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Language is an art. Language is the raw material of literature, as stone and bronze are

of sculptures (Wellek & Warren, 1973), while works of literature showcase the beauty and

versatility of the language as they narrate stories of the human experience. It is undeniable

that literature has become an important aspect in the teaching and learning of the English

Language all across the globe. In Malaysia, English literature has been through volatile

changes throughout the years and is often seen to play a secondary role to help increase

English proficiency of students. In the preliminary National Education Blueprint (2013 –

2025), English literature is juxtaposed as a tool to help increase English proficiency. In fact,

English literature is introduced to pupils as young as Primary Year 4 in Malaysia.

Besides helping students to improve their language skills in a fun way, literature also

provides opportunities for learners to embark on journeys and activities that stimulate critical

and aesthetic responses. Literature transports learners to other places and other times and

exposes them to real-life values. It teaches us new ways of seeing the world and enriches us

on different social structures and values. It enlightens us, broadening our horizons and

perspective and teaches us to appreciate diversity and differences.

Using literature to teach pupils on different cultures can be a good idea. When we

read a text or a book, it brings us to places we have never been before. An entire culture

exists in the written word, documenting the collective thoughts of everyone who cared to

share them with the world. From there, we learn to accept, respect and appreciate all the

similarities and differences between people.

Koeller (1996) has noted that using multicultural children’s literature fosters personal,

and cultural, pride within students and promotes cultural awareness, mutual respect, tolerance,

and understanding among those with diverse backgrounds (p. 101).

In the book “Literature and Language Teaching: A guide for teachers and trainers”

by Gillian Lazar, it is pointed out that one of the problems of teaching literature across

cultures is that readers invariably interpret texts in the light of their own world-view and

cultural experience. Thus, it prevents the students to understand the text fully.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary define “cross-cultural” as dealing with or

offering comparison between two or more different cultures or cultural areas. Some

pupils may find other cultures unfamiliar to them, the unfamiliarity with the literature

about or by people from other cultures may worry them and demotivate them to read the text

or stories. They might develop stereotypes as well due to many unfamiliarity.

Louie (2006, p. 446) also describes culture as a social construct and reminds

educators that there is substantial variation within any given culture. Elaborating on this

cultural complexity, Gellner, quoted in Stewart, observes that “Human history is and

continues to be well-endowed with cultural differentiations… cultural boundaries are

sometimes sharp and sometimes fuzzy” (2008, p. 98). The process of showcasing or

recreating a culture through literature, then, is difficult because of the range of diversity

within cultures (Stewart, 2008, p. 103).

As such, Gillian Lazar proposes some strategies to overcome the problem. One of

the strategies mentioned is providing explanations or glosses, in which teachers provide

brief cultural information in a note or gloss. Another strategy is making cultural comparison,

in which teachers can get the students to brainstorm ideas about their own society and then

compare them with those in the literature texts. Providing cultural background information

and giving the pupils extension activities such as role plays or simulation, discussions and

project works are also good strategies to overcome cultural problems in literature.
As an English teacher myself, I agree that although it might be hard to teach literature

cross-culturally, I find it necessary to expose the pupils to different cultures all over the world.

A well-designed Self-access Centre in schools that is equipped with essential facilities can be

a good way to help students benefit learning literature cross culturally.

Self-access Centres (SACs) is a place where learners can help themselves to learn the

language at least partially, if not fully self-directed. Self-access centers can be as simple as a

classroom set aside with dictionaries and shelves of paper-based exercises to state-of-the-art

digital centers with various types of computer- and Internet-based resources. However, it

usually contains facilities and materials that encourage learners to learn on their own.

Students will have access to resources ranging from photocopied exercises with answer keys

to computer software for language learning. It is also a popular style of learning in the 21st

century, going by several names such as learner-centred approach or autonomy learning. It is

in line with the belief that students can learn better if they are in control of the learning


In Asia, English is regarded as one of the compulsory requirements for selecting

students to study at all levels or to recruit new employees in the workplace. Hence,

mastering English is particularly important. We can see widespread use of SACs in many

countries in Asia due to the importance of the language, for example Thailand, Japan, Hong

Kong, and Malaysia. SACs can provide language-learning opportunities that include some

types of simulation of a native or near-native environment (Gardner and Miller 1999).


In order to help students benefit learning literature cross culturally, I have designed

a Self-access Centre that can accommodate facilities and materials to boost students’

autonomy in learning cross-cultural literature. A clear layout plan and the facilities

provided in the Self-access Centre can be found in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1 Layout of the Self-access Centre

Firstly, the Self-access Centre should have a space for individual reading as well as

a group discussion section. The table and chairs are arranged in a way where students can

enjoy reading individually by themselves and also join in discussions with their peers.

There is a graphic organiser and stationery section near the seating area, where students can

brainstorm, discuss and jot down their ideas in graphic form. They can then make cultural
comparison about their own society and those in the literature texts, which is one of the

strategies proposed by Lazar.

Figure 2 Graphic organiser and stationery section

Figure 2 above shows the 3D image of the graphic organiser and stationery section.

