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Category Archives: literature

>Maria Spelleri, Manatee Community College, FL, USA

A teacher asks: “… how can I combine language teaching and literature together, to get my student more interested in English and to make English learning more meaningful?”

First, does “literature” refer to classics by Bronte, Hardy, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Oates, etc.?

If so, my quick response to this is: Who says that reading or studying literature makes English more meaningful to the students? Sure, making the language more “meaningful” to the students will increase their motivation in class, but I believe 100 year old foreign language literature is the kiss of death for high school students.

If you want to bring meaning to the students’ study of the language and you want to incorporate reading, find some modern novels that feature teens or characters in their 20s. At least the language will be contemporary and there is more of a chance the students will be interested in the story. You don’t have to read teen romance pap.

There is some excellent Young Adult (YA) fiction out there. You may even be able to find online teaching guides for some of most noteworthy. At the American Library Association page for book awards you can find titles and descriptions under “Young Adult” and “Newberry Awards.”

Now some teachers have criticised me. The implication of this question was that teaching literature would increase student interest, and that teaching literature would result in more meaningful learning. To me, it sounded like literature, just because it is literature, will lead to meaningful learning, which I believe to be untrue.

“Meaningful” needs to be redefined with every class, with every student. Tolstoy might be meaningful to one person, while Auto Mechanics Digest will be meaningful to another. I can think of plenty of cases where bringing literature into the class would be the surest way to get some to drop out simply because it would not be meaningful.

Any kind of reading material for the class should be selected because of its appropriateness for the lesson and interest level for the student, not because someone calls it literature, and therefore “important” and “meaningful”. That is the crux of the matter in my opinion. It does not mean you should never teach literature. It means that doing so will not necessarily provide interest and meaningful learning.

Finally, I see many list members’ idea of “literature” is more broad than mine. While I certainly did not mean only dead white authors, I surely was not considering fables, myths, current best sellers, or everything written by NNS authors writing in English solely because they write of the cross-cultural experience. I was thinking, perhaps incorrectly, of writing that has stood the test of time as work of artistic and creative excellence.


By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

Sometimes teachers ask how to combine language and literature. First, I feel that literary criticism and analysis is a minority taste. Talk to engineers, IT specialists, bus drivers, shop workers and English teachers and you’ll find that only the last group have many enjoyable memories of lit. crit.

If this is true for L1 literature, it’s even more true for L2 literature. However, if you ask the same people if they enjoy a good book you get a much better response. I suggest using the attraction of literature to teach language, not studying the literature as an end in itself.

Literature’s appeal lies in its entertainment value. Literature entertains with stories and with words. Guy Cook, Language Play, Language Learning, has a lot to say about why we like language play and stories and how it contributes to our every day language use. Literature is full of language play and learners who play with language feel confident and in control. Besides, if you play with language you may well enjoy the language.

I have had students (tertiary) who have used an idea from Jeff Noon. Noon wrote a poem “Metaphorazine” in which the writer, after taking the drug metaphorazine writes a poem filled with metaphors. Students wrote poems filled with adverbs, similes, adjectives etc. They then took medical drug endings and invented a new English word for the title, Adjectivium, Adverbitol, Hyperbolamine etc. They overdosed their poems with adjectives, adverbs or hyperboles, rapidly running out and having to call on their passive knowledge, but there was also a great sense of pleasure in creating a new word in the L2 that other speakers of English could understand.

For other ways of getting language out of literature, try Duff and Maley, “Literature”, and Maley, “Short and Sweet”. These books give ten generalisable principles for language teachers to exploit literary texts. They give things for learners to do outside and above the comprehension questions that most learners find boring and this is great because for a learner to be introduced to a novel as a 100,000 word reading comprehension is not the best way into enjoying and being stimulated by literature.

Maley suggests the learner can extend the story by writing in extra chapters or paragraphs, reduce the story in various ways, put the text back together after it’s been mixed up by the teacher, turn the story into a play, a cartoon or a newpaper report and many other ideas. These are interesting tasks in their own right but they also have a purpose in language practice, vocabulary recycling and the unconscious recycling of structures and phrases from the original text.