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Using literature in the EFL classroom with specific reference to children's literature and literature and film
- by Emma Metcalf

- 1

It is only recently that literature has once again been recognised as a valuable source for teaching in the EFL classroom. During the time when Grammar-Translation was dominant, literary texts were, 'the very staple of foreign language teaching,' since they represented models of 'good' writing as well as illustrating the grammatical rules of writing. (Duff & Maley, 1990, p.3) However, with the advent of Structuralism, literature study was soon swept aside. Literature study was associated with 'bad,' 'old,' or 'traditional' teaching methods and it was believed that literature failed to provide the vocabulary, structures and functional language that students required. Although it may be argued that many literary texts are still unsuitable for English language students since much of the language contained within them bears little resemblance to 'normal, everyday English,' literature study still offers many benefits to both students and teachers of English. So what are these benefits exactly? Why should we use literature in the classroom?

Lazar (1993, p.8) argues how literary language is, 'not completely separate from other forms of language,' and therefore, 'obviously has some implications for use of literature in the language classroom.' Duff & Maley categorise these implications under three headings: Linguistic (literature offers a wide range of styles, registers, text-types at many levels of difficulty;) Methodological (literary texts are open to multiple interpretation whereby, 'this ready-made opinion gap between one individual´s interpretation and another´s can be bridged by genuine interaction,' p.6) and finally Motivational (literary texts deal with matters which concerned the writer enough to make him or her write about them and are therefore non-trivial.) Maley and Duff go on to argue how, 'This "genuine feel" of literary texts is a powerful motivator and touches on themes to which learners can bring a personal response from their own experience.' (p.6) Collie and Slater echo these ideas under headings of Cultural and Language Enrichment, and Personal Involvement. (1997, pp.4-5) (See appendix A.) Coursebook writers are very much aware of the need to include authentic texts in their books: newspaper articles, timetables, leaflets, film reviews, even recipes all appear in coursebooks. Yet, literary texts, despite their authenticity and benefits for the classroom, are still either very much ignored or very much avoided: not only by coursebook writers but by teachers themselves.(1)

It is for this reason that I have decided to look at literature. I have not been given or perhaps not looked for an opportunity to teach literature with any of my students which I have found frustrating because I studied English literature at university. One of the main reasons for this avoidance was because firstly, I was not convinced my students would be interested or find it relevant (many of the classes I have taught throughout the year have been exam classes) and secondly, I was not sure how to go about incorporating literature into a lesson plan.

The texts I have chosen I for my lesson are The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Townsend, 1983) and Bridget Jones´s Diary (Fielding, 1997.) This assignment will discuss how children´s literature can be used for teaching adults. I will then go on to discuss the how literature (with particular reference to Readers) and film can be together in the classroom. (The recent release of the film Bridget Jones makes this area particularly apt.)

The first question to pose is why children´s literature is particularly good for teaching EFL to adults. Newman (1996) in his essay, 'Towards an ESOL Literature,'(2) gives a useful description of children´s literature which in part, answers this question. He states how:

Authors of children´s literature face a challenge that, while not identical, is quite similar to the once facing ESOL material writers: Their possibilities of conveying meaning are inhibited by their readers´incomplete control over the written code and relatively limited vocabulary. (p.9)

Children and English students are at the same disadvantage in that their assimilation of the language is in no way complete. Newman goes on to explain how authors employ three methods to overcome this problem:

• Familiar linguistic forms: syntax and vocabulary of high frequency. Unfamiliar words and structures are used but few and these are often repeated several times.
• Predictable rhetorical structures: Writers often make use of prototypical plot features and formulaic expressions, for example Once upon a time …
• Visual imagery: pictures used supporting the informational content of the narrative.
(For more detailed description, see appendix D)

Children´s texts are obviously easier and therefore less intimidating for a student to tackle. Yet, the texts are still genuine, they have not been written specifically for English students but for native speakers. As Newman points out: 'Children´s literature serves as a living breathing counterexample to the notion that linguistically simple texts must be inauthentic.' (p.10) This combination of simpler but authentic texts is more motivating for a student than ploughing through a text pitched too high or reading a text so obviously written for EFL purposes.

1 Most of my colleagues have not really shown interest. I only know of one ´literature´lesson taking place as such, and she was studying for her diploma doing the experimental! Some textbooks have looked at some literary texts - see appendix B.
2 See appendix C
- Newman is generally arguing that, when writing ESOL materials, the writers should adopt a similar ideology and methodology that children´s authors have and use. I am not concerned with this aspect in so much as I believe that children´s literature itself should partly be used in place of ESOL or EFL material.

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