Short Stories in EFL Classes

    Tirtha Karki* (gkarki15@gmail.com)                                                 


Recently, I visited a private school of Itahari and discussed with English teachers of that school, their problems of teaching English. Many of them reported that they were having trouble in engaging students to write a story. And, they suggested incorporating story developing activities in an upcoming training. I was overwhelmed by the situation. Thus, I started to explore the activities which enable the learners to create their own stories easily. In the training of English teachers of that school, for teachers from primary to secondary level, I delivered some sessions on engaging students to generate short stories. I offered them some activities which are useful to involve learners to develop short stories. Later on, when I discussed with the teachers, they stated that the activities worked effectively with their learners.  Therefore, here, I have attempted to collect some activities which may be useful to engage the learners to generate stories collaboratively. These activities, I suppose, can be useful in your class as well.


Literature has been the most important resources in language classroom. Almost all language teaching programs have incorporated literary texts in their syllabi as they offer valuable authentic resources. In this respect, Collie and Slater (2009, PP. 3-4) mention that literature is used in language class because it is valuable authentic material; it enhances cultural and language enrichment, and it fosters personal involvement.  Similarly, Littlewood (2000, as cited in Pardede, 2011) argues for using literature in EFL classes saying that:

A major problem of language teaching in the classroom is the creation of an   authentic situation for language. All language classrooms, especially those outside the community of native speakers, are isolated from the context of events and situations which produce natural language. Literature can overcome this problem because, in literary works, language creates its own context. The actual situation of the reader becomes immaterial as he or she looks on the events created by language. These events create, in turn, a context of situation for the language of the book and enable it to transcend the artificial classroom situation (p. 179).

Therefore, it can be claimed that literature is an important source in language teaching because it offers varieties of texts along with culture aligned to it, that are useful in language teaching.

Short stories

Abrams (2008, p.295) defines short story as “a brief work of prose fiction, and most of the terms for analyzing the component elements, the types, and the narrative techniques of the novel are applicable to the short story as well.” It shows that short stories, as name suggests, are short. Regarding length of short stories, Edgar Allan Poe (as cited in Abrams, 2008, pp. 295-296), who is sometimes called the originator of the short story as an establish genre, defined what he called “the prose tale” “as a narrative which can be read at one setting of from half an hour to two hours, and is limited to “certain unique or single effect” to which every detail is subordinate.”From this discussion, it can be concluded that short stories are brief in nature with single effect having less detailed descriptions of characters and milieu.

Why Short Stories?

Different genres of literature are used in language teaching programs. Among them, short stories are very useful as they are interesting, motivating and amazing to the learners. They entertain the learners. They are very motivating which engage learners successfully. In this respect, Wright (2000) mentions that making and responding to stories is only way of being creative. Stories offer new language, making it meaningful and memorable which is a distinctive manifestation of cultural values and perceptions. It requires reflection on values and culture.

He further argues that making and telling stories requires the students to organize information into a cohesive and coherent whole in order to communicate to other people, which develop in the students a heightened sense and awareness of English due to familiarity with sustained texts. They provide opportunity to the students to reflect on own concern.

Finally he maintains that listening to the stories can develop listening skills whereas studying and learning stories contextualize language diversity in dialect, register, narrative description, speech.

Thus, short stories are highly beneficial to the learners. They are useful to develop all four language skills. Moreover, they are equally helpful to aware learners with grammar, vocabulary and language functions. They enhance learners’ imagination skill and creativity. They are authentic materials which assist language teachers to create meaningful context to introduce language.

Some activities to create short stories

This article is mainly concerned with some classroom activities that contribute language teachers to involve learners for creating short stories collaboratively. These activities are useful for primary to secondary level learners. However, they may be applicable to territory level as well.


  1. Ten-word story

Levels: intermediate to advance

Language:vocabulary, grammar (narrative tense)

Skills: writing and speaking

Time: 30 minutes

Preparation: none


  • Write ten words on the board.
  • Tell the learners that they are going to write a story on the basis of ten words written on the boards.
  • Allow them about 30 minutes to write a story.
  • Have learners read out their stories in the class.

Note: present a model story yourself based on ten words if the learners find it difficult. Once the learners are familiar with this activity, they can be given only five words to create a story.

Variation: it can be done in pair and group as well.