The white coloured board on the wall is the bulletin board, in which different themes of

cultural differences will be displayed on the board every month. On the rack, there are some

coloured mah-jong paper in which pupils can brainstorm and write down their ideas in

graphical forms and share with their peers. Stationery such as marker pens, colour papers are

provided in the boxes on the rack. Besides reading, the section also allows students to express

themselves after reading a literature text.

Figure 3 Group discussion section and gadget section

Figure 3 above shows the 3D image of the group discussion section as well as the

gadget section. In the group discussion section, pupils can sit down and share stories and

ideas with their peers. A drawing board has also been prepared to help pupils to express

themselves better. They can also share book review and play the hot seat game in this section.

This allows students to involve themselves in the story and they can feel more immersed in

the story they have read. A gadget section can also be seen in Figure 3. Eight tablets are

provided in the section where pupils can search for information by themselves. They can surf

the net, watch Youtube and Google anything they do not understand. Earphones can be found

in the drawers in case the students need to listen to the audio. Wi-Fi is a necessity facility in

the Self-access Centre. Needless to say, pupils have unlimited Wi-Fi to use in the room,

although access to some websites are sensored and restricted to protect them.
Figure 4 The media player section

Figure 4 above shows the 3D image of the media player section. Pillows and a grass-

themed carpet is provided here to ensure students can learn in a comfortable environment. In

this era of globalisation, media is a useful tool to transfer information in an interesting yet

informative way. There are some shelves mounted on the wall, in which CDs and all sorts of

media will be kept. Besides, it can also be connected to a laptop as well as Internet. When

students do not understand certain culture, they are free to search for visual aids on the net to

facilitate their understanding. They will learn about how people from different culture lives

according to their norm and traditions. Sometimes, students have difficulty in understanding

the literature text as they cannot imagine the scenario in the story. Visual aids like this will

help them to connect imagery and form ideas. In addition, work can also be developed using

television programmes, radio programmes and video. If you have computers and access to the

Internet, then this is another rich seam for self-access work. Sites like the British Council's

'Learn English' provide learners with an extensive array of learning materials, which can be
used by learners at different ages and levels, and with different language needs. Materials can

be catalogued on a computer database or a 'hard copy' notebook, and arranged on shelves in

terms of the main skill areas and level of the material. (Rodden, 2002)

Figure 5 The theatre

Figure 5 above shows the 3D image of the theatre. There is a stage for students to

perform and there are some benches for audience to sit down and watch.There are some

storage racks on the side to keep things organised. On the left side of the stage, there is a mini

wardrobe and a mirror too. Students are welcomed to choose their outfit and roleplay as

someone else. They can read a literature text on the Indian culture and try to reenact the scene

by wearing saree and rolplay the dialogues with their peers based on the story.Younger

students who are shy to perform on the stage can also make use of the puppet stage on the left

side of the stage- they can make their own finger puppets using the resources kept in the

storage racks to roleplay and act out certain scenarios. Furthermore, the theatre can also be
used a space for play area. As suggestion by Lazar, extension activities like this stimulate

pupils to understand, accept and even get a chance to practice other culture.

Figure 6 The bookshelves and resources section

Figure 6 above shows the 3D image of bookshelves and resources section. On the left,

there are magazine racks, big book racks and low benches for students to sit down and enjoy

their reading. The bookshelves pushed to the walls are arranged via level. The books from the

most left bookshelf starts from Level 1 reader and slowly move on to level 3. This

arrangement will help pupils to find books suitable to their levels. The book shelves arranged

vertically at the centre are for advanced students who possess very high proficiency level of

English language. There are a variety of self-paced learning materials students are free to

choose from.

As shown clearly in the layout and 3D images, the Self-access Centre I have designed

is a flora-themed resource room. Besides adding aesthetic value to its interior, the green
plants also helps to freshen air in the room and helps students to better focus in their reading.

Figure 7 belows shows an overview of the Self-accessed Centre.

Figure 7 The flora-themed Self-access Centre


When designing the Self-access Centre, a lot of factors are put into consideration.

From the simplest things such as classroom space, arrangement of the table and chairs, to the

main theme of the Self-access Centre. I also designed my classroom to be spacious, safe, and

welcoming so that students will always want to come back and enjoy this space specially

made for them. Besides, I made sure that there are enough pathways to move around and

enough spaces to carry out activities. I also placed a lot of storage boxes and racks to make

sure that all the things can easily be found and be used in the Self-access Centre. The most

crucial part is, the facilities, materials and resources prepared in the Self-accessed Centre are

designed to foster better learning of cross-cultural literature.

Gardner, D., & Miller, L. (1999). Establishing Self-Access: From Theory to Practice. Cambridge:

Cambridge University press.

Koeller, S. (1996). Multicultural understanding through literature. Social Education, 60(2), 99- 103.

Louie, B. (2006). Guiding principles for teaching multicultural literature. The Reading Teacher, 59(5),

Stewart, S. (2008). Beyond borders: Reading “other” places in children’s literature. US-China
Education Review, 39(1), 95-105.

Wellek, R., & Warren, A. (1973). Theory of literature. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace and World.

Rodden, M. (2002, March). Self-access: A framework for diversity. Retrieved May 1, 2018, from
British Council: