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The Advantages of Using Short Stories in EFL Teaching/Learning

Written by: Nedjmeddine AKABA and Sara ZOUAOUI


One of the possible ways of teaching a foreign language in an English class would be using

literary works. Short stories can be not only an effective technique but also a rich source in

teaching English. Khatib and Seyyedrezaei (2013) stated that short stories like other literary

texts can raise cultural awareness, linguistic awareness, motivation, curiosity and

imagination. Moreover, they can be an efficient means for teaching the four skills to all

levels of language proficiency.

Key words: cultural awareness; linguistic awareness; motivation; curiosity; imagination; the

four skills; language proficiency.

Since the prehistoric times, people have always told stories. Actually, the pictures that

primitive tribes drew on the walls of ancient caves were telling a story (Demirtürk, 1987).

Short stories have a long history. Their roots go back to folklore, or to the oral tradition of

storytelling. In the oral tradition, stories were told to remember the great deeds of past kings

and heroes (e.g. legends), to explain beliefs about the world (e.g. myths), to teach moral

principles (e.g. fables and parables) or simply for the sake of entertainment (e.g. folktales and

fairy tales).

A short story is a piece of prose fiction that is shorter in length than a novel and can be

read in one sitting. Edgar Allen Poe, the father of the American short story, defines it as “a

narrative that can be read at one sitting of from one-half hour to two hours, and that is limited

to ‘a certain unique or single effect,’ to which every detail is subordinate” (as cited by

Abrams, 1970. p. 158). A short story can range from 1,000 to 20,000 words. Unlike the novel

which can tackle multiple plots and themes, with a variety of prominent characters, the short
story usually focuses on one plot, one major character (with a few additional minor

characters), and one central theme. This is mainly because of its short length.

Edgar Allan Poe is credited for the transformation of the short story from an anecdote

to art (Hubble, 1996). By using existing and innovative elements, he revolutionized short

literature. He virtually created the detective story and perfected the psychological thriller.

Even today, Poe's short stories are read in popular as well as literary circles.

In fact, several researchers support the use of short stories as one of the most suitable

literary genres in ELT for numerous advantages. Taking into account that short stories have a

beginning, middle and an end, students are encouraged at all levels of language proficiency to

continue reading them until the end to find out how the conflict is resolved. Vandrick (1997)

claimed that short stories as a part of literature motivate students “to explore their feelings

through experiencing those of others” (p. 98). In addition, Elliott (1990) confirmed that they

are “motivationally effective if students can genuinely engage with its thoughts and emotions

and appreciate its aesthetic qualities” (p. 197).

Secondly, teachers can introduce literary elements with short stories. Simple elements

such as character, setting and plot can be taught with beginning and low intermediate levels.

The complex elements as climax, conflict, resolution, etc., can be introduced with more

advanced levels. Gajdusek (1988) explains how literature can be introduced by describing the

order of activities: pre-reading activities, factual in-class work, analysis and extending

activities. In the pre-reading activities, students will be given the opportunity to learn about

the background of the story and vocabulary. In factual in-class work, students will be

introduced to the who, what, where and when of the story, or point of view, character, setting

and action. Extending activities, however, deal with why, that is, “involvement and

experience”. Students have to make use of their knowledge of the language to express their
ideas. Therefore, these activities should only be introduced to students with a high

intermediate and advanced level of language proficiency.

Thirdly, short stories would allow learners to think more critically about what they

read. Young (1996) believed that “stories put issues of critical thinking in an easily

remembered context” (p. 90). In other words, the simple and entertaining context of short

stories permits learners to develop the ability to think critically in a less complicated way.

Thinking skills, which are called Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain, include both

lower-order and higher-order thinking. Teachers are, hence, required to activate them. In the

first level of the taxonomy, knowledge, learners are asked questions about names of

characters, setting and plot of the story. When students become more proficient in the

language, they can move to comprehension, level 2. In this level, they are asked to compare,

interpret and give descriptions and state main ideas to demonstrate their comprehension. As

students become more proficient, they move to level 3, application. In this level, students try

to solve problems by using the knowledge they have about the story. In level 4, analysis,

students must analyze, compare, contrast, explain, infer, etc. facts/ideas about the story. Upon

reaching the advanced level of proficiency, students can, then, synthesize and evaluate what

they read. Teachers can then ask questions such as “What would happen if . . .?” “What

changes would you make to solve . . .?” “Do you agree with the actions . . .? With the

outcomes . . .?” …etc.

