Articles for Teachers

Literature in an ESL Classroom
By:Michael Hines

Professor Colin MacCabe of the University of Exter School of English says that to truly know a language, you must know something of the literature of a language.

Literature is intellectually stimulating because a book allows a reader to imagine worlds they are not familiar with. This is done through the use of descriptive language. In order to understand, the reader will create their vision of what the writer is saying. In this sense, the reader becomes a performer or an actor in a communicative event.

Using literature versus a communicative textbook changes the learning approach from learning how to say into learning how to mean (grammar vs. creative thinking). Conversation-based programs tend to focus on ‘formulas’ used in contextual situations so there is little allowance for independent thought and adaptation of language. On the other hand, literature-based programs focus on personal interpretation of the language so students begin to experiment with the language. This experimentation can be especially helpful to the students for use in different subjects such as science.

Per Carter and Long, the 3 main approaches to using Literature in a language classroom are:

1. Cultural model

Based on the notion that literature is the expression of:
• Socio-cultural attitudes.
• Aspirations of individual societies.
• Mythic and universal values.

Text is regarded as finished product.
Associated with teacher-centered approach
2. Language model

Literature is taught for the promotion of:
• Vocabulary
• Structure
• Language manipulation

Puts students in touch with the subtle and varied creative uses of language.
Emphasizes language observation.
Student-centered methodology.
3. Personal growth model

Concerned more with student’s:
• Maturity as individuals
• Progress as individuals through reading

‘Literature for life’ approach
Promotes individual evaluation and judgment.
Learner-centered approach.

When adding literature into the classroom remember to choose some good books that students can relate to. Visual books are very helpful to help spark interest in children. For older students, you can incorporate questions into the reading process that require thought and expression from the students. In addtion, set aside specific times for reading. Don't worry if students don't respond well when you begin because they will start to enjoy it more (and therefore interact more) as they relate to the stories and experiences shared.

There is a wealth of resources available to teachers to help integrate literature into the curriculum. Some good online literature resources are:
London School of Journalism- English Literature Resources
The Children's Literature Web Guide - The online literature library
English Literature on the Web
The Literature Network
Literature Learning Ladders
BBC Arts and Books
U.S. Library of Congress
Click here to view an online presentation about Literature in an ESL classroom

Michael Hines is the founder of, a free resource helping the ESL/EFL community in Asia and the Middle East for jobs, resumes, schools, resources, yellow pages, classifieds, information and lessons.

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