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Short Stories

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ChristophKant
Words 4322
Pages 18
FB 02 Anglistik/Amerikanistik
L3 Englisch

Teaching Short Stories
– A beneficial piece of teaching material

by
Christoph Kant
Matr. Nr. 282-345-86

Kurs: Short Stories in the EFL-Classroom
Dozent: Stephen Mason

Kassel, 20.09.2012
Content:

1. Introduction3

2. A brief history of EFL teaching-styles3

3. Teaching „the skills“4

4. Motivational advantages8

5. Providing literary knowledge8

6. The cultural aspect 10

7. Encouraging/developing critical thinking 11

8. Conclusion 12

References 14

1.) Introduction:

In this paper I would like to discuss the advantages that teaching the short story as a major part of a teaching concept brings to the EFL classroom and present several example tasks of how to integrate short stories into ones „teaching portfolio“.
Whereas some people might believe that teaching the short story benefits students only from a linguistic standpoint, those people really do not get the big picture. Yes, there are obvious linguistic benefits you can draw from teaching short stories, but the most important factor is motivation. This hales from the structure of short stories themselves. As almost all of them have a beginning, a main part and an ending, students are most likely encouraged to read the story all the way through, to see what the outcome might be. Sure, the structure of most novels or plays might be similar, but the length of the short story is the big advantage. If a student knows, that he does not have to read 200 and more pages to finish the story but rather a maximum of ten to fifteen pages, he is more likely to stay motivated. Another factor to favor the short story as teaching material is time itself. With the use of a short story one can fill two to three teaching units and leave plenty of room for discussing the topic afterwards, whereas novels, etc. might take up to eight to ten teaching units, only to finish the story itself. Not to mention that the „four skills“ of teaching EFL (listening, speaking, reading & writing) can all be intgrated, in the way a short story is dealt with in class (Murdoch 2002, p. 8). Additionally to all those benefits I just mentioned, short stories mostly provide us with a certain amount of culture from its origin-country, literary knowledge, as well as it benefits logigal thinking, which are very important factors in becoming a complete speaker. It is very helpful to not only know how a language is spoken, but more importantly why it is spoken and what are e.g. the intentions behind certain expressions, which you can not learn from a regular textbook alone. To display all these aspects I just mentioned, I will start at the very beginning of teaching EFL by giving a brief history of teaching English as a foreign language. Later on I will focus on the four skills in particular and the several additional advantages I just mentioned, which help students to become a complete speaker of EFL.

2.) A brief history of EFL teaching-styles:

Back in the nineteenth century, EFL was taught almost exclusively by using the grammar translation method, which ment that students basically only translated texts from the original language into the target language, the native language. Therefor at that time literature was the essential material material, which enabled students to get in contact with the foreign language in the first place (Muykens 1983, p. 418). Later on this method was replaced by Methods like the Audiolingual Method or also the direct Method, which neither of them used literature as teaching material anymore, because those teaching approaches focused more on the structure of language and practicing vocabulary than on simply translating texts. Then there were lots of other approaches, which all had their benefits of themselves, but neither of all them utilized literary texts in hardly any form in their teaching concepts (Myuskens 1983, p. 422-423)
Now, for about the last 30 years, literature has again been integrated into teaching EFL, but in a whole different form from the draining, monotonistic literary translation approaches of the past. Now literary texts, and for a great part in the form of short sories, are utilized as complementary teaching material, which can add e.g. cultural knowledge, higher order thinking aspects or also aesthetic knowledge about a language to ones teaching-portfolio. Especially when working with more advanced classes, like a 10th or 11th grade, students can really benefit from those teaching approaches because they can improve the quality of their foreign language skills dramatically, beacause at that point students should most likely already have aquired all the necessary tools to speak, write, etc. the language fluently. Adding cultural knowledge to those already existing skills will „boost“ foreign language abilities tremendously and this is the reason, literary text have ultimately found their way back into the EFL classroom (Muykens 1983, p. 409-410).

