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Secondary English

Unit 12:
Teaching literature
Introduction ...................................................................................................... 1
Learning outcomes .......................................................................................... 1
1 English literature ........................................................................................... 1
2 Reading literature for enjoyment and language development ....................... 2
3 Responding to a literary text ......................................................................... 7
4 Teaching poems ......................................................................................... 14
5 Summary .................................................................................................... 20
What next? ................................................................................................. 20
6 Resources ................................................................................................... 21
Resource 1: An extract from The Box by Rich Smolen .............................. 21
Resource 2: Daffodils by William Wordsworth .......................................... 24
Resource 3: Links to literary resources ...................................................... 24
Resource 4: Further reading ...................................................................... 24
7 Related units ............................................................................................... 25
References .................................................................................................... 25
Acknowledgements ........................................................................................ 26

Except for third party materials and otherwise stated, the content of this unit is
made available under a Creative Commons Attribution licence:
One of the reasons we teach students English is to enable them to read,
understand and enjoy literature written in English. At the same time, reading
literature helps students to improve their English.

As you know, most of the lessons in English textbooks contain sometimes in

simplified form literary texts such as novels, short stories and other fiction
(prose), poems and plays. Students are expected to be able to interpret (that
is, explain what they have understood about) the poem, play or prose piece
that they have read. Sadly, students read them mainly to pass examinations
and get very little opportunity in the class to read literature for enjoyment.

In this unit, you will learn how to help students enjoy reading and discussing
English prose, poetry and drama.

Learning outcomes
After studying this unit, you should be able to:

make yourself and your students familiar with the special uses of language
in literary texts
recognise how reading literature improves your students English
vocabulary and how grammar skills help develop their creativity and power
of imagination.

1 English literature
Pause for thought

Before reading this unit, pause for a moment and think about your own
feelings and beliefs about English literature.

How are literary texts different from other texts? For example, how is a
short story different from a newspaper article?
Do you enjoy reading literature in your home language? Who is your
favourite writer/poet? Why do you enjoy reading their work? What are the
special things you like about literary texts in your own language?
Do you read literature in English, apart from the samples given in the
textbook? Who is your favourite English language author/poet?
What do you think are the main reasons why people do not like to read in
English? Here are some suggestions:
o The language is too difficult to understand; they need a dictionary to
understand many of the words.
o The society and culture discussed in literary texts is very different
from theirs, so they find it difficult to follow the plot.
o They think it is a waste of time.

As you can see, people may have various reasons for not enjoying reading
literature, especially in another language. You will perhaps agree that it is
difficult to enjoy reading a story or play in English if you need a long time to
read a page or you do not understand many of the words. But the reverse is
also true, if a person reads very little, they will hardly improve their word stock
(vocabulary) or reading speed.

In this unit you will learn more about the importance of reading literature in
English. The benefits of making students read English literature at school

helping them learn about interesting events that happen to people like
making them familiar with the different ways in which English is used (for
example, in personal conversations or in social and official situations) in a
natural way
greatly improving their word stock (vocabulary) and grammar
preparing them to read any text in English with speed and understanding

In this unit you will read more about how to make reading literary texts more
interesting for students. In addition, you will be able to help them to recognise
the special characteristics of different genres (types) of literature prose,
poetry and drama. You will also be able to show them how certain words and
ideas help to create meaning in literature. By completing the activities in this
section, you will be able to learn some ways of helping your students read
English literature on their own.

2 Reading literature for enjoyment and

language development
You have read about the reasons why some people read English literature
and others do not; you have also reflected on your own attitude to it.

One important thing to remember is why teaching English at school is not the
same as teaching other subjects. Subjects such as social studies or
geography or science are taught for the information in them: the aim is that
students acquire the associated subject knowledge and teachers are
expected to explain the meaning of the concepts given in the lesson.

The reason for teaching English, however, is very different. Unlike the
geography textbook, the English textbook is not meant to transfer information
to students. The English textbook is a tool to develop students language

By reading the English lessons, students are expected to become familiar with
how English is used by people to communicate with others in natural ways.
Discussing the lessons, answering questions, clarifying doubts and working
with other students on the lesson are all meant to help students learn how to

use English outside the classroom. After all, when they grow up they will need
to use English in their jobs, when they travel, when they meet other people,
and so on.

Pause for thought

Ask yourself what you do to help your students understand their texts. Do you:

read the English lesson and translate it into the students home language?
read the lesson, explain its meaning in the students home language and
discuss the questions given at the end?

