Monday, February 19, 2007

Effective ways to use literature in the EFL classroom

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.

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