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4 Creative Ways To Share Your Enjoyment Of Literature

teenagers enjoying literature togetherThroughout my teaching I have used literature in the EFL classroom, and the most rewarding moments have always been connected to lessons where I was teaching a poem, a short story, or a play. I’ve always thought that the most important factor was my own love of the pieces that I was teaching, and finding ways of sharing that love with my learners.

Here are four ways in which you can engage learners with literary texts, convey your own love of literature to your students, and show them how literature reflects human experiences and connects to our lives.

 

1. Connect the piece of literature to your students’ personal lives

James Joyce’s short story, Eveline, is about a young woman in early 20th century Dublin who has a chance to leave home with her suitor and go to Buenos Aires (you can find it here). I taught this to students aged 17 or 18, to whom the themes in the story were very relevant, introducing these themes without students even knowing that our discussion would lead to a literary work.

I start by presenting Edward Hopper’s painting New York Movie and asking students to describe the woman in the picture, where she is, what she is doing, how she is standing, then what she might be thinking about. Then I ask them to write the first paragraph of a short story about this woman. Invariably, students describe her as tired, stuck in a tedious job; they suggest she might be thinking about household chores she still has to do; they write about her dreams for the future and escaping her lot through marriage. We discuss the students’ interpretations, their first paragraphs, what they mean about the students’ view of life. The students see this as an exercise in creative writing but, without knowing it, they are writing about many of the themes of the story.

At the end of the lesson (or even in the next lesson) I move to the first paragraph of the story:

She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.

This extensive introduction ensures that even before we start reading Eveline, the students have made connections between the main themes of the story and their own experiences.

 

2. Illustrate ways in which literature connects to current events

Many literary works are extremely relevant to contemporary events. They may be overtly political and obviously written in response to a major event, like W.H. Auden’s September 1, 1939 (a wonderful poem, though I wouldn’t suggest using it in an EFL class!), but even poems that are not political have contemporary resonances. One example is Robert Frost’s Mending Wall, written in 1914, which talks about two neighbours meeting to fix the wall between their properties. It meditates on walls and boundaries, their uses and misuses, their personal and public meaning. Though Frost could not have known that 100 years later there would be such violent discussions of walls in the public sphere, the connection to current events is clear. Discussing this enables you to work on understanding other people’s points of view and balancing contradictions and ambiguities in one’s own thoughts – vital skills and attitudes in contemporary life.

 

3. Connect the piece of literature to art

Many artists have responded to literature in different ways. The contemporary American artist Roni Horn has responded to Emily Dickinson’s poems by casting lines from the poems in plastic letters. She embeds these in aluminium bars, which she then places against a wall – see here . When you walk into a room with these bars against different walls they present an enigma – you have to approach to realise that they include letters and words, and you realise slowly that these are lines from poems. The bars force you to consider their meaning – which is not immediately obvious or straightforward. As you walk round one of these bars and watch it from different angles the words appear and disappear – a wonderful metaphor for the way in which the meanings of poems are difficult to grasp and the way in which they enter and exit our consciousness.

By doing this you are demonstrating to learners that literature does not stand on its own – it is part of a rich cultural history and a rich cultural present.

 

4. Encourage students to react

One way of moving the focus from us to our learners is an easy technique called ‘a walkabout’ or ‘gallery walk’. The idea is simple – you choose a number of extracts, print out or photocopy enlarged versions of these extracts, and put them up on the walls around the classroom. Students walk around the room, read the extracts, and choose the one that they like most, or that means most to them. They then go and stand next to it, and discuss their reasons for choosing this extract with the other students who chose it. Each group then tells the others why they chose a specific extract.

In order for this activity to work the extracts need to be short – you can choose short poems, the opening paragraphs of different stories, or the opening paragraphs of different novels. I have also used it with short critical views of works that we have studied. Choosing short extracts means that students have time to read everything before they make their choice. Also, don’t choose too many extracts – 5 or 6 extracts are more than enough. This normally means that there is someone who chooses one of the extracts.

 

Want even more simple techniques to promote language development, for all levels and ages? Join me for my upcoming webinar!

Register for the webinar


 

Amos Paran is a Reader in Second Language Education at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London, where he teaches on the MA TESOL. He started his professional career in Israel, where he taught EFL in secondary schools and trained teachers. He has run teacher training workshops in countries such as Viet Nam, Uzbekistan, Israel, Switzerland, Spain and France, and works regularly in Chile.

His main research interests are reading in a foreign language and the use of literature in language learning, as well as distance education, and he has written extensively on these topics. He is co-editor (with Lies Sercu) of ‘Testing the Untestable in Language Education’, published in 2010 by Multilingual Matters. His most recent book is Literature, co-written with Pauline Robinson and published by Oxford University Press in the Into the Classroom series. He is also a lead tutor on the free Coursera MOOC, ‘Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task Based Approach’.