Many teachers use these techniques, which are sometimes useful in making
students understand the theme (main idea) of the story, poem or play.

Translating and explaining, however, do not teach students how to work out
the meaning(s) of a literary text by themselves. Sometimes students simply
memorise the explanations given in the guidebooks available in the market
and reproduce these in the exam. This does not prepare them to respond to
literature appropriately.

More seriously, it prevents them from improving their own language skills.
Translating also teaches students only a limited number of sentence
structures. Since no two languages make all sentences with the same
structure, too much translation will prevent students from learning other
structures in the new language they are learning.

There is a story of a teacher who was teaching her students an English lesson
about a king and his three daughters. The teacher began by translating the
lesson into Assamese, their students home language. The first sentence of
the story began with Once upon a time there was a king, and they translated
the verb was into the Assamese word asil.

Some days later, the teacher asked their students to tell a story in English. To
encourage them, the students started with the first sentence from another
Assamese story, beginning with the sentence A merchant had a horse, and
were asked to translate it into English and add more sentences. Their
response began A merchant was a horse!

Can you guess why this happened? The problem arose because in
Assamese, the word asil means both had and was. The student had
translated the verb that they had heard the teacher use in the previous story
(asil = was)!

What lesson does this story tell us? It is that two languages may have two
different ways to express the meaning of the same word, or that there may be
two words to express one meaning. If we translate sentences without knowing
all the different uses of a word, we may, like the student in the story, end up
calling a merchant a horse!

In this part of the unit, you will learn about other ways of teaching literature
besides translating in the home language. By using these techniques, you will
be able to help your students:

read literature on their own

interpret or describe the theme in their own words
enjoy reading literature.

Now read a case study of a Secondary English teacher and the strategies she
used to encourage her students to read a literary text on their own. Do you
think these strategies can be applied to make your own students more
interested in reading literature?

Case Study 1: Anju Talwar encourages her students to keep

a literature logbook
Teacher Anju Talwar teaches English in Class IX at a local government girls

My students come from a village that has no cinema hall or Internet booth.
Nor do all the girls have a TV set at home.

All this, however, does not lessen the girls eagerness to learn English. They
read their English lessons regularly because the only English they get to see
is in the lessons in their English textbook. They write and memorise answers,
complete gap-filling exercises, match columns and do other comprehension
tasks to get good marks in the English exam.

I realise that I cannot stop my students from reading their English lessons to
prepare for their exams. But I also hope, as their English teacher, to make
them enjoy reading the stories, adventure tales, poems, plays, travel accounts
and other interesting units given in their textbook. I believe this will encourage
them to enjoy reading literature outside the class text and develop their
language skills.

Last year, I decided to try a new strategy to make my students read their
English literature lessons. I made every student record their feelings about the
story (or play, or poem, etc.) they had just read in a notebook. I explained this
was called a logbook and that they could use it to note down answers to some
questions about the text. [Figure 1].

Figure 1 Example of a students logbook

An example of a students logbook. It is a table of two columns. The right-
hand column is blank; the rows in the left-hand column read Date, Title of
the story/poem/other, Author (if given), 1. The character I liked the most, 2.
The reasons why, Five memorable sentences/pieces of dialogue from the
text, and Why I liked/did not like the text.

I gave my students a week to finish reading and noting down their responses.
I allowed them to note down their feelings in their home language the first
time, because I did not want them to feel they were writing a test.

At first, the students found it difficult to read the lesson without help, and they
kept asking me for the meanings of new words. I encouraged them to guess
the meanings by reading the surrounding sentences carefully. Slowly, the girls
began to enjoy the challenge of reading on their own.

Every Friday, the students talked about the book that they had read or were
reading. Because they could speak in their home language, they participated
eagerly in the discussion.

Activity 1: Reading for enjoyment
As you saw in the case study, maintaining a literature reading log encourages
students to read literary texts on their own. The benefits are that it:

teaches students to develop strategies to understand a text on their own

(e.g. guessing the meaning of a new word from the surrounding
improves their own language
makes them more confident to express their own feelings and opinions in

Later in this unit you will find an activity that will help your students read a
prose piece on their own. Before that, read the two passages about fog below
and say which passage is from a Class IX Science textbook, and which one is
from an English novel.

1. A fog is a cloud of particles, usually water droplets (water fog), but

sometimes of the crystals (ice fog). There is no essential difference
between fogs and free-flowing clouds in the atmosphere. Fogs produce
little precipitation and at very small rates; in this respect they are similar to
many of the free clouds seen in the sky that are not giving precipitation.
2. Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green airs and
meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of
shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the
Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.

