Short English Essays for Students: Small Non-Fiction Articles and Opinion Pieces

Updated on May 13, 2017

This page contains short essays and other non-fiction writing for students or anyone who wants to read and think about an opinion piece. It will only take a few minutes or less to read any of these texts. They are all under 2,000 words.

Each non-fiction selection has a short summary or teaser and some possible themes and subjects under which it could be categorized.

Some of the short articles are complete; others might be excerpted from longer works.

Word counts are approximate, and publication dates are to the best of my knowledge. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the texts.

They are arranged by word count in ascending order.

Bravery and Cowardice | La Rochefoucauld: 1665 (210 words)

The author discourses on the variations and degrees between perfect bravery and total cowardice.

Themes/Subjects: Courage, War, Death

Read “Bravery and Cowardice” (Entry #220 in this book)

Beer Can | John Updike: 1964 (220 words)

The beer can had a beautiful design and could be opened easily. Then it was redesigned, given a tab. But there is a way around the new design.

Themes/Subjects: Progress, Change

Read “Beer Can”

A Dog's Eye View of Man | James Thurber: 1955 (320 words)

Humans have benefited a great deal from associating with dogs. While dogs have suffered many punishments from humans, they have had the fun of observing human behavior.

Themes/Subjects: Animals, Human Nature, Contradiction

Read “A Dog's Eye View of Man”

Progress and Change | E. B. White: 1938 (320 words)

White says that resisting change leaves one open to criticism, but progress comes with a cost.

Themes/Subjects: Progress, Change, Nature

Read “Progress and Change” (Pg 4)

No Dawn to the East | Anonymous: 1870 (345 words)

The narrator speaks to his people at the end of his life. He credits The Great Spirit for existence and the good things in life. Then the white man came to their hunting grounds.

Themes/Subjects: Death, Survival, Despair, America, Religion, Life

Read “No Dawn to the East”

Of Revenge | Francis Bacon: 1625 (455 words)

Bacon discourages the taking of revenge. Overlooking an offense is superior. He covers the motives for wrongs, and the most understandable time to take revenge.

Themes/Subjects: Revenge, Law and Order, Justice

Read “Of Revenge”

Nine-Year-Olds, Meet Monet | Ellen Goodman: 1978 (730 words)

A class of fourth graders are on a field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts to look at a Monet exhibit. They have worksheets to fill out and rules to follow. They are becoming socialized, but they are viewing the work of an unsocialized individualist.

Themes/Subjects: Individuality, Conformity, Growing Up, Creativity, Art

Read “Nine-Year-Olds, Meet Monet”

Phoning It In | Stanley Bing: 2002 (875 words)

Bing notices that he and others seem to be phoning it in. He is having trouble focusing on and staying interested in what others are saying.

Themes/Subjects: Work, Connection, Communication

Read “Phoning It In”

Salvation | Langston Hughes: 1940 (890 words)

Hughes relates how he was saved from sin when he was almost thirteen. He was at a revival at his Auntie Reed's church where everyone was being brought to Christ. Before it ends the preacher devotes a segment to the young people.

Themes/Subjects: Religion, Faith, Peer Pressure, Childhood, Coming of Age

Read “Salvation”

Jamaican Fragment | A. L. Hendricks (1,050 words)

The narrator, out for a morning walk, sees two young boys in a garden. The white boy is giving orders to the dark boy, who obeys every directive. The narrator spends much time wondering why the dark boy accepts this inferior position. He ponders many possible explanations for what he has seen.

Themes/Subjects: Perception, Judging, Equality, Appearances

Read "Jamaican Fragment" (Pg 3)

The Female Body | Margaret Atwood: 1990 (1,120 words)

Atwood expounds on the hot topic of the female body. She talks about it physically, how it is represented, its uses, and its female brain.

Themes/Subjects: Women, Life, Identity

Read “The Female Body”

On Going Home | Joan Didion: 1967 (1,180 words)

Didion goes “home” to her family in the Central Valley of California for her daughter's first birthday. Her husband is confused by her family's ways and the things they talk about. She goes thru the rooms and objects in the family house. She visits some extended family members and a family graveyard.

Themes/Subjects: Family, Home, Memories

Read “On Going Home”

My Speech to the Graduates | Woody Allen: 1979 (1,250 words)

Allen lets the graduates know that existence is meaningless. We have been let down by science, religion, technology and our leaders. We respond by seeking distraction.

Themes/Subjects: Humor, Religion, Progress, Technology, Happiness

Read "My Speech to the Graduates"

My Life with R. H. Macy | Shirley Jackson: 1941 (1,270 words)

Jackson recounts her first two days working at Macy's. She is shuffled around during orientation and learns procedure, and gets her assignment and I.D. numbers.

Themes/Subjects: Work, Bureaucracy, Stress, Jobs

Read “My Life with R. H. Macy”

On Running After One's Hat | G.K. Chesterton: 1908 (1,330 words)

Chesterton hears that London has flooded in his absence. He takes a romantic view of the disaster and is disappointed to have missed it. He explains that it is our state of mind that determines whether we look at things optimistically or become annoyed.

Themes/Subjects: Perspective, Perception, Attitude, Imagination, Optimism, Happiness

Read “On Running After One's Hat”

Dumb Kids' Class | Mark Bowden: 2012 (1,330 words)

Bowden reminisces about his time in grade school. Students were divided based on performance, forming a smart kids' class and a dumb kids' class. He details the differences between the two groups. He talks about the lessons he learned.

Themes/Subjects: Education, Life Lessons, Growing Up, Childhood

Read “Dumb kids' Class”

This is the Life | Annie Dillard: 2002 (1,400 words)

Dillard says that our culture tells us to live as everyone else does. She goes over traits and activities that have been valued thru history, and some that are only valued in certain cultures.

Themes/Subjects: Life, Success, Culture, Community, Conformity

Read “This is the Life”

Money: The Real Truth About Money | Gregg Easterbrook: 2005 (1,700 words)

Easterbrook discusses the rise in income since World War II, contrasting it with people's stagnant perception of happiness and the rise in depression.

Themes/Subjects: Money, Materialism, Success, Happiness, Perception, American Dream

Read "The Real Truth About Money"

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read | Pierre Bayard (1,700 words)

Bayard points out that the prodigious reader and the non-reader are in a similar position. Even a prodigious reader has only read an infinitesimal amount of the total books. They both have to speak on books they haven't read. Being able to place a book in context is much more important than reading any particular book.

Themes/Subjects: Reading, Books, Knowledge, Perspective

Read “How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read”

Hers (Four Generations) | Joyce Maynard: 1979 (1,810 words)

Maynard gets the news that her grandmother is dying. She talks about her deterioration, and the relationship between the generations, including the significance of being a daughter.

Themes/Subjects: Death, Family, Mothers & Daughters, Circle of Life

Read “Hers (Four Generations)”

I will continue to add short essays to this page as I find them. I hope you found something interesting to read.

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