Great short stories to read aloud for ESL teens
June 5, 2013 2:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a few short stories to read aloud to ESL students between 13 and 16 years old, each divisible into a few 15- to 20-minute chunks, and each engaging.

I teach English to teenage students who have English-medium education but probably don't use much English outside of class or with their families. For most of these students, English is an obstacle and a chore, and worse, our classes are on weekend mornings or after long weekdays at school. It's hard to keep engagement levels high and I think a story might be a way to pique their interest.

I'd like to spend a bit of time, say 15 or 20 minutes out of the single two-hour lesson we have together each week, until the end of the year (early July) reading aloud to them, with the goal of helping them become engaged in a story and, maybe - just maybe - find something they enjoy about this language. :)

I don't want to ask them questions or have them complete assignments connected to the text, though I'll give them an extract to follow along with. This is purely about exposure, enjoyment, and respect: I imagine few people try to engage them as individuals.

Stories freely available online would be great, as would anything out of copyright, but I'd like to be able to read to them without having to stop and explain every other word. Fiction and non-fiction alike might be good. I really don't know where to start on this as I'm not a huge reader myself.

posted by mdonley to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
These are not out of copyright but the two that come to mind for me are Amy Hempel -- whose pieces can be quite short -- and Julie Orringer, whose book of short stories, How to Breathe Underwater, may be relevant to your target age group.
posted by janey47 at 2:53 AM on June 5, 2013

I'd look at the resources available on Using the novels for my kids (not esl) but I believe has shortstory stuff too.
posted by tilde at 3:38 AM on June 5, 2013

You may want to consider the amount of time you are budgeting for this. Before you go ahead with this, suggest you have someone read something to you for 15-20 minutes. See if you can stay 'engaged' for that length of time.
posted by Mister Bijou at 4:19 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Lady or the Tiger by Frank Stockton might be a fun choice for this age group.
posted by PlantGoddess at 4:49 AM on June 5, 2013

My recommendation would be to source your local high school's Freshman English Textbook. There are great short stories from numerous cultures in it.

Here are the stories I remember from when I taught:

Poison--Roald Dahl

Everyday Use--by Alice Walker

Hair--Malcolm X with Alex Haley

A Perfect Day for Bananafish--J.D. Salinger (Okay this one has a suicide in it, so use your best judgement)

Here are a couple of excerpts from the House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

Would these work for you?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:41 AM on June 5, 2013

Not a short story, but our teacher read it to us (in segments) and to this day I remember it being just totally riveting - The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.
posted by Lescha at 6:03 AM on June 5, 2013

How about Vonnegut's collection Welcome to the Monkey House, particularly an old favorite that I read in high school, Thomas Edison's Shaggy Dog?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:15 AM on June 5, 2013

The Dark is Rising series is really fantastic, about fits that age, and is likely to have a good balance of reasonable vocabulary with engaging content. (One of them was a Newberry winner.)
posted by acm at 6:38 AM on June 5, 2013

Oh, I also just remembered how much I loved the stories of Saki (H H Munro) at that age. All just slightly odd or creepy and all fairly short.
posted by janey47 at 7:57 AM on June 5, 2013

R.L. Stevenson's "The Bottle Imp".
posted by zeri at 8:51 AM on June 5, 2013

Hemingway: The Nick Adams stories
posted by seemoreglass at 8:55 AM on June 5, 2013

The various short story collections of Paul Jennings e.g. Unreal! Unbelievable! might work.
posted by AnnaRat at 9:29 AM on June 5, 2013

Does anyone still read William Saroyan? I remember loving them as a young teen - but they are a bit old-fashioned and quiet, farms and uncles and 'the old country' and all that.

I first encountered the word 'pomegranate' in a Saroyan story. His outlook is gently amusing and wry. They are definitely stories of immigration *mumbles something about double-consciouness*.
posted by glasseyes at 10:08 AM on June 5, 2013

Language acquisition cannot effectively occur in the environment you are trying to set up because the students you are working with are not going to be able to view 15-20 of being read aloud to as valuable comprehensible input. Instead, start looking for multiple short stories that can be read over the course of 5 minutes max -- go with comedies or even news articles about topics relevant to the students you're working with.

Additionally, I would endeavor to read works by authors from your students' backgrounds. If you have Spanish speaking students, seek out works by Spanish writers that have been translated into English. You could even provide them with copies of passages in English and their native language so they can begin to see the translation between the content as it's presented in both languages. Poetry is great for this.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:45 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know you want to just read to them but combining this with an oral comprehension exercise might make the time more worthwhile. I remember sitting in French class having to answer questions about a contemporary reading (civics, fiction, pop culture, etc) while the teacher read it aloud. It significantly improved my pronunciation and listening skills in all languages. It really is a skill like writing.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:42 PM on June 5, 2013

A few years ago when I was teaching ESL I used a free audio mystery story, Missing Person, to help my students with their listening comprehension and as a basis for discussion. It was written and recorded by an ESL instructor, so the level of language is appropriate and although a native speaker would find it a bit slow and deliberate, it works for ESL learners. My students found it engaging and encouraging because they could understand it and enjoy it.

The chapter mp3s (available at the top of each script on the page linked above, or available through iTunes) contain some vocab explanations from the author, but I just played the actual story for the students and made my own vocab materials.

It was great--each chapter is only a couple of minutes long (which is actually a good length, attention-span-wise). Here's how the lessons went:

1. pre-listening prediction activity--I asked them to recap briefly what had happened in the previous chapter and predict what would happen next by looking at the chapter title.
2. pre-teaching of key vocab
3. we listened to the chapter
4. post-listening discussion--they got into groups and discussed a couple of questions I provided
5. I gave them a transcript of the chapter afterwards. (They didn't have the transcript while they listened.)

I played one chapter per class. Each one ends on a cliffhanger so they tended to want to know what would happen next!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:47 PM on June 5, 2013

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