1.09 – Taylor Swift: Short Story – Questioning (English Lesson)

Taylor Swift is a short story written by Hugh Behm-Steinberg and can be found online at Gulf Coast Magazine. It is a strange story about cloning, and sexuality, and drug use, and… it leads to a lot of questions. Some students understand it right away, others have a hard time getting to the point of the story, but it’s built on a familiar foundation: Taylor Swift.

Transitioning from the prior lesson (The Questioning Slide Deck) students are now tasked to put their learning into practice. They will pose Literal, Inferential, and Evaluative questions based on the short story, and explain – not the answers to the questions – but why the questions were important in the first place.

English Course Pack: Unit One – Literacy Skills

This assignment is part of the The Full English Course Park. This piece is part of Unit One: Literacy Skills, which focuses on creating a strong foundational understanding of literacy skills, PEE paragraph writing, and embedding quotations as textual support.


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1.09 – Taylor Swift: Short Story [Questioning]

Step One: Reading the Story

Provide students with a copy of the story. Provide students with one of three coloured highlighters (I’d go with orange, green, and blue). Tell students that whenever they come across something that is confusing, they should highlight it. It could be a word, or it could be a sentence. It’s helpful if there are an equal amount of each highlighter colour in the class.

How you read through the story is up to you. Personally, I suggest reading it aloud to the class. It’s good for students to hear strong readers reading. However, you can switch off from student to student, or have them read in small groups, or just read to themselves.

The important piece is that by the end of reading through the story, students will have highlighted a few sections of the text.

Step Two: Form Highlighter Groups

It’s not secret that I love grouping students by highlighter. Students can’t argue about groups, or secretly try to switch groups, because the evidence of their group is already on their page, or in their hand.

If you want smaller groups you can ask students to form a group with one of each colour – or, you can create larger groups by having all the “greens” work together, all the “blues”, all the “oranges”, or whatever you have decided to use.

Now that you have three (or more – but three works best for this) groups, assign each of them a question type:

  • Literal
  • Inferential
  • Evaluative

Step Three: Working in Groups

With their area of focus defined, students will begin discussing what they have highlighted. They’ll take turns explaining what they think the story is about, fighting over the themes, morals, messages, and meanings, and coming to a conclusion.

Throughout that process they will connect, point out specific details, and infer.

Students should be provided with a template for their assigned question type (similar to what is found on pages 2 and 3 of the assignment sheet, but limited to their group’s type. Feel free to just cut the page in half.)

Students will fill out their group’s template, providing both the question, and the deeper meaning that asking that question led towards. Exemplars can be found on the assignment sheet.

Step Four: Digital Annotations, and Group Learning

Amongst the class there are now three strong questions – because you have circulated during their discussions and helped point them in the right directions. It’s time to show the story on a projector and provide all students with “comment access” through something like Google Docs.

The group will choose a “lead member” who will then add a comment to the story. They will highlight the section of the text (be it a word, sentence, or paragraph) and then add a linked comment that contains their question.

Once all three questions have been digitally annotated, the groups will talk about how they came to their question, what type of question it is, how they know, and what deeper understanding answering the question would provide the reader.

Step Five: Pages 2 and 3, and a Digital Free-for-all

Having been provided with exemplar responses students should focus on completing pages 2 and 3. If they want to build from the prior discussion they are free to, or they can create their own questions based on their own highlighting.

Once they have filled in their sheet, they should use the digital annotation feature to add at least one question to the projected text. They should include the question type, and the question itself. If they wish, they can add the deeper impact as well, but that should remain option to as not overburden students who are new to this format of annotation, and class sharing.

This should lead to a high number of questions annotated on the text. Once complete, you can lead a discussion running from the first to the final question, so that all voices are honoured, and all students have been provided an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas.

Step Six: Debriefing the Story

At this point, it’s time for you to guide students through the story, pointing out details and ideas that were missed. As this can be a very problematic story if handled incorrectly, ensure that students walk away understanding that slavery of any sort is not acceptable.

Take a moment to also unpack the fact that the protagonist / speaker of the story never has their gender identified. This can dovetail into an equity discussion that is already alluded to by some details in the text.

If you decide that this story, itself, doesn’t fit the needs of your class feel free to choose a different one, and still use this lesson plan and framework with that story.

The Impact

Students should have a mastery of question types by the end of this. They should also become comfortable working with students outside of their immediate circle. Students have also now gained an understanding on how to use digital commenting tools, which will further their digital annotations throughout the course.

This lesson also creates the framework for student created, and student led discussions. So, while it may have seemed as if this was just one class talking about one story, there are so many skills that are being layered on that will be built upon as the course carries forward.

Not one moment is wasted, and soon those newly developed skills will be called upon in an upcoming lesson with a new short story.


English – Unit One: Literacy Skills


English Course Packs: Full Units

Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry (In Progress)
Unit Three: Literature Circles (In Progress)
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)



Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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