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Friendship and The Three Musketeers | Bill Bowler

Three fists bumping together

International friendship day is a holiday established by the United Nations in 2011 to celebrate friendship worldwide. The UN celebration is on 30th July. (This choice of date originated in Paraguay in 1958.) Some countries celebrate friendship on different days: In Spain, Argentina and Brazil it’s 20th July. In India and the United Arab Emirates it’s the first Sunday in August. Regardless of the date, friendship is important for people everywhere.

How can you celebrate with your students?

One way you can explore this theme of friendship with your students is by using thematic quote cards to prompt class discussion. First put learners into small groups. Then give each group a cut-up set of Friendship Quote Cards (download below) to look through. Allow learners to use a dictionary to check the meaning of unknown words. Go around monitoring to make sure learners stay on task. Once they are ready, write these sentence stems on the board and drill the correct pronunciation:

My favourite quote about friends is….
I really like it because…
My least favourite quote about friends is….
I don’t like it because…

Then ask the learners to choose their favourite and least favourite friendship quote. (There are as many different ‘correct’ answers as the number of students in your class. Everyone is different!) Once learners have done this, encourage them to compare their ideas with the ideas of other learners in their group, using the stem sentences to guide them.

What next?

If your students seem motivated by the topic of friendship, you can open this out into a whole class discussion. However, if time is short, you may want to keep to small group discussions which you monitor as you walk around the classroom. If you want to express your personal preferences regarding your favourite/least favourite quote, do this at the end of the discussion so learners are not put off sharing their thoughts by you taking part too early in the discussion.

If we want our learners to read a classic story that describes a group of friends, we couldn’t do better than recommend ‘The Three Musketeers’ by the French writer Alexandre Dumas. The three Musketeer friends – Porthos, Athos and Aramis – have a slogan: ‘All for one and one for all!’ This describes their readiness to collectively help one of their number in need (‘all for one’) as well as each man being ready to work for the greater good of the group as a whole (‘one for all’)

As well as the Three Musketeers of the title, there is also the character of D’Artagnan. He arrives in Paris from the country and ends up, after many adventures, befriending the three Musketeers and himself becoming a Musketeer by the close of the story.

If you want to explore the differences between the four close friends in this story, give learners the Three Musketeers Grid (download below) and ask them to complete it with details about the different characters as they read.

Possible answers (Based on the Oxford Dominoes retelling):

  • Athos: tall, good-looking (page 1, lines 19-20), likes sleeping (page 11, lines 4-5), disappointed in love (page 22, lines 7-14), likes eating and drinking (page 33, lines 8-10)
  • Aramis: gets gifts from women, very private (page 2, lines 6-12), writes well (page 36, lines 18-25), likes pretty women (page 53, line 11)
  • Porthos: expensively dressed, quick to get angry (page 2, lines 1-3); likes a good sword (page 10, line 7), strong (page11, lines 1-2), likes adventures (page 53, lines 12-13)
  • D’Artagnan: wild, young (page 1, lines 17-18) brave (page 3, lines 2-3), loving (page 4, lines 13-15), loyal, helpful (page 9, 17-19), foolish (page 23, lines 1-4), innocent (page 34, lines 3-4)

To make this grid-filling easier, write on the board the information above in jumbled order. Students can check the meaning of unfamiliar words and match the phrases with the four main story characters, later reading the story to double-check their predictions.

A final (freer) speaking activity could involve learners matching the friendship quotes we mentioned earlier with key moments in the story, with learners explaining why they made these connections. (For example, ‘The W.B. Yeats quote matches the story opening because the three strangers D’Artagnan bumps into in chapter 1 become his friends later.’)

These resources are available via the Oxford Teacher’s Club.

Not a member? Registering is quick and easy to do, and it gives you access to a wealth of teaching resources.


Found these resources useful? How did they work for you? Share your experiences with our teaching community by leaving a comment below, or by tweeting us using the handle @oupeltglobal!


Bill Bowler is a founder series editor, with his wife, Sue Parminter, of Dominoes Graded Readers (OUP). He has authored many readers himself. He has also visited many countries as a teacher trainer, sharing ideas about Extensive Reading. Bill has contributed to the book Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom (OUP).  Two of his Dominoes adaptations (The Little Match Girl and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) were Language Learner Literature Award Finalists. Born in London, he now lives in Spain.


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The Novella | Why it’s a great extensive reading resource for English Language Students | OUP

The benefits of extensive reading for learners of English have been well documented, and there are some informative articles easily discoverable on this blog.

