Book review: Stories Without End

Alphabet Publishing recently sent me a copy of Stories Without End by Taylor Sapp. Here’s a review and a bit about how I used the book…

The book

Stories Without End is a collection of 24 open-ended stories for use in the classroom. The texts, usually no more than three A4 pages in length, come with reading and discussion activities and possible project work for extension.

General format

Each text usually includes…

  • ‘Before You Read’ – usually orientation questions, sometimes prediction
  • ‘Vocabulary’ – a matching task to pre-teach vocab. This appears before the text but I guess you don’t have to use it as a pre-teach. Up to you.
  • ‘After You Read’ – usually discussion questions encouraging personal response
  • ‘Projects’ – possible extension tasks

There are a few supplementary resources provided for these tasks at the back of the book.

The stories

There are two types of stories in the book. ‘Short Takes’ are texts under 500 words, and ‘Mid-Length Stories’ are between 500-2000 words.

Things I like about the stories

I like the fact that most texts in this book don’t seem to be graded. I spend a lot of my time as a materials writer grading texts, and at times this takes away the richness, perhaps authenticity too. I see why the writer has opted to provide pre-teaching tasks as the language can be challenging at times (milquetoast was a new word for me!). Sure, there can be benefits to simplifying a text, but it’s nice to be presented with a resource that provides texts as intended.

The text topics overall are interesting and useful. In my context, I’d say about half of them would ‘work’ – by that I mean engage my students, prompt discussion and have relevance. This book has arrived just at the right time for me, with our school promoting a ‘Reading Challenge’ this term. I know some of my students shy away from this initiative each year – the aim is to read 1-4 books across term. That’s ambitious for my students, and these short-stories will be more accessible.

Stories related to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and whole child development feature in the collection. Exploring the term ‘dyslexia’, connotations of the word ‘special’, making friends and empathising with others are some examples.

I particularly like the stories that address technology and some of the issues with it – people too distracted by their phones to notice the world around them, robots taking over from teachers, etc. I can see these really engaging my learners, as will the more standard texts in the book – like a ghost story, a fairy tale, etc. Overall, there’s a good range of texts in there for sure.

Views on the book as a whole

I think a lot of the stories will engage my learners. The accompanying activities are generally a good starting point for planning. I like the fact that the writer hasn’t gone too overboard here, just providing a skeleton of ideas that’s there to be adapted.

Using the texts

I thought a more useful way to review the book was to see how easy it was to work with. I planned a lesson yesterday (B1+) based on one of the texts. Here is part of the text…

It’s basically about a kid called George who gets eaten by a T-Rex… or does he?!

Anyway, I used the ‘Before You Read’ questions, and decided to pre-teach some of the difficult vocabulary – words like trickle, dismayed, and extinct might pose a challenge. I added a bit of prediction too with image related to the text as prompts…

The story really engaged my students (with lots of hamming it up from me, I admit). Immediately after reading I asked learners to continue the story (which worked really well), and post-reading questions that encouraged personal response also led to some good discussion.

I exploited the text further with development activities, loosely following Tomlinson’s text-driven approach. These included…

  • Reading the text together and bringing the characters to life/adding drama/etc
  • Roleplays where the students imagined conversations between characters in the story

  • Writing tweets from characters in/around the story

  • Writing a new text related to the story, such as a short newspaper article or a ‘Wanted’ poster to catch the T-Rex…

None of these development activities were provided in the book. However, the text leant itself to this type of activity and it really didn’t take much time to plan these extensions. In actual fact, the students ended up taking over the lesson anyway… They loved the roleplays, and decided to make up their own ones, such as an interview with the T-Rex about why he ate the boy and what he tasted like. Whatever… I ran with it – the students seem to have great fun. Language-wise, I did less input based on the text itself but more from what emerged during the development activities.

Lesson verdict? One the best this year for engagement, and tonnes of language production.

Book verdict? Yes, I had to supplement to get the most out of the text. That’s good though – the book puts the texts at the forefront and encourages teachers to work with them as they wish/see relevant. This is my favourite resource from Alphabet Publishing so far.

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