Published 24th December 2020

literature in the EFL classroom

You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, as long as somebody loves you.

The Witches, Roald Dahl

If you are a bookworm or have spent any time in an English classroom, you’ll recognize these quotes. These are the words of some of our most loved authors, written in books which can be read time and time again. Literature can be a magical thing, a doorway into new worlds, an endless source of entertainment.

Considering reading is something many people do in their spare time, it makes sense to bring this pastime into the EFL classroom.

 While it is perfectly okay to read a translation of an English classic in your own language, there is something special about reading a book in its original language. And this is why we love the idea of incorporating literature into our English as a Foreign Language classrooms.

Why should we use literature in the EFL classroom?

  • Books are authentic texts. We like to use authentic texts in the classroom because they expose learners to natural, authentic language. Often the reading and listening texts in coursebooks are graded and even written for a specific purpose. Authentic texts, on the other hand, are not aimed at language learners so they can provide our students with a genuine English experience.

Read more: How to Choose Authentic Materials for the EFL Classroom

  • Literary texts are creative texts. Writers use language that we might not encounter in everyday spoken language. Using literature in this way provides an opportunity for our learners to discover more unusual language.
  • Literary texts are easy to exploit. Texts in coursebooks are often tricky to extract meaning from beside the aim of the text. Novels, on the other hand, are full of possibilities.
  • Literature is cultural. Even if there is no overtly obvious reference to culture in a book, the setting and characterization itself will unconsciously communicate the culture of the writer or the characters. This is an enjoyable way for our learners to become familiar with culture and customs.
  • Reading is enjoyable. Most of us enjoy reading in our home language, so it is safe to assume that the majority of our learners enjoy reading too. If we can introduce them to English literature so that they will read a book in English purely for enjoyment, their English will improve dramatically.

How can we use literature in the EFL classroom?

To introduce literature in the EFL classroom, we usually make use of graded readers.

Graded readers are books that have been rewritten especially for language learners. While the storyline essentially remains the same, the book is rewritten according to a language syllabus based on the different CEFR levels. In other words, only words that are known to learners of a particular level are used in a reader of that level. Often there are audio versions available too, and there is extra language support provided with glossaries and pictures.

There is a range of genres available in graded readers – from the classics to popular contemporary stories. Consequently, it’s possible to find a graded reader for your learners no matter their level or interests. You can even find one which you will enjoy reading too!

Read more: Tips for Using Graded Readers

Of course, it’s very important that you choose your texts wisely. Consider your students and their interests to make sure the texts you choose are appropriate and relevant.

Our top literary picks for the EFL classroom

When we use literature in the EFL classroom, this can include but is most certainly not limited to the classics. There are so many amazing contemporary novels and short stories that it is almost overwhelming to think about where to start.

Read more: Bringing Literature into the EFL Classroom

So here is a handy list of our favourite literary masterpieces that have been proven to be popular in the EFL classroom:

  • The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
  • Love, Actually – Richard Curtis
  • 1984 – George Orwell
  • Billy Elliot – Melvyn Burgess
  • Tales from the Arabian Nights – Hans Christian Anderson

Of course, if you’re interested in something a little different, you can step away from the adaptations of popular novels and choose a graded reader that has been written especially for English language learners.

Graded readers are published by a number of publishing houses. Check out these websites to see what graded readers they have on offer:

Activities for using literature in the EFL classroom

When it comes to using literature in the EFL classroom, it pays to think out of the box. When we think of reading literature in the classroom, we often imagine our students quietly reading for a lesson – but that is not the best use of time in our classrooms. Let the students read in their own time and exploit the texts during your lesson.

Here are a few ways you can work on the text during your lessons, besides reading.

One option is for students to read different stories.

  • Each week the students can share their thoughts on their story so that other students can decide if they want to read it or not.

More commonly, the whole class reads the same story so that they can do the same activities during the lesson. Here are a few ideas:

  • Before reading, students can predict the content of the story from any pictures used in the book.
  • Students can predict the story from the chapter titles.
  • Once they have finished the book, they can compare it to a film adaptation.
  • Students can role-play an interview with one of the characters in the book.
  • Students can draw a comic strip to retell the story.
  • Students can do research on the author and the background to the writing of the book or the setting of the novel.
  • Students can write a book review of the book.

Using literature in the classroom can be enjoyable for all students, even those who are not avid readers. The key is choosing an appropriate text, but with so many options available you are sure to find a great book to suit any learners you may have. Happy reading!

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