As you must have guessed, Passage 2 is from a novel the first chapter of
Charles Dickens novel Bleak House. Here are some of the reasons why
Passage 2 is from a literary text, and Passage 1 is not:

The sentence structure does not follow grammatical rules very strictly. The
first and last sentences, for example, have no verb!
There is a pattern of repetition of words and phrases that we do not find in
normal passages describing a natural phenomenon such as a fog. The
word fog is repeated several times, and there is also the repetition of the
parallel phrases: Fog up the river ; fog down the river and Fog on the
Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights.
Rather than describing the fog as a phenomenon of nature, this passage
makes us feel as though the fog has the ability to travel on its own it
rolls and flows, for instance.
Rather than describing what a fog is, this passage seems to describe what
a fog does.

As the discussion will have shown you, in Passage 2 the author is not
interested in giving us a physical description of a fog. He is using the fog to
describe a scene, and the feelings that are found in a place that is covered
with fog.

This is how literature differs from everyday texts. In literature, authors force
us to see everyday occurrences and events in unusual ways. We read
literature not for information; but for pleasure.

Try in the classroom

Try a similar activity with your students.

Find two similar passages from their textbooks of English and another
subject, or select a passage from the English textbook and rewrite it to
make a paragraph that looks like a science text.
Divide the students into small groups and ask them to decide which
passage is from a literature text and which is not. Tell them to give
reasons for their choice.
During the discussion, point out what literary features there are in the text.

Remember that students may not be able to recognise many literary features
at first. Help them by giving one or two examples such as the use of unusual
words; repetition of words, phrases or sentences; ungrammatical structures,
and so on. The trick is to let them think for themselves rather than explaining
everything to them.

Pause for thought

Did your students enjoy the activity? You can use the same technique to
teach students to look for poetic features in poems. Or you can make them
compare a prose passage and a poem, and say how they are different. This
will help them notice with more attention the special features of literary texts.

3 Responding to a literary text

As you have seen in the previous section, if we can make students notice the
special features of literary texts, it will encourage them to respond to literature
without waiting for the teacher to explain every word.

In this section, we will discuss ways of getting students to read English plays.
But before that, ask yourself these questions:

Do you read plays? Which plays in your home language do you like the
Some of us like a play because we can enact it on stage. Others like it
because every play has an interesting climax. What do you like about a
play? Have you read any English plays?

Activity 2: Characteristics of three genres of literature
As you know, a play is different from fiction (i.e. prose texts with imaginary
characters) or a poem. In Table 1, we have mentioned one characteristic
feature of each of these genres (types) of literature. Can you add to the list?

Table 1 Characteristics of three genres of literature.

Prose text (fiction) Play (drama) Poem (poetry)

Includes characters, plot Includes characters, May not include
(main idea), descriptions, plot, dialogue and stage characters, plot,
dialogue directions dialogue, description

When you have completed your list, compare it against Table 2 (which is in
the discussion section of this activity).


Table 2 Characteristics of three genres of literature complete.

Prose text (fiction) Play (drama) Poem (poetry)

Includes characters, Includes characters, plot, May not include
plot (main idea), dialogue and stage directions characters, plot,
descriptions, dialogue, description
Written in prose Written in both prose Written in verse
(sentences) (sentences) and verse
Uses grammatical Uses normal everyday Uses rhyme, metre and
structures of normal, language, but with more unusual words and
everyday language features of spoken language lines
such as pauses, half-
sentences, repetition,
whispers and supporting
expressions (umm, hmm,
yeah, etc.)
Uses normal Uses normal punctuation, but Uses normal
punctuation, not speech marks punctuation in unusual
including speech ways (e.g. speech
marks (inverted marks for lines spoken
commas to begin by non-human
and end dialogue) characters)
Uses grammatical Uses grammatical language, Uses poetic licence
words and structures except to show deliberate ungrammatical words,
mistakes phrases, sentences
Focuses on the Focuses on the dialogue to Focuses on the theme

narrative (a series of show how the characters feel (the poets unique way
events that tell the and think of describing a feeling,
story) event or thing)

This activity must have made you aware that fiction, plays and poems all have
their special characteristics.

This is a good reason why we should not teach literature only by translating or
explaining the meaning. To enable our students to enjoy reading different
types of literary texts, we need to teach them to respond to the special
features of each genre. We can do this by making them work on activities that
help them respond to literature with their own understanding and experience.

