Learning about irony, twist endings, and short stories with O. Henry
One way to share great literature with your middle-schoolers without a lot of preparation and commitment is to read short stories together.
Recently Raven and I have started reading and listening to short stories that are available in the public domain. They are free to download, and a lot of them are free to listen to at Librivox.org.
We are joining iHomeschool Network for a blog hop of famous birthdays in September!
One of the most prolific American short story writers was O. Henry (aka William S. Porter).
O. Henry’s stories are known for their wit, charm, and twist endings. He was wildly popular during his lifetime and can still be enjoyed today.
Two of his most famous stories are right at a middle school reading level, and they both present great examples of irony.
The Gift of the Magi
The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi. -The Gift of the Magi
If you are not familiar with this classic tale, you will probably still recognize the twist ending. It has been repeated in various forms on TV, in movies, and in books.
The Gift of the Magi is about a young married couple who don’t have a lot of money, yet they want to give each other a special Christmas gift.
Topics for discussion:
- Talk about love and sacrifice. Why do we sacrifice in order to give things to the ones we love?
- You can find more themes to discuss at this Shmoop Guide
- Define cosmic irony. Talk about whether the ending of this story is an example of cosmic irony.
- Talk about how this story has been recreated in popular culture. You can watch this fun video of Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street in a similar situation.
The Ransom of Red Chief
“Red Chief” is a red-headed boy. His captors have taken him for ransom because he belongs to wealthy parents. Little do they know that by the end, they will be paying his parents to take him back!
- Download the story from gutenberg (Story #8 in Whirligigs)
- Listen to the story at Librivox (#18 on the list)
The Ransom of Red Chief is an example of using irony at every turn. The town’s name is Summit and yet it is as flat as a pancake. And the ending is full of situational irony that every child will enjoy.
Topics to explore:
- You can watch this black and white film that portrays The Ransom of Red Chief and The Gift of the Magi.
- Talk about exaggeration and understatement.
- Discuss situational irony and see how many examples you can discover within the story.
- Watch the movie with Haley Joel Osment and compare!
Notebooking O. Henry and short stories
I am working on making some notebooking pages to go along with the public domain short stories that we read. But for now, you can use these other great freebies across the web:
- Biography blank page from Notebooking Fairy
- These printable irony flashcards would be great to add to a notebook!
- The Crafty Classroom has some reader response notebooking pages that could work with a short story.
- You could also create a figurative language puzzle with this freebie from TpT!