By Martine Laurin - PED3177 A. Please see my abstract on the general topic page "Canadian literature."

Why Study National Literature? | Why Study literature contributed by a variety of people groups? | What Scholars are Saying: Specifically Related to the Canadian Experience | Why Study the Short Story as an Essential Part of this Process? | | Activities | Short story ideas: | Assessment

Why Study National Literature?

The study of Canadian literature within Canadian schools serves the dual purpose of engaging students with relevant and thought provoking material while also developing their literacy skills in each of the four English curriculum strands: Reading, Writing, Oral Communication and Media Literacy. By surveying a variety of short stories written by members of different Canadian communities, teachers and their classes will be challenged to think about the concept of “what it means to be Canadian.” In response, students can be encouraged to reflect upon their own identities as Canadians within a diverse community and how they view other cultures within Canada.

Why Study literature contributed by a variety of people groups?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author of novels and short stories, talks about the importance of having a varied perspective on other people groups instead of telling a story from only one point of view.

Speaking of her experience of reading only foreign stories as a child:

“I did not know that people like me could exist in literature.”

Speaking about telling the stories of other people groups from a narrow point of view:

“It emphasizes how we are different instead of how we are similar”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Another perspective...

Nancy Mellin McCracken of the (American) National Council of Teachers of English urges educators to:

“engage openly in a discussion of issues, to read and listen to a wide variety of voices and to try to teach one another as we go” (249).

She claims that this is the only way to heal problems of racism and bias present in the North American education culture.[1]

What Scholars are Saying: Specifically Related to the Canadian Experience

A research report performed by the McDowell foundation and titled “Teaching Aboriginal Literature Through the Lenses of Contemporary Literacy Theory" details a study conducted in two classrooms for the purpose of introducing literature by Aboriginal Canadian authors.

The researchers explain the problems associated with having a primarily British and American body of literature used in Canadian schools. They claim that despite the more recent inclusion of Canadian works, non-European children are not seeing their culture represented in works studied in the classroom. The author claims that “teachers have long recognized that literature can enable readers to imaginatively enter the lives of others and develop an understanding of shared human experience” (Balzer 3). The research was done in two classrooms in Saskatchewan, one with a primarily Native Canadian student body and Native teacher, the other “more reflective of suburban Saskatchewan” with a Euro-Canadian teacher (Balzer 6). The results of the study demonstrate the benefits of giving students varied sources from which to learn in the context of Canadian literature.[2]

Why Study the Short Story as an Essential Part of this Process?

Donald Stephens writes a fascinating article detailing the change in Canadian literature with the advent of the short story. He claims that in the short story, authors began to focus less on creating a character that the reader could identify with, but rather on the character’s response to any given situation. Stephens writes that “the reader was called upon by technique to become a part of the story, and rather than associate himself with something which could easily have happened to him, he was not limited to identifying himself with the character” (Stephens 126). The author continues to write explaining that the reader could now identify with the situation that the character found himself in rather than the character’s life circumstances.[3]

This is one of the main reasons that the study of Canadian short stories is useful in the Canadian classroom. Despite the fact that Canadians are not from one same background, and therefore create varied stories, readers in Canadian schools can identify with stories and learn from them. These same stories can also challenge conceptions that students have of their own sense of Canadian identity.

Diana Mitchell, also writing for the National Council of Teachers of English, highlights the usefulness of short stories in an English classroom.

She makes the very interesting claim that as teachers, we learn the most from our materials because we read the stories ahead of time, find connections, think about theme and characters and think of ways to engage our students. She challenges teachers to “let the student to be part of this kind of critical thinking and learning” (73).


She provides a number of creative ways to incorporate short story reading into the classroom. As a big assessment for a Unit, she suggests having students pick one story not previously read in class from a number of stories and present this story in a “fair” to the other students.

Ongoing work on this project would include any number of steps from finding an artifact that relates to the story and presenting it to combined_art.jpg
the class, writing or providing a poem or song that expresses the students response to an aspect of the story, making a poster or collage with verbal “hooks” to interest their classmates into reading the story, creating an advertisement for the story etc. This project would be completed by a self-reflective piece by the students on how they made certain choices for their presentations, such as which artifact or “hooks” to use. These activities could touch upon all four strands as students read and understand, write responses, communicate their response orally and use media as part of their ongoing project.

