Third part of article looking at literature in ELT.

When confronting students with the text itself, in our case a novel, we need to decide which approach we will resort to. One method could be one which centres on language. In language-based approaches, there is, as Carter and Long (1991:7-9) explain, less concern with the literary text as a product and more emphasis on the process of reading.  Therefore, they move on to suggest activities such as jigsaw reading, matching beginnings and endings, gap filling, reading aloud, the use of paraphrase and creative writing.

Nonetheless, it can also be found that some language-based approaches go further in their aims by suggesting a close study of the literary text itself, that is, doing Stylistics. Stylistics seeks to enable students to make meaningful interpretations of the text and expand their knowledge and awareness of the language in general (Lazar, 1993:31). It should be noted that this position enriches the language model by incorporating the reader (Cook; 1994:156) in the complex game of interpretation and evaluation, elements which can also be claimed to be part of literary criticism (Short, 1996:3). If we opt for this type of analysis to include in our activities, we might pay attention to deviation and foregrounding through lexis and grammar in the first place and then move on to incorporate elements such as narrator, linguistic indicators of viewpoint and speech and thought representation (Short, 1996).

A more extended language-based approach is put forward by Parkinson and Reid Thomas (2000) who place the emphasis on reader-response as being individual and creative. When reading for a linguistic analysis, they recommend that attention should be given to features such as regularity, polysemy, mimesis, discourse organisation and narrative structure. They even propose a framework for the teaching of a novel:




1. Transformation

How to introduce the text

2. Reduction

How information is made manageable focusing on content.

3. Categorisation and

4. Storage

Categories of analysis for appropriation.

5. Retrieval

Through essay or project writing


Figure 1: Teaching a novel. Phases (after Reid and Thomas, 2000) 

On the other hand, teachers can also choose a more teacher-centred model with a focus on literature as content in which history and literary movements, authors’ biographies and texts’ background are looked at (Lazar, 1993).

 Some while-reading activities




Aim: To focus on discourse structure and aspects of cohesion.

Material: Copies of the first chapter (see appendix) where some questions asked by Bruno have been removed. 

Time: OK, it’s not funny.



  1. The teacher draws students’ attention on the title of the first chapter BRUNO MAKES A DISCOVERY. He might either ask them

a-       How do people find out about things?

b-      What can people discover?

c-       What do you do when you want to find out about something?

d-       What do you think Bruno discovered?


            or give them a photocopy with the following choices (here’s a sample only):

Tick and add your own answers

  1. How do people find out about things?

-          They do research.

-          They read and surf the Internet.

-          They ask.

-          They…

2. Once students share their answers, the teacher asks them to work independently on the following exercise. The teacher can vary this exercise by not providing the questions deleted. In any case, it should be pointed out that more than one question can fit in, which will lead them to compare with the original version. In that case the teacher should point out that there are many ways of asking the same questions.

What did he ask Father to do? Why is Maria going through my things? What has he done? Are we moving? Am I being sent away? What do you think you are doing? Where are we going exactly? What have I done? What kind of job? Who would he miss the most? But what about our house? And how far is it? What are you doing?


3. Next, the teacher might ask different students to read aloud or simply go over each gap and compare the students’ answers with the original version. In each case, students should be encouraged to say what textual elements helped them complete each gap.



Activity: Less is More


Aim: To raise awareness on the use of simple language and its effect.

Material: Chapter One, photocopies of tasks below.

Time: J



  1. Students are asked to sit in groups. One student reads aloud the following passage deleting an unnecessary word or phrase which will also be crossed out with a pen(cil), and passes it on to another student who will repeat the same procedure until the last student reads a much simple version. They have to keep the core meaning of the original text.


In a cave set back from the ocean, on the coast of New Zealand, Louise and Schmidt hide along with two local boys frightened of being called up to fight in the Great War. But the sensual rhythm of the tango lessons that Schmidt gives on a sandy cave floor will have devastating consequences for all of them. Two generations later, Schmidt’s fiery granddaughter Rosa, running an Argentinian restaurant, captivates a young man with the same sultry music that inspired seduction and deception so many years earlier.



  1. Students are asked to reflect on the differences between the original version and their last version as regards the process of shortening sentences making the text simpler. What could be the effect of telling a powerful story with simple language and not too complex sentences?
  2. The teacher provides the students with praises from newspapers or the internet on The Boy...



 Once the reading of the book has been completed, learners can be guided to look back at the totality of the text through activities that can complete or revisit the description-interpretation-evaluation process which, in turn, will continue exploring the model proposed by Carter and Long (1991). But that will be the concern of my last post on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.


