Chris Adcock
English Language Arts
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Comparison
  • Evidence
  • Grade 11 ELA
  • Text
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Short Story Discussion

    Short Story Discussion


    In this lesson, students will read a famous short story by the author O. Henry and consider how gift giving affects both the giver and the receiver. They’ll learn about aphorisms and create their own bumper sticker.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Determine if you will use this assessment formatively or if you will include it as a part of the students’ grades, and give students that information.

    The Best Gift

    • Explain to students that this assessment unit will begin with some lessons and group work that will prepare them to take a test independently on the fourth and fifth day.
    • If necessary, review the Quick Write with students before they begin and provide examples of your own.
    • Give students time to write. Scan the room to check the different approaches students take to the Quick Write.
    • Circulate and provide guidance as needed.
    • Let students know when they should shift into pairs.
    • If time allows, conduct a brief Whole Group Share and ask whether anyone was moved by a gift mentioned. Why or why not?


    Think about gifts that you’ve received. Chances are that some of them were welcome, some of them were strange, and others might have been unexpected.

    Complete a Quick Write that responds to the following questions.

    • What was the best gift (doesn’t have to be a material possession) you’ve ever been given?
    • Who gave it to you?
    • What made it exceptional?

    Open Notebook

    Share your response with a partner. What is similar and what is different about your responses?


    • Introduce the word aphorism and explain that it is usually a short statement of generally accepted wisdom. Sometimes we think of aphorisms as clichés, but that can be because, for the most part, they express ideas that are universal—about which most people would agree.
    • The idea about a theme is that many times there are any number of stories, poems, essays, novels, and informational articles that express the same theme.
    • Explain a situation that proves or disproves the aphorism “It is better to give than to receive." ELL: If students are unclear on the differences between an aphorism and a cliché, provide a clear definition that helps them understand when to use each term. Aphorisms are considered original statements of wisdom, while clichés are considered to have lost their wisdom through overuse. Aphorism has a neutral or positive connotation.Cliché has a negative connotation.

    Work Time

    Have you ever heard the term aphorism ?

    An aphorism is a statement expressing an opinion or general truth. Sometimes, an aphorism can be used to express the theme of a story.

    Consider the aphorism “It is better to give than to receive” and participate in a Whole Group Discussion.

    • Can you describe a situation for which this aphorism is true?
    • Can you describe a situation for which this aphorism is false?
    • How might this aphorism apply to your own best gift? How do you think the person or people who gave it to you felt?

    ?The Gift of the Magi?

    Task 3: “The Gift of the Magi”

    • Briefly introduce the story and make sure that everyone understands the term magi in this context. In O. Henry’s story, this term references the biblical wise men who visit the infant Jesus and bring gifts.
    • Alert students that O. Henry’s stories are famous for having a surprising twist at the end.
    • Make sure students are comfortable using the annotation tools.
    • Have them write their theme in their Notebook or annotations, or use whatever method works best for your class. SWD: For students with reading comprehension struggles, check periodically for understanding. Review the definition of theme if necessary and give an example. ELL: Remind students to annotate words or phrases that are new or unfamiliar to look up later.

    Work Time

    Read the short story “The Gift of the Magi” independently.

    • While you read, see whether you can figure out what the theme of this story might be. Be sure to note your thoughts in your annotations.
    • When you’ve finished reading, write down, in your own words, what you think the theme might be.

    An O. Henry Bumper Sticker

    • Students can work individually, in pairs, or in small groups. Instruct them to take the approach that works best for your class.
    • Encourage students to design their bumper sticker visually as well as verbally. They can complete this task in their Notebook using the drawing tools, or they can design it using paper.
    • Lead a general discussion. If necessary, guide students to something like “It is better to give than to receive.” However, if students prefer something similar that can be supported by the text, let them use it. SWD: If it would benefit your students, provide examples of snappy bumper stickers with aphorisms as concrete models to use and as guides for their own work. Show how some bumper stickers allude to longer stories using iconic references to the story content, like “My other car is a broom,” which implies that the driver is a witch.

    Work Time

    One place where aphorisms often show up is on a bumper sticker. Bumper stickers don’t have a lot of room, but aphorisms are often quick and snappy.

    What would an O. Henry bumper sticker look like?

    • Take the theme that you identified from “The Gift of the Magi” and turn it into a bumper sticker.

    Open Notebook

    Share your bumper sticker with your classmates. Do you notice any similarities?

    Theme Response

    • As students are writing, take time to work with those who are struggling. A good strategy can be to have students map out the events of the story in a graphic organizer.

    SWD: To support students who struggle with inference, conduct a small group discussion to create a shared description of the theme of the story, using examples from the bumper stickers in the previous task.

    • Conduct a Whole Group Share when students have finished. Encourage them to share what textual evidence they used to support their theme.
    • Listen as students offer examples to determine if they understand the concept of using textual evidence and if they have the language to include textual evidence in their writing. ELL: The story’s conclusion is one of great irony; review the term irony with students to build their academic language vocabulary.


    Take another look at “The Gift of the Magi,” your annotations, and your theme.

    • Write a paragraph about the theme of “The Gift of the Magi.”
    • Be sure to refer to specific parts of the story as evidence of the theme.

    Share your thoughts with your classmates.

    A Set of Bumper Stickers

    • Offer “A penny saved is a penny earned” as an example of what they should look for.

    ELL: If you have students who are not familiar with aphorisms in English, provide a bank of aphorisms that they can select from.

    SWD: For students who have executive functioning difficulties, provide clear instructions for how to progress from identifying the theme of a text to identifying an aphorism that captures the theme, and then from the aphorism to a bumper sticker that expresses the aphorism.


    • Create two or three new aphorism bumper stickers for other texts you’ve read this year. These can be texts you read in class or on your own.
    • Remember, your goal is to capture the text’s theme.

    Open Notebook