ESL Short Stories

ESL short stories are a wonderful way of giving practice and confidence to your elementary to intermediate level students. They work well with both children and adults - although the type of stories may have to be changed.

I introduced this technique briefly in my article ESL Stories There are many benefits to using this technique, both for the teacher and for the students. For the teacher it is a powerful technique that requires little preparation, and can easily be adapted for different topics, vocabulary areas and grammar points. Or it can just be done for fun.



For the student the benefits are practice in spoken English, using past tenses, and a gain in confidence in their ability to speak English. Once the students are able to tell their own stories, it can also bring the class closer together, and make the class more interesting.


ESL Short Stories - Method

The method of telling ESL short stories in the classroom is simple. Prepare your story, based on a personal anecdote, news story, joke, a true story, or a piece of fiction. Keep the story quite short, especially for lower levels or children. You can use the stories below to begin with, but it's fun to find stories you think will be especially relevant to your students.

Tell the story to the class. While you are telling the story, list the main verbs (in the present tense). Use pictures or very brief notes to help aid memory. For example, if you were telling the story of a man who ate a watermelon, write "eat" and draw a watermelon next to the word.

When you have finished telling the story to your students, there should be a list of verbs, and some pictures or words next to them, on the board. Retell the story with the class. Then point to the first verb and ask a student for that sentence. Then point to the next verb and another student continues. Continue having the students individually tell the story to the class.

This is an important stage in the retelling of ESL short stories, as you need to check that they understand, and are able to retell the short story. If your students are having problems, erase some of the less important verbs and continue. Next put the students into pairs, each student tells their partner the story again. Then they swap and the other student retells the story.

If you wanted the students could use the template on the board for a writing exercise - although it may be counterproductive to do this too often.

Once the students are used to the method, set them homework to prepare their own ESL short stories. Then as a warmer, filler of cooler, the students can come to the front of the class to tell their stories to the their classmates. With practice students can begin to develop more and more confidence telling stories in English in front of an audience.


Examples of ESL Short Stories

25,000 Big Macs - A true story about a man who loves Big Macs. Here is the story.

Thirty nine years ago an American man celebrated buying a new car by eating his first Big Mac. Since then he has eaten 25,000 Big Macs. Mc Donald's congratulated the man (a 57 year old prison guard). He said, "I plan to eat Big Macs until I die. They're still my favorite food." He also said that it takes him 16 bites to finish a Big Mac. He has missed eating Big Macs on only 8 days in the past 39 years. The man said that he likes counting things and doesn't like change. He told reporters that his wife never has to think what to cook him for dinner. Finally, he said, "I really do enjoy every Big Mac."

I would adjust the above story, cutting out any parts which I thought would be too difficult for my students. Some new vocabulary makes the exercise interesting, too much would stop it working.

I would end up with a list something like this on the board:

  • celebrate.....new car
  • eat...........first Big Mac
  • congratulate
  • say...........until/die
  • say...........16 bites
  • miss.........8 days
  • say...........counting things
  • tell............wife/dinner
  • say............enjoy

Instead of the notes you could draw simple sketches. This works better if you can draw quickly. A car and a hamburger would be easy to draw - even for someone with my limited artistic talents. Either pictures or words will help you to remind yourself, and the students, of the story. Having the verbs in the present tense helps focus the students' minds on changing them into the past tense. In this story 'say' is repeated a few times, but as this is quite natural when telling a story about someone else it works well.

My Flight - the next of the ESL short stories is about something that happened to me onboard a flight from Hong Kong to London.

Several years ago took a flight from Hong Kong to London. When we were halfway between Hong Kong and Bangkok one of the engines burst into flames. The plane dropped suddenly for what felt like a long time. The captain shouted to the passengers and crew, "We're going back to Hong Kong! We're going back to Hong Kong!" Even the flight attendants looked frightened. There was silence on the plane.

We flew back to Hong Kong. This was many years ago when the airport was built in the city and the runway stretched into the sea. There were fire engines and ambulances along the sides of the runway. We landed safely, and the airline put us into a hotel for the night. The next day they put us on a flight with a different airline.

My list of verbs might look something like this:

  • take.....a flight
  • are......halfway
  • burst....flames
  • drop.....long time
  • look.....frightened
  • is.......silence
  • fly......Hong Kong
  • are......fire engines and ambulances
  • land.....
  • put......hotel
  • put......flight

The remaining ESL short stories are all true stories I found in the news.

In the remaining ESL short stories I won't give lists of verbs, which can easily be extracted from the ESL short stories themselves, and anyway, will need to be adapted according to the class.

Battersea Dog's Home is a home for stray dogs in London. This story was widely reported on the news at the time.

Something strange happened in the dogs' home. Every morning the workers at the dogs' home found the kitchen in a mess. Food was everywhere on the floor, but all the dogs were in their cages. So cameras were put up in the building and the dogs were filmed. What they found surprised everybody.

The cages were locked with bolts, and one dog opened his cage with his nose. He then opened all his friends' cages. Together all the dogs went into the kitchen and the same dog opened the refrigerator. The dogs then had a party, running around and eating all the food they could. Later they returned to their cages to sleep.

The next day the doors were really locked so they couldn't open them. The video was shown on British TV and soon there were many offers of a home for this very smart dog.

This story is very suitable for practicing the passive and contrasting it with the active.

The French Burglar is the final of the ESL short stories in this article. This is an old, but true story, of a stupid burglar in Paris.

Many years ago a burglar broke into an apartment in Paris. He wanted to steal the paintings in the house. However, after he broke in he realised that he was hungry. He went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. He saw two bottles of his favorite wine and one of his favorite cheeses. He ate the cheese and drank the wine.

Then he felt sleepy, so he went upstairs into the bedroom. He fell asleep. The next morning he woke up and found that his bed was surrounded by police officers. They arrested him.

Try out these stories in your class, create your own ESL short stories and also get your students to prepare and tell their own stories. This is a fun way to begin a class, and by carefully choosing the type of story you use (for example a story like 'Battersea Dogs' Home, when you are teaching the passive) you can create a smooth flow into the next part of your class.



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