Using literature in teaching English | Статья в журнале «Молодой ученый»

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Рубрика: Педагогика

Опубликовано в Молодой учёный №5 (16) май 2010 г.

Статья просмотрена: 297 раз

Библиографическое описание:

Родина, Е. Ю. Using literature in teaching English / Е. Ю. Родина. — Текст : непосредственный // Молодой ученый. — 2010. — № 5 (16). — Т. 2. — С. 188-192. — URL: (дата обращения: 02.06.2020).

The article deals with some problems of using literature in teaching English. The author tried to answer three important questions: 1. Why? 2. What? 3. How? The first question (Why is it worth doing?) concerns the reasons and advantages of using literature resources. The second question (What kind of literature should be used?) is connected with some problems of material selection. The third question (How should we use literature in teaching English?) relates to some approaches of studying language through literature. Finally, some examples of activities are offered.

Literary texts have always been an important source of material for English language classes as they demonstrate a wide range of language use in authentic contexts. It should be noted that literary texts have been considered as a valuable variety to supplement the main course materials for the in-class and out of class activities of language teaching.

This interest in using literature in language teaching lies in three interrelated elements: authenticity, culture and personal growth [3]. First, literary texts can be more beneficial than informational materials in stimulating the language development and learning process as they provide authentic contexts for processing new language. Containing real examples of grammatical structures and vocabulary items, the literary texts advance learners’ competence in all language skills. Second, using literature in language teaching has the advantage of providing cultural information about the language. Literary texts increase foreign language learners' insight into the country and the people whose language is being learnt [3]. Lastly, since literature enables learners to understand and appreciate other cultures, societies and ideologies different from their own, it encourages personal growth and intellectual development.

On the other hand, the rise of high-tech and the importance of scientific subjects such as physics, chemistry and biology now mean that English is often just being taught in order to serve the future ability of a student to read scientific, instructive books in English. English is supposed only as a functional tool to understand other subjects. For some time a new communicative approach ignored literature. The emphasis was on pragmatic, efficient communication. Literature seemed like an irrelevance. Most students (and many teachers of English as well) believed that poems, short stories, and plays had little or no place in classrooms oriented to developing communicative competence in English. Literature was not important in the eyes of the educators because they were trying to prepare their students for the world of science, and scientific functionality did not require the knowledge of poetry, playwriting and novels.

Yet in the last ten years or so there has been a remarkable revival of interest in literature as one of the resources available for language learning. Above all, we are starving the emotional intelligence of this generation. Moreover, it is literature that helps us find interesting resources for language learning and personal development. In fact, using literature in comparison with a communicative textbook changes the learning approach from learning how to say into learning how to mean developing creative thinking. Conventional lessons focus on 'formulas' used in contextual situations so there is little allowance for independent thought and adaptation of language by naturally speaking [5]; while literature-based programs focus on personal interpretation of the language so students begin to experiment with the language and incorporate this into their everyday speech and vocabulary. Thus, the advantages of using literature in teaching English are obvious:

  • First of all, it is a change from the regular textbook routine;
  • Secondly, it is a chance to understand different cultures, which provides learners’ personal development;
  • Finally, it is the opportunity to deal with authentic materials, which means learning the language in a whole context (rather than memorizing words and rules.)

If the points mentioned above can be considered as the answer to the first question (Why?), and we decide to use literature in our lessons, the next question will be “What kind of literature should be chosen for that?” Some specialists state that popular culture is still based mainly on past masters and “the best we can do is demonstrate how nothing has really changed from Shakespeare’s times and how the same questions have been raised over and over again and are still being raised now”[1]. Other scientists are sure that 100- year- old foreign language literature is the “kiss of death” for students [4]. These specialists recommend finding some modern novels that describe teens or characters in their twenties. At least the language will be contemporary and there is more of a chance the students will be interested in the story.

The length of the story is also of great importance. Some specialists list the advantages of using short stories for language teachers:

·         short stories are practical, as their length is long enough to cover entirely in one or two class sessions;

·         they are not complicated for students to work with on their own;

·         they have a variety of choice for different interests and tastes;

·         they can be used with all levels (beginner to advanced), all ages (young learners to adults) and all classes (summer courses to evening classes).

All this goes to show that fiction written for young adults can be particularly suitable for language teaching, as the books are relatively short and have straightforward plot. The content is usually familiar and interesting for students. The language, which tends toward the colloquial, can be a problem, but at the same time has its advantages. Young learners want to understand these books because they give access to the colloquial language used by young native-speakers. In that way, the main requirements for the story used in language teaching are:

·         Contemporary and clear language

·         Exciting plot

·         Universal themes

·         Suitable length

These requirements can be regarded as the answer to the second question (What?) and that brings us to the third question (How?).