Diana Mitchell also claims that some short stories can act alone in a Unit as a “back-up” plan, either for a substitute teacher or other impromptu event. Having short stories that relate to the Unit’s topic can be a great way to have this type of “back-up!” Either way, she stresses that teachers should be sure to provide background knowledge first, and allow students to think over the meanings constructed in the story afterwards.[4]

Short story ideas:

Thomas Chandler Haliburton
“The Clockmaker”
One of the first Euro-Canadian short stories; humoristic
Charles D.G Roberts
any of his animal stories
Roberts pioneered the “realistic” animal story
Morley Callaghan
“Last Spring they Came Over”
Describing the plight of two brothers immigrating to Canada
Althea Trotman
the “Ladies of the Night and Other Stories” collection
See Odysseys home: mapping African-Canadian literature
Roch Carrier
"Perhaps the Trees do Travel"
The story of a an older French-Canadian man's first voyage out of his small town
J.G. Sime
A feminist view of women working in factories during World War II
Lucy Maud Montgomery
“How Betty Sherman Won a Husband”
A celebrated female writer from P.E.I (an example of local colour fiction)
Rudy Wiebe
“Where is the Voice Coming from?”
Wiebe writes questioning the Euro-Canadian History’s authoritative voice in telling Native History (for older grades)
Margaret Lawrence
“The Loons”
This author examines the disappearing of Native land and its effects on Native ways of life
Ruth Holmes Whitehead
“Six Mi'kmaq Stories”
Aboriginal Literatures in Canada A Teacher's Resource Guide for grades 9-12 for methods in interpretating Aboriginal legends that have been written down by Euro-Canadians


Ensure that students understand:

o The background context, what language the text was written in (originally), who the main players are, why certain cultural events occur etc.
o How this particular group constructs short stories (ex. Orally, in the written form, through legends etc).

This could be done through assessment-for-learning through which the teacher could ensure that students understand the facts. Exit-cards, a quiz, answers to "why" questions, and smaller group discussions that the teacher can listen in onto are all effective ways of assessing students at this point.

Allow students to express:

o How they react to various aspects of the story (what they like or do not like)
o If they can identify with a character
o How their own culture might be different
o What is learned from the culture presented in the story

At this stage, students could journal, free-write, answer opinion-based questions and back up their answers with facts. This provides the teacher with a second opportunity to assess student learning prior to evaluating them.

Ask students to get creative!

o Ask them to write a similar story in response

  • Ask students to write a journal “as one of the characters”

o Involve the arts if possible
  • Get messy with collages or advertisements.
  • Get creative with dramas or dance

o Incorporate media literacy
  • Show clips related to the background or story itself
  • Play songs related to the story or themes
  • Ask students to find news stories related to certain issues or themes in the story

Students are now being asked to pull all of the information together and think critically. The teacher should gear this summative evaluation towards assessing one or two big curriculum expectations. Get students to re-write the story from a different perspective, or find music or other media that relates to the story. Incorporate drama or creative writing in assessments. Students will be able to demonstrate that they have understood not only the facts of the story, but how meaning is constructed, or how certain apsects of writing correlate to each other etc.
  1. ^ Mellin McCracken, Nancy. “Muted Dialogues: Seeking a Discourse for Preparing to Teach across Race, Class, and Language” in English Education: National Council of Teachers of English. Vol. 32, No. 4 (Jul., 2000), pp. 246-250.
  2. ^ Balzer, Geraldine, "Teaching Aboriginal Literature Through the Lenses of Contemporary Literacy Theory" Teaching and Learning Research Exchange. 2006.
  3. ^ Stephens, Donald. "The Short Story in English." Canadian Literature, No. 41 (Summer 1969), p. 126 or
  4. ^ Mitchell, Diana. “Using Short Story Collections to Enrich the English Classroom”in English Education: National Council of Teachers of English. Vol. 86, No. 8, New Voices: The Canon of the Future (Dec., 1997), pp. 73-77.