact with parents, drugs, alcohol, crime, race, etc.

“The Powder-Blue Dragon” 50 min. Grade 10

Stage 1 – Desired Results

Content Standard(s):

I. Reading and Literature  D. Literature

Understanding (s)/goals

Students will understand:

How symbolism will be used to show growth


Essential Question(s):

How do people show characteristics of changes in their lives?

How can objects effectively personify changes and ideas?

Student objectives (outcomes):

Students will be able to:

-Identify symbolism in “coming of age” stories.

-Demonstrate an understanding of personification.


Stage 2 – Assessment Evidence

Performance Task(s):

-Students will use journals to write about their ideas regarding symbolism in the story.

-Students will engage in “Four Corners” activity as a means to begin a discussion.

Other Evidence:

-Students will demonstrate a general understanding of personification through a class discussion.

-Students will also fill out a worksheet in class.

Stage 3 – Learning Plan

Learning Activities:

Intro: Have students take time to write a whole page in their journals. Prompt: What does the car show us about Kiah? What do you think the ending means? 10 min.

  Collect the journals. These will be used to see if students read the story, and check to

    make sure that they are analyzing texts as well.

Activity: Have signs in all four corners of the room, one saying “Strongly Agree” one saying “Agree” “Disagree” and “Strongly Disagree.”

Read the statement: “Kiah is a nice guy.” Have the students go stand in the corner that most accurately describes their response. Have each group talk and then report their justification to the class. Continue the activity with the following prompts. “Kiah’s childhood is more responsible for his personality than the “Summer People.”” “Kiah ruins the car because he hates who he is.” 10 mins.

Lecture: Introduce “personification.” Give examples of it other texts that have been read so far. For instance, the wall in “That Wall, That Mamosa.” Also call on other texts that have been studied in other units. Introduce the idea that they car is symbolic of Kiah. 10 min.

Discussion: Split the students into small groups of 4-5. Have them go through the worksheet attached making quick notes of their answers. Bring the class back together, and go through some of the questions out loud. Concentrate on 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. Use this discussion to move toward a more in-depth analysis of the car and how it personifies Kiah. Ask students to come up with traits in the car that are similar to traits that Kiah possesses. 15 min.

Closing: have students give ideas of objects that could be symbolic of them. Let them know that they will be responsible for understanding personification. (In their journals have them talk about the piano in “Two Kinds” on a later date). Make sure that students are demonstrating an understanding of the concept through their examples. 5 min.




Final Project











Story does not use descriptive language.

Story attempts to use some descriptive language but does not succeed in providing a mental image for the reader.

Story irregularly or incompletely uses descriptive language which does not provide a complete mental image for the reader.

Story uses some sensory detail, figurative lan-guage, and interesting word choices to describe setting, characters, and events with few exceptions.

Story uses specific sensory detail, fig. lang. (incl. simile & personification), and interesting word choices to fully describe setting, characters, and events of the story.








Story merely describes with no narrative component whatsoever.

Story does not present a conflict to be resolved.  Major parts of plot, such as rising action, are missing.

Story provides some elements of plot but does not develop and resolve a conflict.  Other lesser parts, such as exposition, may be missing.

Story provides a plot which attempts to introduce, develop, and resolve a conflict.  Climax is identifiable.

Story provides a complete and well-constructed plot which introduces, develops, and resolves a conflict.  Climax is readily identifiable.








Story does not appear to have been edited at all.

Story contains many major errors, such as subj.-verb disagreement or lack of paragraphs.

Story contains errors distracting to the reader, such as run-ons or omitted words.

Story shows good control of language concepts with minor exceptions.

Story shows excellent control of written language conventions.








Story shows little or no elements of a “coming of age story.”  Summarizes large events, or doesn’t have a specific focus.

Specific focus is confusing or limited.  Story does not really demonstrate “snapshot” element of a short story.  Contains a limited showing of elements for a “coming of age” story.

Shows some elements of a short story, but summarizes too much or doesn’t have a “coming of age” moment that can be easily identified.

Shows most elements of a short story, and shows at least a “loss of innocence” moment that can be located and clearly understood.

Story demonstrates “snapshot” element of a short story and displays an understanding of the important elements in a “coming of age story.”


























The following questions are from: http://www.ferrellweb.com/notes/handouts/dragonquestions.pdf


Name____________                 “The Powder-Blue Dragon”


1. This story is set somewhere in New England, in a “village that had once been a whaling port.” What is the difference between the local residents and the “summer people” in the story? How do you think this has affected Kiah?




2. What else do we learn about Kiah’s childhood that has probably affected the way he views life and sets his goals?





3. What kind of car does Kiah want to buy? Why do you think he wants one so badly?




4. What warning does Mr. Daggett give Kiah when he gets in the car for the ?rst time? What literary technique is this an example of? (Hint: it’s a word that starts with an “f,” and describe an event that hints at things to come...)





5. The scene in the cocktail lounge is a complicated one: Describe how Kiah is behaving, in contrast to the responses he gets from the people around him. What does Kiah come to realize while he’s in the lounge?





6. Why do you think Kiah kills the car? What might it have to do with his remark to Mr. Daggett at the end: “Call me Kiah”?








7. In a paragraph or two, write a brief description of Kiah’s character. What kind of guy is he? Be as thorough as you can, and base your description on clues from the story.


Materials prepared by Deborah Appleman in connection with:

Appleman, Deborah. Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary

Theory to Adolescents. Teachers College P, 2000.


Growing*: For Males Only


Discuss the following questions as a group.  Pick a different reporter for each question.  That person should jot down notes about the discussion and be prepared to summarize that discussion when you get back together as a whole class.


1. Several times in the story Naomi assets that: “I am an adult.” Can 15-year-olds be adults? In your experience are all, some, most, or hardly any 15-year-olds you know adults?




2. Is a 15-year-old more likely to be an adult if he/she is male or female? Does gender have any effect on one’s maturity?




3. What role does baseball play in the story? What significance does baseball have in your life?




4. What are some of the differences between being a boy and being a man?




5. Describe how going through puberty has changed your life.




6. React to the last line in the story:

Enjoy, she whispered to Lucia, enjoy being a young girl, for you will never enjoy being a woman.




7. How does it feel to be in a group of only males? In what ways does it affect your discussion?




* Discussion questions relating to the story “Growing” by Helena Maria Viramontes

Growing*: For Females Only


Discuss the following questions as a group.  Pick a different reporter for each question.  That person should jot down notes about the discussion and be prepared to summarize that discussion when you get back together as a whole class.


1. Several times in the story Naomi assets that: “I am an adult.” Can 15-year-olds be adults? In your experience are all, some, most, or hardly any 15-year-olds you know adults?




2. Is a 15-year-old more likely to be an adult if he/she is male or female? Does gender have any effect on one’s maturity?




3. What role does baseball play in the story? What significance does baseball have in your life?




4. What are some of the differences between being a girl and being a woman?





5. Describe how going through puberty has changed your life.





6. React to the last line in the story:

Enjoy, she whispered to Lucia, enjoy being a young girl, for you will never enjoy being a woman.





7. How does it feel to be in a group of only females? In what ways does it affect your discussion?





* Discussion questions relating to the story “Growing” by Helena Maria Viramontes