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The use of literature in ELT

DANIEL XERRI AND the ways in which human beings creatively focus on meaning with a focus on form
STEPHANIE XERRI AGIUS manipulate language. (Hanauer, 1997). The idea that language
skills can be improved through literature is
The contemporary emphasis on coursebooks given weight by Adeyanju’s (1978) work on
Introduction seems to be monopolising English how poetry can “enhance the learning of
The role of literature in language education classrooms all over the world, hindering certain aspects of structural patterns,
(LLE) was a subject of debate for a number students from experiencing the imaginative rhythm, intonation, and idioms” in the target
of decades before seemingly losing traction. content of literary texts (Sivasubramaniam, language (p. 136). This is an example of
Over the past few years, however, it has 2006). Ghosn (2002) agrees with this and how “poetry offers a rich resource for input
regained prominence due to concerns over claims that “traditional ELT materials may to language learning” (Maley & Duff, 1989,
the apparent international decline in fail to provide adequate support for p. 7). In line with these ideas, Nance
reading and writing standards. Moreover, development of L2 academic literacy” (2010) reiterates Krashen’s arguments
teachers’ enthusiasm for using literary whereas literature “offers an alternative, that “extensive texts are especially useful
texts in an ELT context has been reignited motivating medium for foreign language to language students due to the quantity
thanks to the growing awareness of the acquisition” (p. 172). For example, and richness of the input” (p. 6). Such
significance of extensive reading as a Murdoch (2002) suggests that “short texts give students the opportunity to
means of boosting students’ language stories can, if selected and exploited “make better hypotheses about unfamiliar
proficiency. It is believed that exposing appropriately, provide quality text content words and structures” (Nance, 2010, p. 6).
students to literature in the language which will greatly enhance ELT courses” As discussed above, this is partly due to
classroom could spark their interest (p. 9). If teachers attempt to strike a the fact that literature provides the reader
and lead them to develop a lifelong love balance between traditional coursebook with a meaningful context.
of reading. material and literary texts, they will be
able to provide their students with a more Some proponents of LLE concentrate on
More than a decade ago, Paran (2000)
holistic language experience. literature as a means of practising the
complained that “the role of literature
within the mainstream of EFL is still not language and they appreciate a literary
Language proficiency
firmly established” (p. 75). This was due to text as a resource that has the potential
Those teachers who use literary texts in
a number of factors, among them teachers’ to generate engaging language activities
the language classroom agree with
anxiety about using literature and pressing (Maley, 1989; Duff & Maley, 2007). For
Krashen’s (1985) idea that literature is
demands to justify its use. Despite the students, according to Hill (1986), literature
“an efficient vehicle for foreign language
fact that there are those who feel that is “language in action, a living context and
acquisition” (p. 15). In fact, Akyel and
the practice of using literary texts in ELT focal point for them in their own efforts to
Yalcin (1990) found that teachers consider
distracts from the business of language communicate” (p. 108). Literary texts are
using literature in their lessons to be
teaching (Edmondson, 1997), most of rich in styles, registers, and topics and they
important because they assume that
the research literature concludes the stimulate classroom discussions by being
“language improvement will automatically
incorporation of such texts in one’s English open to a variety of interpretations. An
be a by-product of literary studies” (p. 175).
lessons has multiple benefits. However, as ability to critically engage with such texts is
This is congruent with the idea that “the
Tasneen (2010) points out, “For literature indicative of enhanced language proficiency
use of literature in the EFL classroom
to matter in language in education it has since students come to see language as
can provide a powerful pedagogic tool in
to have an aim – only then can it be made up of choices (Wallace, 2003). For
learners’ linguistic development” (Savvidou,
integrated successfully” (pp. 176-177). example, in using a literary text in class
2004). Unfortunately, not all teachers are
This article seeks to show that one of the students might be encouraged to consider
convinced of the benefits of using literature
main aims of using literature in the English how a writer uses modality or conjunctive
as a means of teaching the target
classroom is to enhance students’ language cohesion to create a particular effect
language, and this might be due to a
proficiency by encouraging them to engage (Cots, 2006). Carter and Long (1991) argue
lack of awareness of what the research
with meaningful texts, thus leading them to that LLE enhances students’ language
literature says about the issue.
become independent readers. development and puts them “in touch with
LLE operates on the principle that some of the more subtle and varied
Meaningful texts combining linguistic and literary elements creative uses of language” (p. 2). In dealing
Literature in the language classroom is beneficial. Encouraging students to with the text, students will find the stimulus
provides students with the opportunity to focus on the language of a literary text to engage in language production.
engage with a wide variety of meaningful enables them to notice the target language
texts that are infused with imaginative and assimilate it. Combining literature and Stylistics
potential. It allows students to come into language learning provides students with One approach to the analysis of language
contact with the target language in the “the possibility of internalising the in literary texts is that of stylistics, which
interesting and genuine contexts (Hill, language and reinforcing points previously “involves the close study of the linguistic
1986; Lazar, 1993). Literary texts are learned” (Hill, 1986, p. 7). An analysis features of a text in order to arrive at an
authentic (Collie & Slater, 1987) and as of the language of a literary text allows understanding of how the meanings of the
Hismanoglu (2005) indicates, “Literature students to “make meaningful text are transmitted” (Lazar, 1993, p. 27).
provides students with an incomparably interpretations or informed evaluations of Stylistic analysis involves using a number
rich source of authentic material over a it” as well as “increase their general of tools to carry out “a close analysis of
wide range of registers” (p. 65). In fact, awareness and understanding of English” the language and style in order to draw
Hirvela and Boyle (1988) affirm that (Lazar, 1993, p. 23). Moreover, literature out meanings that otherwise might have
“literature can be usefully approached as “can create opportunities for personal remained hidden” (Burke, 2010, p. 145).
a particular example of discourse” (p. 181). expression as well as reinforce learners’ Despite the concern that stylistics is only
In conformity with natural language knowledge of lexical and grammatical suitable for advanced learners of English,
acquisition theory, literature “can offer structure” (Savvidou, 2004). Incorporating Paran (2009) believes that it is possible
predictable yet natural language which literature within language lessons exposes to use stylistics with lower levels, arguing
promotes word recognition, as well as students to texts that are examples of a that “much may depend on the way the
opportunities for authentic reading and genuine yet well-crafted use of English. approach is used and modified, and there
writing tasks” (Ghosn, 2002, p. 174). are examples of how it is possible, with
For these reasons literary texts allow As a lesson resource, literature contributes appropriate choice of text and a careful
students to come into contact with one of to language learning because it merges a attention to pedagogical issues” (p. 285).

