On Teaching an Online Introduction to Fiction Class: Where are the Funny Short Stories?

mali_product_likeThis spring, I am once again teaching an entirely online Introduction to Literature (Fiction) course.  This is my fifth time teaching the course online, so, while I do shake up the reading selections each time, I have a lot of material already prepared.  I focus on short stories and novellas when I teach this class online:  the students already have to read all of my lectures (though I keep them brief), as well as participate in class discussion (and with 40 students, that’s a lot more reading to do).  I’ve added a few new novellas this year, and new stories, so that means my spring break will be spent creating new, what I call “mini-lectures”—including links. 

In many ways creating online course content is parallel to blogging…but that’s another blog post.

I also include film clips (thank you, UTube) and audio (thank you NPR, Selected Shorts and the FREE Internet) to break things up.  Here are a few links that seem to resonate with students:

  • Early in the term we listen to Azar Nafisi’s  “This I Believe” essay “I Believe in Empathy” as a prompt to discuss some of the reasons why humans read literature. Here’s the opening paragraph:

    I believe in empathy. I believe in the kind of empathy that is created through imagination and through intimate, personal relationships. I am a writer and a teacher, so much of my time is spent interpreting stories and connecting to other individuals. It is the urge to know more about ourselves and others that creates empathy. Through imagination and our desire for rapport, we transcend our limitations, freshen our eyes, and are able to look at ourselves and the world through a new and alternative lens.

  • Also early in the term we discuss Billy Collins’ humorous poem, “Introduction to Poetry”: This term, they can listen to Garrison Keillor’s reading of the poem.  The poem provides a light hearted way to address the ever present “what is the correct meaning/moral of the story” question.  Here’s an excerpt:

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


Now, please take this moment to go watch and listen to Taylor Mali—really, go NOW.  We need to laugh like that. Keeps us young.

When you’re done laughing, send me suggestions for other links, or, to short stories that make you laugh.  Have you ever gone through the standard Intro to Fiction textbook? How many stories really make you laugh so hard you cried? 

Funny stories wanted.