How can we use literature as a tool to promote foreign language learning? Here are 7 key points to consider when using literary texts in the EFL classroom:
- L2 literary texts as part of the CLIL (Content and language integrated learning) approach to teaching.
Focus on content and form
It is important to always keep in mind that we will be using literature in the EFL classroom not only for the sake of language learning but also for promoting our ss’ general education. The exposure to the TL culture through literature expands not just the knowledge of the target language but also our ss’ general knowledge and enhances their personal development. Literature is not merely viewed as a linguistic tool. The text is not simply the means by which new grammar or vocabulary is introduced in the language classroom. Ss focus not only on the language but also on the content.
Through the use of literature language teachers get to achieve 3 things: boost the ss’ motivation, focus on the target language through the use of authentic texts and at the same time promote intercultural awareness. After all, teaching a language should be interconnected with teaching ss more about the cultural background of the people that speak that language. Ss get to learn more about the target culture and become genuinely interested in it.
2. Information overload
Is too much info spoiling all the fun of discovery?
When presenting a literary text, EFL teachers need to think about how much information they should be giving out to their class in terms of the text’s cultural and historical background, the author etc. We need to carefully select the amount of input we give and provide our learners with all the necessary information that will activate their schemata and will facilitate comprehension. It is crucial, however, to remember that literature is primarily being used as a tool that will help us step away from coursebook material and boost our learners’ levels of interest and motivation. Too much background information on the text and the target language culture may ‘spoil the fun’.
Learners need to be seen as ‘researchers’ and be encouraged to discover information on their own. This active involvement in the learning process and the sense of discovery will boost their motivation levels and instil the reading ‘bug’ to many of them.
3. Introducing ss to a variety of literary genres
Introducing literature in the language classroom can boost our ss’ motivation levels. The abstracts should be carefully chosen in order to trigger our learners’ attention. It is a challenge, but watching our ss show genuine interest in the lesson can be very rewarding.
The literary texts should be selected based on our ss’ age, level, needs and interests. Teachers should also not stick to abstracts from books but make full use of all the different literary genres (drama, poetry, theatrical plays etc). This will add variety to the lesson and enhance our learners’ motivation.
Different literary genres can also trigger a variety of innovative activities in the EFL classroom. For example, ss can act out dialogues from a theatrical play or work in groups and use their creativity and rewrite the final stanzas of a poem.
4. Unknown vocabulary/structures
We should always carefully examine the abstracts we are giving out to the classroom in terms of any unknown words, grammatical structures, metaphors and slang that may confuse our learners. The language needs to match our ss’ level in terms of complexity and new vocabulary. It should neither be too difficult nor too easy. My advice would be not to focus on each and every unknown word or phrase our ss may encounter. Instead, we should see whether they can deduct the meaning of the new words from context and focus only on the ones that may hinder comprehension and thus create problems during the learning process.
5. Encourage creative thinking
Literary texts provide the meaningful context that we can use to introduce new vocabulary and new grammatical structures to our ss. Nevertheless, using authentic texts to merely focus on language teaching can spoil the whole pleasure of the reading process. As a result, we should not focus on using an abstract from a book in order to teach grammar/vocabulary per se, but instead view it as a very good opportunity to encourage critical and creative thinking, to make our ss begin to show genuine interest in the TL culture and its literature.
6. The idea of a classroom library
As I previously mentioned, literary texts should not be merely seen as authentic material that boost foreign language acquisition but as a tool that will foster our learners’ future development. What we need is to cultivate a love of reading in ss, not just for classroom purposes, but for pleasure. They need to feel intrinsically motivated to do so (not because they have to, but because they want to). To further promote this ‘passion for books’ teachers should consider the possibility of creating a foreign language library inside the classroom, with ss exchanging books, reading them for fun or working on literary projects as part of their H/W.
Scholastic.com hosts a very useful article on the importance and different functions of classroom libraries:
7. Graded readers: when to use them
Graded readers can be used for younger learners as an introduction to the world of literature, to familiarise them with the process of reading. These simplified versions may be very effective in the early stages of language learning. They are, however, poor representations of the original and should be avoided in upper levels especially when teachers have the choice of selecting a different extract from a book that matches their ss’ needs and also gives them exposure to the real, authentic language.
Below you can find some creative ideas on literature-based activities for the EFL classroom (which can of course be adapted to our learners’ needs and level). I hope that EFL teachers who are new to the profession will benefit from this. Feel free to download and share.