How To Learn English By Reading Short Stories

How to learn English by reading short stories (1)


In this guide, I want to show you how you can learn English — improve your English — by reading short stories.

I have covered this topic before, but in this guide, I want to show you exactly how to do it using one of my own short story lesson plans.

We will be using my short story, THE CONMAN. So download this before proceeding.

By doing this, you can get a clear view of what you need to do to study or improve your English by reading short stories.

Let’s get started!

How to learn English by reading short stories (2)

Choose A Short Story That You Like

Of course, the key thing is that you must choose a short story that you like.

It’s no use reading short stories that you have no interest in.

There are literally thousands of short stories published online, so this makes it very easy for you to source any number of reading material.

But sometimes too much choice is not a good thing.

What Kind Of Stories Do You Like?

There are many different kinds of short stories available.

You have to think of what kind of stories appeal to you.

I was talking to a student only the other day who told me that he had no interest in horror stories or ghost stories because ‘they seem so unrealistic’.

So for him, he should avoid these kinds of stories.

They would not appeal to him.

Maybe you like love stories.

Or stories that involve animals.

Or literary short stories.

You can find anything you want to read.


Google is your friend!

So is Chat GPT

Use these apps to find the short stories you are interested in.

Use these kinds of search terms to help you:

  • Short stories about animals
  • Short stories with a happy end
  • Short stories with a surprise ending
  • Short stories about a person struggling to do something
  • Short stories about travelling

The clearer your search term, the better the results.

But once you find the short stories you are interested in, then you can begin to use these to improve your English.

Let’s look at these steps now.

First Reading

For the first reading of your short story, you just read the story straight through.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand every word. In the first reading, you are just trying to get an overall assessment of the story itself.

You can find many short stories that have a word count of between 1000 to 3000 words.

My short stories on ManWrites are usually around 1000 words.

I think this is a good length for English learners.


So, for the first reading, just read the short story straight through.

Then think about the following questions.

How Much Of It Did You Understand?

If you had to make a guess, what percentage of the story did you understand?




If you think the story was easy to understand, maybe it is too easy for you.

You should try to find something a little harder to read.


If you think you only understood about half of the story — 50% — I would suggest this story is too hard for you and you need to find something easier.

There is no need to punish yourself!


80% is the sweet spot.

Just easy enough that you can understand most of the story.


But challenging enough so that you can learn some new English words and phrases.

How Many Words Were New Or Difficult For You?

In the first reading, did you find many new words?

Did you find that in every sentence, there was a word that was too hard for you?

This can be very challenging for English learners.

It can be demotivating!


I would say that you should not be too discouraged by this.

I had the same issue at school when I was learning French.

I tried to read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and I found that I did not understand every other word.

It was very frustrating!


But by consistently looking at new words — many of them repeating — I found that I could learn new French words very quickly.


This is the beauty of studying English by reading. It can help you learn English vocabulary in a very short period of time.

Obviously, if every other word is new to you, then you need to find something easier to read.

But don’t be too put off by this.

This is the purpose of reading short stories!

To find and learn new English words.

Could You Give A Summary Of The Story?

So, you finish the first reading of the short story.

Could you tell another person what the story is about?

Just give a brief summary of what the story involves?

I am going to use my short story lesson plan, The Conman, in this guide.

So, if I were to give a summary of this story, I might say:

It’s about a man, he is a conman, and he goes to a train station in London to try to find someone. He wants to cheat someone of their money.

The conman meets a younger man who seems very helpful. The conman thinks he has found a suitable target.

But things get difficult when the younger man suggests talking to the police.

The conman doesn’t want to talk to the police, and he gets worried.

So he makes his excuses and leaves.

On the other side of the train station, he checks his pockets to find something and then he realises he has been robbed.


If you can give a basic summary of the story, then your understanding of the story is good.

There might be parts that are unclear to you. But don’t worry too much about that.

Writing A Summary

Another good thing to try is to write a summary of the story.

This can help you with your English writing. It can help you remember how to spell and use English words and vocabulary.

Buy a cheap notebook and use this for writing your short story summaries.

Doing this is very good practice for you.

But don’t worry too much about the first reading.

In the first reading, you are just trying to get a rough idea of what the short story is about.

You are not trying to find out what every word and phrase means.

You just want a general idea.

This is only the first reading!

We need to read the short story more than once.

There is more detail in the second reading.

Let’s look at what to do in that part now…

How to learn English by reading short stories (4)

Second Reading

In the second reading, you are looking at the short story in much more detail.

Remember, we are looking at my short story lesson plan, The Conman, for this guide. So if you don’t have the short story at hand, make sure to download it now.

The Conman

The Basic Steps

In the second reading, you should do the following:

  • Read the short story in sections
  • Find all the new vocabulary
  • Make notes of the new vocabulary
  • Find out the meanings of the new vocabulary


These are the steps.

