Finding appropriate texts
It isn’t too difficult to find access to short stories and poetry on-line, especially classics which have passed beyond the copyright date. For example www.world-english.org offers free access to a number of British and American titles, as do www.bibliomania.com, www.classicshorts.com and www.dailylit.com to name but a few. If it is stories for younger children that you are looking for then www.eastoftheweb.com/ has a good range, as does www.apples4theteacher.com/. These and many more are easy to find simply by googling.
There is a compelling case, however, to use contemporary short stories rather than classics, especially if the purpose is language teaching. Contemporary short stories use, rather obviously, contemporary language (classics frequently present daunting lexis that is of little practical use to the language learner) and are frequently set in environments or deal with situations recognisable to young readers. Here is where we can run into problems of copyright. The Berne Convention on copyright states that copyright should exist for the lifetime of the author plus 50 years. However, many countries, including all those in the European Union, have adopted a longer time frame, and copyright extends for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. You will need to check on a country by country basis, and a useful resource to check existing copyright status is published by the University of Pennsylvania.
One way round the copyright problem is to choose stories that are published on free sites, which are usually ones where new writers are sharing their masterpieces with other new writers (e.g. www.bookrix.com/). Again, a piece of judicious trawling with a search engine and the words ‘free short stories’ will produce a multitude of results, though there is no guarantee of the quality of the products you will find.
If it is poetry you are looking for then the task is easier. The most comprehensive site for British poetry (plus some American) is probably the Poetry Archive though it would be foolish to ignore the British Poetry Society website. Individual poets sometimes make some of their own poetry available from their website, (for example Benjamin Zephaniah, Roger McGough and Seamus Heaney). Poetry available like this is considered to be in the public domain so the usual copyright restrictions don’t apply unless otherwise stated.
So, you could do all this searching and selecting, or you could simply go to the British Council BritLit webpages where dozens of stories and poems are ready and waiting for you to use.
Using the texts
If there is one rule that you should remember about using short stories or poetry in the classroom it is: prepare the students first. It’s a sad fact that far too many teachers hand over the selected text to their students without any preparation, and instruct them to read the story/poem for homework. The teacher will then be heard complaining in the staff room the following week that half the students clearly hadn’t read the set text at all. What a surprise. Most of the students would probably have been unmotivated to read, if not resentful. You only need to cast your mind back to your own school days to remember your own reaction to receiving a seemingly arbitrary text to read.
One of the purposes of preparing the students, therefore, is to provide a background for the reading to take place. In an ideal situation, the preparation would help motivate the student to want to read, and a bit of creative imagination would be required here (many people forget that creative reading is as important as creative writing). While some publishers provide useful follow up material to reading stories, few – if any – provide much in the way of pre-reading activities, which is where the BritLit project comes into its own again.
The links mentioned above are only a small selection of what is available. If you have a link that is worth sharing, then please add a comment below and let us know!