Let us pause for a minute here and think about what makes us like or dislike a
work of literature. Take, for example, a movie. Which movie have you
watched recently? Did you like it? Why (or why not)? As you know, our
response to a movie is determined by the way the story is told and the way
that the actors portray their characters. More importantly, however, our
response is determined by what we have learnt in our society, culture and

A few years ago, a Hindi movie called Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna dealt with a
very sensitive subject: marital problems. The movie was criticised by many
Indians for showing a relationship between two married people. However,
many people living in metropolitan cities commented that the movie was only
showing what happens in real life. Very few people talked about the acting
skills of the famous stars (including Abhishek Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee,
Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta); in fact, they were criticised for agreeing to
do the film!

Our response even to fictional and imaginary pieces of writing, therefore, is

influenced by the what we learn in our society, culture and family traditions,
i.e. our world view. Every individual brings their own opinions and feelings to a
literary work that is based on their world view and their experience of reading
other literary works.

In short, when we talk about teaching students literature, we actually mean

helping them respond to literature. We can do this by engaging them in
activities that allow them to respond to the text actively on their own, based on
their personal experience and world view.

Now read a case study about a teacher who had to think out of the box i.e.,
think differently to be able to make her students respond to an English play.
Then you will have an activity for your practice.

Case Study 2: Sonia Sinha helps her students to
understand plays
Teacher Sonia Sinha is an English teacher for Class IX in a local CBSE

I love to read English plays, so when I was appointed as an English teacher I

was very excited.

On my first day, I asked the students whether they had read any of the plays
in their Literature Reader. The students said they were waiting for me to give
them notes that they would memorise for the exams, and one student asked if
he could write answers from a guidebook.

I was shocked to hear such comments. I realised that they were all serious
about their English course, but somehow they had not learnt how to read and
respond to a play. They looked at the chapters in their Literature Reader
simply as lessons to prepare for the examination.

I realised I would have to do something to change the way students read

literature. I wanted my students to focus on a plays dialogue and stage
directions [additional information given beside the dialogue that tell us where
the characters are placed and what expressions they have to enact], and see
how these contributed to the theme of the play. I wanted them to notice that
the dialogue makes the reader understand what the characters feel and how
they express their feelings and opinions.

I thought of a strategy. A day before my drama class, I selected a student,

Satish, and made him practise reading with me a few short pieces of dialogue,
as if we were acting a play on the stage.

The next day, I announced to my class that they would listen to a play. I told
the students to pay attention to their reading, because they would have to
answer questions on it. Then Satish and I read the dialogue as naturally as
we could.

Figure 2 An example of a short piece of dialogue.

A picture that shows a short piece of dialogue between a mother and son. The
mother says, Brrr Its cold in here! Why are you sitting in this cold room,
Rohan? The son replies, Umm Mum I wasnt watching TV, I swear! I
was just thinking about my homework! The mother then says, Oh really! Did I
say anything about TV? I just came to ask if you wanted anything from the

After we had finished, I asked the students, Was Rohan watching TV? Some
students said Yes and others said No. Then they had an interesting
discussion about why Rohan was (or was not) lying to his mother.

I made the discussion focus on how the characters of Mum and Rohan spoke
to each other. I made the students notice how Rohan began his words with
Umm Mum , and how such pauses and empty words help the
audience understand the speakers mood at that moment. We discussed the
way that Rohan mentioned watching TV, even when his mother had not asked
him about it. The class concluded that Rohan was indeed lying to his mother,
and so on.

I explained how the way that characters speak and behave in a play helps the
reader or audience to understand it better. I added that the words that people
use and the way they use their voice and body expressions give a lot of
information about their feelings, opinions, mood and the subject that they are
discussing. I added that the dialogue and stage directions in plays give a
reader the same kind of information.

Having set the scene, I divided the students into groups of five and gave them
an excerpt from a play in their textbook. I asked them to read the passage and
tell me about:

the characters
the topic of discussion
their response to it were they happy, sad, angry, worried, etc.

The students read and discussed the play in their groups and came up with
very original and interesting opinions on the play. Over the next few weeks,
they also began rehearsals for performing a play.

I was very happy to see their progress and was surprised at how quickly they
had learnt to interpret a play (that is, say what it means).

You have read about how students can be involved in tasks that help them
understand the literary features of drama. You can make your students do the
next activity in your English literature class.

Activity 3: Try in the classroom: understanding the theme of

a play through dialogue
This activity is based on a passage from a play called The Box by Rich
Smolen. The text of the passage is in Resource 1.

