The Closing of the Ocean (a short story for ELLs)

The following is a short story for ELLs.  Usually, I write these stories so that they are as easy to understand as possible.  I try and keep as much of the vocabulary as possible within the first 2000 most frequently used words in English as identified by the General Service List.  Often times I will also write with a certain grammar point in mind.  This time, I decided to focus on ellipses.  There are two main types of ellipses.  Textual ellipses are when a word or phrase is omitted because it can be inferred from the clause or sentence either proceeding or following it.  There are also situational a ellipsis.  In that case, general knowledge of the situation allows us to imply something without clearly stating it.  For example, if someone is about to stick there hand into a running laundry machine, we might say, “I wouldn’t!” leaving out the, “stick your hand in a running laundry machine,” as the situation itself provides the information included in the second part of the sentence.  This story has a fair number of textual ellipses and, as far as I can tell, not even just one situational ellipsis (see comments).

It’s my hope that by keeping the story and the vocabulary simple, students will be able to recognize points in the story where things have been left out and perhaps even why.  Usually I just put the stories up as is, but in this case I am including a second version of the story with “[]” markings to signify an ellipsis.  The second version can be found at the end of this post.

Suggested activities:

  • Students could be asked to fill in the ellipses after reading the story.
  • Students could be given a list of clauses or phrases and asked to match them to the ellipses in the story
  • Students could be asked to circle the word, phrase or clause which makes the ellipsis possible.
  • Students could read the ellipsis-filled version of the story, then be given a version in which all of the implied phrases or clauses are included.  Finally students could be asked to read the ellipsis-filled version again, filling in the implied phrases or clauses.

I am sure there are lots of other, probably more interesting, activities that could be done to help students recognize and use ellipses, and hope you might let me know your ideas in the comments.

Text Information:

  • First 1000 most frequently used words (GSW): 89.61%
  • Second 1000 most frequently used words (GSW): 8.23%
  • Academic Word List: 0%
  • Outside lists: 2.16%
  • Total Word Count: 457
  • Flesch Reading Ease score: 88.7
  • Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Leve: 3.6 (~9 years old)

The Closing of the Ocean

5c611-policeDuring the first week of November, all the police officers leave their clean pressed uniforms on the front steps of their houses.  Anyone in town is free to pick them up, put them on, and see what it is like, this work of being an officer of the law.  But this year the uniforms were left untouched.  It was the first time.

My brother and I are sitting in the coffee shop on Heart Street.   I pour some milk in my coffee.  My brother drinks his black.  My brother is a police officer.  Lately his eyes get kind of empty when he talks about work, which isn’t often.  He’s in charge of keeping people off the beach at night.  Too many accidents of late, so they decided to close down the ocean until summer.  Even put up a white sign with big red letters.  The sign reads, “Ocean Closed Until Further Notice.”  And my brother is the one who makes sure it stays shut down nice and tight.  I imagine him, walking on the sand, spending his nights making sure that no one is breathing in the salty air.  No one is looking and looking at the dark water as the lights of fishing boats flash on and off.  No one is counting the rocks shining like bones in the moonlight.

My brother takes the last sip of his coffee. “A few weeks ago, we had a big problem,” he says and shakes his head.  “A bunch of old men, big Russians with big chests, decided to take a quick swim.  I had to pull them out of the water one by one.  Big steaming men acting like children.”  My brother looks in his cup like there might be an answer at the bottom.  “And then they just walked away.  They didn’t say anything.  Just walked away like it was all my fault.”

Now it is February.  Soon enough winter will end.  Soon enough the ocean will be open again.  My brother looks at the clock.  It’s almost seven.  “I’ve got to go close down the ocean,” my brother says and stands up.  As if it actually means something, this idea of closing the ocean.  But maybe it does.  Maybe it means something important.  And not only to my brother.

In November this year, the police officers’ uniforms remained where they had been placed, untouched.  They just sat there, waiting.  It was the first time.  But every night the beach was filled.  Filled with footprints.  Filled with the whispers of lovers trying to hold on to a few more moments.  Filled with kids laughing like they already had a hundred tomorrows rolled up tight and put away safely in their pockets, saved up for the coming of spring.