  1. Picture story

Levels: intermediate to advance

Language: vocabulary, grammar (narrative tense), adjectives

Skills: writing and speaking

Time:25-30 minutes

Preparation: none


  • Draw a picture of a person or animal.
  • Tell the learners that they write a story of that person or animal.
  • Ask them to include: what is the name of the person? How is he or she? What does he or she do? Where does he or she live? Where did you meet him or her?
  • Allow every learner about 25-30 minutes to write a story. (It can be done in pair and small group too.)
  • Encourage them to make their stories as interesting as possible.
  • Ask every learner to read out the story. (If there is time constraint, we can ask the learners to exchange their stories with their friends. Or, we can paste their stories on the wall and involve them in gallery walk.)
  1. Chain Story:

Levels: intermediate to advance

Language: vocabulary, grammar (narrative tense)

Skills: listening and speaking

Time: 30 minutes

Preparation: arrangement of class in U-shape, V-shape or circle


  • Arrange learners either in U-shape, or V-shape or circle.
  • Give clear instruction to the learners about the activity, i.e. instructor begins a story with a first sentence and asks the learners to continue the story adding one sentence each turn by turn.
  • Begin a story telling a first sentence.
  • Ask learners to continue the story contributing one sentence from each.
  • Provide opportunity to every learner to add a sentence.
  • Repeat the process if the story is not completed.
  • Facilitate the learners when they have a problem to link a sentence.

Variation: This activity can be done in writing as well. The same process can be followed in whole class or group.

  1. Stories from boxes

Levels: upper-intermediate to advance

Ages: teens; adults

Skills: listening; speaking; writing

Language focus: grammar- describing pictures; questioning; narrating events

Materials:white board; marker pens.

Preparation: none.


  • Draw eight rectangles on the board, with space between each one.
  • Invite student volunteers to come and draw one thing, each in a different rectangle. They can draw whatever they like – the drawings don’t have to relate- but set a low time (may be 40 seconds) to show the drawing can be simple.
  • Explain that your students will work in small groups to create a story using these pictures. Write or ask question prompts like “who is in the story?” or “where are they?” to help their imaginations. Explain that each story must connect all the pictures together.
  • Divide your students into groups of three and let them invent their stories within a time limit.
  • Each group stands by the board and tells the story,pointing at the pictures as they do so; then ask the student artists what they had in mind when they drew their pictures (if anything).

This activity is derived from Simon Thomas (2009)

  1. Picture Story-two

Levels: lower-intermediate to advance

Language: vocabulary, grammar (narrative tense), adjectives

Skills: writing and speaking

Time: 30 minutes

Preparation: collection of pictures of different stories


  • Divide the learners into four or five groups.
  • Distribute a set of pictures to each group which are randomly arranged. The set of pictures can be of one story or of different stories.
  • Ask every group to arrange the pictures and create a picture story.
  • Tell the students to discuss about the pictures and write story based on them.
  • Allow every group to read out their story.
  1. Jigsaw Story

Levels: intermediate to advance

Language: vocabulary, grammar (narrative tense), adjectives, coherence

Skills: reading, writing and speaking

Time: 30 minutes

Preparation: cut out of a written story into different pieces (number of pieces should be equal to the number of groups).


  • Divide the learners into four/five groups of equal numbers.
  • Distribute different sections of a story to every group. For this, select any story and cut it into four or five pieces depending upon the number of groups.
  • Ask every group to read their part of the story carefully.
  • Regroup the learners. Every group should have members from all previous groups so that there will be the members who have read all the sections of the story.
  • Tell each group to discuss about the story.
  • Ask them to write complete story.
  • Have each group share their story in the class.

I have applied these activities in different trainings and English Access Microscholarhip Program classes too. They involved the participants interestingly. Even reluctant learners took active participation. These activities developed confidence in learners that writing story is not so complex.

For more story generating activities, see Wright (2000), Storytelling with children and Thomas (2011), 12 ways of creating stories with your EFL students.


Abrams, M.H. &Harpham, G.G. (2005).A Glossary of Literary Terms. Boston: ThomsonWadsworth.

Collie, J. & Slater, S. (2009).Literature in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CUP.

Lazar, G. (1993). Literature and Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP.

Pardede,P. (2011). Using Short Stories to Teach Language Skills.In Journal of English Teaching Vol. 1 No. 1.

Thomas, S. (2011). 12 Ways of Creating Stories with your EFL Students.http://www.hltmag.co.uk/

Wright, A. (2000). Stories and their Importance in language Teaching. In Humanizing Language Teaching, Year 2; Issue 5.

Wright, A. et al. (2002). Games for Language Learning. Cambridge: CUP.

(*Mr. Karki is an Instructor of the U.S. Embassy English Access Microscholarship Program, Morang, Nepal and Asstant Lecturer of Janata Multiple Campus, Itahari, Sunsari. Besides, he has been training teachers for last 3 years. He can be contacted at gkarki15@gmail.com.)


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