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Harvest

Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language


ISSN- 1729-8326
Volume 22, 2006-2007
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The Use of Literature in Teaching English as a
Foreign Language (TEFL)

Md. Enamul Hoque

Abstract
Language teaching has historically alternated between scholarly and pragmatic

approaches. This article describes the role of literature in EFL classes. Language,

as we know, is a tool for communication. Learning a foreign language is more

than memorizing all of the grammatical structures that are possible in a language.

A vast majority of the people learns a foreign language for the purpose of

communication. Their main objective is to be successful communicators in the

foreign language. They naturally aim at mastering the four skills of language

(LSRW). In teaching language, language and literature are allies not enemies. But

finding appropriate literature to teach second language (L2) classroom has always

been a major challenge. Selected text should not be too long, not too

linguistically and conceptually complex, and not too distant from the world

knowledge of the student and should generate students’ interest. It would be

prudent if we can use interesting and knowledgeable literature in teaching

language in an SL/FL situation.


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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
ISSN- 1729-8326
Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Introduction

Literature plays a crucial part in maintaining the interest of the TFL students.
Naturally, literature is sweet and enjoyable. It has universal appeal and it directly

touches the learner’s heart. Because of its strong appealing quality, literature

finds a permanent place in the memory of the learner. Hence, literature is

considered to be a fit medium for language teaching. Besides, there are a host of

experts who are of the opinion that for effective foreign language teaching and

learning there should be proper integration between language and literature.

Carter (1996) strongly suggests that in the teaching of a foreign language,

opportunities should be sought for extensive and integrated study of language and

literature. Maley (1990) makes a similar opinion when he suggests, “ literary

texts should be used as language teaching resources rather than as objects of

literary study as such”.

The significant skill of guessing the meaning of an unfamiliar vocabulary

item from the context can be easily developed with the help different form of

literature. Any literary texts whether prose or poem provides the learners with a

rich context and adequate clues to guess and understand the meaning of new

words from. In a literary text words frequently occur in related groups and units.

These groups of words, which are semantically related, not only contribute to a

better understanding of the text but also facilitate register-based teaching of

vocabulary items.
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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
ISSN- 1729-8326
Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Literature can play a magnificent role in the acquisition of syntax and

parameter fixing. For example, let us take the famous line of John Keats: “A

thing of beauty is a joy forever”. This is the beauty of literature. Children can

learn the rules of Grammar, but without being aware of the fact that they are

learning the rules. The four basic skills, i.e. listening, speaking, reading and

writing (LSRW) can be promoted through a literary text. This can be achieved by

designing suitable language activities based on the appropriately selected text.

Use of short stories, pomes, novels etc. helps maintain the interest of the

FL/SL learners in learning the language. When a short poem or a nursery rhyme

is acted out, the whole class enjoys the performance and learners observe same

intonation patterns not easily achieved otherwise. Thus learners may be

acquainted with intonation, rhythm, tone, syllabus etc. with the help of nursery

rhymes and poems.

Learning Second Language through the Study


of Society and its Values

Through the reading of short stories, plays, and novels, which often try to

portray the society in some realistic way, students have a glimpse of the

culture of the native speakers of English. The conversations give them the

nuances used by the native speakers of English in performing various roles in

the society. They learn the social etiquette and the words, sentences, tone, and

tenor, which go with the etiquette.


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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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With the study of literature, the second/foreign language learners of

English are introduced to the historical as well as the current culture of the

English speaking peoples. Through the culture, they also come to know and

understand the worldview of the native speakers. No language makes sense to

its learner without some understanding of the worldview it represents.

English speaking peoples do have a unique history, even though the

Europeans may share aspects of this history in general. This is not unlikely

that many TESOL students may or may not show any interest at all the

English literature. The learners may come to a SL/FL class simply to learn the

language to meet practical needs. Many students are able to hold their

attention and progress further in acquiring another language only if the

materials are exposed to be interesting, not just meet their practical ends.