3.) Teaching „the skills“:

The „writing-skill“:
If the teacher chooses the right place and also the right time for teaching a certain short story, students will benefit from it in a major way. By using short stories as teaching material they are enabled to target the „four skills“ I mention earlier in this paper and help students to improve their language abilities (Murdoch 2002, p. 9). The existing skill-set of a respective class is not as important as it may seem, but rather the selection of the suitable tasks and texts for the certain class it should be taught in, but this is going to be explained in more detail later on.
If we focus on the „writing-skill“ first, we can find out that teachers have a lot of possibilities to set certain tasks, which improve the writing-abilities of their students. Tasks like discussing a certain paragraph or forming new dialogues, suiting the original text are only some of many possibilities to work on the students' writing abilities. The complexity of the task herefor has to suited for the respective students it is used, so that the possible benefits for the class can be most effective (Oster 1989, p. 85). In the following section I would now like to present a few task-examples for a „fictive short story“ and later on shortly describe, what kind of language ability-levels they are suited for. The first tasks are all designed to improve the students' writing-skill:

Write a dialogue between the main character and person a, after person b and person c left the room! Paraphrase the first 5 sentences of the text and explain, why the beginning is so relevant for the outcome of the story! Summarize the whole story in not more than five sentences, mentioning, setting, conflict, main characters, etc. ! Describe the topic/theme of the story in one sentence! Write a short paragraph on the topic of the short story. Do not write more than 10 sentences! Express your own opinion on the topic of the story in a short essay. Remember to be controversial and address the topic from different points of view!

(Oster 1989, p. 88-89)

Tasks 1 and 2 of the examples I just mentioned are suitable for levels of language abilities, like for example an 8th grade. Tasks 3 and 4 are for the already more advanced students that you find in grades 9, 10 and maybe 11. And the last two tasks are especially designed for advanced students of higher grade from 11 up, because they combine understanding, own opinion and problem solving so that students can maximize the benefits from the results of their tasks.

The „reading-skill“:
Another skill that can be addressed is reading and especially vocabulary. The basic idea of „diving into a story“ and making vocabulary accessible out of the context of a short story are qualities of teaching material that you will not find in a regular textbook. A comparison between two student-groups of whom one worked with literary texts and the other one did not, also showed that those who worked with literary texts improved their vocabulary und reading abilities for more than those who did not (Lao & Krashen 2000, p. 273). Therefor I am going to present three more tasks, which can help develop the students' reading abilities as well as their vocabulary in general. Again I am going to relate those tasks to a fictional short story:

Fill in the blanks concerning word form of the respective words you have underlined in the text in the forms of verb, adjectice, noun and participle! An example is given. Participle/Adjective/Noun /Verb readingreadablereaderread speaking_________________

The list can be extended to as many words as the teacher thinks are necessary to make the exercise useful, but he has to keep in mind that the interest in the exercise will decline, if the list is getting to long for the students to really focus until the end of the exercise (Lao & Krashen 2000, p. 275-276). Another task to improve reading skills would be:

Form pairs from words in column A and column B which are related in meaning. Mark suitable pairs with the same letter! relative (a)dog ? instrument ?uncle (a) animal ?Guitar ?

In this exercise, which I simplified a little bit to make the task more visible, students learn to draw information out of the context of the story and learn to apply the right vocabulary at the right time/place. This is a great exercise, which keeps attention high, due to its crossword-puzzle-character (Lao & Krashen 2000, p. 278-279). The last task I would like to present concerning reading is as follows:

Choose a word that fits the meaning for each of the sentences marked in the text! If a single word cannot express the meaning for certain senteces, a short phrase will be suitable as well. Example: „The father made his son in law feel his wrath by beating him up real badly.“ - „Revenge“

This exercise is designed to make students apply the vocabulary they obtained during previous exercises and solidifiing their use of the respective vocabulary. This is also an exercise you should only apply with further advanced courses, due to the degree of difficulty of the task (Lao & Krashen 2000, p. 280-281).

