A short story to motivate students to read

Reading is essential for students to build up their vocabulary, recognise how the language works and learn about culture.  Short stories can be an excellent source to get busy students reading and, therefore, exposed to English. 

Below is a short story and activity you can use with B1 level students.  It is narrated by a Brazilian manicurist. She tells us about a client of hers called Maria, who has an interesting job.   The activity has pre, while and post exercises and gets students (who may be tired after a hard day´s work) walking around and talking to each other. I hope you and your students enjoy it.

LEVEL:  B1   TIMING: 40 mins

PRE-ACTIVITY: Show the following pictures to your students and teach them the vocabulary.  Get them to repeat the words after you.


Ask them to copy the words on a piece of paper and draw a simple picture for each one to remind them what the word means. Ask the students to get up and walk around the school environment taking their piece of paper with them.  While they are walking, they should look at the words and drawings and think about a possible connection between these things in a story.  After 5 mins, ask the students to come back to the classroom and in pairs, they should tell each other what the connection might be. 

WHILE ACTIVITY:  Ask the students to read Part 1 of the short story individually.  When they have read it, get them to discuss the two questions in pairs.  The students can compare what they read with their predictions. Elicit from the class how the story may continue.  Now ask the students to read part 2 individually.

Part 1   She came to my salon every Friday morning to get her nails done.  The first time she appeared I noticed that her hands were worn and her fingernails were dirty.  After about 3 weeks, we started getting to know each other better.  Her name was Maria and she had told me that she walked from one end of the Avenue to the other every day.  To my knowledge, that was about 3 kilometers.  The elderly lady was around 70 years old so that was quite a long way to walk every day.    “So, I was going past the petrol station on Wednesday morning”, Maria said interrupting my far away imagination of this fascinating woman.    “It was raining so I couldn’t see very well”, she continued.   “But, I did notice that something was wrong”.  Now I was brought back into the conversation and was focusing on what she was saying.  What could be wrong?, I wondered.    “Normally, there’s a young man there pumping fuel.  He’s been there for ages.  He always catches my eye because he smiles at me when I pass by.  He always wears a red cap with the word ‘Orlando’ written on it.  Such a nice man”, she recalled as though remembering his kind act.   “So, on Wednesday, instead of the young lad, there was a woman in her early twenties serving the customers.   Well, I couldn’t help myself.  I walked onto the forecourt and asked her where the young man was.  The new girl told me that he hadn’t turned up for work that day.  She didn’t know what had happened to him and she was filling in for him”, Maria said sighing.   “What color nail varnish would you like today?”, I asked Maria.    “Oh, I think I’ll have a nice blue color today”, she answered picking out a turquoise nail varnish.   “So, what do you think had happened to the man?”, I asked inquisitively.    “Well, I wondered the same thing.  I continued on my daily walk stopping now and again to pick them up when I suddenly saw a red cap with ‘Orlando’ written on it”, she responded.    I was so curious to know about the mystery of the boy with the red cap that I didn’t even think to ask her what she was referring to when she said ‘pick them up’.    Answer the following questions in pairs.   What do you think Maria picked up now and again on her daily walk?What do you think had happened to the young man?  
Part 2   Now continue reading the story.   “So, I got the red cap, as a kind of souvenir from a happy 2 minutes of my daily routine that had repeated itself over months – the friendly young man smiling at me and giving me some attention”, Maria said.   “And then what did you do?”, I asked.   “Well, I went down a side road because I knew there was a skip there and usually there are loads of them inside.  You know, I make a living from selling them”, she told me looking at me in the eye.   “Oh, I see”, I exclaimed, trying to disguise the fact that I hadn´t guessed what her job was yet.   “As I was getting nearer the skip, I heard a voice calling for help.  It was coming from inside the yellow container.  I looked inside and to my horror, there was the man all covered in stones and rubble.  All you could see was his head”, Maria told me.    “Oh my goodness!  How did he end up there?”, I asked.   “Well, when I finally got him out with the help of some men who were in the next street, he told me the story.  Before going to work on Wednesday, he was fixing a hole on his roof at home.  Suddenly he fell and landed in a lorry that was passing by.  It was full of stones and rubble.  The driver didn´t see him.  The next thing he knew he was being tipped into a skip along with all the stones and nobody heard his cries for help.  He had been half buried there since 9am!”, Maria said.   I was totally shocked by the story.    “The funny thing is…”, she laughed “is that he joked with me when he finally staggered out of all that mess on top of him.  He told me that he was thinking of me because there were quite a lot of aluminum cans in the skip and he thought if I ever get out of here, I´ll give them to the nice lady that passes by every day!”   So, that was Maria´s job.  She picked up aluminum cans every day and sold them to a recycling depot.  And every Friday she came to my salon to get her nails done.  

POST ACTIVITY:  In groups of three, ask the students to discuss the following questions.

Answer the questions in groups of three.   1.  How did the narrator (the manicurist) know Maria? 2.   Why did Maria like the man who worked at the petrol station? 3.  What did the girl at the petrol station say had happened to the man? 4.  What object did she find that belonged to the man? 5.  How did the man end up in the skip? 6.  What did the man say he would give to Maria? 7.  What was Maria´s job?   Answers 1.  The manicurist knew the old lady because she came to her salon every Friday to get her nails done. 2.  Because the man smiled at her every day she passed by the petrol station. 3. She said that he hadn’t turned up for work that day.  She didn’t know what had happened to him and she was filling in for him. 4.  His red cap with “Orlando” written on it. 5.  He was fixing a hole on his roof.  Suddenly he fell and landed in a lorry that was passing by.  He was tipped into a skip with stones and rubble.  The driver didn´t see him.  6.  The aluminum cans that were in the skip. 7.  Maria collected aluminum cans to sell to a recycling depot.

Other short stories can be found in Jane´s book called Exercícios para falar melhor em inglês – Speaking Activities published by Disal, as well as https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/587804.

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