The Graded Reader can play a hugely important part in developing reading skills, and OUP has a fantastic selection of them for all levels – as a teacher I used them regularly in and out of class. Occasionally, however, I would have a medium to high-level student ask what they could read in unabridged format, and when they did I often pointed them towards a novella.

This post will consider the novella: one of the more neglected fiction categories and how you can find novellas suitable for your students using lexical frameworks.

What is a novella?

At the most basic level, a novella sits between a short story and a novel, with a word count between 17,000 and 40,000 words. Typically, it may include subplots, twists and a range of characters. A novella will frequently not have chapters as you’d find in a full-blown novel and can often be read in one sitting. There are a lot of exceptions in the world of the novella so some works mentioned may be considered ‘short novels.’

The novella can be difficult to sell (Stephen King, in his collection ‘Different Seasons’, describes the novella as being thought of as ‘an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic’), but they can also be enticing to write: Ian McEwan wrote, the novella is “… the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant.

However viewed, the novella/short novel can be ideal for the Intermediate+ student.

What’s a Lexical Framework?

Very simply, a Lexical Framework (developed by Stenner and Smith III in 1989) is a method used to grade (never ‘score’) readers through quantitative methods around, amongst other things, individual words and sentence lengths to assess difficulty and readability.

Many sites online provide a full breakdown of lexical ranges. Many will let you put in a published novel or novella and give a Lexile measure. Some will let you enter your own Lexile measure and provide you with a percentage comprehension estimate of a text, and identify challenging vocabulary in it.

A simple Google search around ‘Lexile level’ will help you choose the most suitable site for your needs.

Five Novellas/ Short Novels to Consider…

I have selected five pieces of fiction to consider – all with a Lexile measure of less than 1,000 (roughly equivalent of a US Grade 5/11 year old native speaker UK). There are, of course, other issues beyond ‘difficulty’ and ‘readability’ levels in deciding upon suitability – subject matter being key. These five novellas/short novels are, in cinema terminology, no more explicit than a PG-13. Depending on your location, this will depend on who the publisher is.

  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

At around twenty-nine thousand words (approx. 187 pages) Of Mice and Men was published in 1937. It tells the story of George and Lennie; two field workers in depression set California trying to scrape out a living until they can ‘live off the fat of the land’. The beautiful simplicity of Steinbeck’s writing makes this an easy-to-read tale with complex ideas.

  •  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The last major work published in his lifetime and probably Hemingway’s most well-known work. The story of Santiago, an ageing fisherman, and his struggle with a giant marlin off the Cuba coast is approximately 27 thousand words – which makes it 179 thousand words less than Moby Dick…

  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Note: this is available as both a short story and short novel.

Flowers tells the story of a man, Charlie, with learning difficulties whose intelligence grows after a science experiment (some terminology acceptable of the time around mental disability are somewhat problematic today).

Written in journal format, Flowers is told from Charlie’s POV: initially almost unintelligible in its’ spelling and style but becoming increasingly lucid and intellectual as the story progresses.

  • The Body by Stephen King

Taken from his collection ‘Different Seasons’ (also including the novella ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was based on), The Body (filmed as ‘Stand by Me’) is the story of four boys who go on a hike to find the dead body of a boy with the aim to become famous. The novella is a poignant examination of youth and ideal for those who think King only writes horror.

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding

William Golding’s 1954 Nobel Prize-winning novel(la) is the longest in this list at around fifty-nine thousand words. Named by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels, the book follows a group of schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited Pacific island and the disintegration of their newly built ‘society’.

You can find the exact Lexile ratings for each of these titles, and many more as well, via simple searches around ‘Lexile level’.

For a challenging reading piece – native speaker or not, you could always try A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – its use of a slang Burgess invented for the book makes for an interesting read levelling for the native speaker or learner.

Happy Reading!


Simon Bewick has taught in the UK and Japan and worked in ELT for more than 25 years. You can find more of his writing: including fiction, resources for writers, and reviews and articles for Readers at www.bewbob.com

 


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Making reading fun: Using graded readers with young learners

There is a famous saying by Dr. Seuss that says: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Anyone who has read a good book knows how  reading can transport us to far and distant places. Not only does reading help us relax, but it also develops our mind, and imagination. Reading has become an essential life skill that helps us interact with the world around us. Equipping our children with effective literacy skills has become a natural and fundamental part of our lives.

However, reading isn’t a skill that we are naturally born with. Whilst it is true that there are some children who are capable of learning to read on their own, the majority of us need to be taught how to read. In most cases children start developing their literacy skills at nursery school, where they start to learn how to decipher the letters of the alphabet. It is only usually at primary school that they begin learning how to read by learning how to apply decoding and blending strategies. Although mastering this skill requires a lot of focused practice both in and out of the classroom, the result is and should be magical.