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Main Articles

The use of literature in ELT

In fact, Chen and Squires (2011) point out p. 5), then reading literature in a second meaning and significance” (p. 128).
that stylistics can be used in order to language becomes less daunting. This Paran (2008) believes that “providing
exploit literature written for children and means that once students “learn to see adequate direction and clear scaffolding is
adolescents for the purpose of developing the significance of the writers’ linguistic and vital” (p. 490). Teachers scaffold learning
students’ language awareness. Familiarity rhetorical choices … [they] develop their by means of the way they set up
with some of the guiding principles of ability to talk and write more clearly and literature-based tasks and through their
stylistics might help teachers in their cogently” (Akyel & Yalcin, 1990, p. 179). reactions to students’ ongoing discussion,
efforts to incorporate literature in the Moreover, by encouraging students to guiding them whenever necessary.
language classroom. isolate words and linguistic patterns in
order to understand the purpose of the Collaborative opportunities
Stylistics has two main goals: firstly, that text, the teacher motivates “the reader to Literary texts can help foster student
of enabling students to meaningfully reflect on the experience of reading, and interaction and collaboration and this
interpret the text; secondly, that of helps to illuminate it” (Gower, 1986, enriches their language learning experience.
enhancing students’ knowledge of the p. 129). Consequently, students will be able The significance of interaction is
language (Lazar, 1993). Stylistics seeks to to engage with the text and think about underscored by the fact that a group of
foster an aesthetic appreciation of the text whether they consider it to be successful students “with its various sets of life
by bridging its linguistic features and the or not in the effect it is trying to achieve. experiences can act as a rich marshalling
intuitions that students form about its device to enhance the individual’s
meaning. It investigates the way meanings However, Takagaki (2002) posits that awareness both of his or her own
are communicated by a text through a “English reading should be meaningful for responses and of the world created by
method that “uses the apparatus of students so that reading does not simply the literary work” (Collie & Slater, 1987,
linguistic description” (Leech & Short, mean language decoding activities and p. 9). If students are involved in using a
1981, p. 74). This essentially means mechanical drills” (p. 5). Nance (2010) literary text in class in a more interactive
“making sense of foregrounded aspects agrees with this and affirms that manner, then they would feel that they have
of language” (Leech, 1969, p. 225). “developing the skill and habit of literary made a “personal investment” which will
Widdowson (1975) considers the prime reading enables and encourages continued make “it more likely that they will want to
advantage of this system to be the fact that language use, helping all students to extend their understanding of it by personal
students are able to acquaint themselves maintain and improve their skills even after reading at home” (Collie & Slater, 1987,
with the way the language is shaping literary their formal language study ends” (p. 8). p. 9). This shows that sometimes in order
texts and understand it as a particular The benefits of this are not only an for students to be encouraged to appreciate
instance of human communication. increase in vocabulary acquisition and the solitary pleasures of literature, they first
reading speed (Lao & Krashen, 2000), need to be provided with an opportunity of
Stylistics allows students to understand a but, most importantly, a boost in students’ experiencing it in the convivial atmosphere
text “by describing the linguistic devices an motivation and interest to read in an of the language classroom.
author has used and the effects produced autonomous fashion (Tsai, 2012). This
by such devices” (Alderson & Short, 1988, means that teachers should primarily A language-based approach to literature
p. 72). Carter (1988) affirms that stylistics encourage students to read for enjoyment. makes the text more accessible for
is marked by the “intersection of the students and allows them to engage with
language of a text with the elements which The teacher’s role it by means of a number of collaborative
constitute the literariness of that text” What works against building students’ activities that are learner-centred (Carter &
(p. 162). By means of stylistics, it is affective response as readers is that it is Long, 1991). Van (2009) argues that
possible to position language centrally and sometimes assumed that just because they “literature is an excellent vehicle for CLT
hence understand a literary text primarily are learning English as a second language, methods that result in four-skill English
through the workings of language (Toolan, they are unable to understand the richness language development through interaction,
1998). For example, if teachers want to of literary texts. In fact, Hall (2005) collaboration, peer teaching, and student
clarify the use of a cohesive device like declares that “assuming linguistic independence” (p. 7). For example,
ellipsis, they could encourage students competence, rather than attempting to Baurain (2007) found that by means of
to notice this in a poem. This enables extend it through literature … is likely to literature-based groupwork activities,
students to better understand how the be even more problematic” (p. 145). Due students “gained heightened reading and
poem attempts to generate meaning in a to teachers’ misconceptions, a highly interpretive abilities and developed more
cohesive manner. As an approach, stylistics teacher-centred approach is sometimes integrated language skills” (p. 244).
is “particularly useful in a foreign language” adopted whenever literary texts are used Hence literature can be used profitably
because, thanks to it, “a student can in class, with the result that students if complemented with the right kind of
become more aware of, and take steps to may feel that literature is removed from communicative activities.
solve, his or her problems as a non-native “their own response and cause them to
reader” (Parkinson & Reid Thomas, 2000, undervalue it” (Collie & Slater, 1987, p. 8). Literature-based language activities
p. 33). This is especially fundamental for This makes students dependent on Innumerable ideas on how to incorporate
those foreign and second language whatever is provided for them by the literature into language lessons exist.
learners of English who are motivated to teacher and in the process they fail to A variety of handbooks have been published
improve their proficiency by engaging in make the text their own and avoid sharing on the subject and most of them provide
extensive reading. their views with one another (Collie & Slater, teachers with tips on how to organise
1987). Teachers have to keep in mind that activities that will allow students to develop
Students’ experience of reading in order to fuel students’ enthusiasm for their language proficiency. Some of them
Developing students’ awareness of how literature, their role should be that of are general resource books that contain
language works in literary texts and facilitators rather than that of gatekeepers worksheets based on poetry, short fiction,
encouraging them to relate it to their to the text’s meaning. or drama (Collie & Slater, 1987; Duff &
personal experience of language makes the Maley, 2007). Others consist of activities
reading of literature much more engaging. Gower (1986) advises teachers to consider that focus on a specific genre. For example,
If a student is trained to become “someone how much and what kind of “assistance the Wajnryb (2003) concentrates on story-based
who can comprehend literary texts through readers will need while reading”, if it is at activities whereas Maley and Duff (2005)
a comprehension of their language vocabulary level or whether it concerns offer a wide variety of teaching ideas based
structures” (Cummings & Simmons, 1983, analysis of “the effect of language, its on drama. Quite a number of books focus