Having the benefits of literary texts in teaching a foreign language in mind, we decided to use short stories or novels divided into chapters for students of the evening course. For the reason we adopted a combination of home and class work, and saw that, a wide range of possibilities opened up for all the language skills. One of these stories was Love Story by Erich Segal, and we followed a four-step technique of exploring it. Linda Gajdusek suggested the method and the steps are the following:

1. Pre-reading activities in order to present background information and new vocabulary items;

2. In-class work after reading the text at home to examine point of view, characters, setting and action;

3. Analysis of structure, theme and style to study how the author uses the language;

4. Extending (in-class) activities such as formal critical essay writing or dramatizing a crucial scene.       

In such a way, this four-step model (or its variation) can be the answer to the third question (How?). Actually, the model applied is neither new nor ideal. However, it is quite suitable for different in-class and out of-class activities. Teachers should realize that in practice, some of the steps will be carried out in parallel, and the model can easily be modified. Now, when all the answers are obtained, we can turn to the activities.

Below there are a few tasks, based on the story, for an intermediate group. The following pre-reading and warm-up activities (first step) can be offered to start with:

  1. Explain the following expressions and make up your own examples:


to shoot a glance, to stare at smb, to put up with, to eye the cheese



  1.  Look at the words and expressions below and match them to the photos \ characters. Make a link between them then compare your version with the original one:



      family heritage,   library,   stupid and rich,  smart and poor,  preppie,   all form but no content,  superior-being type,  law school



  1. Version: Do any of the following adjectives apply to the characters?


musical, cynical, senior, dull,  ironical,  beautiful,  dumb,  brilliant,  

                 snotty,  sporty,  shy,  independent



  1. Read the introduction or a short review first. Make some predictions about characters and say if the following statements are True or False:

1. Jenny likes playing music.

2. Oliver likes playing sport.

3. They both are Harvard students.

4. They both are going to continue their education in Europe.


5. Version. Read the following review and make predictions about what will happen in the story.


     Oliver Barret IV is a rich Harvard jock. Jenny Cavilleri is a wisecracking Radcliffe music major. They have nothing in common. They fall in love. Oliver Barret IV hates the way his father speaks and the ways he behaves. Jenny's father Phil is a Widower and he lives for her daughter. Jenny gets a scholarship in a music college at Paris, but she drops the offer…


The first-step activities are designed to awaken interest: guessing, speculation, and short discussions are encouraged. The exercises also make students feel free with the texts, comment, speculate, criticize and, above all, offer suggestions. First information about characters, as well as new vocabulary, is also introduced at this stage.

The second step involves mostly speaking exercises, such as answering questions, sharing opinions, discussions; matching, doing True \ False tasks, putting statements into the right order and other after-reading activities are also possible there. Here are some examples.

  1. Decide which words and expressions can be referred to Oliver, which ones to Jenny and complete the table:

Sporty   preppie   banker   doctor   baker   musical major   stony face   rich   smart   poor  

  glasses   senior year   harpsichord soloist   a big Harvard jock   pretty eyes   student






1. rich

1. poor

1. student

1. doctor










  1. Match the sentences to their authors and tell what the situation is:



About \ To

1. You look stupid and rich



2. I never see his face



3. I’m a social zero



4. We’re going to flunk out



5. I always make the other guys look worse



6. I always had to be number one




3. Match two parts of the sentences:

1. We graduate

a) she had disappeared

2. By the time I turned,

b) strategy forbade my looking back

3. I would like to have seen the expression on her face, but

c) and we go our separate ways

The exercises of the second stage are intended to check students’ understanding and reactions to the book. At this stage, they can talk about their favorite parts in the story; how the story makes them feel; something they have learned from the story, or a similar incident that has happened to them. The task of summarizing the events of every part \ chapter is also a good idea.

The third step deals with analyzing language structures and working with vocabulary. Grammar exercises related to narration and prediction provide great opportunities to practice the Present, Past and Future Simple Tenses, the language of prediction and use of connectors. There is one important difference from the textbook exercise. The students work not on the model, passage provides a clear context that makes it easier for the students to decide which verbal form is the most suitable.

Special attention can be focused on particular structures and this gives us the opportunity to turn pure grammar into a problem solving activity with a question: "What would you do if…?" Here the students get a challenging case to practice the second conditional. Here are some examples:

1.      Change the infinitive forms into the proper verb forms:


By now, Jenny (read) my bio in the program. I (make) triple sure that Vic Claman, the manager, (see) that she (get) one. As we (warm up) on the ice, I (not \ wave) to her. Yet I think she thought I (glance) at her.

