Short Stories for ESL

This article - short stories for ESL - is the second of two, giving ideas for short stories in the classroom. This kind of activity works best with pre-intermediate and intermediate level students. The first article, ESL Short Stories gives the methodology for using these stories - or one method which I've found particularly useful for giving students intensive practice in past tenses. For different ideas on using ESL Stories see here.

The aim of the article: 'Short Stories for ESL' is to save you time if you need a quick story for the classroom, but are stuck on ideas. Hopefully, these stories will work as well for you as they have for me, and give your students interesting practice. For full instructions on the methodology, see the first link, above.



Short Stories for ESL - Rocks, Pebbles & Sand in a Jar

This is a story about time management and setting priorities, which I came across on the internet. It's a nice story (and you may have heard it before, but I don't think that this matters in the context of the exercise). So here it it.

A professor stood before his class. He had some items in front of him. Wordlessly, he picked up an empty jar and filled it with rocks. He asked the students if it was full. They agreed that it was. Then he poured in a container of pebbles. The students laughed. He asked the students again if it was full. They agreed that is was full. Then he picked up a container of sand, and poured it in until the jar was full.

He said that the jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things: family, health, relationships etc. The pebbles are other things that matter: your job, house, car etc. The sand is everything else - the small stuff. He told the students that if you fill your jar with sand and pebbles first, there will be no room for the rocks. The message is to set your priorities; what is left is just sand and pebbles.

With this story I'd write a list like this on the board:

  • stand - professor
  • have - items
  • pick up - empty jar
  • fill - rocks
  • ask
  • agree
  • pick up/pour - pebbles
  • laugh
  • ask/agree
  • pick up/pour - sand
  • fill up
  • say
  • tell

I would add any other short notes or better still, quickly drawn pictures instead, to aid both my memory, and that of the students. Then as normal we would tell the story.

With an interesting or meaningful story, like this one, it's I would also discuss the meaning with the class.


Short Stories for ESL - Money in the Attic

Another of the short stories for ESL which I found on the internet; this time on an online newspaper. This true story took place in Utah, USA.

A man in Utah had recently moved house. One day he decided to explore the attic. He went up into the attic discovered $45,000 stuffed into boxes. He took the money downstairs, spread it out and counted it. At first he was tempted to keep it, but he decided that this was wrong.

So he sought the children of the previous owner, who had since died, and gave them the money. He said the money wasn't ours, and that you don't often have the chance to be really honest. He told reporters that it would be a lesson to teach his children.

I won't add the list of verbs, which would vary slightly from class to class anyway, but let you decide which are the important points of the story. With lower level classes I would shorten and simplify the story (and verbs used).


Short Stories for ESL - Judo Grandmother

This is a story that I came across a long time ago, and have used it with many classes. It was reported in newspapers at the time.

An old woman was walking home with her shopping one day, when a young man jumped out in front of her, and tried to rob her. He grabbed hold of her bag and tried to pull it away, but she gripped his arm. He shouted for her to let go, but she held on tighter. Then she threw him to the ground. The young man screamed and let go of the bag. Then he picked himself up off the ground and ran away.

She told reporters that when she had been younger she had studied judo. She said that when her husband had been alive, she had used to practice throwing him around the living room every Christmas.


Short Stories for ESL - Dog Duel

This is one of the stranger stories that I've come across. I found it in a book on the history of sword fighters. The story happened in 1372 in Paris, France.A French knight killed his friend after an argument. He buried his friend's body in a forest, but the dead man's dog, a very large greyhound, saw what had happened. The dog went to the house of the dead man's friend and dragged him to the forest. The dog dug up his master's body. Then, every time the dog saw the knight, he attacked the man. The dead man's friend became suspicious and he informed the king. The king decided that the knight's innocence or guilt would be decided by fighting a duel with the dog. The knight was given a lance, the dog was given an empty barrel, open at both ends, to hide in. The dog got the man by the throat, and he confessed to the murder.

These are just a few examples of short stories for ESL that I've successfully used in the class. It's not difficult to find more stories to use; either personal anecdotes or stories from the news. An internet search for 'strange stories in the news,' or 'weird news,' will bring up many odd stories that can be of interest to students. Of course, eventually, it's a good idea for the students to share their own stories; which don't have to be as strange as the dog duel, but can be everyday stories in the students' lives.

If you persist in using this methodology you will find that, over the months, your students' ability in telling stories will improve, they will become more fluent in using the past tense, and they will become more confident in speaking English.



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