Friday, April 03, 2009

Making Effective Use of Short Stories in English Language Teaching

A Well-Proven Method of Language Acquisition

One of the most effective long-term methods of learning a language is that of an on-going series of readings. In fact, among the ways native speakers of English, French and other languages continue to improve and grow their first language (L1) skills, reading ranks very high up on the list. Whether or not language learners are able to wade through a complete book or novel, reading short stories is a time-proven method of language learning and acquisition.

Edgar Allan Poe

The “invention” of the short story, then Horror story and the Detective mystery story are all credited to Edgar Allan Poe (pictured) who first began publishing series of less-than-book-length stories in the mid-1830s. Many of his most popular and famous stories have been passed down through the decades and filmed as full-length feature films. Among the more noteworthy of his Horror and Detective / Mystery stories are these, my personal choices:

The Fall of the House of Usher published September 1839
William Wilson published in 1839
The Murders in the Rue Morgue published in April 1841
A Descent Into the Maelstrom published May 1841
The Masque of the Red Death published in May 1842
The Pit and the Pendulum published October 1842
The Tell – Tale Heart published January 1843
The Gold Bug published June 21, 1843
The Black Cat published August 19, 1843
The Premature Burial published July 31, 1844
The Purloined Letter published in 1844
The Cask of Admontillado published November 1846

Detailed information on Edgar Allan Poe, his life and his collected works is available from the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.

But why are short stories so useful and effective in English language teaching and learning?

Advantages of Short Stories in English Language Teaching and Learning

There are several distinct advantages in using short stories in ELT. The principal advantages include but are not limited to:

• The controlled length of short stories
• The concise writing with carefully selected vocabulary and lexis
• The use of contemporary or colloquial language
• Insertion of authentic, natural dialogue
• Short stories typically maintain high interest and attention levels

With the difficulty normally associated with getting foreign language learners to read, short stories quite readily lend themselves to capturing and holding the often brief attention spans of learners in societies which are predominantly non-reading ones. Get the learners interested in the story’s beginning and leave it from the, Poe will more than likely do the rest with his inimitable, attention-grabbing style and in-depth visual imagery.

Consider this terrifying excerpt from “The Pit and the Pendulum”:

“Down — steadily down it crept. I took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral velocity. To the right — to the left — far and wide — with the shriek and the plunge of a damned spirit; to my heart with the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately laughed and howled, as the one or the other idea grew predominant. Down — certainly, relentlessly down! It vibrated within three inches of my bosom! I struggled violently, furiously, to free my left arm.”

You can feel and imagine the ravings of a man slowly being tortured to death as he waits to be slowly, methodically sliced in two by the descending cold steel from which, it seems, he has no escape.

Use of Short Stories in English Language Teaching – A Never-Ending Supply

A virtually unending supply of fresh, original short stories is almost always available from a broad range of reference sites and resources such as short story contests online and in print, online and print libraries, both public and private, author and writing websites – and, Public Domain repositories like Gutenburg. English language teachers and learners need never lack for fresh, original short stories to read or use for language teaching or language learning.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 100 countries. Get your FREE E-book, “If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: Need a blogger or copywriter to promote your school, institution, service or business or an experienced writer and vibrant SEO content for your website, blog or newsletter? Then E-mail me for further information.

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