The „listening-skill“:
As there are 2 more „skills“ which determine your foreign language abilities I now want to focus on the listening skill. Overall the benefits and the ideas to develop this skill through literary texts in the form of short stories are basically the same as for reading. The difference here is indeed that the text has to be presented in an audio-form. As a teacher you have to possibilities to create the exercises so that your students can benefit from it in the sense of developing their listening skill (Oster 1989, p. 95) : You can read the story out loud yourself, or let it be read by a very advanced student of your class without giving them the text at hand, so that they are forced to concentrate on the reading only As an alternative you can use a recording of the short story, if available. You should also combine the reading/audio with some ahead-given questions so that your student know what to focus on, while listening to the story.

The idea of those two tasks is that students get in contact with the language and what it sounds like, if native-spoken. It is also useful to draw students attention, as they are more likely to focus on spoken language than to written language (Oster 1989, p. 96).

The „speaking-skill“:
As a very basic and simple idea to develope a students speaking skill by teaching short stories is to let the students stage a short play which shows one or more paragraphs of the short story. By doing this your students are imediately exposed to a speaking situation which will have them come up with some creative ideas for certain dialogues. This is only recommended if the respective short story has been worked on for a couple of sessions and is fully understood, because otherwise using such an idea might lead to a great amount of confusion and could be counterproductive. (Oster 1989, p. 103-104)

4.) Motivational advantages:

As motivation your students is a key element to succesful teaching in general, the advantages that using short stories provides come in handy. As short stories, like I already mentioned in the introduction usually have a beginning, a main part and an ending, constant attention will be drawn, because an interest to find out about the outcome of the story is created. The criteria to make this effect work, is the length of the story. As short stories usually do not content more than 10 pages, the „finish line“ is always in sight (Elliot 1990, p. 199). This ideally generates constant attention from the students so that a basic ingredient of successful teaching is given already, by only using the short story in general. Sure, there are certain criteria, which determine the grade to which degree this effect works. Teachers have to make sure that the level of language ability of their class matches the chosen story. If the story is too difficult, students might surrender and attention will be lost. In contrast, if the degree of difficulty is too low, there might also be a drop in general attention because students might feel unchallenged. We see that choosing the appropriate level of difficulty for your respective class is crucial in successfully teaching the short story (Vandrick 1997, p. 3). Furthermore it is important to choose themes which are challanging and interesting at the same time. A variety of different themes within the same short story also seems to be benefitial for generating interest, because different student-characters might be attracted to different topics so that a lot of students are able to identify with the same story (Elliot 1990, p. 203)

5.) Providing literary knowledge:

Short stories are a great way to introduce and provide literary knowledge. Expressions like character, setting and plot are such, which can already be introduced to classes with lower levels of language ability, whereas more complex expressions like climax and resolution should be mention only in more advanced classes because this might lead to confusion and might be overwhelming for the students (Gajdusek 1988, p. 230).
Furthermore you can classify the activities and exercises placed around working with a short story in three categories which enable you as a teacher to provide literary knowledge. These three categories are classified as 1). pre-reading phase, 2). reading phase and 3). post-reading phase:

1). Pre-reading phase
In the pre-reading phase, students should get to know something about the background of the story. It is also important to provide them with unknown vocabulary if necessary. It is ideal to ask certain questions before the actual short story is introduced. These questions should be based on the topics or the themes of the short story that is going to be used. Possible questions are as follows, depending on the topic of the sory of course:

a). What is friendship?
b). How can you determine what your real friends are?
c). Have you ever lost a close friend? How did it come this far?
(Gajdusek 1988, p. 236)
2). Reading phase
In the actual reading phase it is important that you as the teacher make the class familiar with certain expressions like character, setting, action, plot and also make your students familiar with the who, what, when and where of the story. By doing this, those expressions get implemented into students vocabulary without even expressing them directly. The key is to keep the questions very basic and not to go into to much detail at this point. Possible reading phase questions, which ought to be placed directly next to the paragraph the answer can be found in, are as follows:

a). Please identify the main character of the story!
b). Can you find out where the story is set?
c). In which year do you think the story takes place?
d). Who tells the story (who is the narrator) ?
(Gajdusek 1988, p. 237-238)

3). Post-reading phase
In the post-reading phase teachers should focus mainly on the why of the story. Why has the story been written? How have stylistiv devices (literary elements) been used to emphasise/express certain things in the story. Therefor the teacher has to be well prepared with background information surrounding the story, because students, even if the have read the entire story a couple of times are not always ultimately familiar with the context of the story. After this short input by the teacher there should be some last activities concerning the respective short story in the form of the students expressing their own opinion about the story, ideally in the form of a group discussion and optianally also a role-play dealing with key characters and situation from the story. By doing this, the students should get ultimately familiar with the story should also be enabled to take different points of view as if they were characters inside the story. This is of course only possible when working with advanced classes, because you have to make sure your students have really fully understood the story in order to succesfully implement these activities. A possible way to formulate tasks to accomplish these things are as follows:

a). Imagine you are the main characters wife and have been treated the way it is expressed in the story. Would you have left him or not and why? Stage a little play with your partner and invision you and your best friend are discussing a divorce from your husband!

b). Suppose you are a news broadcaster who has total knowledge about the whole situation. Stage a little play with 4 of your classmates that shows you and your team discussing a possible news article in next days paper!

6.) The cultural aspect:

As most short stories are not just stories, but transmit a certain amount of cultural knowledge, these are great not only to provide literary knowledge, but also to give students an impression about the culture of the people the story is written about. Additionally to this knowledge that is provided in the story itself, it is useful to give your students some information about the target-culture to make sure that they are able to the information from the respective short story in a cultural perspective (Gajdusek 1998, p. 230).
In order to do so, teachers should spent at least one lesson preparing students for working with a certain short story to make sure that they can cover past, present and possible futural aspects, habbits, traditions, etc. of the target culture. This can be done in a lot of different ways, e.g. by telling the students something about the main character's background or even simply about the specifica of the time the story takes place. If one hour of class should not be enough in order to do so, one should not be afraid to spent some extra time for preparation, because this will emphasize the students understanding of the actual story tremendously (Gajdusek 1998, p. 230-231).
If one might wonder, why you want to teach cultural aspects in the first place, there are several reasons to do so. The first big advantage of having cultural knowledge, is that it generally increases students vocabulary because there are certain words that are only used in cultural relations and therefor not really accessable if not through cultural knowledge (slang, regional specific expressions, etc.). Also cultural knowledge enables people to become a more complete speaker, because in many cases by learning culture aspects about a language you get a feeling for why words are used in certain connections as opposed to just using them because you learned them. Furthermore, learning about a different culture makes students more aware of their own culture and helps them to contrast it with the foreign one. Taking this into acount we can say that teaching short stories can not only provide knowledge dealing with the short stories themselves but even provide information that reaches far beyond the EFL classroom, e.g. in the form of cultural knowledge (Gajdusek 1998, p. 235-237).

7.) Encouraging/developing critical thinking:

Besides all the advantages I already presented about teaching short stories there is one that rises above them all, which is the aspect of critical thinking and developing cognitive abilities.
It has been found out, that it is helpfull to teach critical issues in the form of short stories for two reasons (Howie 1993, p. 20):
First, short stories are able to deliver critical topics and controversy in a form which keeps the attention on a high level, because students are able to focus on an entertaining story while being presented controversial topics. This means that you can wrap the actual teaching content into an entertaining envelope, which emphasizes the whole learning process. By doing this teachers are able to teach the necessary content, but also to keep up the students attention, due to the character of the short story.
Another advantage is that learning material, which is connected to something entertaining, is remembered more easily. This means you can not only keep the attention of your students high during the learning period, but you can also create a longer lasting memory concerning controversial topics etc. by using short stories as teaching material. Not to mention that a controversial topic in a respective short story itself encourages students more to make up their mind than working with a dry work-book text, which will not draw a lot of attention (Howie 1993, p. 23-26). Short stories with more complex topics should only be used in more advanced classes like an 11th or up, because lower grade students might get frustrated by the complexity of the stories which is totally the opposite of what you want to achieve by teaching short stories.
Here are some example questions which can be applied to improve and support the critical thinking abilities of students:

Would it have made a significant difference for the outcome of the story, if the character A would have behaved differently at point X of the story? If yes, how would a different behaviour have affected the outcome of the story? How would character A have behaved, if he/she would have seen a betrayal coming? Think about how you would have reacted, if put in such a situation?

