Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


6 Comments

Conveying Passion: Bringing Literature Into the Classroom

book literature blurred

Public domain via Pixabay

Amos Paran & Pauline Robinson look at some key principles to help you bring literature into the classroom.

I have always found literature to be an extremely powerful tool in the classroom. Maybe it’s because of my own love of literature – maybe I managed to convey some of my passion. Maybe the fact that I love literature made me try out more interesting lesson plans – for example, I think that the lessons in which I taught or used literature were much more learner centred than other lessons.  I always felt that my learners enjoyed their literature lessons and we always had great discussions about important issues.

One important point to make about literature is the distinction between ‘teaching’ literature and ‘using’ literature. I always feel uneasy about these distinctions, but one thing that is always important is not to teach about the literature. The learners must be involved with it directly.

When I think back to my own lessons, or when I have observed other teachers use literature in their classroom, it seems to me that there are a number of principles that can make such lessons a success.

Principle 1: Teacher Engagement

The first principle is probably that teachers need to be engaged in the work that they are teaching – so the choice of the literature they are using or teaching is important. In some cases teachers have little choice about the piece that they are teaching – but some teachers then can use their negative reaction as a discussion point in class.

Principle 2: Appropriate Tasks

With some literary texts you can just plunge in; others will require more preparation. But the tasks that we construct are crucial in helping the learners make meaning with the literary texts and enjoying them. And by ‘tasks’ I don’t mean any activity or any discussion – I mean a focused activity for which there is a clear tangible outcome.

Principle 3: Relevance

Relevance refers to the connection between the learners’ lives and what is happening in the society around them and the literature that we use.  Many of the works I have used in secondary classrooms concerned the construction of identity and finding one’s way in the world – a theme of huge importance to my learners.  When I taught James Joyce’s Eveline in a secondary school, I had a young woman in my class who was going through the inner turmoil that Eveline goes through and ended up marrying in the last year of secondary school only to escape her home.  Obviously, the themes which the story was bringing up were relevant not just to her but to the other learners in the class.

We can also connect literature to history and to our society’s view of historical events. For example, on July 1st 2016 we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history. Learners can be made aware of this through literary works from World War 1 by poets such as Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg, both of whom were killed in the war.

Supports going up after battle to relieve the soldiers in the front trenches.

Supports going up after battle to relieve the soldiers in the front trenches. Photo: National Museum via Flickr

 

Principle 4:  Student Choice

Outside the classroom we normally choose what we want to read; if we don’t enjoy what we read, we stop. In class this doesn’t happen often, although we know that ‘As students perceive that teachers respect them enough to provide genuine choices, students increase their effort and commitment to learning’ (Guthrie & Wigfield 2000: 412). If we provide a choice for our students – for example, by offering them a choice of three or four books from which they have to choose one that the class will study – we increase their investment in the class and create a space where the learners have a voice too. This choice can be extended to other areas too.

Principle 5: Continuous Support and Engagement

Learner engagement with literary texts is not something that is achieved miraculously on day 1 of class: like other areas in teaching, this is something that we need to work on continuously. For example, bringing in a short poem once a week and devoting five or ten minutes to reading or discussing it in class can sometimes be more effective than spending a long time on one piece and analyzing it in great depth. We need to move away from what I like to call ‘the tyranny of totality’, the idea that our learners have to know everything about the piece we are learning (or indeed, that we need to be absolute experts about it!) Literature is there to be enjoyed and experienced, and it can be experienced at many levels.

 

Bibliography

Guthrie, J. T. and Wigfield, A. (2000) Engagement and motivation in reading. In P.B. Mosenthal, M.L. Kamil, P.D. Pearson and R. Barr (eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, Vol. III. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. pp. 403-422.

Amos Paran started his professional career in Israel, where he taught EFL in secondary schools and trained teachers. His main areas of interest are literature in language teaching and the teaching of reading and he has published widely in this area.

Based for many years at the University of Reading, Pauline directed language courses and taught on the MA TEFL programme. She has taught on short courses for students and teachers in many parts of the world, especially in Europe and Asia.

 

 


Leave a comment

insight Top 10 Tips: Using Literature

insight-top-10Students often find it difficult to engage with reading and writing instruction and practice, particularly when large, intimidating texts are involved. This is the second in our series of insight blog posts, aimed at helping teachers to overcome this problem. Here are the Top 10 Tips for Using Literature (Part 1), from teacher-trainer Edmund Dudley.

For many English teachers, love of the language and love of English literature go hand in hand. But is it the same for our students? Sadly, most teenage learners of English do not seem too excited about the topic of literature, associating it with dusty texts and tedious book reviews. In this article, we will look at some tips for using literature in simple and motivating ways in the EFL classroom.

  1. Do judge a book by its cover!

lostworldHaving a large collection of graded readers, short stories or novellas in your classroom is a great way to make literature available to your students, but in itself it does not guarantee that students will be fighting to get their hands on the titles. Many of them may not even take the trouble to look at the books. That is the first thing to tackle. Design simple quizzes that get students to make predictions about a book’s content based on the cover.

Example: The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The book tells the story of a scientist who discovers that some dinosaurs are still alive and living in…

  • a) Africa
  • b) Asia
  • c) South America

(Oxford Dominoes / Literature Insight, Insight Pre-Intermediate p.92)

In these activities, the students do not have to read anything – in fact they do not even have to open the book. You can, of course, get them to look through the book quickly to find the answer. In any case, by asking them to make a prediction we can focus their attention on the books available and, with luck, generate some interest in reading.

