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

- 2

If children´s literature has a valid place in the classroom, it seems logical to look at an example. I have decided to use Roald Dahl´s Revolting Rhymes, looking specifically at 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears.' A predictable rhetorical structure is used- the problem/solution textual pattern. (Hoey, 1983) Dahl, however, rewrites the fairytale, looking at it from a different angle and changing the moral of the story. (See appendix E for transcript.) Looking at fairytales has two advantages. Firstly, they are known in many different cultures.(1) Secondly, fairytales are short, making them manageable to deal with in class: they are easy to prepare and students can finish reading the whole story.

As Collie and Slater point out:

Students who are only exposed to 'bite-sized chunks' will never have the satisfaction of knowing the overall pattern of a book which is, after all, the satisfaction most of us seek when we read something in our own language. (1997, p.11)

Fairytales are mini-stories and therefore have the same advantages that short stories have. The following are suggestions of what could be done in a class:

• Parallel reading. Comparison of traditional fairytale with Dahl´s version.
• Reading for detail or listening for detail (the rhymes are available on cassette.) Students given grids to complete.
• Reading strategies: inferring meaning from context.
• Discourse analysis: identifying the problem/solution textual pattern in the tale. Follow -up could be writing: rewriting a different fairytale using the problem/solution pattern.
• Identifying the role and influence of the narrator on the reader. Students could be given the tale without the narrator´s comments to analyse how the narrator can affect the reader´s opinion. This could be then extended to how texts can be biased - see Grellet (1981, pp.244-5)
• Vocabulary: (i) contrasting different registers: informal (e.g. do a bunk) and formal (e.g.
(ii) phrasal verbs e.g. get off/ break in (these could be classified in the
semantic field of crime)
(iii) collocations: houseproud wife/ brimming full
• Mini-reading aloud to develop students´awareness of intonation, rhythm and stress.
• Discussions: role of parents and children, the family, 'manners.' The social behaviour task sheet from Tomalin and Stempleski´s Cultural Awareness (1993, p.100) could be adapted for 'How to behave in someone´s house.'

The text is short and funny and extremely adaptable for many different levels and activities. This is ultimately what the teacher needs when trying to find suitable material. Texts that lend themselves to a variety of different approaches are what we as teachers should be looking for.

Another advantage of using children´s literature is the fact that many texts are written for both children and adults.(2) The texts are 'two-tiered' whereby children often take in the semantic meaning of the text, yet remain oblivious to the pragmatic or underlying meaning that adults can pull out. I want to look briefly at Tim Burton´s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and other stories, (1997) suitable for, 'adults that cannot grow up and children sick of too much fantasy.' (Marco Giusti, L'Espresso)

The book comprises of various poems, all depicting hideous yet tragic characters, that could be open to multiple interpretations. This is sometimes considered a disadvantage of looking at poetry in class: (See appendix F for more comments.)

I sometimes wonder if I've really understood the meaning of a poem myself - it´s a bit daunting then to explain it to a group of learners. Cited in Lazar (1993, p.99)

The teacher is surely missing the point. One of the reasons poetry is so good to look at in class is, as Lazar suggests:

…a useful tool for encouraging students to draw on their own personal experiences, feelings and opinions. It helps students to become more actively involved both intellectually and emotionally in learning English which therefore aids acquisition. (1993, p.25)

Students are not told what is 'right' or 'wrong.' (3) The openendedness of poetry can be used to encourage lots of group work whereby, along with tapping the resources of knowledge and experience within the groups, students can, 'acquire the confidence to develop, express and value their own response.' (Collie and Slater, 1987, p.9) So, looking at Tim Burton´s characters, students can read into them what they will. Some are more obvious: 'Roy the Toxic Boy' is a comment on environmental destruction while others are extremely obscure: 'Jimmy, the Hideous Penguin Boy.' Some are humorous: 'The Girl with Many Eyes.' Most contain some sort of critique on society. What is interesting is that all of them are accompanied with brilliant illustrations. These illustrations could be used for predicting the content of the poems; work could be done on character adjectives; discussions could be based on some of the issues that are addressed; creative writing could be encouraged by giving groups an illustration without the poem and the groups decide on the personality and the story that surrounds their particular character. Finally, because the edition is published bilingually, work could be done on translation.

Unfortunately children´s literature for adults EFL students has not yet been recognised. Personally, it is an area that interests me greatly and I plan to find more texts that can be adapted for the classroom.

1 Fairytales are well-known in Europe at least. Students from non-European backgrounds will have something similar if not identical which would make an interesting discussion point.

2 Winnie the Pooh is an example. Cartoons such as The Simpsons and Southpark are other examples where the writers bear two audiences in mind.
3 Some students might not like poetry because there is no real answer. The teacher needs to point out that just as long as the student can back up what s/he is saying, the answer cannot be wrong. See appendix F for more comments.

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