Using Short Stories to Teach Language Skills

Before 19th century, the main objective of English as Foreign Language (EFL) teaching was to help students mastering linguistic elements to communicate fluently in the target language. Recent trend, however, shows it aims at integrating literature with language teaching because of its rich potential to provide an authentic model of language use.  Until 19th century, the Grammar Translation Method (GTM) predominated ESL/EFL teaching. GTM’s learning activity includes translating literary texts from the second or foreign language to the students’ native language.

GTM was replaced by the Structuralism Approach in 1960s. This approach was concerned with correctness of grammatical form but not with content or interpretation of the text. Teaching a foreign language was regarded as a matter of linguistics in this method too. Other dominant teaching methods such as Direct Method, the Audiolingualism, Community Language Learning, Suggestopedia, the Silent Way, Total Physical Response, Natural Approach, Communicative Approach etc. also ignored literature in language classroom. The major tendency in the EFL classrooms was to teach “usable, practical” contents. Moreover, enable students to communicate orally was its objective. Consequently, dialogues dominated the most of the curriculum.

Since the 1980s, the situation changed and literature has found its way back into the teaching of EFL. But, it was different from the previously used GTM. According Collie and Slater (1991) using literature in language teaching has four benefits: authentic material, cultural enrichment, language advancement, and personal growth. Similarly, Erkaya (2005) also notes four benefits of using short stories to teach ESL/EFL: motivational, literary, cultural and higher order thinking benefits. The motivational quality makes literature suitable and valuable to language teaching in many contexts and cultures. Next, literary texts raise learners’ awareness and advance their competence in all language skills (Povey, 1967). Moreover, literature provides cultural information about the target language to increase learners’ insight into the country and the people whose language is being learnt. Literature, in addition, enables students to understand and appreciate other cultures, societies and ideologies different from their own. Also, it encourages personal growth and intellectual development (Carter and Long, 1991, pp. 2-4).

Short story is more suitable to use in English teaching as compared to other literary genres. First, poetry has deviated and figurative language and demands long time to grasp. Second, the length of novel makes it difficult to complete in classroom. Third, drama is difficult to perform in classes because of limited course hours. Thus short stories are suitable for language learning because they is short, they give a single effect, they usually has single plot, have few characters and no detailed description of setting. Collie and Slater (1991) list four advantages of using short stories for language teachers. The first advantage is that short stories are practical and can be covered entirely in one or two class sessions. Second advantage is that they are not complicated for students like other genre of literature. Third, short stories have a variety of choice for different interests and tastes. Fourth, short stories can be used with all levels (beginner to advance), all ages (young learners to adults) and all classes (morning, afternoon, or evening classes).

The main aim to use short story in English teaching is to use what they have previously learnt and to make learning process student-centered. However, the teacher must choose a suitable text for this purpose. The teacher must consider three things before choosing texts. They are: the needs and abilities of the students; the linguistic and stylistic level of the text; and the amount of background information required for a true appreciation of the material. The teacher should first decide the readability of the text because very long sentences are difficult to understand and students will get bored. The use of simplified text with less proficient readers is highly suggested in language teaching. McKay (2001, p. 322) and Rivers (1968, p. 230) point out the students enjoy a text if the subject-matter is relevant to their life experience and interests.

Short stories allow teachers to teach the four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. First, short stories help students to improve vocabulary and reading. The group who read literary texts made better improvement in vocabulary and reading as compared with non-literary texts reader (Lao and Krashen’s (2000).  Second, literature helps students to write more creatively. Moreover, the teachers can create a variety of writing activities to help students to develop their writing skills.  Third, oral reading, dramatization, improvisation, role-playing, reenactment, and discussion are effective learning activities. Asking students to read story aloud can develop their speaking, listening as well as pronunciation skills. The teachers can read the story out loud and play the story if a recording is available to develop students’ listening skill.

In conclusion, the teacher should focus not only on linguistic but also on literary and cultural elements to meet the objective of EFL teaching. Among other literary genre, stories offer literary and cultural elements, so they are highly beneficial to use. Short stories can be used to improve reading, listening, writing and speaking skills. To meet this objective, the good selection should be done because it creates a meaningful context to teach different language focuses and to improve the students’ interpretative.

Work Cited

Pardede, Parlindungan. “Using Short Stories to Teach Language Skills.” Journal of English Teaching 1.1 (2011): 14-27


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