  1. Make the most of blurbs

The blurb is the text on the back cover of a book. It provides key background information and a summary of the plot. Activities that get students working with blurbs can be an effective way to continue the process of generating interest in titles and encouraging students to get the books in their hands – even if they do not actually open them up.

Again, remember that a successful classroom activity about literature does not have to involve forcing your students to read books in class. Activities such as reading blurbs and matching them to titles help the students to practise language while also tempting them to look closer at the titles available in your class library.

  1. Work with short extracts

Sometimes, less is more. Resist the temptation to give reluctant students long passages to read – there is actually a lot that you can do with a short extract. One simple activity is to show students a single line from a story they have not read and get them to use their imagination to make sense of the gaps in meaning. For example, you could take this line from The Railway Children:

“Tell him the things are for Peter, the boy who was sorry about the coal, then he will understand.”

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit

(Oxford Dominoes / Literature Insight, Insight Pre-Intermediate p.90)

Who is Peter? What things does he need? Why? What happened with the coal? And who ‘will understand’? Students have not read the book, so they have no way of knowing the answers to these questions. Instead, encourage them to think creatively. In class, get students working in small groups to come up with imaginative answers to the questions. Once you have listened to all the suggestions, the students are likely to be curious about the actual answers contained in the story.

  1. Reading for pleasure? Make sure it’s not too difficult

Be aware of the language level when selecting a text. It is important to make sure that the texts we use are at an appropriate level and that the activities connected to the text are as engaging as possible. When it comes to reading for pleasure – also known as ‘extensive reading’ – we should make sure that the language level of the texts we use is below the level the students are actually at. That way, they will be able to read faster and also focus on the story without having to stop at regular intervals in order to look up the meaning of new words in a dictionary. By contrast, if the texts we use contain too many new words or structures then the experience of reading them stops being pleasurable and begins to resemble hard work.

  1. Analysing language? Make the challenge enjoyable

The activity of analysing language can be made more engaging if we use extracts from literature to introduce the features of language we would like to focus on. For example, the following short extract from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland contains two examples of antimetabole (the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed order). Ask students to read the text and identify the two examples:

‘Then you must say what you mean,’ the March Hare said.

‘I do,’ Alice said quickly. ‘Well, I mean what I say. And that’s the same thing, you know.’

‘No it isn’t!’ said the Hatter. ‘Listen to this. I see what I eat means one thing, but I eat what I see means something very different.’

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

(Oxford Dominoes / Literature Insight,  Insight Pre-Intermediate p.87)

Ask students to explain the difference in meaning between say what you mean and mean what you say, and between see what you eat and eat what you see. They can provide a spoken explanation, put something down in writing, or even demonstrate the difference by drawing pictures. As a follow-up, collect further examples of antimetabole on the board or on a specially made poster, complete with illustrations.

Note that although in this lesson we are focusing students’ attention on the language and how it works, by the end of the class you might find yourself with some students who are suddenly more interested in finding out more about Alice…


7 Comments

Webinar: Reasons to use literature in English language teaching

Young woman readingGuy Cook, author of the award-winning applied linguistics book Translation in Language Teaching, considers why using literature to teach English is still worth doing. Guy will discuss this topic in more detail in his upcoming webinar on 14th and 17th January.

Let’s face it. Teaching literature to language learners can be a tough challenge!

  • The language can be difficult, unusual or just old-fashioned (you wouldn’t want your learners saying ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?”).
  • It can demand a lot of background knowledge – from an unfamiliar time and place.
  • It deals with controversial topics, which may be very personal, embarrassing or culturally divisive.
  • It needs a close focus on written text, which may be alien to the ‘internet generation’.
  • Lastly it is supremely useless! There are not many jobs demanding an understanding of poetry!

To make matters worse, an inappropriate choice of texts may be forced upon you by an exam syllabus. Or, if you can choose your own, you may end up teaching a text that you love but the students hate – an excruciating experience.

HOWEVER, if  you still feel strongly, as I do, that despite all these problems and pitfalls, literature remains supremely worth teaching, and can be very successful in the classroom, then this is a webinar for you.

First, we shall discuss ways of presenting a poem, dealing with its difficulties and subleties, and getting learners to engage with its sound, language and meaning. Next we shall consider what kind of literature is best for the language learner, depending on age, stage, and context. Finally we shall debate some of the cultural and personal issues which arise.

Literature is inspiring, beautiful, eloquent, and memorable. It deals with the big universal experiences of human life: love, death, sexuality, sickness, religion, childhood, friendship, and so forth. As such, it is certainly more interesting than the bland inoffensive materials favoured in ELT classes and textbooks!

I hope you will leave the webinar agreeing with me that, despite its difficulties, literature in the language classroom:

  • has a unique educational value;
  • is relevant to student contemporary lives and experiences;
  • can improve English language knowledge and use;
  • is enjoyable and stimulating for both teacher and students.

In short, my webinar argues strongly for the teaching of literature in ELT, but also candidly address the problems that come with it. I look forward to seeing you there, hearing your comments and opinions, and to benefitting from your own insights and experiences, too.

To find out more about using literature in English language teaching, register for Guy’s webinar on 14th or 17th January.