An English Learner’s Reading Guide (Story Suggestions Included)

You might have heard that reading is a good way to learn English.

After all, you’re here now, reading this!

And you’re definitely on the right track.

Reading is one of the best ways to learn English, and it can teach you everything from new vocabulary and grammar to lessons in culture and humor.

Reading online blogs and articles is a great place to start!

Next, you can try FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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I know, I know. Videos and books are two completely different things, but hear me out. Every FluentU video includes interactive subtitles, so you can practice your listening skills while you read them! Give FluentU a free try and you’ll see how awesomeness really looks like.

After that, you may want to try reading some popular English-language books.

But what if you’re not ready to jump into a full-length book in English? Maybe you want something that’s quicker and more convenient to work with.

When you want something short, well-written and entertaining to learn English with, you want to read some short stories.

Short stories come in all sizes and types, which makes it easy to find some stories you’ll be interested in.

Most short stories are no longer than about 30 pages, with many much shorter than that. In just 2-3 pages, you can learn a huge amount of English!

But how? Keep reading and you’ll find out!

The Fun Guide to Learning English by Reading Short Stories

Why Short Stories Are a Great Learning Tool

As we mentioned above, there are lots of different kinds of short stories. You can find stories that are a few paragraphs long, and others that are as long as 50 pages. At the bottom of this article, you’ll find a list of short story collections in the form of books. However, you can also often find short stories on websites and in magazines.

As convenient as they already are, you can also find many short stories online or in other digital forms. Many book-selling websites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have e-book versions of stories that you can read on your phone or tablet. Some short story collections are available as audiobooks, so you can listen to the story read to you.

When you’re choosing a short story or a collection of short stories to study with, pay attention to these things:

  • The genre, or type (like fantasy, science fiction, romance), and content: You want a story you’ll actually enjoy reading. Do you usually like mysteries? Scary stories? Love stories? Pick something that you think you’ll want to read all the way through.
  • The length: How much time do you have to dedicate to reading? Do you want a story you can finish in one sitting? Or do you enjoy being able to return to something you were reading the day before?

If you consider all these things, you’re sure to find some great short stories. But how can you learn English from short stories?

How to Learn English by Reading Short Stories

Short stories are, well, short! That means you can spend more time on them. You can use this extra time to prepare, reinforce (strengthen) your learning and so much more. The great news is that all the studying methods you’ll learn through reading short stories can be applied to pretty much any kind of reading.

Here are a few things you can (and should) do before you begin reading your short story:

  • Skim the text. Skimming means to look through the text without reading every word. Try to get a general idea of what the story is about. Pick out major ideas, names, the setting (where the story takes place) and other tidbits of information. Doing this will help you understand the story better once you actually read it, since you’ll be starting with a good idea of what to expect.
  • Scan for unfamiliar words. Look through the story in search of unfamiliar words. Look them up. When you come across the word in your reading, you won’t have to stop since you’ll already have that word defined.
  • Look at the shape of the story. Are there a lot of short or long paragraphs? Is there a lot of dialogue, or none at all? The shape of the text can tell you a lot about a story before you even begin. For example, a story with many long paragraphs probably means it’s a descriptive or slow story, while a story with lots of short paragraphs is probably faster-paced and might have some action.

Great, you’re ready to start reading! Here are some things to keep in mind while you read:

  • Don’t stop too much. While you’re reading, you might find a word you didn’t look up beforehand, or even an entire sentence you don’t really understand. You might want to stop and look it up, but try not to! The more you stop while you’re reading, the harder it is to understand the story as a whole (think about how starting and stopping a car in traffic makes driving more difficult). Just mark whatever you don’t understand and come back to it when you finish reading.
  • Look for important moments and information. Short stories don’t waste much time on unnecessary information—they just don’t have the space to waste! This makes it easier to find the main idea, theme (the overall meaning or message) and plot. As you’re reading, be aware of the important points and moments. You can make a mark next to them so you can find them again later. Doing this will help you understand the story better.