So how can we, as teachers and parents, promote the love of reading in our children? How can we make it easier for our children to choose a book that appeals to their natural curiosity, as well as their interests? Only with the answers to these questions can we enable them to have a meaningful and personalised reading experience.

Children need to make sense of and personalise their reading experience.

To do this, get them to develop their creativity skills. Ask them to create a final “product” that reflects upon their reading experience. Rather than relying solely on reading worksheets with comprehension questions (which we can use to test the children’s reading memory), there’s a wider variety of activities out there that we as teachers could use to get an insight into our student’s understanding of the story.

I’ll explored this topic in my webinar. Please click here to watch the recording!

We also discussed how these activities allow children to take a step further in their language learning process. As children make and present personalised reading activities, they are also learning to apply the language to real world scenarios. By the end of this webinar, you’ll be equipped with the tools that’ll allow your children to experience and share the magic of reading.


Vanessa Esteves has been teaching English as a foreign language in Portugal for the past 23 years in both private and state schools around the country. She is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação in Porto. She has an M.A. in Anglo-American Studies and has been involved in teacher training in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Croatia, Slovenia, Malta, Morocco, Egypt and Portugal. Vanessa is a regular presenter at conferences.


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Creating a reading environment | Using readers in the classroom with adults

We all know why our students should read. Ask any teacher and they will probably tell you that reading builds vocabulary, improves grammar, improves writing skills, and develops critical thinking skills. Readers will tell you that they read because it gives them knowledge, helps them sleep, enhances the imagination, provides entertainment, or takes them ‘away from it all’ when they are feeling stressed.

But reading in a foreign language can feel like work. Tethered to the dictionary, learners often don’t get the same satisfaction from reading in a foreign language that they do in their first language. I recently experienced this myself. Wanting to ‘brush up on my French’, I bought a novel that looked promising. However, after 2 pages I gave up. Why? There were too many unknown words and expressions. It was a chore, not a pleasure.

So, how can we encourage our adult students to read?

1. Ensure they choose the right reading level. Graded readers are ideal for students learning English because they can choose the right level for comfortable reading. A quick way to assess reading level is to read a page from a book. There should be no more than 2-3 unknown words on the page, and students should be able to read steadily and with understanding. Students can also find out their level with this interactive level test. Once they have their level, they can choose a book that interests them out of the many available.

2. Create space for reading and discussion in class. Adult students have busy lives outside of class, so if you are serious about getting them reading, carve out reading time into every lesson. First, put students into groups to discuss what they are reading. Each student gives a short summary of what the book is about and how they like it so far. Next, give students 5-10 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted reading time. Without interfering or adding any pressure, quietly observe the reading behaviour of the students – if they are glued to the dictionary, suggest a lower level reader for this part of your lessons. You may find that students enjoy the quiet reading bit of the lesson the most!

3. Make reading a social experience. Building social relationships is a motivational driver, and many people enjoy talking about what they’ve read, so integrate this into the classroom with reading circles. Put students into groups and ask them to choose one graded reader that they will all read. Assign different roles to each student: discussion leader, summarizer, connector, word master, passage person, and culture collector. You can find out more about these roles in my webinar, or go to the teaching resources site at the Oxford Bookworms Club.

4. Find ways to link books to the outside world. In Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes takes on a very strange case with links to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. As a project, students can learn more about these and other islands – connecting fiction with fact. For non-fiction lovers, there are plenty of graded non-fiction books that are informational and educational. One example is the Factfile about Stephen Hawking. You may know that between 1979 and 2009, Hawkins was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, can you name three other well-known scientists who held this role (answers in the webinar!)?

5. Create low-stakes competition. A little competition can add a game-like element to lessons, bring students satisfaction from seeing their progress charted, and create a sense that students are part of a reading community. Set each student a 6-book challenge. To complete the challenge, they read a book and write a review – complete with a star-rating system. A review can be structured for any level:

Create a class chart or leader board to record how many books each student has read. Give students certificates once they have reached 6 books. Of course, students can read each other’s reviews to help them decide which book to read next!

If you are using e-books from the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf, ask students to share their reading diary which not only tracks which book they have read, but also how many words they have read and time spent reading – this can give them quite a buzz when they see how a little reading over time can add up – imagine reaching 5,000 words read!

There are many more ways to foster reading. Join me in my webinar where I’ll present these and other ideas for using readers in the classroom with adults. Come a few minutes early and share what you are reading with others in the chat box!


Stacey Hughes is a part-time lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and also works freelance as a teacher developer, materials writer and educational consultant in ELT. She has taught English in the US, Poland, Italy and the UK in many different contexts. She also taught French and Spanish. As a teacher developer, she enjoys engaging with teachers from all over the world. She has recently run an introduction to teacher training course for the Oxford Department of Education Summer School.