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on poetry activities given the unique a model in order for the class to collaborate decision to harness the potential of
advantages of this genre (Maley & Duff, in the rewriting of a poem. This technique literature for language teaching purposes
1989; McRae, 1998; Holmes & Moulton, is commonly known as shared writing and do so because they also believe that
2001; Sloan, 2003; Spiro, 2004; Xerri (2011) found that by “imitating the literature has the power to enrich their
Vaughan-Rees, 2010). Due to the growing model and recasting it … students enjoyed students’ lives.
significance of extensive reading, Bamford playing with the language used by an expert
and Day (2004) devote an entire resource writer and … gradually discovered the
book to this area. Some ELT methodology courage to use their reading of poetry in References
books also contain sections on exploiting order to compose their own poems” Adeyanju, T.K. (1978). Teaching literature and human
literature for language teaching purposes. (p. 187). Poetry is perhaps an ideal medium values in ESL: Objectives and selection. ELT Journal,
For example, Harmer (2012) shares some for language learning because, within the 32(2), 133-138.
ideas on how to use poetry and drama. conciseness of a poem, language is utilized Akyel, A., & Yalcin, E. (1990). Literature in the EFL class:
It is clear that teachers can choose from in the most creative manner possible. A study of goal-achievement incongruence.
a wide variety of resources when it comes ELT Journal, 44(3), 174-180.
to using literature in ELT. Drama Alderson, J.C., & Short, M. (1988). Reading literature.
One-act plays or other short pieces of In M. Short (Ed.), Reading, analysing and teaching
Prose drama lend themselves to a variety of literature (pp. 72-119). London, UK: Longman.
Some pre-reading activities that students communicative activities. Activities such Bamford, J., & Day, R.R. (Ed.). (2004). Extensive
might do with readers and prose extracts as asking students to mime certain reading activities for teaching language. Cambridge,
include examining illustrations, chapter scenes or else perform the dialogue by UK: Cambridge University Press.
headings, and blurbs for predictive means of rap are usually considered to be Baurain, B. (2007). Small group multitasking in
purposes. They can do some research and highly enjoyable. Hot seating is another literature classes. ELT Journal, 61(3), 237-245.
create an author profile or deliver a short entertaining activity that involves a student
Burke, M. (2010). ‘Progress is a comfortable disease’:
presentation on the story’s historical and taking on the role of a character from the
Cognition in a stylistic analysis of e.e. cummings.
cultural background. While reading the play and being interviewed by the rest of In M. Lambrou & P. Stockwell (Eds.), Contemporary
story, students can collaborate on jigsaw the class. Students can collaborate to add stylistics (pp. 144-155). London, UK, and New York,
activities, engage in character role-plays, stage directions to the text and discuss NY: Continuum.
dramatise dialogue, and write character costumes and lighting. In a balloon debate
Carlisle, A. (2000). Reading logs: An application
horoscopes. Watching clips from a film students have to agree on which character of reader response theory in ELT. ELT Journal, 54(1),
adaptation of the story and engaging in a is expendable and this usually leads to a 12-19.
compare-and-contrast activity is something lively class discussion. The writing of
that appeals to most students. The use of alternative endings and of scenes set Carter, R. (1988). What is stylistics and why can we
teach it in different ways? In M. Short (Ed.), Reading,
audio books is also to be encouraged as 20 years into the play’s future taps into analysing and teaching literature (pp. 159-177).
research has shown that simultaneous students’ imagination. Drama in the London, UK: Longman.
listening and reading may facilitate language classroom offers them a
students’ comprehension of the text multisensory form of engagement Carter, R., & Long, M.N. (1991). Teaching literature.
Harlow, UK: Longman.
