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Literature in the clasroom

April 29, 2008

Hello again,

The English-speaking world is rightly proud of its rich and diverse literature. However, ways of incorporating it into the English curriculum are not easy. The complexity of...

... language and the length of texts make the task daunting for both teachers and students. However, I think a way into literature is possible if the chosen work is approached as a project.

Let us take a novel, say, Pride and Prejudice. First the historical and social context needs to be explored. Learners can read and study about the period and perhaps make comparisons with the social and historical conditions of the same period in their own country. Issues would be the Napoelonic wars, the respective roles of men and women, class divisions, leisure pursuits, the role of religion. Once the background has been explored with ample visual illustrations to aid understanding, the plot of the novel can be summarized. I would then suggest that selected passages are read and analyzed both for literary and linguistic content. Dramatized scenes from the novel on DVD could then be watched. Students may then wish to read an abridged version of the novel (Penguin ELT Simplified Readers, Level 5) if they are not able to tackle the whole work.

With even more complex works such as Shakespeare’s plays a slightly different approach may be needed. While some historical context for the playwright and the theatre would be useful, many of the plays will well respond to a thematic approach.

For King Lear, for example, the themes of old age, the responsibility children have towards parents, honesty and insincerity can all be discussed before the play is looked at. Again a summary needs to be given so that the sequence of events is understood. I would then suggest going straight into watching scenes on DVD: small sections with students given plenty of preparation to enable them to grasp as much of the language as possible. After viewing a series of small sections, the play could be watched in its entirety by those wishing to do so.

What I am suggesting is that to plough relentlessly through pages of dense text would kill the students’ motivation to tackle literature. But by contextualising it, making comparisons with their own culture and discussing key themes that have a universal relevance, students will be drawn into the topic and wish to explore it more.

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  1. Donald Knight Says:

    What about the wide variety of graded readers available from many publishers? Many of them have put numerous English Classics into very readable formats by grading the vacabulary and shortening the texts. Not only the classics are available in this format...some of the publishers have commissioned specially written texts. I've been using some of these here in Taiwan...and I think the students have enjoyed them.

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