Have I got a story for you…and a favor, a big one

(There is now a page on this blog dedicated to this project.  It even has a name, “Your Voice: short stories by teachers for learners.”  Thanks for the feedback and helping push things to the next level.)


I wrote my first story for English language learners in March of this year.  I had about 30 minutes of time to kill before my day ended and was complaining about the lack of suitable short fiction for my English classes.  I’ve been using literature in my classes for a while now, but I wanted something different.  I was looking for a story of under 500 words, something that my students and I could work through in one class, and after some meaning based exercises, that would still have a good chunk of text, maybe 50 words of so, which we could work with in-depth.  I had searched through some flash fiction collections sitting on my bookshelf, but none of the stories was quite right.  The problem with really short fiction is that most of them work by drawing on a reader’s knowledge of fiction itself.  Flash fiction works because it is often written to a reader’s expectations, and the target audience is usually people who read and love literary fiction.  The vocabulary is dense and filled with low frequency words.  The themes can be highly abstract one side or incredibly specific on the other.  The amount of time it would take to explain the background information to make the stories accessible to my students made them unusable in the classroom. 
As I was wasting the last 15 minutes of my day complaining, Michael Griffin of ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections fame, suggested I write my own.  So I did.  I knew I wanted students to get a bit more practice using, “there is…” and “there are…” as well as exposure to the simple past tense.  I sat down and a few hours later (15 minutes was way passed at this point) I wrote, “How to Float.”  But I wasn’t finished yet.  I ran the story through Joyce Maeda’s Vocabulary Frequency Checker and swapped out lower frequency words for higher frequency words until I thought, at least vocabulary-wise, my students would be able to understand about 98% of the story.  Then I checked the story’s Flesch-Kincaid grade level and Flesch-Kinkaid reading ease score.  You can do this in Microsoft Word, but there are also a number of sites which provide a similar service.  Some, like this one at Online-Utility.org even provides suggestions for improving the readability score of the text.
When I used the story in class, I was pleasantly surprised that students were not reaching for their dictionaries.  Instead, they simply read the story from start to finish.  And instead of the usual comprehension questions, I was able to ask the kind of questions I had always wanted to ask in my English class.  Questions like, “Why do you think this character felt this way?” and “How did the story make you feel?” and “Does the town in the story remind you of your own town?”  I wasn’t checking to see if students understood the story, rather I was exploring with my students how they had understood the story.
Lately, some of the members of my PLN have been writing short stories for English Language Learners.  Josette LeBlanc at Throwing Back Tokens has a short story about matchmaking and Michael Griffin has put posted one about summer love at ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections.  Their stories, like mine, were written to meet the needs of a particular group of learners.  And each of their stories provides a window into a particular learning situation, a particular teaching style, and even an underlying belief on how language might work.  When I read Josette’s story, I realize how fiction could be used to help train teachers on various ways to explore and teach vocabulary in the classroom.  When I read Mike’s story, I see that fiction can be used as a tool of personalization and the main driver in a conversation based class.  But I think that both stories could be used in a wide variety of classroom. 
Which got me thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to put together a collection of short stories for language learners.  I’m not talking about literature with a capital “L”.  I’m talking about short stories of under 500 words with a beginning, middle and end, that meet the needs of our particular students.  And along with each story, a detailed description of who the story was written for and how it will be used.  The collection of stories could be used as is by any teacher who was looking for fiction better suited to the language classroom.  But it could also be used as a kind of how-to book on writing stories for ELLs.  And, it would be filled with activities which could be used with any stories a teacher might want to use in their class. 
So here is the favor I want to ask: would you write a short story for your learners and let it be part of my dream.  Because that’s what I realized this is.  This is my dream.  I love a good story and love to share it even more.  Mike and Josette’s stories have convinced me that there’s a bunch of teachers out there who feel the same way I do.  And if we could get all those stories together in one place and share them with our students, we would might find that our students feel the same way as well.  You can send the story to me by email kevchanwow[at]gmail.com.  Eventually, we will have a book, a book of stories by teachers for all kinds of learners.  And at the start of class, we would be able to start our lessons with the kind of smile that comes from being able to say, “Hey, have I got a story for you…”
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12 thoughts on “Have I got a story for you…and a favor, a big one

  1. Hi Kim,Thanks for taking the time to comment and the offer of help. I'll need all the help I can get. Thanks for being the first one to offer a hand in the comments.Much appreciated.Kevin

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  2. That's amazing. And a story for learners who are in an on-line environment is something I totally forgot to consider. That's an incredibly important group of learners. Thanks Brad.

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  3. Hi Chris,Between your bogs, classes, and everything you do with your(our?) PLN, I can imagine you have more that 18 free seconds in a day. So I actually just bottled 24 hours for you. I'll be mailing it off tomorrow. I know it looks just like a regular bottle of "spring water," but don't be fooled. Just crack the cap on that baby, and over a two week period you will magically find 24 hours of free time coming your way. 24 glorious hours to write a 500 word and under short story. Sound good?Your a prince,Kevin

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  4. Hello Elizabeth-Anne,Short stories written for late elementary schoolers with a focus on SAT words is just brilliant. That's a group of learners and a learning goal I would have never been able to think of. Which I think is what's going to make these stories so interesting. The stories can be sent directly to me at kevchanwow[at]gmail.com (just replace the [at] with a good old fashioned '@' and you are good to go). I am just about to post a "Call for Voices" on a new page which will include some more details on the project.Thanks again for your interest. And piquing my interest.Kevin

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  5. Hi Christopher,That is a great site. The brevity of the texts and the exercises that follow are great for students who are looking for some directed self-study. And with a little working, each of those texts would be very usable in a almost any learning situation. Thanks for the new addition to my bookmarks. I'm actually hoping to get some original fiction written specifically for a teachers particular class/situation. I'm hoping that these stories and then, if possible, the further stories of how the stories written and why, will…well I can't say exactly what I am hoping they will be able to do, but I have a feeling about it. I'm working on a page for this project and hope you will give it a view. Considering your history of teaching such a wide variety of students, both in age and location, I would love to read a story you wrote with a particular group of students in mind, and the story behind the story as well.Thanks again,Kevin

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  6. Hi! My name is Derly and I have recently thought to do something similar because I was taking a course call "Children's Literature for Teaching English to Young Learners" which inspired me a lot. I have done a story that isn't about science fiction but I think this can help to create reflection in our students while teaching English. If you are interested in, I would be very pleasant to send you my story. Initially, this is in Spanish but I can adapt the story to English. Thanks for share your initiative.

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  7. Hi Derly,Sounds like a fantastic course. I would love to get a copy of your story. Are you going to use it in your own English classes? I would really like to hear about your students reactions. It certainly seems that there are a lot of teachers out there inspired to write fiction for their students. It's great to feel this sense of community being built. Thanks for the comment and I am looking forward to reading your story. Kevin

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