Let’s look in closer detail how to do it.

Look At One Section

I have taken ONE section of the story that is just over 80 words.

Let’s take a look.

Harry was a conman.

He didn’t have a regular job. His job was to take money off other hard-working people. He did this a few hours a day, and he was good at it.

Every evening, he would go to one of the train stations in London. He never went to the same train station more than once every two weeks. There were so many stations and so many people commuting back home that it was simple.

“Easy pickings,” Harry said to himself.


This is a section that we can manage. It introduces the main character, Harry, and what he does.

If we read this section out loud, we can find the following information:

The main character is called Harry. He is a conman, which means that he tricks people out of their money.

He does this in train stations in London. He chooses a different train station every evening.

That is the summary of this section.

Much easier than looking at the whole story and trying to make a summary of that…

Find All New Vocabulary

Now we have to make a list of all the new vocabulary in this section.

Let’s take a look…


I made a list of the following words that I think might be a bit of a challenge.

  • Conman
  • Regular
  • Hard-working
  • Commuting
  • Easy pickings


Only five words out of 80+ words. Not so bad. Easy to do.


Now you just have to write these words down in your notebook.

You should have a notebook just for vocabulary. But I will leave that to you.

Find Out The Meanings Of The New Words

Now we have to find out what these five words and phrases mean.

There are two methods of doing this that I want to show you.


Chat GPT


Let’s use the first word CONMAN as an example.

If I go on Google, I can put the following search term in the bar:

Conman definition

Click the above link now yourself and see what results immediately come up.

It should show a very clear definition of the word CONMAN.

Easy, right?


But I think Chat GPT can also be useful.

Let’s take a look at that…

In Chat GPT, I used the following prompt:

What does the word conman mean? Give me a clear and simple dictionary definition of this word.

And Chat GPT gave me this:

conman chat definition pic


Personally, I think Chat GPT gives a better response. Now we can see a very clear definition of the word CONMAN and what it means.

Plus, we even know how the word began — it is a shortened form of the phrase CONFIDENCE MAN.

Keep Going

Do this with all the words and phrases you find in each section of the story.

Gradually, over time, you will build an entire catalogue of new words that you are learning.

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Make Summaries Of Each Section

So, now you have divided the short story into smaller sections.

Each section should be between 50 to 100 words.

These are small enough that you can manage them and learn from them.

But now you should try to form summaries of each section.

I strongly recommend writing your summaries in a separate notebook.

When you write your summaries, think about the following questions to help you.

  • Who is the main character in this section?
  • What is their name?
  • What are they doing?
  • Where is the action taking place?
  • Can you describe this place?
  • What can the main character see?
  • Does the writer describe this place in the story?
  • Is there any dialogue between the main character and another?
  • What are they talking about?
  • What are the most important things they say?
  • Are there any important objects or things that the writer mentions in the story?
  • The writer might introduce an umbrella, a book, or even a gun.
  • Are these things part of the story?
  • If so, how?

Write Your Summary In Your Own Words

You should write the summary in your own words.

Try not to look at the story as you write your summary. This should all be done without any help.

Don’t worry if your words or sentences don’t seem perfect. This is not a problem.

All you are trying to do is to create a general idea of each section of the story.

Now Read Out Loud

When you have finished your summary, read it out loud.

This is good practice for speaking too. Plus, you could be using new words that you have learnt from the story itself.

Stand up and look in a mirror.

Read out loud with a confident, strong voice.

This will help you in a big way!

Compile All Your Summaries Together

Let’s say you are looking at my short story, The Conman.

It is around 1000 words in length.

You could have about TWELVE summaries in total.

And the whole word count might be around 400 words.

Read all the summaries out loud!

This is a clear and full summary of the whole story.

Well done!

A Clearer View Of The Whole Story

Now you should have a much clearer view of the whole story.

You have gone through each section and found all the new words and vocabulary.

You have written summaries for each section.

What you could do is make a summary of all your section summaries.

Now you could have a summary of the short story of around 200 words.

I know this sounds like a lot of work. And to be honest, it is.

But over time, this will really pay off.

You will see great results from it. I absolutely guarantee it.

How to learn English by reading short stories (6)

Now Read More Short Stories

Once you have done this with one story, now you can try with others.

Don’t give up!

Don’t stop!

You could use all my lesson plans to repeat this learning method.

Check out my lesson plans below:

Fantastic Tales

Other Short Stories

But there are many other short stories available to you.

All you have to do is look around and you will find them.


I am a big fan of Goodreads.

Go on this site and search for ‘short stories’. You will find many famous short stories that you can use for your English learning.

An Essential List of Short Stories

This is a list of the most famous short stories that you can find easily.

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson — A chilling tale about a small town’s annual ritual.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe — A classic gothic story of guilt and madness.