(Woodall, 2010). Some post-reading with English.
activities involve the writing of reading Charles, T. (2008). Poetry for SEN and EAL students.
journals, reviews, and brief scenes in Conclusion In NATE, Making hard topics in English easier with
which the story is continued. Such writing ICT (pp. 39-44). Retrieved June 27, 2012, from
When using literary texts, teachers need
activities can prove to be highly beneficial. to keep in mind that the language focus NATE_Hard_to_Teach_Case_Studies.pdf
For example, encouraging L2 students to of each activity is to be clearly defined
keep reading logs helps them hone their and that all activities are to be as Chen, M.L., & Squires, D. (2011). Using literature for
understanding of literary texts and children and adolescents for intermediate language
learner-centred as possible. Clear
acquisition. TESOL Journal, 2(3), 312-329.
improves their reading and writing skills examples of this are learner-led discussion
(Carlisle, 2000). groups on literature, more commonly Collie, J., & Slater, S. (1987). Literature in the language
known as literature circles, which “offer classroom: A resource book of ideas and activities.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Poetry a pedagogically sound platform for
When using poetry, students can first of all language acquisition to develop in the Cots, J. (2006). Teaching ‘with an attitude’: Critical
be invited to recite the poem individually ELT classroom” (Shelton-Strong, 2012, discourse analysis in EFL teaching. ELT Journal,
or as a group. They can draw pictures to p. 214). Learner-centred literature-based 60(4), 336-345.
illustrate the imagery in a poem, and use activities ensure that students become Cummings, M., & Simmons, R. (1983). The language
similes in order to describe what the autonomous learners who develop an of literature. Oxford, UK: Pergamon.
poem looks and sounds like. They can appreciation of literature that transcends Duff, A., & Maley, A. (2007). Literature (2nd ed.).
also find appropriate music and images the language classroom. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
to accompany the words of the poem and Edmondson, W. (1997). The role of literature in foreign
create a film version of it. Visual poetry Teachers should be aware that the use language learning and teaching: some valid
is considered an effective means of of LLE could sometimes lead to an assumptions and invalid arguments. In A. Mauranen &
encouraging students to enjoy the reading overemphasis on the analysis of a text’s K. Sajavaara (Eds.), Applied linguistics across
and discussion of poetry (Templer, 2009) language at the expense of students’ disciplines, AILA review 12, 1995/6 (pp. 42-55).
as well as developing students’ English enjoyment of literature (Carter & Long, Erkaya, O.R. (2005). Benefits of using short stories in
proficiency (Charles, 2008). By means of 1991; Lazar, 1993). Using literature in the EFL context. Asian EFL Journal, 8, 1-13.
a Venn diagram, students can find the language teaching is not only meant to
Ghosn, I.K. (2002). Four good reasons to use literature
similarities and differences between a prose enhance students’ proficiency; most in primary school ELT. ELT Journal, 56(2), 172-179.
extract and a poem dealing with the same importantly, it is meant to cultivate their
subject. Another highly popular technique is pleasure in reading literary texts. As Paran Gower, R. (1986). Can stylistic analysis help the EFL
learner to read literature? ELT Journal, 40(2),
that of creative writing, which can be used (2000) points out, one of the most relevant
with students at all levels. The most basic arguments for using literature in ELT is that
kinds of poems that students can write “through literature I can deal with learners Hall, G. (2005). Literature in language education.
are stem and frame poems, which merely as people, rather than with learners as Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
involve filling in the gaps or continuing a Language Acquisition Devices” (p. 88). Hanauer, D. (1997). Poetry reading in the second
line of poetry. A step further is that of using Those teachers who make a conscious language classroom. Language Awareness, 6, 1-15.

