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There is a slick teaching tool which can be used as a filler, a full lesson or an introduction to a new topic.
If that’s not enough, this tool is authentic and hilarious too.
I’m talking about funny short stories.
The vast quantity of available stories covers a huge range of content, characters, plots and dialogue—containing anything and everything you could possibly need to teach in almost any language lesson.
Some of the best short stories are the ones that make you laugh. These are the stories your students will remember, and these are the stories your students will love to learn about.
How to Incorporate Funny Short Stories into Your ESL Lesson Plans
There are many ways to use funny short stories in lesson plans.
The most simple method is to introduce a new topic by reading a short story. Let’s take “The Tortoise and the Hare,” the famous Aesop’s Fable, as an example. This story would be a great introduction for a lesson on animals, verbs/adjectives or comparisons.
Just reading through the story with the students and then eliciting some responses can help you determine how familiar your students are with the lesson subject, and introduces the themes in a way your students (especially younger students) will enjoy.
For example, if I were to teach comparative adjectives with “The Tortoise and the Hare,” a simple PPP lesson might look like this:
- Introduction: Have students brainstorm as many animals as they can in three minutes. Choose two or three of these animals, and elicit adjectives describing them (i.e. a rabbit could be fast, small, cute, brown, etc.)
- Presentation: Read “The Tortoise and the Hare” with students. Pause frequently to ask comprehension check questions. Focus on comparative adjectives (i.e. Is the hare bigger than the tortoise? Is he stronger? Is he faster? etc.)
- Practice: Each pair of students receives pictures of five or six different animals. Then they are given an adjective, such as “fast,” and the students have one minute to arrange the animals in comparative order (from slowest to fastest in this case). Check the order as a class, and ask comparative questions throughout.
- Production: Students write their own simple story about animals using comparatives. Give a structure for lower level students. This can be a cloze activity in which they fill in the gaps (animals and adjectives in this case). For higher level students, give them more scope for creativity. I like to let my students draw their stories as they write them.
If you want another great way to introduce English comedy and vocabulary to your students, you need to check out FluentU.
Dealing with new vocabulary
When you are reading a new story it is very likely that your students will be coming up against new vocab. When I am teaching new words to my students using stories, I use one of two methods. Either I pre-teach the new vocab before reading the story, or we pause mid-text to address any words that the students don’t know or are struggling with.
In the first method, I will introduce the lesson and the themes, and then study the new vocabulary. This can be done in many ways. I like to give the students the meaning (written and spoken) and use several visual aids to get the meaning and context across.
The advantage of the second method—teaching vocab mid-text—is that context is already established, so your students can engage much more actively with new vocabulary and you can use their extensive reading skills to elicit the meanings of words. It is much easier to understand a word if you have a reason to. The disadvantage, of course, is that this method can disrupt the narrative flow and too many breaks can frustrate your students. This is why careful text selection is so important, which we will touch on a bit later.
In any story or lesson, make sure you are allotting enough time to actually read the story. These story lessons will not succeed half as well if they are rushed, and the students don’t have time to become familiar with the story and the new vocabulary.
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ESL Filler Activities with Short Stories
Alternatively, you can use a story as a filler activity. The beauty of short stories is that you can build short activities based on your lesson, using reading, speaking, listening and writing skills. I often prepare at least one reading activity as a filler, which can be used for students who finish early, when there is extra time or in case of failing technology.
Here are a few different ideas:
The simplest and most useful short story filler is reading the story along with your students. You can either read the whole story aloud yourself, read it in chorus with your students or select students to read one or more lines in turn.
Unlike some teaching activities, which your students may not understand and can feel contrived, every culture in the world is familiar with storytelling. Your students will be comfortable and confident that they know what to do, and this makes short stories a winner every time.
Have the students read a story on their own and answer some questions after they have finished. These questions can be verbal or written, making the entire “reading time” activity a great way for your students to learn new vocabulary and improve their reading skills.
Simply choose a story appropriate for your students’ levels, and have a list of generic questions prepared. (i.e. Who is the main character? Do you like the story? Why? etc.)
Act it out
Here’s a group filler activity which has the students study and then act out a short story to their classmates. This encourages reading and speaking, and can really make a noticeable difference to your students’ confidence.
Fillers can even be as simple as giving your students a short story text and having them circle and write out all of a specific element of language (i.e. verbs). This is a flexible activity that improves reading and language recognition, and takes only seconds to set up in almost any classroom.
There are a few potential issues when using short stories in the classroom, which can be avoided. The most important is difficulty. If a story is too difficult for your students then your activity (or even your lesson) will fall at the first hurdle. It is much better to select a story that is too simple than too difficult, and it is worth spending a good amount of time choosing the right story for your students.