With the study of literature, the second/ foreign language learners of English

are introduced to the historical as well as the current culture of the English-

speaking people. Through the culture, the learners also come to study and

understand the worldview of the native speakers. No language makes sense to its

learner without some understanding of the worldview it represents. Thus

universally applicable moral and ethical concerns are easily conveyed, raised and

impressed in the minds of the learners through English literature, even as they

enjoy reading and listening to the stories.


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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
ISSN- 1729-8326
Volume 22, 2006-2007
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The Use of Literature not Study of Literature

Our aim is not the teaching of English literature, but teaching and improving

English already acquired by the TESOL learners. Through a careful selection

of literary pieces, which match the learner’s difficulty level, self-learning of

English is greatly accelerated and modified. Whether literate or illiterate,

sophisticated or not, all of us have an inherent ability to understand the basic

story-telling conventions. This helps us enjoy literature and appreciate the

meaning it conveys. It is this implicit competence that we try to take

advantage of in using literature to teach language. Students get absorbed and

engaged in the story, and the language (sentences, sentence and phrasal

patterns, and words) is understood and mastered without much effort in the

process.

However, we need to distinguish between the study of literature per se

and the use of literature as a resource for language teaching. We intend to use

literature to teach language. The most important function of using literature in

a TESOL class is its motivating role for performance within the classroom.

Study of literary pieces provides opportunities to the class to reflect on the

events and characters, share the opinions of the readers, and get them

involved in discussion.
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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Selection of Materials for Language Teaching

Activities

The proper use of literature in language teaching helps improve the knowledge

of English in many ways. Literary pieces are susceptible to multiple level of

interpretation. In a literary work, content is communicated in many noble ways,

with metaphors and multiple meanings, sarcasm, cynicisms etc. The writers may

use the word in some unique manner to create noble meanings and expressions.

Teacher should choose short, self-contained pieces. Students can feel a sense of

accomplishment in having read and understood, an encouraging experience when

the process of learning a language seems (indeed, is) endless.

- Feel free to excerpt or even to modify slightly to make good works

more accessible.

- Concentrate on universal themes—love, war, nature, and death.

- Let students know that language is a way to understanding the greatest

issues, not the smallest.

- Don't be afraid to include some difficult elements—new vocabulary,

constructions they haven't mastered yet, references they don't understand.

The instructor can fill in the gaps, and the stretching process is essential to

language learning.
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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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In teaching literary selections, forget about literary history. We need to select

materials, which match the interests of our students. Often the textbooks used

to teach English as a second or foreign language in the Third World countries

contain stories, dramas and poems. Some of these, especially stories and

dramas, may be from the same cultural and literary background of the

learners. These texts may not pose cultural problems for students. They are

certain to pose problems for the TESOL teacher!

Classical texts (novels, plays, etc.) abridged and re-told would also be an

excellent addition to TESOL textbooks.

- Do not give extensive background on the author and the historical

situation.

- Let students infer these from the selection themselves; avoid the deadly

situation in which teacher knows all, students nothing.

- Work through the selection together, using the techniques of close reading

to draw out tone, structure, diction, and so on.

- Choose selections that work with this approach, that do not need

extensive explanation, that have an immediate appeal. Strong,

controversial works, about which students can argue, are often more

effective than those that agree with contemporary views.

- Choose selections that cannot be understood completely in English,

bringing home the point that reading anything in translation brings only

partial understanding.

- Don't stick to contemporary works.


