You can use your English to learn about other people’s lives, study history, experience new cultures and explore new places.
And you can do this without traveling anywhere!
All you need is a great story.
You probably already know that, in order to improve your English, you need to get some real-life practice. What you might not know is that stories are ideal resources for this real-life practice.
Even better are easy English short stories. Since they’re both short and easy, you’ll have no stress while trying to read them entirely and learn English lessons from them.
Short stories will expose you to the English vocabulary you’re learning in a more natural format, giving you a chance to see the words in context and remember them forever.
The same can be done by watching some videos on FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
In the meantime, let’s go back to our short stories.
Read on to learn what they are and how they can help you with your English learning.
So, What’s a Short Story?
A short story is a short piece of fiction (made-up story). It has a smaller number of words than a novel or a novella, so it can be read in a shorter amount of time. Some older short stories have been around for many, many years. They were first told verbally and passed down over the course of history until somebody decided to write them down on paper. Examples of these older short stories are those included in the famous collection of “Aesop’s Fables.” Aesop was a slave who lived thousands of years ago (born in 620 BCE) and created these stories that teach lessons—and they’re still read by children often today. Some English sayings, like “beware a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” are based on these stories.
Short stories began to be published in magazines in the 19th century. Many famous writers started publishing short stories. Short stories were so popular that they were the same as popular music singles today.
Many American writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving wrote short pieces that are now considered to be classics. When film and television became popular, these stories were adapted to the screen. Many movies and television programs that we watch now are based on short stories. Today, easy versions of short stories are published as collections in books for English learners, and they’re very helpful for anyone who wants to learn about the language and culture of English-speaking countries.
Short stories don’t only give you an introduction to important themes, morals and values in the cultures of English-speaking countries, but they also allow you to look into history. You’ll even find that many non-English-speaking writers have published short stories as well, allowing speakers of all languages to learn about different cultures—but make sure you read those stories in English too, so you can keep improving.
The Types of English Short Stories
There are many different types of short stories. No matter what genre interests you, you can find a short story that will fit your needs.
Some types of short stories are myths, legends, fables, folk tales, fairy tales and tall tales.
A myth is a story that explains a natural occurrence, such as where the sky came from. Characters in these stories are often supernatural beings like gods. A legend is a story about a popular figure that may have never existed but is based on some truth. “King Arthur” is an example of a legend.
Folk tales or fairy tales are old stories that have been around for many years. These stories often begin with “Once upon a time in a faraway land…”. Many different cultures have their own folk tales or versions of them. “Cinderella” is one example.
A tall tale is a story that’s based on truth, but with exaggerations. Unlike legends, these stories may be based on real people, but the events in the stories may have never happened. Some examples are “Paul Bunyan” or “Johnny Appleseed.”
How to Use Easy Short Stories to Improve Your English
Short stories are effective in helping English learners to practice all four aspects of language learning: reading, writing, listening and speaking. You practice your reading skills when you see the vocabulary words you’ve learned in context. You’ll better understand the correct way to use them, and you can always find new words to learn.
You can use short stories to enhance your writing skills by using them as models to begin your own English stories. By writing your own stories, you get more practice in the use of vocabulary and creating your own sentences.
You can practice your speaking and listening skills by reading the stories out loud and listening to recordings. Practice role-playing different characters in the short stories with your classmates. You’ll get conversation and listening practice.
Use Illustrations to Enhance Your Experience
Short stories available in simplified readers may come with illustrations. If you find a short story with illustrations, look at the pictures first to try to guess what the story is about. What are they doing in the illustration? What part of the story is illustrated? The illustrations will help you to understand the meaning of the story.
Try this. When you come across an illustration, write your own caption or description of the picture. It can be a sentence or one word. Write what you see in the image. When you look at the story, go back to your image description. How do they relate?
Explore Stories Related to a Theme
Like novels, short stories can be in any genre you can imagine. Do you like ghost stories? Science fiction? Romance? You can find short stories, old and new, on the subject that you want. Some short stories teach a lesson, like fables do. Other short stories use a lot of metaphors or symbolism.
If you’re learning about hobbies, find a short story about something that you like to do. Are you learning about food? Find a short story with a lot of food vocabulary. The list goes on.