By the middle of the second period, we (beat) Dartmouth 0 -0. The fans already (scream) for blood. I (slam) into Dartmouth center, (steal) the puck and (start) down-ice. The fans (roar). The ref (blow) his whistle. “You – two minutes in the box!” I (look) up. He (point) at me. Me? What (do) to deserve a penalty? “Why you (sit) here when all your friends (play)? The voice was Jenny’s. I (turn) and (answer) her. “I (try) too hard”.

“I (leave). Good-bye. ”By the time I (turn), she (disappear).



2. Look at these questions and decide what you would do:

1.      Would you go to Paris if you were in Jenny’s place?

2.      If you won a scholarship to study in another country, would you stay for someone you are in love with?

3.      What would you do if your parents disapprove the person you are going to marry?

4.      How would you act in Oliver’s place when he got bad news about Jenny’s health?

 3. In small groups, discuss the meaning of the expressions below:

1.      Part of being a big winner is the ability to be a good loser.

2.      Out-and-out triumph is better.

3.      To be able to turn any defeat into victory.

4.      If you have the option, the last-minute score is preferable.

4. Explain the meaning of following verbs from the introduction:

1. Edge; 2. Lump; 3. Trail.

The tasks of this stage focus on individual language items, such as vocabulary and grammar. Besides, students learn to use of dictionaries and work out meaning of words from the context. The activities of the second and third stage also develop the ability to find necessary information from the text.

The last step includes extending activities and different kinds of after-reading exercises can be used. It is a good time for doing a lot of writing. The book gives many opportunities to practice in:

  1. For \against essays, giving opposing arguments for both sides, for example, about Oliver and his father relations;
  2. Opinion essays, giving students’ personal opinion about the Barrett family;
  3. Descriptive compositions about Jenny and Olivers characters; place description- new flat, Oliver’s house;
  4. Narrative descriptions about events which happened in the story;
  5. Letter writing, for example, informal letter or postcard (from Jenny to her father); love letter (from Oliver to Jenny); formal letter: letter of refusal from Jenny to Olli’s parents; application letter from Oliver to perspective employer; letter to Oliver from a law school, etc.

Follow-up activities after a book is finished might include also writing an extra chapter about 'what might happen next', writing a character's diary entry about how they feel, or making an alternative book cover that might emphasize a different element of the book's content. Other creative writing tasks might include writing a poem about the story, re-writing the story with a new ending, or making a book into a play, or vice versa.  The emphasis is on the students’ personal involvement with a given theme. Therefore, the activities of this stage stimulate students’ creative thinking and improve their writing abilities.

Besides, if you are lucky to buy an Oxford University Press edition with discs, you are able to do many listening exercises. You can play dialogues for students to complete the gaps; mark statements as True or False; put the conversation into the right order; make predictions, etc. Here there are some more examples of listening exercises:

  1. Listen to the dialogue(Chapter 6) and say what Jenny is going to do:

-       take up driving lessons

-       travel abroad

-       give up education

-       move a house

-       buy a car

-       continue musical lessons

-       get a scholarship

-       study law

  1. Listen to the dialogue (chapter 1) and say where the action takes place:

-       in a hospital

-       in a café

-       in a library

-       in a dormitory  

3. Word recognition. Listen to the passage and tick the words that you hear:

1. sporty \ spotty; 2. quite \ quiet; 3. fair \ fare; 4. owns \ owes; 5. shoot \ shut; 6 shouting \ shutting; 7. pack \ puck.   

It should be noted that listening activities concerning vocabulary are recommended for the first step, while activities relating to listening comprehension or True or False tasks should be used for the second step (Ex. 1, 2). For the third step, listening containing often-confused words can be very helpful (ex. 3). Besides, film movies based on works of literature provide a helpful analogy. As we know, there is an equally popular movie, and we can use it for a change for some visual interpretation.

In conclusion, it is necessary to emphasize that the given book was selected for a number of reasons. First, the choice of the book was justified by its simplicity and clear language. However, the language is still contemporary and natural. The second reason is that the story contains universal themes (love and friendship; love and money; family relations; generation gap), which students can always have something to relate to. Finally, the story is divided into chapters, which makes it easier to organize and plan the work.

In the process of work, we can see that literature gives great opportunities for practicing vocabulary and grammar. It encourages students to discuss and share opinions thereby developing their narrative thinking and improving their speaking abilities.  Moreover, literature-based tasks concerning narration, classification, comparison, contrast, and argumentation, build up students’ writing abilities.  Finally, literature provides an informal but supportive environment for students to develop their language skills.



  1. Alan Duff and Alan Maley, Literature, Oxford University Press, 2001
  2. Sandra Silberstein, Techniques and resources in teaching reading, Oxford University Press, 1994
  4. http\  maria-spelleri-manatee-community.html


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