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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
ISSN- 1729-8326
Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Thus literature helps the TESOL learners to improve his skills in

understanding and using English effectively, since they will be confronted with

similar characteristics even in their day-to-day conversations. Learners attain new

sentence and phrasal patterns through reading literary works. They learn to use

familiar words in new context with new meanings. It is important for us to

recognize that “the English language is no longer the preserve of a few nations,

but is now used globally” (Lazar 1993:5). This means that quality literary

products by the non-native writers of English from other countries as well as the

translation of masterpieces in the native literature of the TESOL learners may

have to be included as part of our course materials. In addition, there is an

excellent body of literature from other languages in English translation. It is

possible to supplement our TESOL textbooks with materials taken from all the

above categories.
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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Lazar (1993:62) points out that “although students may find it easier to

respond personally to a text from within their own culture, there is a strong

argument for saying that exposing students to literature from other cultures is

an enriching and exciting way of increasing their awareness of different

values, beliefs, social structures and so on.” In general, the following factors

are always recommended for consideration while selecting the text ;

The students’ cultural background, linguistic proficiency,

literary background, availability of texts (kinds and ease with

which these are available), length of text (Do you have enough

time available to work on the text in class? How much time do

students have to work on the text at home? Could you use only

part of a text, or an abridged version of it? If so, how much

background information will you need to give students to make

the text intelligible?), exploitability (What kinds of tasks and

activities can you devise to exploit the text? Are there resources

available to help you exploit the text, for example, a film or a

particular novel the students are studying, recordings of a play

or poem, library materials giving information about the life of

an author, etc.), fit with syllabus (How do the texts link with the

rest of the syllabus? Thematically? In terms of vocabulary,

grammar or discourse? Can you devise tasks and activities for

exploiting the text which link with the methodology you have

used elsewhere in the syllabus?) ( Lazar 1993:63-64)


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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
ISSN- 1729-8326
Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Literary works can be easily integrated with the syllabus for the course in

teaching English. At the lower level, stories are part of the textbook. The

story lesson may be “taught” following the usual steps, with focus on

vocabulary and sentence structure. Students may be given tasks to paraphrase

the story in their own words and manner. They can “listen” to the story, they

can tell the story orally, they can “read” it aloud to others, or read it silently,

they can paraphrase the story in their own words, they can play with the

words and find the meanings for the difficult words and use them in their own

sentences.

The learners may try to identify the technique of narration, and adopt

the same to write their own stories. They can identify the conversational

strategies the characters in the story have employed, and try to use the same

in conversations with their fellow students in the class. They can enact the

story as a team and learn to behave like the characters. There is no limit to the

kinds of activities, which could be developed, based on the story in the

textbook. All language skills are covered with the teaching the story in the

class.
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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Role of Teaching Translated First Language Literature

Very nice and fit but frequently overlooked type of literature is the translated first

language literature of the student. This source has several advantages over the

types of literature normally employed by language teachers:

 Learners are able to understand the cultural background of the material

used, a major stumbling block to using second language literature.

 Plot, theme, Characters, values, attitudes, judgments, and much of the

vocabulary are recognizable (and hence less psychologically threatening)

if students know the original (Day and Bamford, 1998).

 Foreign /Second language acquisition study has shown that materials

originating from student's first language's culture greatly increase

comprehension and retention of a second language. Studies have revealed

that simply changing the names of places and characters into more

familiar one increases comprehension (for example, changing English

names into Japanese for Japanese EFL students), and changing a few

lexical items (places, actions) with more familiar Japanese words or

actions resulted in higher cloze scores (Oller 2004; Chihara, Sakurai, and

Oller, 1989). In another study, it was discovered "that the cultural origin

of folktales for Iranian EFL students had a greater effect on their

comprehension than did the level of the syntactic and semantic

complexity of the text. That is, Iranians performed better on the texts
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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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adapted in English from their native culture than on a text from American

culture (Floyd and Carroll, 1987, pp. 90-91).

 It has been demonstrated that "implicit cultural knowledge presupposed

by a text and the reader's own cultural background knowledge interact to

make texts based on one's own culture easier to read and understand than

syntactically and rhetorically equivalent texts based on less familiar, more

distant cultures (Floyd and Carroll, 1987, p. 90). When students from

India and the U.S. were told to read letters about an Indian and American

wedding, the subjects read letters from their own culture faster, and were

able to recall them better than when they read foreign excerpts (Floyd and

Carroll 1987).

