Learning English with stories



Do you like reading short stories? I do.

And I also like using them as a resource for teaching English.

I find it’s a good way to add something a little bit different to our lessons, as well as a good way to use culturally relevant resources by selecting stories or fairy stories according to my students’ cultural backgrounds.

I have a selection of short story books that are written in various languages, and have wonderful pictures in them too (it’s amazing what you can find on eBay šŸ™‚ ).

I don’t understand the text in these books but the pictures are perfect for basing vocabulary lessons around, and sometimes a student will be able to translate some of the story into English for me šŸ™‚

Learning English with stories

What about writing your own stories? How do you feel about that?

I’ve found that although my students enjoy reading activities based on short stories, many of them are not always so positive about attempting to write or tell their own stories.

For inspiration in my lesson planning I use Once Upon a Time: Using stories in the language classroomĀ  by John Morgan and Marion Rinvolucri. This book contains over 70 story outlines, or ‘skeletons’, and a wide range of engaging classroom activities. According to the blurb on the back of the book:

“Stories can provide a highly motivating, engaging and realistic source of genuine language interaction in the classroom”

I agree with this, in theory, but it’s also my experience that some adult English language learners aren’t quite so enthusiastic.

For many of the English language learners I teach, their motivations for learning English include improving their employment or career prospects, entering a UK university, and integrating into day-to-day life in the UK.

Genres likely to be identified as important by them are job advertisements, application letters, reports and presentations, essays and projects, and formal letters of enquiry and complaint. Based on this, I can understand why they don’t feel the need to have English language skills in story writing and telling in their linguistic repertoires.

However, Bruner (1986) suggests that conversational storytelling is the major way we account for our actions and the events we experience. We frequently tell stories in our conversations with others: from brief anecdotes, to detailed descriptions of mishaps, encounters, and adventures.

An important element of being fluent in English is being able to share one’s stories of everyday life, and I feel this is where the use of stories in learning English is useful: for helping learners gain the informal social conversational storytelling skills essential for integration in any environment: workplace, academic, or social.

Based on this, the main way I use story telling in lessons is in its spoken form. We enjoy sharing personal stories in an informal atmosphere and I think this helps reinforce that conversational storytelling is a relevant genre for all learners of English.

What do you think? Do you enjoy lessons where you share stories about your life?




Bruner, J. (1986) Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, London: Harvard University Press.

Maybin, J. (1996) ‘Everyday Talk’, in Maybin, J. and Mercer, N. (1996) Using English: from conversation to canon. London: Routledge.


  1. Hi Angela

    I think sharing stories are so important, for many reasons. I can see how this would be a useful language learning tool šŸ™‚
    Anita recently posted..10 stories of hopeMy Profile

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge