You are on page 1of 10

How do I Use Literature to Develop Cultural

Awareness in ESL Reading Class?

ECI 524
Creative Synthesis
North Carolina State University

By Mei An

How do I Use Literature to Develop Cultural
Awareness in ESL Reading Class?
Abstract
Diverse world literature written in another language can serve as one of the best ways to
transport us on a global adventure, for each great literature book, there is a cultural heritage
behind it. As Jelena Bobkina and Elena Dominguez Romero (2013) mentioned in the article,
“Literature is probably one of the best ways to understand the culture and traditions of the target
language, especially in those cases in which a visit or a stay is virtually impossible.”
This paper aims at how literature can help my tenth grade students develop cultural awareness
under a global context. It will first state the importance and significance of developing cultural
awareness among the students. The inquiring process and methods for this paper will be
addressed to explain how do I develop my thoughts and organize my findings. Moreover, in my
findings, I will analyze a real case in my class and also the close relationship between literature
and culture. The recent research will be examined about how to choose the appropriate literature
books for the students and also how to implement effective teaching strategies in helping them
gain a better and deeper understanding of a target culture. Besides, A specific instructional plan
will be provided at last.
Keywords: cultural awareness, literature, cultural understanding, global context

Introduction -Cultural Awareness under A Global Context
We are all aware that in an increasingly interconnected world, globalization has been become a
trend and shape the way how we should educate our new generation. Kirkwood (2001) describes
globally educated people as "those who possess high-tech skills, broad interdisciplinary
knowledge about the contemporary world, and adaptability, flexibility, and world mindedness to
participate effectively in the globalized world" (p. 11). Regardless of children’s races, living
conditions and intellectual development, all children deserve the opportunity to learn to how to
be a collaborative, accountable and also flexible citizen of the world. Under this kind of
circumstance, it also becomes part of the responsibility of the teacher to help our students to

learn skills about how to interact with people from different cultures and also make appropriate
behavior in a non-native culture. So to grow into a qualified global citizen, the sense of cultural
awareness becomes important. Based on Stephanie Quappe and Giovanna Cantatore
interpretation, “Cultural Awareness is the foundation of communication and it involves the
ability of standing back from ourselves and becoming aware of our cultural values, beliefs and
perceptions.” However, developing cultural awareness is not an easy task, for everyone are
bound to their own culture. We are so used to our own beliefs, values and traditions that it is hard
for us to stand out own culture and perceive another culture from a global position. So I develop
my compelling question as How do I Use Literature to Develop Cultural Awareness in ESL
Reading Class?

My Inquiring Process
The process of my creative synthesis starts with the observation of some cases in my reading
class. In our literature circle, the students are more passionate about discussing cultural
differences and each of them wants to persuade others to accept their own perception towards a
foreign culture. They also show confusion and easily fall into the trap of false generalization
toward a foreign culture.
Then I try to find some articles and researches about choosing the what kind of literature books
for the young adult students. Most of the teachers have a preference for young adult literature,
but through my survey online, I rediscovered the value of classical literature in representing the
culture of a country. Besides, Donna E. Norton (2013) also stressed the importance of keeping
the authenticity of the literature. Actually I have run into some literature pieces which totally
distort the truth of another culture. This would not be helpful in helping my students develop
cultural awareness and global perspective, instead, it will cause stereotypes and prejudice
towards the target culture.
The last step after preparing my students with the right material is to find ways to implement the
concept of cultural awareness. Hanauer (2001) tested his method of focusing on understanding
culture through the theoretical ways and the conclusion proved that it was effective and
meaningful in appreciating another culture. In Emilia Wąsikiewicz-Firlej and Becky MladicMorales’ independent researches, they also introduced some effective methods in

develop students’ cultural awareness. Based on the analysis of those researches, I develop
steps of helping my students in understanding another culture. Combined with that, a series of
activities and projects will be conducted in the class to facilitate students’ learning.