Another problem could be boredom. It may be that your story is interesting and your lesson is good, but some of your students simply are not auditory learners. Luckily, there is a simple solution. To bring all of the students into the story, use pictures, other visual aids or realia, and/or get your students to move around and act out the different parts.
The only other common problem that you might encounter is your students’ creativity. It may be that they are not used to creating their own stories, or that they struggle with producing ideas of their own in general. They key here is to provide a clear example. Model an answer together with your students’ help before they attempt any of the creative activities, and be on hand to help.
Websites Where You Will Find Funny Short Stories
There are many websites that offer short stories online. Depending on the length, difficulty and style of story you want, you can almost always find whatever you are looking for.
One website I use frequently is East of the Web. This website contains many high quality short stories and is easy to navigate, but note that the target audience is young native English speakers, rather than second language learners. As a result, the stories can be more challenging for your students.
Shortbread Stories is again not specifically targeted at ESL students, but the range of subject matter, length and difficulty make it a great resource for any classroom. The stories are ranked by popularity, and the length of the text is clearly listed. This website has more than 1,000 funny short stories, and thousands more non-funny short stories.
Finally, when I am looking for short stories for my younger students, Kids World Fun has some great Aesop’s Fables style stories which the kids love. These are short, low level and very simple—perfect for my elementary school students.
6 Downright Funny Short Stories to Get Your ESL Students Laughing
Here are some of the stories I have successfully based entire lessons around, in order of level.
1. “I Want My Hat Back” by Jon Klassen
This charming and darkly amusing book is for beginners, and specifically younger learners. Jon Klassen’s story is simple, engaging and very funny. There are some great examples of live readings and animations of the story online, which can be integrated into a lesson about this book.
This story is great for teaching the “Have you seen…?” structure, and can be edited to suit a “Do you have…?” lesson too. The book has several animals, personalities and settings, which can also be used in a variety of lessons.
2. “Too Many Daves” by Dr. Seuss
This lesser known Dr. Seuss short story (in a poem format) is aimed at beginners, but can be used for higher level learners too. This hilarious tale is about a mother who names all of her 23 sons “Dave,” and daydreams about the many names she wishes she had chosen instead.
This story is great for phonetic reading, as some of the ludicrous names present in the tale contain unfamiliar words and sounds, which are challenging but fun to read. My students’ favorites include “Bodkin van Horn,” “Stinky” and, of course, “Oliver Boliver Butt.”
3. “The Ushuaia Rabbit” by Fernando Sorrentino
I highly recommend this surreal yet engaging short story for intermediate learners from Fernando Sorrentino. This story about a strange and unbelievable creature uses some excellent words and descriptions, and will have your students fascinated. I have used this story in several different lesson plans, including adjectives, quizzes and create-a-monster lessons.
This story is great for teaching adjectives, and although it can be difficult to read at times for some students, a little patience and careful planning can reap huge rewards here.
4. “Death by Scrabble” by Charlie Fish
Here is another great short story for intermediate learners. This tale is funny from the very opening line, “It’s a hot day and I hate my wife,” right until the end. The structure of the story focuses on a game of Scrabble between a man and his wife, and the building tension quickly develops into an unexpected climax.
This story is great for learning vocabulary. The Scrabble structure is a perfect platform for practicing old vocabulary and learning some new words, and you also have the option of ending this lesson with a game of Scrabble (which my students love).
5. “Do You Speak English?” by Simon Collings
This story by Simon Collings is for beginner or intermediate students. Although it may be too difficult for absolute beginners, the subject matter is very engaging to language learners, and advanced beginners will enjoy it. The tale itself focuses on the difficulties of traveling without knowing a language—a topic all language learners can immediately relate to.
This story is great for teaching verbs since it has a wide range of different examples, most of which your students may be familiar with, but some of which they almost certainly will not.
6. “The Great Automatic Grammatizator” by Roald Dahl
Although I would say that the specific target of this short story is intermediate students, I still enjoy reading it, and would advise people of all ages and language levels to read this. An interesting and thought-provoking tale about the English language, this story is a study of grammar and creativity, something that all English students can relate to (and sometimes, in the case of grammar, weep about).
This story is great for business English students. There aren’t many short stories which work well in a business English classroom, but this one certainly does. The corporate setting, coupled with a small amount of technical vocabulary make this story a viable alternative to the more formal business English lesson plans. It is also hilarious.
Harness the 3-for-1 power of funny short stories by integrating them into your fillers, intros and full lessons today. You and your ESL students will appreciate the laughs!
And One More Thing...
If you're looking for creative ways to teach English, then you'll love using FluentU in your classroom!
It's got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you're looking for songs for in-class activities.
You'll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids' singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word "searching," they'll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like "fill in the blank."
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it's guaranteed to get your students excited about learning English!
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