Choose the Right Reading Level
First, some short stories are over 5,000 words long while others can be as short as 50. When you’re selecting the right short story for you, you have many different types and lengths to choose from.
If you choose a story that’s too difficult, you’ll spend too much time looking up vocabulary, missing the whole point of the story. If you choose a story that’s too easy, you’ll learn little to no new vocabulary and you may become bored. Make sure that you always challenge yourself, even if you’re only learning a few new words.
Easier stories are good practice for vocabulary you already know. Harder stories give you a chance to learn new words while seeing them in the right context, or how they’re supposed to be used. Here’s an easy way to determine if the reading level is right for you.
Choose a paragraph in the story that you want to read. How many words can you identify? Try the “five-finger test.” Hold up your fist while you read over the paragraph. Put up one finger for each word you don’t know. If you have all five fingers up before the end of the paragraph, try to find an easier text.
What if you really want to read a story, but the level is too hard? Try to read the story anyway. If the subject interests you, you’ll be motivated to learn the vocabulary you need to understand the story. Bring the story to your English teacher. He or she will be happy to help you understand the words you don’t know so you’ll be able to enjoy the story on your own.
Practice “Active Reading” with English Short Stories
Your reading will only help you learn if you read actively. You are reading actively when you’re paying very close attention to the story, its words and its meanings. Think about the vocabulary and grammar.
Start by looking over the text to get an idea of what the story is about. Read the text. Try to remember some of the things you read about. Finally, review the text again to get the best understanding.
If your story is longer than 500 words, take breaks while you’re reading. Don’t make yourself too tired, or you’ll become frustrated and give up. If you find things are getting to be too difficult, walk away for about 15 minutes and come back and try again.
Choose Only a Few Words to Look Up
You don’t need to look up every single word you don’t know. Choose to look up only those words that will help you understand what the paragraph is about.
If there’s a word you don’t know but you know everything else in the sentence, try to guess what the word is about by looking at the whole sentence. You can look this word up later to see if you guessed correctly.
Discuss the story with your teacher and your classmates. If there’s something you don’t understand, write down your questions to ask during the discussion. Talk about the stories and share your own opinions about the language, culture and messages within the story.
When you’ve finished reading the story, review it again. Do this later in the same day or the next day to let your reading really sink in. Take notes while you’re reading. Tell the story to your classmates. Write down what the story is about in your own words to get even more practice.
Suggested English Short Stories to Get You Started
“Circus Escape” by Sue Clarke (Very Easy)
This is a good, simple children’s story to get you started. Many stories that are written for children are also good for English learners because of the simple vocabulary and sentences. If you’re learning about animal vocabulary, this is an especially good story to practice with.
“Little Red Riding Hood,” Adapted by George Grow (Easy)
This is a story that every English-speaking child knows. It’s a classic story about a little girl who meets a wolf in the forest while going to see her sick grandmother. The wolf pretends to be her grandmother in order to trick the little girl. This story is often used to teach children that it’s bad to talk to strangers.
“Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare (Easy)
The above story, “Much Ado About Nothing,” has been adapted for English students. It’s based on a play by the famous English playwright, William Shakespeare. This story is very simple and based on the harder play. Many old English stories have been simplified for younger readers and English learners. It’s a great way to read classic literature without becoming too frustrated.
“Paul Bunyan – An American Tall Tale,” Adapted by George Grow (Medium)
The story of Paul Bunyan has been around in the United States for many years. He’s the symbol of American frontier life, showing the ideal strength, work ethic and good morality that Americans work hard to imitate. Some sources break down his story into even shorter versions.
“The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde (Advanced)
“The Happy Prince” is a story that serves as a fairy tale and a fable at once. It’s a story that explores compassion in society. Since the story is old, much of the English is outdated (is not used in modern English). Still, if you have a good grasp of the English language, you can use this story to give yourself a great reading challenge.
“The Boarded Window” by Ambrose Bierce (Advanced)
Like “The Happy Prince,” “The Boarded Window” is an old story with outdated English. It’s best for advanced students. It’s an interesting story set on the old American frontier. The story uses some symbolism that requires the reader to think about the meaning of some terms. If you enjoy older stories with a little suspense, this would be a good challenge for you.
You can use these suggested stories or find something else you like.
Whatever you do, begin practicing your English skills with some easy short stories today!