A Case Study of My Students
For my students of ESLs, most of whom are planning to live in a different country with a
different culture background, yet under the high-stake test, seemed to get lost in the drills of
language acquisition and struggled with their vocabulary memorization most of the time rather
than pay attention to the content area of learning. But based on my observation in my reading
class and also exchanging ideas with other literature teachers, as young adults, they are still
curious and also a little bit anxious about the world unknown, whenever I mention a foreign
culture in my class, they would like to ask questions: Do I need to have a belief in religion and
go to the church during the weekend? How would they treat us in a foreign culture? Is the school
life is the same as it is presented in the American movie? They are eager to know another world
and learn how to behave appropriately in another culture. Yet except for some fewer exchange
students who have the chance to go abroad, most of them get no authentic experience about the
whole picture of our planet.

The Great Influence of Literature upon Culture
Literature can mirror certain aspect of the target culture. Emilia Wąsikiewicz-Firlej (2012) states,
“Literature is seen as a reflection of culture and society, portraying people’s ideas and dreams set
in certain time and space frameworks in the most creative and imaginary way. It both depicts and
inspires social changes and is often treated as a credible source of culture representation”
(retrieved from the net). For our ESL learners, literature not only serves an effective tool for the
students to acquire the language efficiency but also help them deepen their understanding of
anther culture.
Literature also enables students “to understand and appreciate cultures and ideologies different
from their own in time and space, and to come to perceive traditions of thought and feeling and
artistic form in those cultures” (Carter, 1991: 2). By reading and analyzing the book, they are
connected a different world in terms of politics, or economics and history, etc. I would encourage

my students to jump out of “school settings”, keep a curious mind to discover and understand the
similarities as well as difference of the world, feel more adaptive and enjoyable in a diverse
global occasion.

Implementation of Cultural Understanding in My Reading Class
1. Literature Books need to Present the Authentic Culture
Students need literature books that is appealing to them and also should be the representative of
the target culture, because their interests help them get involved into a deeper discussion and
classical books help them get a more accurate sense of the target culture. Most of teacher may
find it difficult using classical literature to teach ESL students. While young adults literature gain
more popularity and importance than other forms of literature. As Michael Cart (2008)
mentioned, “young adult literature is made valuable not only by its artistry but also by its
relevance to the lives of its readers. And by addressing not only their needs but also their
interests, the literature becomes a powerful inducement for them to read.” I totally agree and
second the idea of using more young adult novels in our classroom. But that does not mean we
will discard the classical books. As an ESL learner, I have to admit that I have benefited a lot
from those traditional literatures. For we are aware that literature represents the voice of a
culture, but the classical literature for examples, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Leo
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it not only mirrors the history, the
tradition, the social norms and values of that period, it may also share some common features
with other culture, which help our students to connect their own culture with target culture.
David (2001) states that “The importance of these texts is that they allow the in-depth discussion
of culturally specific meanings. The texts chosen for this task should be considered important
within the target culture.” Concerning our emphasis on developing students’ awareness in culture
and global perspective, we focus on both types of literary texts which are representative of the
target culture.
Besides the types of the literature mentioned, the teacher also needs to help the students check
the authenticity of the literature in order to build the appropriate cultural awareness. Since we use
literature to help our students understand the culture and also help them avoid falling into the
stereotypes of another culture, we need the literature to represent another culture in an accurate