Ellipsis Marked Version: The Closing of the Ocean

During the first week of November, all the police officers leave their clean pressed uniforms on the front steps of their houses.  Anyone in town is free to pick them up, put them on, and see what it is like, this work of being an officer of the law.  But this year the uniforms were left untouched.  It was the first time [].

My brother and I are sitting in the coffee shop on Heart Street.  I pour some milk in my coffee.  My brother drinks his [] black.  My brother is a police officer.  Lately his eyes get kind of empty when he talks about work, which isn’t often.  He’s in charge of keeping people off the beach at night.  [] Too many accidents of late, so they decided to close down the ocean until summer.  [] Even put up a white sign with big red letters.  The sign reads, “Ocean Closed Until Further Notice.”  And my brother is the one who makes sure it stays shut down nice and tight.  I imagine him, walking on the sand, spending his nights making sure that no one is breathing in the salty air. [] No one is looking and looking at the dark water as the lights of fishing boats flash on and off.  [] No one is counting the rocks shining like bones in the moonlight.

My brother takes the last sip of his coffee. “A few weeks ago, we had a big problem,” he says and shakes his head.  “A bunch of old men, big Russians with big chests, decided to take a quick swim.  I had to pull them out of the water one by one.  [] Big steaming men acting like children.”  My brother looks in his cup like there might be an answer at the bottom.  “And then they just walked away.  They didn’t say anything.  [] Just walked away like it was all my fault.”

Now it is February.  Soon enough winter will end.  Soon enough the ocean will be open again.  My brother looks at the clock.  It’s almost seven.  “I’ve got to go close down the ocean,” my brother says and stands up.  As if it actually means something, this idea of closing the ocean.  But maybe it does [].  Maybe it means something important.  And [] not only to my brother.

In November this year, the police officers’ uniforms remained where they had been placed, untouched.  They just sat there, waiting.  It was the first time [].  But every night the beach was filled.  [] Filled with footprints.  [] Filled with the whispers of lovers trying to hold on to a few more moments.  [] Filled with kids laughing like they already had a hundred tomorrows rolled up tight and put away safely in their pockets, saved up for the coming spring.

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6 thoughts on “The Closing of the Ocean (a short story for ELLs)

  1. Hello AET,Not sure if there are any theories of ellipses here, but you know what, if my story can help explain a natural phenomenon or two, it would certainly be a high point of my writing career (which a decidedly irregular and low key affair). Thanks for the novel, mathematical take on the story. And good luck with the whole tutoring thing. Kevin

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  2. Hi Sophia,Even when you are exhausted, you maintain your editor's eye. Yes indeed, "My brother drinks his [] black," is an ellipsis. And maybe the most interesting [] of all. It can be read as a textual ellipsis, as the word coffee in the preceding sentence can be used as a reference for the following sentence. But it is also a situational ellipsis, as we know they are in a coffee shop (and it could just as easily have been a cafe or a Starbucks) and that also would be enough to let us know they are talking about coffee. But here is where I get really excited, it is also a kind of collocational ellipsis (sorry, my term there) in which the implied word has simply become unnecessary through the process of regular usage. I would imagine that there a lot of ellipsis to be found in language chunks as well as frequent collocations which might not yet rise to the level of a set chunk of language (the slotted 'drink/take(s) ~ black' being just one example). So here, what I though was a pretty simple and stable rule about ellipses, starts springing leaks with just a little more inspection. This was a wonderful way to start my Saturday morning. Thanks [Sophia for visiting the site, reading the story, leaving a comment, and being a part of my PLN.]Kevin

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  3. Another incredibly atmospheric story. I know what @pterolaur means by saying the characters are like ghosts..there's a kind of sepia quality.And a great way of exploiting it. And I think I've spotted another ellipsis (!) [There have been] too many accidents of late…

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  4. Hi Rachel,It's nice to think that the story has a sepia quality to it. This is the first story I wrote for adults as opposed to younger learners. So a little less upbeat-feel might be good. And thanks for the ellipsis spotting help. Carrot cake is in the mail.Kevin

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