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Criteria for selecting texts

It is probably fairly self-evident what is meant by criteria such as the age of students,their
emotional and intellectual maturity and their interests and hobbies. The
onlydifficulty when applying these categories to a whole class is that individual studentswithin a
group may vary considerably in their maturity and interests. Obviously, whenselecting materials
you will need to try to find texts that are suitable for the majorityof students in the class. You
may also find that developing the facility for self-access(see Chapter 9) is one way of
learning so that you can cater for therange of student development and interests within a
group. We may find, however,that consideration of criteria involving the students
cultural background, linguistic proficiency and literary background is more complicated.
The following is an attemptto examine these more complex criteria.
When considering this factor, think about how far the students cultural backgroundand their
social and political expectations will help or hinder their understanding of at ext . I t woul d be
di f f i cul t , f or exampl e, f or mos t r eader s t o make s ens e of J aneAustens novels
without having some knowledge of the class system and the values of the society they describe.
You will also need to consider how much background youwill need to provide for your
students to have at least a basic understanding of thetext. You will also need to consider
how much background youwill need to provide for your students to have at least a
basic understanding of thetext. (See Chapter 4 for some ways in which you can help students
with the cultural problems in the text.)On the other hand, it is also true that texts which
may appear to be very remote intime and place from the world today may still have
appeal for students in differentcountries around the world. This is either because
they touch on themes (such asindustrialisation or life in the city) which are relevant to the
students, or they deal withhuman relationships and feelings (such as conflict between
parents and children)which strike a chord in the students own lives. In addition, many
students may have as t r ong s ens e of cur i os i t y about anot her cul t ur e and enj oy
s t udyi ng i t s l i t er at ur e because they believe it reveals key insights about that society.
Thi s i s an ar ea of s ome compl exi t y. I t ma y wel l be t hat l ear ner s ar e
cl as s i f i ed as advanced and can communicate with ease in an English-speaking environment.
Yett he y mi ght not be abl e t o cope wi t h t he l anguage of t he t ext becaus e i t
depar t s strikingly from the usual norms of language use; it includes a great many
archaisms,rhetorical devices and metaphors; or it makes use of the dialect or register of a
highlyspecialised field (such as law). You might need to ask yourself questions like
thesewhen deciding whether or not to use the text: Are students sufficiently familiar with the
usual norms of language use to recognisewhen these are subverted?How much of the language in
the text will students be able to
infer?Wi l l s t u d e n t s f i n d i t u s e f u l a n d e n j o y a b l e t o s t u d y t h e t e x t , o r
wi l l t h e y f e e l demotivated by the difficulties of the language?Even if the language of the
text is extremely difficult, will students be motivated byother factors to study the text (e.g.
students often enjoy
studying a difficultshort story if there is a film based on it which they also enjoyed.Finally,
you may well ask yourself whether the text is too specialised in its languageto be relevant to the
type of language the students require to learn on the course.45

There is an interesting relationship between the literary background of the
studentsand their linguistic competence, since the two do not necessarily go together.
Studentsmay, for example, have studied literature in their own language. If it is a
language( s uch as a Romance l anguage) i n whi ch s i mi l ar convent i ons t o
t hos e i n Engl i s hoperate for reading and interpreting literature, then they may already have a
level of literary competence which will help them to make sense of a literary text even
whentheir linguistic knowledge is rather limited. On the other hand, students who
havel i t t l e l i t er ar y knowl edge, but ar e l i ngui s t i cal l y pr of i ci ent , ma y f i nd t h
ems el ves understanding each individual word on the page without being able to make sense
of the literary meanings behind the texts. (This raises the issue of the students
literarycompetence - discussed more fully in Section 1.4.) When choosing texts to use
withstudents, therefore, we should look not only at the grading of the language in the text, but at
its specific literary qualities and whether our students can navigate their ownway
through these. A writer often cited in this regard is Ernest Hemingway - while histexts often
appear to be linguistically simple, students may need guidance in makingsense of their deeper
literary meanings.