Completing a story doesn’t mean you should immediately move on to the next one. Spend some time going over what you just read. This extra time will help you better understand and remember the things you read. Use these tips after you finish reading:

  • Summarize what you read. Try to explain what you just read in a few short sentences. You don’t have to write anything or even speak out loud (although doing those two things helps, too!). Imagine you’re telling a friend about the story while the two of you are on a short elevator ride. What are the most important people and moments? What’s the story about?
  • Think about the themes of the story. Many short stories are entertaining, but many of them also have a lesson or an idea that they want the reader to learn. You might have noticed a place, a word or something else repeated in the story. You might feel like a moment in the story where one thing happens is actually about something else. You know what happened in the story, but what did it mean? Thinking about the deeper and hidden meaning behind written words can make it easier for you to understand the many different things people mean when they speak.
  • Re-read the story. You read the story once and you got the basics. Now you know what it’s about, what it’s really about and all the words and phrases you didn’t understand the first time. Read the story one more time, and you’ll find that you understand it even better the second time. You might even notice things you didn’t see the first time!

Now that you’re armed with all these powerful learning tips, you’re ready to tackle a short story or two. We’ve made a list of some of our favorite short story collections below. Find one to fit your interests and skill level!

8 Short Story Collections Perfect for Learning English

Life Is a Circus Run by a Platypus” by Allison Hawn

Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus

Genre: Comedy

Average story length: 3–5 pages

English level: Beginner to intermediate

These short stories follow the strange life of the author, who has had to face everything from giant iguanas to dancing clowns. Her silly stories are fun and easy to read, and make the perfect starting point for English learners who want to learn with short stories.

Winnie-the-Pooh” by A. A. Milne


Genre: Children’s fantasy

Average story length: 10–15 pages

English level: High beginner to intermediate

You probably know this one already: “Winnie-the-Pooh” is a collection of charming children’s stories about the adventures of a young boy, his stuffed bear and all their friends from Hundred Acre Wood.

Zombies vs. Unicorns” (collected by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier)

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Genre: Comedy

Average story length: 20–50 pages

English level: High beginner to intermediate

These silly short stories will make you laugh, think and, most importantly, choose a side between the unicorn and the zombie. Which one is better? These unique stories show a different side to these two fantasy creatures.

Pretty Monsters” by Kelly Link

Pretty Monsters

Genre: Fantasy

Average story length: 50 pages

English level: Intermediate

Fantastic things happen to the characters in these stories. A girl’s grandmother carries an entire village in her bag. A soccer player waits for aliens to arrive.

My True Love Gave to Me” (collected by Stephanie Perkins)


Genre: Romance (mostly realistic)

Average story length: 20–50 pages

English level: Intermediate

Twelve young adult authors contribute to this collection of holiday-themed love stories. From Christmas to Hanukkah and New Year’s, love blossoms everywhere for the teenage characters in these tales.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams” by Stephen King

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories

Genre: Horror

Average story length: 20–50 pages

English level: Intermediate

Prepare to get spooked by these short stories from Stephen King, the master of the horror genre. King makes you think about death, the afterlife and the past through a series of creepy stories.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Genre: Mystery

Average story length: 20 pages

English level: High intermediate to advanced

Legendary (well-known) detective Sherlock Holmes solves crimes that even the police can’t solve. He looks closely at clues and uses his genius skill of deduction (figuring things out). Beginners and intermediate English learners might find the older English challenging.

Of course, if you’re like me, you may also want to check out the movie version to help with the vocabulary! For something accessible, fun and modern, why not check out the Sherlock Holmes world’s latest, Enola Holmes.

As an introduction, you can explore the vocabulary of the Sherlock Holmes world with this great breakdown of English adjectives used in the film. The clip below is from the FluentU English YouTube channel, which teaches you English through native content like movies and videos.

If you subscribe to the FluentU YouTube channel, you will be able to keep up to date with the latest films, series, podcasts and more!

If it’s a choice between the book and the movie, then I say both!

The Great Automatic Grammatizator” by Roald Dahl

The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Other Stories. Roald Dahl (Puffin Teenage Books)

Genre: Realistic fantasy

Average story length: 10-40 pages

English level: High intermediate to advanced

Roald Dahl is a beloved children’s author (who wrote “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda” and many other books), but he also wrote for adults. These short stories are collected from his adult works with teenagers in mind, and have a dark sense of humor and some interesting twists. These stories are also older, so might be challenging for some readers.


Which short story collection is perfect for you?

Explore the options and you’re sure to find something you love to read (and learn English with).

Jump into an English short story today!

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