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.
But when we want to give our students an intense burst of Spanish vocabulary, grammar and syntax, short stories pack the most concentrated punch.
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 Spanish literature. The style, content and diction are often completely different from 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 be 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 afterward.
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.
Here’s the breakdown for each type of student:
- 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 gotten 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, three-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.
Speaking of video and audio, you may want to check out FluentU as another helpful multimedia resource. FluentU can provide some great content that you can easily integrate into your lesson plans.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
- 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.
10 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 the 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. “Tairon el super tramposo” by Hans Wilhelm (Beginner)
This fun little tale is perfect for a group of younger Spanish students as there are large illustrations perfectly matching the written text.
Tairon, a large and dominating dinosaur, cheats at all of the games that the other dinosaurs had planned for their fun weekend away—but the other dinosaurs don’t take this sitting down. They decide to play a clever trick on Tairon. In the end, he learns a valuable lesson about what happens to those who cheat!
The story uses some simple past tense constructions so it’s a good pick for reinforcing this grammar topic. It’s also a good basis to start a class discussion about what everyone did last weekend.
You’ll find a few more charming, illustrated short stories for beginners like this one available on the Children’s Library website. Although the Spanish selection isn’t massive, the stories are very high quality and perfect for younger students.
3. “Mi casa” (Beginner)
This simple story is suitable for most beginner learners. The narrator describes their new home in a bustling urban center, along with all the reasons why they’re happy about living there. It’s an ideal beginner story to teach adjectives related to houses and family life.
You could base a whole class around this one short story—students usually love chatting about their homes and families, so conversations will abound.
Since the story is hosted on Lingua, you’ll find it comes with a short comprehension quiz at the end, a downloadable PDF and even recordings of the story in a variety of Spanish accents. Check out this site for more fun stories for all Spanish skill levels!
4. “Ricitos de oro” (Beginner)
This is simply the classic British fairytale, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” I’m sure you and your students all know it by heart, which makes it a supremely easy-to-understand short story. This Spanish translation on the Cuentos infantiles website is a shortened version that follows the same, well-trodden storyline, and includes cute cartoon images for extra context.
For beginners, you might want to start with a summary of the original story, read the story together and then break it down into smaller sections to really hammer in the vocabulary.
As in the classic story, there are lots of adjectives and comparatives to describe the differences between the bears, beds and bowls of porridge—too hot, too cold, just right, you know the drill here.
You’ll find 300 more fun Spanish stories on Cuentos infantiles, many of which are based on classic English stories. The stories are suitable for all ages, but the site also offers a recommended age range for each one.
5. “Me siento alegre” by Andrae Ovalle (Beginner)
This interactive and heartwarming short story is perfect for learners who are working on mastering basic Spanish nouns and descriptive adjectives.
It’s told from the perspectives of several young children, each recounting the various people, places and things that make them feel happy. It’s simply brimming with positivity as the children recount happy times visiting the zoo, listening to a grandparent read a story and enjoying tasty treats like hot chocolate.
Thanks to being available on Unite for Literacy, the story comes with a clear, well-enunciated audio narration that you can play in both Spanish and English.
I recommend perusing this site for more great classroom content—just don’t forget to switch the language to Spanish when you’re running a search here (they offer stories in lots of different languages).
6. “Al final del callejón” by Jesus Cano Urbano (Intermediate)
Where do aspiring Spanish writers unleash their creative desires? Over at E-stories! On this website, there are tons of user-provided short stories which cover an immense range of genres, topics and skill levels. Here 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.
7. “Romancito de la niña y el fantasma” by Elsa Bonermann (Intermediate)
Who says ghosts have to be scary? Well, most people do actually.
Everyone except the odd little girl in this ghost story, who decides she isn’t afraid of befriending the little, newborn ghost who lives next door. While a concerned, otherworldly wind desperately warns her about what happens to little girls who plays with ghosts, she carries on about the games they’ll play and the adventures they’ll have.
The chilly story will keep your students hooked while you teach them about the present, conditional and future tenses, and guide them through some creepy, poetic language. Turn off the lights in your classroom and press play—this one’s available as a video within the FluentU Spanish library.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
8. “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.”
Eva was orphaned after a series 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 that 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.
9. “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 about six to 10 text-heavy pages, 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.
10. 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 that 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, I think you’ll love using short stories just as much as your Spanish students will enjoy reading them!