Here are the steps that you can follow:

1. Announce to the class that they are going to read a play called The Box.
Ask them to guess what the play will be about. If possible, note a few
responses on the board, but do not give out the answer. Tell them you will
discuss the title after they have finished reading the play themselves. (This
is a warm-up question using this strategy motivates students to know
what is in the reading passage.)
2. Show them Figure 3 and ask them what they think the men are doing.
Read the names of the characters (Man, Young Man, Old Man) and ask
them which characters are on the stage. (This is another warm-up activity.)

Figure 3 Photo of a performance of The Box.

Photo of a performance of The Box

3. Refer to the picture to discuss what is happening. (You can show students
which direction is upstage (the area of the stage towards the back) and
which is downstage (the area of the stage closer to the audience).)
4. Read out the extract, or ask one or two students with good oral skills to
read it, so that it sounds like an actual conversation.
5. Divide the students into groups and ask them to read the extract and think
of answers to questions like these:

o What is the relationship between the characters?

o What are they talking about?
o Is there any suspense? Who is creating the suspense?
o What is the mood of the characters are they happy, sad, angry or
worried or something else? What makes you say that?
o Do you like the play? Why, or why not?
o Which character do you like? Why?

There are many benefits of such leading questions. They help students read
with more attention, because they give students a reason to read (see TDU 4,
Reading for understanding, and TDU 5, Reading different texts), and they also
give students a chance to express their own views. Leading questions shift

the responsibility of understanding to the students, which helps them to
become more independent readers.

Pause for thought

Did your students enjoy the activity? You can use such questions to make
students respond to any play in their English textbook. You can also use
these strategies to teach other literature lessons such as stories.

4 Teaching poems
So far you have read about the ways in which we can make our students
notice the special features that make literary language different from ordinary
language. You have also learnt about a few strategies that can be used to
make reading English literature more interesting for secondary students.

You must have realised how important it is to encourage students to read and
understand literature themselves, rather than wait for the teacher to translate
every sentence. As we discussed in the previous sections, every reader
responds to a literary text through their personal experiences and the values
that they have learned as a member of society. This is why different people
react differently to the same story, book, play or poem: not all of us like the
same texts; nor do we like the same book for the same reasons.

As teachers, we have to encourage students to form their own responses to

literature, and we have already discussed many reasons why this should be

Activity 4: The benefits of reading literature

Let us pause for a moment now and think of this question: what are the
benefits of reading literature? In other words, in what ways does reading
literature help us? To answer this question you might want to think about how
literature portrays the world and relationships, where it takes us when we
read it, what language we are reading in, the many ways language can be
used, and so on.

When youve made a list of responses, you can compare it to ours.


You may have found that most of your points are similar.

1. In literature, we read about people and events from other regions and
cultures. We learn about how other people live their lives. So literature
helps us see the world.

2. When we read about people from other nations and cultures and their
lives, it makes us realise that our own views and opinions may not be the
only correct way of looking at life.
3. Literary texts about our own people and their lives help us to realise that
other people go through the same joys and pains in life as us. This gives
us more courage to face our own problems in life.
4. For adults, literature is a way of finding relief from tensions and worries.
Literature makes us laugh and cry and when we express these feelings,
it makes us feel lighter. Literature makes us relax.
5. Literature from other cultures is like a window to the world. Without having
to physically move, we learn many features about other places that a map
will not tell us. For example, we learn what a place is famous for, its street
names and the names of its famous monuments, bazaars, and so on.
6. Reading literature improves our language skills. We learn new words and
phrases, and new ways of expressing meaning. We learn idiomatic
language (i.e. words and sentences that are more natural ways of
expressing ones feelings), especially from prose texts and plays. For
example, when we teach our students how to introduce ourselves in
English, we usually teach them very formal language, such as Good
morning. My name is Miss Lily Verma. In real life, however, people use
more natural and idiomatic language, such as Hello, Im Lily Lily Verma.
The language found in contemporary (i.e. happening or existing now)
literary texts show us how people communicate more naturally.
7. Literature, especially poetry, also shows us how people use language
unusually. Poets stretch the rules of grammar to an extreme to express
their feelings in unusual and special ways; sometimes they are even
ungrammatical. But we allow that kind of poetic licence because we are
more interested in the special ways in which poets tell us about ordinary
feelings and events.

What lesson do we learn from this?

