TeachingEnglish
Using literature - an introduction

The purpose of this article is to provide some guidance through the wealth of available materials and support, to provide a platform for sharing ideas and experiences and to explore some areas that are at the cutting edge of what is, for many teachers, the most powerful instrument in their school bag: literature as a tool for language learning.

Click on the headings below to find out more about available materials and support for teachers in each area.

Audio and textFilm and video
Text and activityManga
HyperfictionHyperfiction example

 

 

Literature in ELT
The use of literature in the ELT classroom is enjoying a revival for a number of reasons. Having formed part of traditional language teaching approaches, literature became less popular when language teaching and learning started to focus on the functional use of language. However, the role of literature in the ELT classroom has been re-assessed and many now view literary texts as providing rich linguistic input, effective stimuli for students to express themselves in other languages and a potential source of learner motivation. On this site you can find a range of literary texts and supporting classroom materials, on the BritLit pages.

What do we mean by literature?
John McRae (1994) distinguishes between literature with a capital L - the classical texts e.g. Shakespeare, Dickens - and literature with a small l, which refers to popular fiction, fables and song lyrics. The literature used in ELT classrooms today is no longer restricted to canonical texts from certain countries e.g. UK, USA, but includes the work of writers from a diverse range of countries and cultures using different forms of English.

Literary texts can be studied in their original forms or in simplified or abridged versions. An increasing number of stories in English are written specifically for learners of other languages. The types of literary texts that can be studied inside and outside the ELT classroom include:

1 Short stories
2 Poems
3 Novels
4 Plays
5 Song Lyrics

Why use literature in the ELT classroom?
Literary texts provide opportunities for multi-sensorial classroom experiences and can appeal to learners with different learning styles. Texts can be supplemented by audio-texts, music CDs, film clips, podcasts, all of which enhance even further the richness of the sensory input that students receive.

Literary texts offer a rich source of linguistic input and can help learners to practise the four skills - speaking, listening, reading and writing - in addition to exemplifying grammatical structures and presenting new vocabulary.

Literature can help learners to develop their understanding of other cultures, awareness of ‘difference' and to develop tolerance and understanding. At the same time literary texts can deal with universal themes such as love, war and loss that are not always covered in the sanitised world of course books.

Literary texts are representational rather than referential (McRae, 1994). Referential language communicates at only one level and tends to be informational. The representational language of literary texts involves the learners and engages their emotions, as well as their cognitive faculties.Literary works help learners to use their imagination, enhance their empathy for others and lead them to develop their own creativity. They also give students the chance to learn about literary devices that occur in other genres e.g. advertising.

Literature lessons can lead to public displays of student output through posters of student creations e.g. poems, stories or through performances of plays. So for a variety of linguistic, cultural and personal growth reasons, literary texts can be more motivating than the referential ones often used in classrooms.

What are some of the challenges to be faced when using literature in the classroom?
Literary texts can present teachers and learners with a number of difficulties including:

  • text selection - texts need to be chosen that have relevance and interest to learners.
    linguistic difficulty - texts need to be appropriate to the level of the students' comprehension.
  • length - shorter texts may be easier to use within the class time available, but longer texts provide more contextual details, and development of character and plot.
  • cultural difficulty - texts should not be so culturally dense that outsiders feel excluded from understanding essential meaning.
  • cultural appropriacy - learners should not be offended by textual content.


Duff and Maley (2007) stress that teachers can cope with many of the challenges that literary texts present, if they ask a series of questions to assess the suitability of texts for any particular group of learners:

  • Is the subject matter likely to interest this group?
  • Is the language level appropriate?
  • Is it the right length for the time available?
  • Does it require much cultural or literary background knowledge?
  • Is it culturally offensive in any way?
  • Can it be easily exploited for language learning purposes?


Duff and Maley (2007) also emphasise the importance of varying task difficulty as well as text difficulty:

  • Level 1 Simple text + low level task
  • Level 2 Simple text + more demanding task
  • Level 3 Difficult text + low level task
  • Level 4 Difficult text + more demanding task


How can literary texts be used?
Teachers can exploit literary texts in a large number of ways in the classroom. Classroom work with literary works may involve pre-reading tasks, interactive work on the text and follow up activities.

Pulverness (2003) provides some useful advice: Maximise pre-reading support.

Teachers can introduce the topic or theme of the text, pre-teach essential vocabulary items and use prediction tasks to arouse the interest and curiosity of students.

  • Minimise the extent to which the teacher disturbs students' reading.
  • Draw attention to stylistic peculiarity.
  • Help students to appreciate the ways that writers use language to achieve particular effects.
  • Provide frameworks for creative response.
  • Invite learners to step into the shoes of the writer or invite them to modify, extend or add to a text.


In the rest of this section you will find ways in which you can develop your ability to use literature in the ELT classroom through reading articles and books, attending workshops and courses, visiting websites, and joining Special Interest Groups and discussion forums.

References
Duff, A & Maley, A (2007) Literature (Resource Books for Teachers), Oxford University Press.
Maley, A (2001) ‘Literature in the language classroom' in The Cambridge Guide to Teaching ESOL, Cambridge University Press.
McRae, J (1994) Literature with a small 'l', Macmillan Education.
Pulverness, A ( 2003) ‘Literature' in English Teaching Professional, October, Issue 29, Modern English Publishing

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