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Main Articles

The use of literature in ELT

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UK: Pearson. Spiro, J. (2004). Creative poetry writing. Oxford,
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ETAS 2012
classroom. London, UK: Modern English Publications. Takagaki, T. (2002). The role of literature in college
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Murdoch, G. (2002). Exploiting well-known short Daniel Xerri teaches at the University of Malta
stories for language skills development. IATEFL LCS Junior College and regularly speaks at international
SIG Newsletter, 23, 9-17. conferences. He is the author of a number of
Nance, K.A. (2010). Teaching literature in the publications on literature in language education.
languages. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Some of his talks and publications can be found
at www.danielxerri.com
Paran, A. (2000). Survey review: Recent books on
the teaching of literature. ELT Journal, 54(1), 75-88. Stephanie Xerri Agius teaches English at a post-16
college in Malta and is currently conducting
Paran, A. (2008). The role of literature in instructed
doctoral research at the University of Leicester, UK.
foreign language learning and teaching:
Her research focuses on ways of improving students’
An evidence-based survey. Language Teaching,
writing about literature.
41(4), 465-496.
Paran, A. (2009). [Review of the book Literature and
stylistics for language learners: Theory and practice,
by G. Watson & S. Zyngier (Eds.)]. ELT Journal, 63(3),
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literature in a second language. Edinburgh,
UK: Edinburgh University Press.
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teaching literature in the EFL classroom. The Internet
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from http://iteslj.org/Techniques/
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ELT Journal, 66(2), 214-223.
Sivasubramaniam, S. (2006). Promoting the prevalence
of literature in the practice of foreign and second
language education: Issues and insights.
Asian EFL Journal, 8(4), 254-273.

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