By now we would agree that reading literature broadens our world view and
improves our own language skills. Therefore, it becomes more important to
make our students pay attention to how the writer, playwright or poet tries to
express their world view. As we know, writers use various means to make us
react to what they write, whether it is fiction, drama or poetry.

Out of all the genres of literature, we know that poetry is the most personal.
Poems are written about many different topics, such as love, nature, historical
events, happiness, grief, humour and so on. Some poems are short and some
run into several pages. Some poets use rhyme and metre (a fixed number of
syllables in every line) while others do not.

To enjoy reading poetry, one has to explore the overall meaning of what the
poet is trying to say. The theme of a poem is usually not limited to one word or
line or stanza instead, each word, line and stanza add new layers of
meaning to the theme. While teaching poetry, therefore, it is important to
make the students work out for themselves how the poet is expressing his or
her theme.

You will now read more about how to help students look for and enjoy the
theme of a poem. You will read a case study of a teachers experience of
teaching poetry to students of Class VIII. After that, you will get an opportunity
to learn some strategies of teaching English poetry in your own classes.

Case Study 3: Ravindran Swami explores the meaning of a

poem with his class
Teacher Ravindran Swami is the class teacher of Class VIII in a local
government school.

I was very worried because most of my students came from homes where no
one could read or write. I had just seen the new English textbook, and
wondered how I would teach all the nice poems there without translating. I
love reading English literature, and I often recall how the Fathers in my own
Christian Mission school had developed a love of literature in all of my
classmates. I had seen the value of reading literature and had always wanted
to be an English teacher so that I could develop the same love of literature in
my students.

I decided to take the advice of my old English teacher, and went to visit Father
Thomas in Kochy, his hometown. The Father was very happy to see me, and
over a cup of coffee, we discussed how best to arouse in students an interest
in English poetry. Father Thomas gave me many new tips, and I felt these
would surely help my Class VIII students.

I decided to start by discussing the first two stanzas of the poem Daffodils by
William Wordsworth [see Resource 2], which I had studied at school. This is
what I did in his class:

I showed the class a few pictures of daffodils that I had got from the internet
and discussed with the students how people think about flowers. I then read
the poem aloud, and made my students read it together after me. [See TDU 2,
English in the classroom, for notes about choral repetition.] After that, I asked
the students what they thought the poem was about. A few students made
simple comments like It is about flowers, but several students also made
thoughtful observations such as It is about the poets feelings when he sees
the daffodils, It is about how the daffodils are dancing and so on.

I was happy that students were taking active interest in the poem. After the
initial discussion, I divided the class into groups and gave them an activity. I
asked each group to read the poem on their own and find out the words,
phrases and lines that told them more about what the poem meant. After
fifteen minutes, they would have to share their ideas with the class.

Before the groups started to work, I gave them an example of what I wanted
the groups to find out. I referred to one students comment (It is about the
poets feelings when he sees the daffodils) and asked the class to mention

one word from the poem that described the flowers. One student answered

Happy with the response, I instructed them to look for more words, phrases or
lines that described the flowers and the poets feelings. I knew that the
language of the poem was not very easy to understand, but I wanted the
students to have the experience of reading a poem on their own.

After the groups gave their responses, I drew their attention to how certain
words and phrases were grouped together to express an idea. I showed them
how the poet used collective nouns such as host and crowd to give an effect
of fullness, or words like fluttering and dancing to show the gentle
movement of the flowers in the breeze.

I ended the class by making the students answer a set of questions on the
poem in their groups. At the end of the class, my students had managed to
read the poem several times and noted many interesting ways in which the
poet described such a simple scene.

Activity 5: Video: Watch a teacher teaching a poem

Now watch the video below about a teacher teaching a poem to an English
class. If you are unable to watch the video, it shows activities related to
teaching the poem Lord Ullins Daughter based on Case Study 3 and Activity
4. You may also find it useful to read the videos transcript. Please note that
the video will be available in early 2014.

Lord Ullins Daughter by Thomas Campbell

A chieftain, to the Highlands bound,

Cries, Boatman, do not tarry!
And I'll give thee a silver pound
To row us oer the ferry!

Now, who be ye, would cross Lochgyle,
This dark and stormy weather?
O, Im the chief of Ulvas isle,
And this, Lord Ullins daughter.

And fast before her fathers men

Three days weve fled together,
For should he find us in the glen,
My blood would stain the heather.

His horsemen hard behind us ride;

Should they our steps discover,
Then who will cheer my bonny bride
When they have slain her lover?