and authentic way to help them observe the culture in a deeper extent rather than the superficial
phenomenon.
Donna E. Norton (2013) stated in his book, “authenticity is very important in the selection of
literature that depicts the values, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds of various groups. Marc
Aronson (2007) warns that history is getting to know the language, customs, and culture of a
people. He concludes, “Fact checking is crucial because it is pretty easy to get history wrong” (p.
31). There might be a variety of ways to check the bias in a piece of literature. Jennifer Arellano
(2011) in her paper states, “The key factors when choosing multicultural literature are knowing
the author's or illustrator's background and to look for bias in representation, language, character
interactions, and omission of relevant information”. Besides these, another way of doing it might
be communication either to a person from that target culture or anyone who has read the book.
For exchanging ideas might help them evoke different opinions and doubts upon the same issue,
so they might be eager to check the authenticity of the novel. In all, we need the literature that is
neither exaggerated nor misguiding our understanding of a foreign culture.
2. Building a Supportive and Respectful Classroom and Allowing Different Voices
It is important to build a safe and respectful context to allow for different voices towards cultural
interpretation. It is true that literature represents culture, but different readers might have a
different interpretation upon the same piece, depending on their cultural backgrounds, Hanauer
(2001: 395), however, argues that “(…) literary texts are not self-explanatory. Quite the opposite
is true. Literary texts tend to be ambiguous and polysemous. These texts are open to a
multiplicity of meaning construction options.” As Becky Mladic-Morales(2014) mentioned in
her article, “ It is crucial that we expose our students to those who come from a different
background, with diverse struggles and triumphs, who have distinct experiences”. Only under a
safe and respectful environment, we can better discuss and express our own viewpoints of
cultural perspectives. Besides, I believe the process to develop cultural awareness and global
perspective is the process of growing into a respectful and global person.
3. Practical Strategies for Teaching Cultural Differences
First the teacher should allow students to interpret and compare the foreign culture with
their own culture. Learning a new culture does not mean we need to abandon or forget

our own culture. On the contrary, we need to stand at a cultural point to observe the new
culture first.
Hanauer states his three stages as following:
At the first stage of work FL learners are presented an original text and asked for its
interpretation in the light of their own culture. Secondly, they are exposed to cultural
experts’ interpretations of the text they read and compare them with their own reading.
The final stage involves a teacher-moderated discussion which aims at realizing culture
dependent differences in perception of the reality and conclusive text interpretation as
well as addressing the question of the impact of cultural factors on a certain text
interpretation (p.389).

From his three stages of developing cultural awareness, we can perceive that we need a
reference to observe the foreign culture and then we can appreciate similarities as well as
differences between our own culture and the target culture.
The students need the exposure to more voices for the purpose of avoiding false generalization.
Here is a case: thanks to the development of the movie industries, a lot of foreigners who has
never been to China think that all Chinese can play Kung Fu. It is true we are a country who
adores Kung Fu, but it does not mean everybody can fly and actually most of us can not do it. On
the same token, literature might have the same problem. For a piece of literature may just
represent a writer’s personal perception of the culture. David (2001) states, “Literature is a
valuable source of cultural knowledge precisely because it does present a personal interpretation
of the life and values as the author of the literary work experiences them”(p.396). Under this
situation, we may easily make the false generalization as I just mentioned above. To avoid
making this kind of stereotyped conclusion upon a single literary piece, we need to exchange our
viewpoints with others and then we might get a full and accurate understanding of a foreign
culture. David (2001) also mentioned this in his article, “The individual viewpoint must be
presented within a context of multiple viewpoints so as to avoid false generalization and to
enable the construction of a multifaceted view of the foreign culture” (P.396). To develop our
students’ globalization and cultural awareness, we need a context of multiple voices presented
through a variety of activities: group discussion, a world literature club, a literature circle and
more conveniently, online communication through Twitter, blogging, or wiki page. These
activities will also be discussed in the next part.

3.4 Instructional Plans for the Students
As educators, we need to present our students a classroom of safe and trusting atmosphere
and guide them to connect their own beliefs, values and self-identities with the rest of the
world, thus we can help them to become a responsible and competent human being of the
world. For my grade 10 students, the teaching goal is to help them develop the sense of
cultural diversity and cultural awareness via their reading and a series of related in-class
activities and projects. I plan to use creative synthesis project to analyze their research and
findings. Through my reading class, first the students will be able to understand the steps of
developing creative synthesis. The students will also be able to compare their native culture
with the target culture and thus perceive the similarities as well as differences among them.
More importantly, through discussions in our literature circle, students would like to identify
the stereotypes and false generalizations they had towards a culture. Lastly, the students will
be able to present the final presentation in a multimedia forms: a blogs, a video, a webpage,
etc.
To help my students develop creative synthesis, first a list of world literature books will be
presented to them to choose: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Alchemist, The Kite
Runner, The Angles’ Ashes, The Catcher in the Rye, War and Peace and The House on Mango
Street, etc. For those who choose the same books they can form a group of two to five. Brief
introduction through book talks and book trailer will help my students get involved in their
chosen books. Guide the students read through the book and encourage pair/group reading,
wide discussion through literature circle to find the compelling questions they are interested,
examples of compelling questions will be presented for them: how does the gender issue
problem affect their marriage in Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice? or how does one’s
belief/ religion influence one’s behavior and lifestyle? During information gathering period,
the student will be asked to make a comparison about their understanding of the issue and
also the characters or the author's’ understanding of the issue. Charts will be presented by the
teacher. They also need to resort to a real person in the target culture or find online resources
like interview of the author or characters to help them get a different perspective of the target
culture. A list of websites will be provided by the teacher. Lastly, develop and present their

