Here's The Thing

There are a number of ways to teach a foreign language such as English. Most teachers use standard textbooks, choosing to become a disgrace to the profession. Others overreach by employing unedited (and unnecessarily difficult) newspaper/magazine pieces. Neither works and both should be punishable by law.

At Bee's Knees, we do stories. Stories that I hope are enjoyable, fun to read and talk about, ones that leave you with a better grasp of English and a better understanding of life in English-speaking countries. (For the sake of a definition, by 'story' I mean any text that I consider interesting enough to be called a 'story'.)

For the 2012-13 schoolyear I chose a bunch of never-before-used stories, most of which are presented in this book. They may not be the most thrilling pieces of writing you'll ever get to read (although they're all definitely worth reading), but they contain a huge amount of good English. And that's ultimately the point.

These stories come from various sources and yes, copyright could be an issue here. I generally try to contact the copyright holders (or authors) to get permission, but more often than not I come up empty-handed. Then I think of all the time I spend working on these stories, sprucing them up and making them just so, and I decide to go ahead and use them anyway. So sue me. Actually, don't. Please.

Each story appears in three variations here. There's the English version—with underlined bits that you need to pay extra attention to. Then there's the Czech translation (more on that below) to allow you to become familiar with every detail of the story. And then there are the fill-in exercises to make sure the whole thing is not a colossal waste of time.


Some other things you may be wondering about:

What if I'm not, never have been and am not planning on ever being a student at Bee's Knees—should I still get this book?

I don't know. Should you?

I'm a teacher of English and I'm thinking of using these stories in my classes. What do you think? Go for it, man. But tread lightly and don't expect miracles. Not all of these stories are suitable for straightforward telling. Sure, some are (Sneaking Up On Grandma, No-Show for Sandy), but others work better when introduced on paper or assigned for homework as fill-outs (Traffic Ticket). Keep in mind that things can go wrong in a number of ways in class. Your students may not find these stories as entertaining as you or I did. Or you may be just be a lousy teacher who couldn't sell a candy bar to a fat kid. What I'm saying is, a good story is not a guarantee of a good lesson. For more info on how to use stories in class, go to

Are all these stories for the same level of students?

They are and they aren't.


They are in that you need to be reasonably familar with current American English in order to follow them. They aren't in that some are a little trickier than others. Generally speaking, if you can handle the easy ones, it'll just take you slightly longer to get through the tough cookies.

Let's get practical, shall we?


Generally speaking, how do I keep track of my progress?

Easy. There's a Table of Contents page at the end of the book with boxes next to each story. Just tick off the appropriate box each time you finish reading / studying / filling a story and you'll be golden.

Should I use highlighters on the text?

Highlight away, my friend.

Will there be more books in this series?

Yes. A lot more, hopefully. I'd like to cover the past dozen years' worth of stories, for starters. Yes, I'm thinking big here.

Why is this introduction in English?

If you want to understand the stories, you'd better be able to make sense of this. (I'll post the Czech translation on my website, just in case.) Also, let's be honest: everything looks and sounds better in English.

Let's get even more practical now. How is this actually supposed to work? Besides reading these stories, what do I do?

Here's how I think you should use this book. Don't take my word for it though. Whatever works for you is fine. Obviously.

1. READ: First, read all of these stories, one at a time. Every time you finish a story, go back and reread it one paragraph at a time while comparing it with the Czech version. Do not be discouraged by the very loose translation—as long as you get the gist of it, you're doing fine. Once you have finished reading a story, make sure to tick the appropriate box next to it in the Table of Contents.

2. STUDY: Once all the reading is done, it's time to knuckle down and get the language juices flowing. Pick any story you like and read it very closely, one paragraph at a time. Pay attention to the underlined bits in particular. (You may compare them to their Czech counterparts, but this is not necessary at this point.) Highlight whatever needs highlighting. Write in notes. Think hard about how best to soak up these phrases into your sponge-like / sieve-like brains. This particular phase will take a while. In fact, it will probably take more time and effort than all the other activities combined. It sucks, really, but it's something that needs to be done.

3. FILL: Finally, it's Hammer Time. Browse through the fill-ins, pick one at random and see if you can fill all the gaps. I strongly suggest that you do not write the correct answers into the gaps. This exercise calls for (ir)regular revisits. Also, do not check each guess—finish at least a paragraph before flipping back to the original text.

Remember, it's better to read one (good) text a dozen times than read a dozen different texts once. I'm speaking from experience here. I have told each of these stories at least three times in my classes (after spending hours preparing them) and I have reread them each a few more times while putting this book together. It took all this effort for me to get to the point where most of those fun/useful phrases pop into my mind when I actually need them to.

So there.