Out spoke the hardy Highland wight,

Ill go, my chief Im ready:
It is not for your silver bright;
But for your winsome lady:

And by my word! the bonny bird

In danger shall not tarry;
So, though the waves are raging white,
Ill row you oer the ferry.

As you watch the video, think about the following questions:

How does the teacher get the students interested in the poem?
Why does she only read the first six stanzas?
How does the teacher check that students have understood the basic
meaning of the poem?
How does the teacher organise the groups?


The teacher asks her students to talk about the pictures illustrating the poem
in the textbook. Getting students to talk about the pictures before they read
the poem encourages them to start thinking about the themes, and helps to
engage them when they read or listen to it. Once students are interested, the
teacher reads the poem aloud. This is a long poem, so she reads only the first
six stanzas. This ensures that students remain interested, and also that they
understand the first part of the poem before they move on to the rest of it.
After reading and listening to the poem, students work in groups to write a
summary. Giving a summary is a good way of checking understanding. Note
how the teacher gave each group a different stanza, and how she organised
the groups by giving each student a letter from A to F. By just saying the
letter, it was then very quick to move students into groups.

As you have seen in Case Study 3, making students notice how words and
structures are used in poems can make a literature class very interesting, This
is because:

it gives students an opportunity to read poetry by themselves rather than

wait for the teacher to explain
they can discuss the poem with their friends in their home language and
organise their responses before talking about them in English
they get a taste of the unusual ways in which poets talk about common
events and things.

Such strategies not only teach students to enjoy reading poems; they also
help students to practise their reading skills, improve their vocabulary and
prepare to be independent readers.

Activity 6: Try in the classroom: teaching a poem

When teaching a poem, it is important to read it aloud so that students can

become familiar with its rhythm. School textbook poems usually have rhyming
words at line ends (e.g. glance/dance, trees/breeze, etc.), and written in a
way that make them sound musical when recited aloud. Recitation not only
makes a poem more enjoyable to listen to and remember; it also helps
students learn the pronunciation of words and sentences (i.e. where to stress,
or put the force, in a word or sentence).

Like Mr Swami, you can make the reading of a poem a joyful experience for
your students. Here is how you can do it:

1. Select a poem from the English textbook and try to find some pictures that
match its theme. You could look for pictures in old magazines at home. If
you dont find one suitable picture, you can cut out different pictures and
paste them on chart paper. You can even use the picture in the textbook if
you cant find a suitable one. Using pictures is a good way to motivate
learners because it helps them to visualise (or see) the theme of the
2. Use the picture(s) to start a class discussion and then give the class the
title of the poem and ask them to guess its theme. Encourage the students
to share their ideas but do not tell them whether they are right or wrong.
(Remember, it always feels nice to discover things for ourselves than to be
told about them.)
3. Read the poem aloud and try to bring out the feelings expressed in it.
Sometimes it helps to practise reading the poem at home before you read
it out to students the teacher is sometimes the only source of English for
students. If the poem is a long one, it is a good idea to divide the teaching
into two or three classes.
4. Divide the class into groups. Make different groups work with different
stanzas, or give them the same stanzas but with a different set of

5. Set a time limit for discussion and when its been reached, take feedback
from each group. Make sure students in other groups have stopped
working and are paying attention.
6. After someone from every group has spoken, use their answers to discuss
the poem. Add your own points to the discussion, and give a summary of
the poem. If necessary, explain the parts that students did not understand
well. Giving explanations after students have read the poem rather than at
the beginning of the class is always a better idea it helps students to
remember the poem better.

Pause for thought

If it is possible, ask a colleague to watch your class. Alternatively, you could

use your mobile phone to record an audio or video recording. Play this at
home and see how the class went.

5 Summary
In this unit you have learned how teaching English literature can be made
more learner-friendly. By making students read and understand stories, plays
and poems on their own either individually or with others you can prepare
them to read other texts in English outside the classroom.

There are many advantages in teaching students to read on their own rather
than explaining the meaning of every literary text. It allows the students to:

see the different styles in which people use language

the use of new words and structures in a context (that is, a real-life
discover strategies to learn to read on their own
express their own feelings about a literary text.

What key things about teaching literature have you learned in this unit? Write
three key things that you have learned.

You have had the opportunity to try some techniques out in the classroom.
Which techniques have worked well with your students? Which activities did
not work so well, and can you make any changes to make them work better?
Which activities will you continue to use?

What next?
You can find links to online resources (stories and poems) in Resource 3. If
you would like to learn more about using literature in the classroom, you will
find links in Resource 4.