creative synthesis with their findings in a variety of forms: blogs, web page, video and
posters, etc. Peer and the teacher’s evaluation will be the forms for their assessment.
Conclusion
Globalization leads us to more shared needs and values and literature provides us lens to observe
and understand the diverse world standing at a different cultural stance. Through this creative
synthesis, I understand the value of literature in helping students develop their cultural and
global perspective and I have also learnt how do I help the students get rid of misunderstandings
as well as anxieties towards a foreign culture, thus get them prepared for their future life in a new
environment full of differences and novelties. Furthermore, through the discussion and activities,
the students will get the opportunity to express their unique perspectives in a particular issue that
they might have confused, misunderstood or even has a prejudice towards. So the process of
implementing the creative synthesis in my class will help the students develop their competent
skills and right attitudes towards how to collaborate with others and how to respect and
appreciate the differences among themselves and diverse cultures.
References:
1. Arellano, J. (2011). The Use of Multicultural Literature in Elementary Classrooms:
Teaching Acceptance and Understanding of Different Races, Ethnicities, and Cultures.
Retrieved from http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/lib/thesis/2011/2011arellanoj.pdf
2. Burnouf, L. 2004. Global Awareness and Perspectives in Global Education. Retrieved From
http://www.educ.ualberta.ca/css/Css_38_3/ARburnouf_global_awareness_perspectives.htm
3. Cart, M. (2008). The Value of Young Adult Literature. Retrieved February 20, 2016, from
http://www.ala.org/yalsa/guidelines/whitepapers/yalit
4. Carter, R.A. & Long, M.N. (1991). Teaching Literature. London: Longman.
Donna, N. (2013). Chapter 1 Introduction to Multicultural Literature. Retrieved February 20,
2016, from
https://www.pearsonhighered.com/assets/hip/us/hip_us_pearsonhighered/samplechapter/0132
685760.pdf

5. Hanauer, D. 1997. Poetry reading in the second language classroom. Language Awareness 6,
1–15.
6. Hanauer, D. 2001. Focus-on-cultural-understanding: literary reading in the second language
classroom. CAUCE, Revista de Filologia y su Didactica 24, 389–404. and also retrieved from
http://cvc.cervantes.es/literatura/cauce/pdf/cauce24/cauce24_23.pdf
7. Kirkwood, T. (2001). Our global age requires global education: Clarifying definitional
ambiguities. Social Studies, 92, 1-16.
8. Quappe, s & Cantatore G. (1991). What is Cultural Awareness, anyway? How do I build it?
Retrieved from http://www.culturosity.com/articles/whatisculturalawareness.htm
9. Morales, B. (2014). 5 Ways Literature Can Teach Global Lessons in Elementary Classes.
Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/literature-teaches-global-lessons-elementarybecky-morales
10. Wąsikiewicz-Firlej, Emilia. 2012, Developing cultural awareness through reading literary
texts retrieved from the
http://taikomojikalbotyra.lt/en/2012/03/english-developing-cultural-awareness-through-readingliterary-texts
11. Jelena, B. (2014). The Use of Literature and Literary Texts in the EFL Classroom; Between
Consensus and Controversy. Retrieved February 20, 2016, from
https://www.academia.edu/10018558/The_Use_of_Literature_and_Literary_Texts_in_the_EFL_
Classroom_Between_Consensus_and_Controversy