“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry — A heartwarming story about love and sacrifice.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman — A powerful story about mental illness and gender roles.

“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut — A dystopian tale about enforced equality.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor — A dark, Southern Gothic story with themes of morality and grace.

“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant — A story about vanity and the consequences of deception.

“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka — Though often considered a novella, this story about a man transforming into an insect is highly influential.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway — A poignant story about loneliness and existential despair.

“The Dead” by James Joyce — A richly detailed story about life, death, and epiphany in Ireland.

“Bartleby, the Scrivener” by Herman Melville — A story about a peculiar law copyist who “prefers not to” work.

“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell — An exciting story about a man being hunted on a remote island.

“To Build a Fire” by Jack London — A gripping tale of survival in the Yukon wilderness.

“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne — A story exploring themes of faith and human nature.

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner — A Southern Gothic story about isolation and the passage of time.

“Araby” by James Joyce — A coming-of-age story from Joyce’s “Dubliners” collection.

“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver — A story about connection and perception.

“The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence — A story about luck, money, and obsession.

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce — A Civil War tale with a twist ending.

“The Lady, or the Tiger?” by Frank R. Stockton — A story with an open-ended conclusion that leaves the reader pondering.


Many of these stories are FREE for you to read online.

Famous Short Story Writers

And this is a list of famous writers known for writing short stories.

Edgar Allan Poe — Known for his gothic and macabre tales like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) – Famous for his twist endings in stories such as “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Ransom of Red Chief.”

Ernest Hemingway — Renowned for his concise and powerful writing style in stories like “Hills Like White Elephants” and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

Flannery O’Connor — Known for her Southern Gothic style and themes of morality in stories like “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”

Raymond Carver — Master of minimalist prose and everyday drama, with stories like “Cathedral” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Jorge Luis Borges — Known for his philosophical and fantastical stories such as “The Library of Babel” and “The Aleph.”

Anton Chekhov — Renowned for his character-driven stories with profound emotional depth, like “The Lady with the Dog” and “The Bet.”

Katherine Mansfield — Celebrated for her modernist and sensitive portrayals of everyday life in stories like “The Garden Party” and “Miss Brill.”

Alice Munro — Known for her detailed and nuanced exploration of human relationships in stories like “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” and “Runaway.”

Guy de Maupassant — Famous for his realistic and often ironic tales, including “The Necklace” and “Boule de Suif.”

James Joyce — Known for his innovative narrative techniques and stories like “The Dead” and “Araby” from his collection “Dubliners.”

Franz Kafka — Known for his surreal and existential stories like “The Metamorphosis” and “In the Penal Colony.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne — Renowned for his dark romanticism and allegorical stories like “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Minister’s Black Veil.”

Sherwood Anderson — Famous for his collection “Winesburg, Ohio,” which includes stories like “Hands” and “Paper Pills.”

Ambrose Bierce — Known for his dark and ironic Civil War stories, including “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “Chickamauga.”

Isaac Asimov — Renowned for his science fiction short stories, including the “I, Robot” series.

H.P. Lovecraft — Famous for his horror and weird fiction stories like “The Call of Cthulhu” and “At the Mountains of Madness.”

Shirley Jackson — Known for her unsettling and psychological stories such as “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House.”

William Faulkner — Celebrated for his complex narratives and Southern Gothic tales like “A Rose for Emily” and “Barn Burning.”

D.H. Lawrence — Known for his explorations of human psychology and relationships in stories like “The Rocking-Horse Winner” and “Odour of Chrysanthemums.”

Other Sites For Short Stories

If none of these appeal to you, there are other places where you can find all kinds of short stories to read.


Take a look below:


Reddit — One of the most popular chat forums where you can find many groups or subreddits that feature short stories. Search for short stories on Reddit.

Wattpad — A popular platform where writers can share their short stories and novels with a large community of readers.

Medium — A platform where writers publish a variety of content, including short stories, often within dedicated publications or as standalone pieces.

The New Yorker — A renowned magazine known for publishing high-quality short fiction from both established and emerging writers.

Apex Magazine — An online magazine focused on publishing dark and thought-provoking science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories.

Strange Horizons — A weekly magazine that publishes speculative fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

The Atlantic — Publishes a range of content including high-quality short stories.

Granta — A literary magazine known for publishing new writing and short stories from around the world.

Flash Fiction Online — Specializes in publishing short fiction of 1000 words or fewer.

The Rumpus — Publishes a variety of literary content, including short stories.


I think I have just about covered what you should do.

I am not saying this is easy to do.

Far from it!

It is work. A lot of work. But not really hard work.

You can do it if you apply yourself a little every day.

But one thing I can promise you is that if you do this on a regular basis, your English will improve in a huge way.

It will help you with ALL your English skills.

Good luck and keep trying!


If you have any questions, you can contact me anytime.


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