Want to give your Spanish students a shortcut to fluency?
Short stories are the ticket.
Spanish novels are more like meandering, scenic paths to arrive at fluency.
But short stories are the short, direct paths chopped through the hedges.
When you want to reach your destination faster, which will you take?
Yup. You take the shortcut.
The scenic route is for when you want to take your time, explore, smell the roses and admire the little details.
Why Should You Give Short Stories to Spanish Students?
Reading Is Vital for Spanish Students’ Learning
We all know that reading is critical for Spanish students to develop comprehension and writing skills. But it doesn’t just stop there. By exposing their brains to Spanish language written for native Spanish speakers, they’ll start to familiarize themselves better with the sounds, rhythms and rules of the language.
They’ll start to look at and listen to Spanish sentences and get a gut feeling about whether those sentences are correct or not. However, getting to that place of natural familiarity can be an uphill battle.
Students Often Get Hung Up on Reading
Staring down the barrel of a full-on, 100% Spanish novel can leave students quaking in their books–regardless of their skill level. If they haven’t spent quality time with Spanish narratives, then beginning to develop reading comprehension skills for this particular purpose is tricky.
Diversified Reading Material Is Key
Perhaps they’ve only really gotten to read Spanish on homework instructions, exam forms, activity packets and in their textbooks. None of these formats really prepare their brains for immersing themselves in the poetry or prose found in literature. The style, content and diction is often completely different to what they’ve grown accustomed to through their classwork. And herein lies the problem.
We know students will greatly benefit from reading Spanish literature, but they just can’t get started.
How can we get them past this obstacle? Well, you already know what I think the answer is. Let me tell you exactly how I know that short stories will shortcut your students to reading comprehension success, as well as overall Spanish fluency.
Why Short Stories Are the Most Effective Readings
They’re perfect for in-class activities
Plain and simple, short stories are shorter. This means many of them can be easily digested by students during class time. Stories can read together as a class, individually or in groups. Any way you go, you’ll have ample time to finish a quick read-through and get into activities and class discussion afterwards.
They make manageable homework assignments
Have you assigned chapters of reading material for homework, only to have students give you that “deer in the headlights” look the next day when you ask them about the content? A short story is far less intimidating to tackle solo, plus students don’t need to fully comprehend previous chapters or remember information for future chapters.
All the information they need to understand the main concepts of the story are right there, in that one brief text. You’ll probably have that lazy student who still won’t read, but that’s more or less unavoidable anyway.
There’s less material to break down and process
Reading a book chapter-by-chapter means that students will need to build up stores of information in their brains, notebooks and book margins over the course of the longer-term reading project. When they miss a key idea in the narrative, the problems begin to snowball and become worse as they continue to read.
This can be frustrating and discouraging, especially for those who are less naturally adept readers (even in their native language). Having to follow long, winding character arcs, subtle clues, story developments and plot twists makes each subsequent reading assignment a bit harder.
With short stories, all you need to know will be found within the given text.
Choosing the Best Short Stories for Your Students
Short stories will only really provide the shortcut necessary if you choose the right texts. If the reading is too advanced, the shortcut is behind a padlocked gate. If the reading is too easy, the shortcut leads in the opposite direction.
- Younger students, and those at a beginner level, fare better when short stories are accompanied by images, video and audio. This helps build greater context while they read along—or perhaps can provide clarification after they’ve attempted to understand the text on its own.
- Intermediate Spanish students can totally handle text and text alone, but they’ll need texts that don’t dive into complex and artistic language. Rather, you’ll want to select texts that highlight key linguistic concepts. For instance, you could choose a brief mystery story rife with indecision and vague assumptions to help teach the subjunctive.
- Advanced students need more cultural and artistic value to boost their language. Since they’ve got down most of the nuts and bolts of the language, it can be highly beneficial for them to see how authors play with language to indirectly suggest ideas, create rich environments and capture emotion. This will introduce them to more advanced vocabulary and grammar, which can mostly be inferred from context at this stage of learning, and expose them to the true depth of the Spanish language.
How to Use Short Stories for Spanish Instruction
Short stories work for any activity you might employ while reading Spanish books or other writings.
- Homework activities. Assign one short story as an at-home reading. For a more in-depth assignment, request that students complete a written assignment like an essay on a selected story element, a character profile, an opinion piece or a quick, 3-line summary.
- In-class activities. Start the clock and have students do a timed comprehension activity. Write up a worksheet or packet to accompany the short story, and have them complete this after they’ve blitzed through the short story in the allotted time. This promotes smooth, natural reading comprehension, as students can’t stop to look up unknown words or get distracted for even a moment. For extra in-class activity time, have students read their short story the night before for homework and come prepared to work.