 Stephen Krashen, in numerous writings on the central importance of

reading in learning a language, has stated that the ability to read well in

the first language is transferable to the second, even when the writing

systems are different (Krashen 2004). Consequently, the study of first

language literature that has been translated into the second language can

also help serve as a 'bridge' between the first and second language.
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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Nursery Rhymes in Language Classes

Nursery rhyme helps the students understand the rhythms, rise and fall of the
speech and thus the students acquire knowledge of tone, intonation, stress,

syllables, strong form and weak form words. The following chants is an

illustration of this type;

Whisky frisky

Hippety-hop

Up he goes

To the top.

Whirly twirly

Round the round

Down the scampers

To the ground.

Furly curly

What a tail

Tall as a feather

Broad as a sail.

Where’s his supper

In the shell

Snappy cracky out it feel.

(Anon)
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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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A very enjoyable way of learning to say English words and sentence is
through chants. Primary and upper classes enjoy repeating rhymes.
The learners can practice pronunciation through chants.

Listen to me

I ’m listening

Listen to me

I ’m listening

Listen to me

I am, I am

Answer me

I will, I will

Answer me

I will, I will

Tell me the truth

I will, I will

Tell me the truth

I will, I will

Don’t tell a lie

I won’t I won’t

Answer me

I will

Listen to me

I am.

(Graham 1979)
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Tongue twisters also have a role in practicing sounds of difficult

English words or sounds, which learners cannot articulate easily.

Tongue twisters like the followings contrast the /s/,/sh/ and/ch sounds,

She sells sea-shells on the sea-shore.

But the sea shells that she sells.

Are not sea-shells of that shore.

Or

The sixth, sick sheikh’s sixth sheep is sick.

(Nagaraj 1996)
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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Poetry for Teaching SL/FL

A poem readily lends itself for listening and speech practice. As a rule,

poems are musical and sweet to hear. Hence, the poem to be taught should be

recorded and then played for the benefit of the learners. The learners may be

encouraged to listen to the recording as many times as possible. This will not

only give them a feel of the music present in the poem but also provide them

the much-needed exposure to the sounds of the target language.

This is fact that, speech practice may follow listening practice. We should let

the learners recite the poem in chorus, then in groups and at last individually.

This will enable them to have practice with the target language sounds in a

meaningful way. Also, engaging the learners in a discussion in the class can

ensure speaking practices. After they have learnt the poem and got the

overall message, they may be asked evaluative questions.

Initially, the learners may be asked to find justifications for their

answers from within the text. And, at the next step, they may be allowed to

seek justifications from outside the text. This will encourage natural and

spontaneous speaking in the class. It is not that only listening and speaking

can be promoted with the help of a poem. Reading and writing can also be

promoted.
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Students need to make decisions about the correct order of the lines, decipher

the metaphor and other poetic devices used by the poet, and convert them to

the ordinary language syntax. Comprehension of meaning of a poem is more

intricate than the comprehension of an ordinary text, either in story form or

in business correspondence, etc.

As Lazar (1993) points out, poems are marked by unusual syntax, rich in

words coined by the poet, reinforcing the students’ knowledge of the norms of

language use, and the manner in which they can be adapted to achieve different

communicative purposes. Integrating poetry into the syllabus provides for an

enjoyable way of reinforcing and revisiting contents, enabling students to make

confident interpretations, understand figurative meanings, and nuances of

creative literature in English. Poems play dominant role in teaching particular

grammatical structure. I would like to introduce a famous poem by Cecco

Angiolieri, which is fit for grammatical structure item;

If I were fire, I'd burn up the world;

If I were wind, I'd blow it away;

If I were water, I'd drown it;

If I were God, I'd send it to the abyss;

If I were Pope, then I'd be content,

for I'd make fools of all the Christians;

If I were Emperor, know what I'd do?

I'd cut everybody's head off.


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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Using poems for developing receptive skills

Teachers like to bring poetry into the classroom because they believe that it is

important and motivating for students to work with authentic texts. They may

find that poems work well because it is possible to work with a whole text, and

sometimes with more than one poem in the same lesson. This can be achieved

successfully at any post-beginner level, so long as the poems are selected with

care and with the needs, interests and language level of the students in mind.