Moreover, short stories can be used for teaching the four skills to all levels of language

proficiency. Oster (1989) affirmed that “literature helps students to write more creatively” (p.

85). In order to help learners develop their writing skills, instructors can create a variety of

writing activities. Murdoch (2002) suggested that teachers can ask students to write dialogues

or more complex writing activities if students have reached a high level of language

proficiency. Moreover, stories can be used to improve students' vocabulary and reading. Lao
and Krashen (2000) present the results of a comparison between a group of students that reads

literary texts and a group that reads non-literary texts at a university in Hong Kong. The first

group showed improvement in vocabulary and reading. Concerning listening, instructors can

read the story out loud or play it in a record so students have the opportunity to listen and find

answers to questions given and explained to them via the listening activity.

Finally, short stories are an effective technique for teaching culture to EFL students

(Sandhya & Murali, 2015). They raise curiosity within learners about other cultures, far-off

lands and ‘exotic’ peoples from other parts of the planet (Ioannou-Georgiou & Dolores

Ramírez Verdugo, 2010). Furthermore, Short stories allow the EFL students to learn about the

past, the present and the traditions of people they read about. Hence, they will gain an

understanding, openness, awareness, tolerance and acceptance towards the TC and respect

people’s differences (ibid).

In this regard, the EFL students would become aware of their culture when comparing

and contrasting the TC and their own culture. Still, teachers must be aware of the culture they

are teaching. For instance, if there are inappropriate words, the teacher should omit, or modify

them. For this reason, we have made some modifications of the short story “They’re not your

husband” so that students will not be culturally shocked.

In addition, stories about different cultures help learners of different backgrounds to be

integrated. They can help students to be excellent resources for explaining and understanding

cultural and historical backgrounds, processes, actions and consequences involved within the

topics tackled. Simultaneously, the learners are expected to have an enjoyable learning

atmosphere. For example, in the multi-cultural American schools, while studying an Indian

short story, instead of explaining how marriage rituals are performed in India, the teacher may

allow his Indian students to explain this process by themselves. The students, hence, become
motivated and delightful to introduce their own aspects of culture in a much better way than

the teacher.

To sum up, integrating short stories into the EFL curriculum will help EFL students in

a variety of ways. They are a motivational tool that can help teachers to introduce literary

items, develop their students’ thinking abilities, advance the four skills as well as raise their

cultural awareness.

Abrams, M. H. (1970). A glossary of literary terms. New York: Rinehart.

Demirtürk, L. (1987). Approaches to the short story. Ankara: Usem Publications.

Elliott, R. (1990). Encouraging reader-response to literature in ESL situations. ELT Journal

44(3), 191-198.

Gajdusek, L. (1988). Toward wider use of literature in ESL: Why and how. TESOL Quarterly

22(2), 227-257.

Hubble, J. (1996). Here we are now, entertain us: Poe's contributions to the short story.

Ioannou-Georgiou, S., & Dolores Ramírez Verdugo, M. (2010). Stories as a tool for teaching

and learning in CLIL.

Khatib, M., & Seyyedrezaei, S.H. (2013). Short story based language teaching (SSBLT): A

literature-based language teaching method.

Lao, C. Y., & Krashen, S. (2000). The impact of popular literature study on literacy

development in EFL: More evidence for the power of reading. System, 28, 261-270.

Murdoch, G. (2002). Exploiting well-known short stories for language skills development.

Oster, J. (1989). Seeing with different eyes: Another view of literature in the ESL class.

TESOL Quarterly, 23(1), 85-103.

Sandhya, K., & Murali Krishna, T. (2015). The impact of short stories on teaching of

English, 2(4).
Vandrick, S. (1997). Reading and responding to novels in the university ESL classroom. The

Journal of the Imagination in Language and Teaching, 4. Retrieved January 27, 2003,


Young, A. (1996). Introducing critical thinking at the college level with children’s stories.

College Teaching, 44(3), 90.