- Story break-downs. Parse the short stories into their elements with more creative activities. Did you ever make a Five Story Elements Glove in school? Students trace the outline of their hand and then fill in the details of the five elements in each finger. While you could feasibly choose your own elements to discuss, traditionally you’ll include: problem, events, solution, setting and characters. A summary of the story’s main ideas will go in the palm of the hand.
- Pairing with video and audio. Play accompanying video and audio in-class when available, while reading the story. You could alternatively record yourself reading the story out loud, or you could record your students reading and play it back to them.
- Long-term group activities. Form small groups of students and assign each group its own short story. Have them create small scripts based on their stories, which they can either record themselves performing at home or act out in front of the class.
6 Spanish Short Stories to Put on Your Short List
1. “En el aeropuerto” (Beginner)
The actual content of this story may not be suitable for younger students (since it does happen to mention drug-sniffing dogs and explosives) but the language is certainly simple enough for most beginner Spanish students. It’s all in present tense and written clearly. It’s also accompanied by an English translation and clearly-spoken Spanish audio with a rather natural-sounding accent.
Check out all the other short stories for absolute beginners available on the Learn Practical Spanish Online website.
2. “En la costa” (Beginner)
This cheerful little tale of family life on the beach is perfect for beginners of all ages. There’s a bit of specific vocabulary related to the family’s daily activities, tropical fruits and more, but this is easily understandable through context and by looking at the accompanying images. For very recent beginners, you may want to quickly create a little vocabulary list to introduce these specific words before or while reading.
There are dozens of charming, illustrated short stories for beginners like this one available on the Children’s Library website.
3. “Al final del callejón” (Intermediate)
Where do aspiring Spanish writers unleash their creative desires? Over at E-stories, there are tons of user-provided short stories which cover an immense range of genres, topics and skill levels. There you’ll find mystery, humor, coming of age tales, romance, horror and more.
In general, the short stories found here tend to fit intermediate and lower-advanced level Spanish students, since the writing is typically modern, relevant to students and straightforward.
This recommended story is short and sweet, and depicts a creepy, mysterious scenario. Andrés chases a ball down an alley and stumbles across a strange secret. Nothing too complex, but definitely intriguing.
4. “Cuentos de Eva Luna” by Isabel Allende (Advanced)
This collection of short stories is focused on Eva Luna, a character from one of Isabel Allende’s previous novels (“Eva Luna”). She was orphaned after a serious of dramatic and unfortunate events, and bounced from brothel rooms to jail cells, city streets and outbreaks of guerrilla warfare. An eventful life, to say the least. Now, this colorful character weaves tales of intrigue, love, death, revenge and black humor to entertain her lover.
The tales are gritty, and may be thematically challenging for students, but this is a great read for advanced, older students who are comfortable with facing the oft-uncomfortable realities and injustices of life in Latin America.
For these popular tales, there are versions which are perfect for Spanish students still looking for a leg up while reading. For example, this version contains both Spanish and English versions together, as well as a reading guide.
5. “Doce cuentos peregrinos” by Gabriel García Márquez (Advanced)
The constant discussion of “foreignness” and feeling like “the other” makes this a fantastic read for learners and future travelers. Each story is 6-10 text-heavy pages long, not too long and not too short for advanced learners.
That being said, the length and difficulty level make these stories best suited for at-home assignments. The language is all about leading readers through a clear, straightforward narrative, so there is little romantic, poetic or lofty language to tackle.
6. Create Your Own Short Stories (All Levels)
Who knows what your Spanish students need better than you do? Nobody! Storybird is a fantastic, user-friendly website which allows anyone to create their own, homemade short stories.
Either select brief passages from other works or whip up your own narrative. Storybird will help you lay out the text alongside accompanying illustrations.
Short stories are such an excellent tool for Spanish students, and your students will only reach fluency faster by taking this shortcut. Plus, we think you’ll love using short stories just as much as your Spanish students will enjoy reading them!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you already love the idea of teaching with bite-sized snippets of authentic Spanish content, another option is to use FluentU. We feature tons of clips—the modern, audio-visual equivalent of short stories, if you will.
How can video clips aid Spanish teachers in class? FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
We’ve got a tremendous collection of authentic Spanish videos that people in the Spanish-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices here when you’re looking for material for in-class activities or homework. Plus, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.
Each video has interactive subtitles. If a student comes across a word they’re unfamiliar with, they can hover their cursor over the subtitled word. That word’s definition, pronunciation and in-context usage examples will all pop up on-screen instantly. This is what your students will get after they click “watch” on a video. Clicking “learn” opens up a whole new learning experience for them.
In learn mode, all the vocabulary and grammar from the video is taught and reinforced through varied repetition (practicing the same concepts in different forms and contexts). They’ll play with flashcards, games, word matches and exercises like “fill in the blank.”
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that they’re learning, and it recommends examples and videos based on what they’ve already learned. Every student has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.