Two things should be remembered;

 Active listening to the recitation

 Active reading of the selected poems

Active listening to the recitation

This is crucial for students to be able to get a feel for the rhythm and sounds of a

poem - more so than for most pieces of prose. This isn't always easy in a second

language, and so listening to their teacher read the poem, or to a professional

recording, perhaps by the poet or by an actor, is, it is, essential.

 With any listening activity, students will need some kind of preparation

and task so that they can be actively engaged. They might be asked to

check predictions that arose from a warm-up discussion, to compare their


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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
ISSN- 1729-8326
Volume 22, 2006-2007
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suggested rhyming couplets with the poet's, or to identify stressed words

and syllables.

 You might also want to get your students to listen to recorded or live

discussions about poems. This can, for example, take the form of a couple

of teachers or a group of students giving their views on a poem, or even

an interview with the poet.

Active reading of selected poem

Here, reading means extensive reading of the poem. Reading activities can center

on not only the poems themselves, but also around background reading sources

like biography or criticism.

 Teacher should not get stuck in literary analysis unless your students have

specifically asked for a literature lesson, but do draw attention to useful

syntax, grammar and vocabulary, and beware of common poetic

conventions like inverted word order, ensuring that students are aware

that this is a deviation from the norms of everyday English language.

 The teacher should avoid too much analysis, which can kill enjoyment,

and we are aiming for the opposite! As a pre-reading activity, Teachers

may get the students to predict what they are about to read. With poetry,

this can be done with the title as a catalyst, by revealing the lines

gradually on an overhead projector, or by looking at the first verse of a

longer poem. The teacher should refer students back to what they have

read in the text so that they are justifying their predictions.


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Jahangirnagar Studies of Literature and Language
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Using poems to develop productive skills

Poems are, obviously authentic texts. This is a great motivator. Poems are often

rich in cultural references, and they present a wide range of learning

opportunities. The purpose is to teach English language through poetry, not to

teach the poetry itself, so teachers don't need to be a literature expert. Most of the

tried and tested activities used regularly by language teachers can be adapted

easily to bring poetry into the classroom;

 Speaking activities

 Pronunciation

 Writing activities

Communicative speaking activities

Before doing any productive work, Teachers should give their students plenty of

pre-reading activities so that they are adequately prepared.

 Teacher might play some background music to create the atmosphere,

show some pictures to introduce the topic, and then get students to think

about their personal knowledge or experience, which relates to this topic.

 Students then talk about the poem, first with a partner and then in small

groups
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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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 Teacher usually prepares worksheets for speaking activities which might

involve a quiz, a questionnaire, sentence stems to be completed and

discussed, statements to be ranked and discussed, and so on.

 Afterwards, the students can talk about their personal response to the

poem, discuss the characters and theme, or debate the moral issues.

 Role-plays work well, interviewing a partner, or even dramatizing the

poem and making a video. Students can compare poems on related topics,

with different groups working on different poems and then regrouping to

pool their ideas and comments.

The role of Story and Story Telling

The role of stories and storytelling in language teaching classes is very

effective and very interesting for the students. So the teacher can easily take

the advantage in teaching the foreign language using short stories.

Once upon a time and not so very long ago in the capital city of France, a

teaching centre for little children and not so little children was opened. One little

child and then two and then three and then many, many more came along. And so

our story unfolds. There was a little red hen, a meerkat in trouble, a brown bear,

a black elephant and a white elephant, a very hungry caterpillar, Spot the dog, a

clever tortoise, a big, roaring, yellow, whiskery lion, a kangaroo from

Woolloomooloo and many more.