6 Resources
Resource 1: An extract from The Box by Rich
Characters: Man, Young Man, Old Man

(Stage is bare, except for a bus stop sign downstage right. Upstage wall has a
few black and white framed photos; a tripod is lying on the ground next to the
wall. YOUNG MAN and MAN enter from upstage left and cross to the bus
stop. There is a camera around YOUNG MAN'S neck.)

YOUNG MAN Well, here we are.

MAN Here we are.

YOUNG MAN I'll see you later

MAN Same time and place

(His voice trails off as he looks for the bus)

YOUNG MAN As usual.

MAN (MAN nods in absentminded agreement, still looking for bus. He stops
suddenly and looks into audience.)

MAN Uh-oh.

YOUNG MAN What is it?

MAN Uh-oh.

YOUNG MAN Did you forget something?

MAN Uh-huh.

YOUNG MAN Forget your fare?


YOUNG MAN What, then?

MAN My box! I forgot my box. Wait here?

(MAN runs off stage)

YOUNG MAN Your what?

(MAN returns with a large cardboard box)

MAN I didn't miss the bus did I?

YOUNG MAN You were hardly gone ten seconds. Whats

MAN Good. I'll see you later.


(YOUNG MAN is obviously curious as to contents of box. He bends to look

inside as MAN pulls box away. This action becomes more exaggerated
through the next couple of lines)

MAN Good morning.

YOUNG MAN Yes, good morning

MAN Have a good day.

YOUNG MAN Yes, thank you, you too

MAN (pause) Is there something else?

YOUNG MAN Oh, no, not really, I was just

MAN Don't you have to go soon?

YOUNG MAN Well, yes soon

MAN Didn't the studio call you in early today?

YOUNG MAN Yes, but

MAN Yes?

YOUNG MAN I was just wondering (pause, clears throat)

just wondering what's in the box?

MAN You want to know what's in my box?

YOUNG MAN Umm, yes if you don't mind telling me ?

MAN (pause) You want to know what's in here?

(MAN gestures to box. YOUNG MAN starts to nod.)

MAN Or what's in here? Eh?

(MAN gestures to his head. MAN nods, laughs at his own joke)

YOUNG MAN I mean what's in here.

(YOUNG MAN points to cardboard box)

MAN You don't find my joke very funny.

YOUNG MAN Oh. No, I just wanted to know

MAN You want to know why? Because it wasn't a


(MAN is serious for a moment, his eyes widen; then breaks out into laugh.)

MAN It's the same thing!


MAN (very slowly) The same thing. Here

(MAN gestures to box)

MAN and here.

(MAN gestures to head)

YOUNG MAN (pause, look of confusion) I don't understand.

(pause) What's in the box?

MAN Nothing.

Resource 2: Daffodils by William
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed and gazed but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Resource 3: Links to literary resources

Here are some links to online literary resources:

Project Gutenberg
The Poetry Archive

Resource 4: Further reading

Here are some links to articles and tips for teachers of English about teaching

Using literature in the EFL/ESL classroom (Clandfield, undated)

BritLit (TeachingEnglish, undated)

7 Related units
TDU 4, Reading for understanding: You can learn more about reading
for understanding in this unit. These strategies could also be applied to
literary texts.
TDU 5, Reading different texts: You can learn about different reading
strategies and activities in this unit. These strategies could also be applied
to literary texts.

Clandfield, L. (undated) Teaching materials: using literature in the EFL/ESL
classroom (online), Onestopenglish. Available from:
classroom/146508.article (accessed 9 December 2013)., (accessed 9 December


The Poetry Archive,

(accessed 9 Deecmber 2013).

Project Gutenberg, (accessed 9 December 2013).

TeachingEnglish (undated) BritLit (online). Available from: (accessed 9 December 2013).

The content of this teacher development unit was developed collaboratively
and incrementally by the following educators and academics from India and
The Open University (UK) who discussed various drafts, including the
feedback from Indian and UK critical readers: Kim Ashmore and Padmini

Except for third party materials and otherwise stated, the content of this unit is
made available under a Creative Commons Attribution licence:

The material acknowledged below is Proprietary, used under licence and not
subject to any Creative Commons licensing.

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following:

Figure 2: clip art used with permission from Microsoft.

Figure 3: from

Video clips and stills: Thanks are extended to the Heads and pupils in our
partner schools across India who worked with The Open University in this

Every effort has been made to contact copyright owners. If any have been
inadvertently overlooked, the publishers will be pleased to make the
necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.