Bye for now...


Again in groups, they are given these questions:


a-       What’s the common feature these three newspapers see in the novel?

b-      Imagine that you work for these newspapers and you have been asked to support your praise. Find examples in the text which illustrate what you say.

c-       What’s the effect of such simple language? Is that part of the writer’s style?

d-       What differences and similarities in the use of language can you find between the way Bruno talks and the way the narrator tells the story? Think of phrases, sentence patterns, vocabulary…

e-       Now, compare your answers with another group’ and report to the whole class.



Hello Dario,It's me again (I have just posted on your part I post of this 'series').This time, I would like to raise an issue or topic that I am concerned about. As I have previously explained, I am very interested in the use of literature to teach English as a foreign Language. I have researched about it and have tried it a few times too. After trying the activities out I just kept thinking that it must be difficult for a regular teacher to put all these things into practise. I mean, at least in Chile the conditions are far from being perfect; teachers work for 44 hours a week and do not have much preparation time).What would you recommend for those teachers that have such an amount of hours, not much preparation time, but energy and willingness to try this out?Thank you for the different activities and stages!regards,Kathy

Hi Kathy! When we teachers are overloaded with work and papers to submit, we can start little by little. That's what I do. I mean, I don't explore Literature with all my classes. What I usually do is: - Every month I choose one particular class and explore Literature. In so doing, I devote my energy to creating material for one class. This material, in turn, could be useful for the class that I'll be choosing the following month. In fact, it's no a sin to replicate the same activity based on a poem, for instance, with different classes at different times, since naturally, the teacher will adapt it, change it slightly or completely depending on previous experiences and feedback received. -You can experience Literature with one group only for a term. Perhaps, if we choose a pre-intermediate class, things might go easier, and therefore we'll be motivated to try it out with other groups too. - Now and then I choose activities from a resource book called 'Creative Poetry Writing' (Jane Spiro 2004, OUP) which has plenty of ideas and poems which can be used as a starting point for our own activities.   I hope these tips help. Best,   Darío

Dear Dario,Thanks for your reply!! Indeed, you are completely right. It's a great technique which helps one to manage time effectively.I am an NQT, and have only tried literature with my private students, and literature assistantships so far; however, I am looking forward to doing it with my own classes now (I have started teaching this month). I am currently working with 1st to 4th elementary classes at a school, but will start out using literature with my university students, once they have progressed a bit with their English (which at the same time gives me time to prepare the unit). Additionally, I'll try to look for a great poem for kids, maybe to use with my 4th elementary girls.Thanks a lot for your reply!Let's keep up with our researches for the sake of EFL heheregards,Kathy  

Dario, the activity 'less is more' I find quite appealling for students. It should look for them more manageable. And what is more important, they would be ably to discover the main structure of the passage within short time, which is very important for general comprehension and especially when they are restricted in time at reading tests (IELTS, TOEFL, etc.)The problem with most of my students is that they can't get the idea of the passsage quickly, since they've got used to read word-by-word, line-by-line. Every time I ask them to find the main parts of the sentence or passage: who? what happened, when and where?. The problem I think is that we tend to make language analysis of texts, which requires detailed studying of texts. So I'm trying to make a shift to work on content, or characters, some new knowledge or information for students, and only then language work.Best!Tatyana

Hi Tatyana!
Thanks for your insightful comments! Sometimes I argue with myself when it comes to deciding how much time I should devote to content and how much to language. Truth is that I go for content but it is my students who want to know more about how that content, or feelings as well, are crystallised through words.

Dario, regarding the time limits of working on the content or language of a text, there is a good experience of keeping discussion with students on moral problems, characters's behaviour and many other issues on-line. Teachers at our institution apply web plaforms, such as wiki, forum, to raise discussion with students. And it works! Students who are silent in classes make quite elaborative and detailed comments on problems or questions raised. And they leave really extended comments. And it's great!

Yes, I know it works for those silent students as you said. Isn't it great that we can now develop ways of encouraging participation through a blended mode of learning? I'm currently developing a blog in which students respond to a quote or passage and it's interesting to see how discussions arise both talking about English and Spanish. It's great as it also helps them reflect on the power of the written word regardless of the code.

I couldn't agree more with you! Isn't it great that now we can develop other blended modes of learning to foster participation? I'm currently developing a blog for students to follow discussions on different topics of their interest.

I'm glad it's been useful. What students (level and age) will be using it with?

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