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The educational value of using stories and the technique of storytelling has

always been undisputed throughout the world. Now more and more English as a

foreign language (EFL) teachers of young learners are using carefully selected

stories from the world of children's literature because they have become more

familiar with an acquisition-based methodology and because stories comply to

the major objectives in most countries for foreign language teaching to young

learners: linguistic, psychological, cognitive, social and cultural. EFL teachers

use stories to supplement their core materials or to create self-contained units of

work that constitute mini-syllabuses. In this way, a story provides the starting

point and rich context for developing a wide variety of related language and

learning activities involving children personally, creatively and actively in an all

round whole curriculum approach


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Use of drama / theatre texts in the language classroom

Collie and Slater (1987) focused on the positive contributions language learning

through literature could make in that literary texts constituted valuable authentic

material as it exposes the learner to different registers, types of language use.

Writers such as Maley, and Duff, (1978) suggest; “Drama can help the teacher to

achieve 'reality' in several ways.” It can overcome the students' resistance to

learning the new language:

--by making the learning of the new language an enjoyable experience

--by setting realistic targets for the students to aim for

--by creative 'slowing down' of real experience

-by linking the language-learning experience with the student's own

experience of life

--by the use of 'creative tension' (situations requiring urgent

solutions);

- by putting more responsibility on the learner, as opposed to the

teacher.
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“Drama provides cultural and language enrichment by revealing

insights into the target culture and presenting language contexts that

make items memorable by placing them in a realistic social and

physical context.” (Wessel: 53-54)

By allowing reading and the adding of some characterisation to a drama /theatre

text, learners became personally and fully involved in the learning process, in a

context in which it is possible for learners to feel less self-conscious and more

empowered to express themselves through the multiple voices of the differing

characters.

One of the drawbacks in the use of literary texts such as novels and poems is

that many of them contain language forms that learners of a language find

difficult to understand. This could be overcome by simplifying them, often

leading to a loss of 'literariness' - leading to criticism that the texts became pale

imitations of the original writing. The lack of suitable texts in the traditional body

of literature, in my view opens the door for the inclusion of drama in language

learning curricula as it tends to use much more naturalistic language than in

poems and novels. Drama texts help to address the need for sufficient texts for

worthwhile reading in which suitable materials can be accessed .


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Conclusion

Finding appropriate literature to teach in the second language classroom has

always been a major challenge. Selected text should not be too long, not too

linguistically and conceptually complex, not too distant from the knowledge of

the students, and should generate student’s interest. Due to these stringent

requirements few teachers use literature use literature in the English classroom.

However, adequate attention should be paid to the proper text selection. If the

text is beyond the level comprehension of the learning, then the purpose of

language teaching will also get defeated; therefore, the text should be simple and

interesting in keeping with the level of proficiency of the learners.


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Volume 22, 2006-2007
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Works Cited

 Chihara, T., T. Sakuai & J. Oller Jr. “Background and Culture as Factors

in EFL Reading Comprehension.” Language Testing. New York:

Columbia University Press, 1989.

 Collie, J. & S. Slater. “Literature in the Language Classroom:” A

Resource Book of Ideas and Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University

press, 1987.

 Carter, R. Study Strategies in the teaching of literature to foreign

students. New York: University Press, 1996.

 Day, Richard & Julia Bamford. Extensive Reading in the Second

Language Classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998

 Duff, A. and A. Maley . Literature Learning .Oxford. Oxford University

Press, 1990.

 Floyd, P. & P.L. Carroll. Effects on ESL Reading of Teaching Cultural

Content Schemata. London: London University Press, 1987.

 Kramsch, C. Context and Culture in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 1993.

 Krashen, S. The Power of Reading. Westport: Heinemann, 2004.

 Levy, Dore. Ideal and Actual in the Story of the Stone. New York:

Columbia University Press. 1999.


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 Littlewood, W. "Literature in the Second Foreign Language Course."

Literature and Language Teaching .Oxford : Oxford University

Press,1986.

 Lazar, Gillian. Literature and Language teaching : A Guide for teachers

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Md. Enamul Hoque is Instructor (ELT) at Education and Training Wing,

Ministry of Environment and Forest.