These questions aim at the students alternating the outcome/course of the story, in order to make them identify with either certain characters or even the whole story. This helps them being able to become really involved in the story and be creative. Other possibilities are:

Do you agree with the way, character A behaved/reacted in situation X ? Please specify why you support or dislike his/her behaviour. Do you like the outcome of the story? Did you expect the way the story ended or did you even hope for a different ending?

These kinds of questions aim at leading students to judge the story or specific parts of the story. This requires a high level of language ability and should only be applied in higher level classes.
(Howie 1993, p. 35-39)

8.) Conclusion:

As I pointed out in this paper there are far more benefits connected to teaching short stories than can be seen at first sight. Hence, the obvious linguistic benefits that short stories bring are only a small part of their potential as teaching material. „The skills“ , which are knowingly the bedrock of teaching EFL, can be implemented in teaching short stories by adding some simple tasks, as I pointed out earlier in this paper. As I mentioned in my introduction, motivation, which is crucial in any form of teaching, can be created relatively easy, haling from the structure of short stories themselves. Their structure of beginning, main part and ending, combined with the short length of short stories will draw constant attention from students and therefor is perfectly suited as teaching material. Additionally there are benfits in terms of teaching culture, literary knowledge and critical thinking, connected to teaching short stories which gives you as a teacher a whole new dimension of teaching possibilities that most other teaching materials do not have.
In my opinion students should not only be able to survive in the foreign language after their EFL education, but rather be able to become fluent, accurate speakers, which come as close as possible to being able to communicate like a native speaker. In order to achieve this, short stories should be a definite part of a teachers teaching portfolio, as they are capable to provide students with additional information about the foreign language, with they would not get from regular textbooks or any other teaching material. To sum this up, I would like to emphasize, that we as future teachers should consider teaching short stories at certain points and levels of teaching to help students become more complete and sophisticated speakers in the foreign language.

References:

Elliott, R.: Encouraging Reader-Response to literature in ESL Situations. ELT Journal. 1990.

Gajdusek, L.: Toward wider use of literature in ESL. TESOL quarterly. 1988.

Howie, S.H.: Critical thinking: A critical skill for students. 1993.

Lao, C.Y. & Krashen, S.: The impact of popular literature study on literacy development in EFL. 2000.

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

Myuskens, J.A.: Teaching second-language literatures: Past, Present & Future. 1983.

Oster, J.: Seeing with different eyes: Another view of literature in the EFL classroom. 1989.

Vandrick, S.: Reading and responding to novels in the university EFL classroom. 2003. At: http://www.njcu.edu/CILL/vol4/vandrick.html (11.09.2012)

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...Jimmy Ayala Professor Mills English 1B April 15, 2014 Motifs and Symbols in ‘One Flesh’ In the short story “One Flesh”, we are introduced to Frank Wendell, an elderly man who has lost his wife to diabetes and is now a loner who looks for objects of value on the beach with his metal detector. The theme of lost-time, isolation and sentiment run through the story, even as Frank makes friends with shop owner Connor. These themes take a turn for a theme of hope as the story comes to a close and Frank meets Edie. A number of symbols and motifs are used in this story to represent the ups and downs of life and how knowledge and friendship can help anyone overcome their internal struggles. Three motifs that run through the story and illustrate the above ideas contained in the story are clocks, water and rings. The very first sentence of the story starts with the words “The digital clock in front of the Rockingham County Trust blinked off and, instantaneously, on again” (Mills 1). This suggests that time is an important theme in the story. We are further reminded of the importance of time in the second part of the same sentence – “it’s immense bright-red numerals informing Were Road that 9:12 had arrived on this mid-August Tuesday morning”(Mills 1). The way the sentence is framed suggests that time is both urgent and fast, and lazy and slow all at the same time. The blinking red numbers on the clock suggest urgency, but “mid-August Tuesday morning” sounds like it’s just......

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