On the British Council’s site for young learners - LearnEnglish Kids - there are lots of stories which you can use to motivate your learners. These stories have been specially written for children learning English and include traditional fairy tales as well as original stories.

Sue Clarke

You can find all the stories at https://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en/short-stories. Here are some tips for using and exploiting the stories in the classroom.

A. Activities to prepare children for reading

1. Using illustrations
It is always a good idea to exploit pictures to help the child understand and visualise the story. Illustrations can be used to introduce the story, elicit vocabulary, introduce difficult words, and generally excite the interest of the child for the story. Ask learners questions such as ‘Who are the people?' ‘What are they doing?' ‘What is this?' ‘What is the story about?’ etc. Learners will be introduced to vocabulary, will be better able to understand the text, and will be more engaged in the reading task, because they want to find out if they were right. The stories on LearnEnglish Kids have 'preparation' picture and word matching games with some of the key vocabulary from the story. 

2. Pre-teaching vocabulary
Many of the stories on LearnEnglish Kids are related to a lexical theme. You will usually find links to other related exercises on thematic vocabulary which can be taught first. For example, you can find related activities to practise the names of farm animals before you read a story about farm animals. To find related activities browse the A-Z of Topics list on the right of any page, type your topic into the search box at the top of any page or go to the resources page for a more detailed search:

3. Introduce the theme
Stories are often related to a topic. It can be a good idea to familiarise learners with the topic before reading, by trying activities related to the topic on the site, by setting a task to find out about the topic (this could even be for homework), or by discussion (in your own language with lower level learners if you like).

4. Input cultural background
Some stories assume a knowledge of cultural norms in the UK, for example, the daily school routine. Children are usually interested in finding out the differences between their own culture and the lives of children in the UK. Some stories have more overt cultural background. If your story mentions typical sights in London you could use a map or guidebook to find out what these are before children read or listen to the story.

B. Activities during reading

1. Use a variety of ways to read
There are many different ways to approach a story. It is quite likely that younger learners will want to read, hear, or listen to the story several times, particularly animated ones. This should not be discouraged as it helps learners to equate oral and written forms which is important for the development of reading skills. In the classroom it is important to vary the kind of reading.

  • The teacher could use a data projector for a class to listen to/read a story as a whole-class activity
  • The teacher could read the whole or parts of the story to a class with the text
  • The learners can read by themselves silently, either on-screen at school or as homework
  • Some stories can be read as texts with illustrations and then children can watch the movie version, or this order could be reversed

2. Sustaining reading
If the story is very long then it is important to keep the class motivated to read. The teacher could stop at convenient ‘cliff-hanger' points and ask the class ‘what happens next?' This use of prediction skills makes the learners want to read on to the end of the story to find out if their own idea is correct. 

3. Total physical response
With very young or active learners the story can be mimed while the teacher reads and the children listen. A story like ‘The snowman' could be used for this. The actions of waking up, running into the garden, building the snowman and the ‘melting' are all easy to mime.

4. Characters and voices
In stories which have a lot of characters you could ask learners to read the dialogue of the characters. The teacher could read the dialogue in different voices first, or even with funny voices and nonsense words! To extend, the class could rewrite the story as a play which could be performed - perhaps with costumes.

5. Vocabulary help
If a child is reading individually at school or at home they could also use a dictionary (online or printed) as they read, if the learner is at a high enough level to use this independently.

C. Post-reading activities

1. Quick comprehension check
It is always a good idea to do a quick comprehension check when your learners have finished reading the story, or at the end of each page of text. This may take the form of a few ‘gist' questions about the text in oral or written form, or asking children for a response e.g. why is this person sad, which character did they like, etc. All LearnEnglish Kids stories have worksheets for follow-up work.

2. Make a poster/illustrate the story
You can use any story as an opportunity for some creative drawing and illustration, perhaps with vocabulary labels in English.

3. Stimulus for writing
Many stories can act as a stimulus for creative writing, depending on level. Younger or low-level learners could use one of the simpler stories as a model for a story of their own. Learners with a higher level of English could write more complex stories, for example, their own story set in a haunted house (Where did they go? What did they see? What happened?). Other ideas for follow-up writing are writing a letter to a character, writing diary entries for a character, or writing extra dialogues between the characters.

4. Role-play/acting out
Interpreting stories as role-play can be as simple or complicated as you like. It could start with miming basic actions, then speaking or improvising dialogue. In the classroom the teacher will need to be organised in advance with moving furniture, providing simple props etc. You could even use facepaints.

D. Fairy tales

Fairy tales are a rich source of motivating learning content for our younger learners. You will find LearnEnglish Kids stories and materials on three very well known fairy tales:

1. Primary and Early Years
You could start your lesson by introducing the story of Goldilocks, which your learners will probably know already. If you can, try to get hold of a big storybook with illustrations. Read or tell the story to your learners, exploiting the visuals and asking questions throughout. Make sure the children understand key words for the story e.g. Goldilocks, bear, porridge, bowl, chair, bed.

Now show your learners the story on LearnEnglish Kids. After they have watched the story once or twice you could ask them to do the downloadable worksheet (under the story). Once children are familiar with the story, they could act out a play version of Goldilocks. You can download masks of the three bears and Goldilocks, and you could also collect a few props for use in acting out the story e.g. bowls, spoons, cushions as ‘beds'. Depending on the level of your learners, you could ask the children to work in groups of four to practise the dialogue, or do this as a whole-class activity. Find the masks and play here: 

You could do similar activities with the Jack and the beanstalk story and the Little Red Riding Hood story. You can download finger puppets for the latter here: 

2. Lower Secondary learners
With learners who are a little more advanced you can exploit their knowledge of universal fairy tales and perhaps some local ones. Begin the lesson by asking the learners which fairy tales they know and write up the names on the board in English. Other well-known fairy tales include Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast.

Ask your learners to tell the basic plot of one of the stories. Write up key vocabulary and characters on the board e.g. prince, castle, ogre, ugly sisters, wicked queen, frog. Your learners could compare the stories - which characters or objects appear most?

Now discuss the typical plot of a fairy story. What usually happens? If you like you could show your learners one of the fairy stories on LearnEnglish Kids. After the vocabulary and story input, as a lead-in to a creative activity, you can use the Story Maker interactive activity. Learners choose all the variables in the story - character, setting etc - but the basic framework of the story stays the same.

Finally you can ask your learners to write their own fairy tale, or a modern fairy story. Ask your learners to think about what would be different if the tale were set in modern-day society. Think of the places, characters, events, etc. In pairs or groups learners could write their modern-day version and illustrate them for display work. Or your class could use them to make a book of modern-day fairy tales.

Updated by the TeachingEnglish team

When you have used some of these ideas, why not come back to this page and leave a comment below to tell us how your class went. Let us know if you have any additional ideas!

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