How to use literature for teaching a language


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How to use literature for teaching a language
Literature in teaching a language can be seen as a great motivational tool for stimulating your students' interest in learning a language. Especially, teaching complicated business terms and topics with integrating moving extracts from the classical literature or short stories gives a refreshing break for learners. It provides all components for ‘development of communicative approach such as grammatical, sociolinguistics, discourse and strategic principles' (Canale and Swain : 1995) and extends learner's area of expertise in many different areas of life.

Case-studies are widely used for teaching Business English at more advanced levels, they describe the situations of fictitious companies and offer some follow-up exercises, quizzes, pair work activities, etc. However, reading cases makes students feel bored and apathetic of colorless language and predictable outcomes. Finally, it can end up with boredom and waste of time both for teacher and students as it lacks imagination, authenticity and ‘sufficient information to make a sound decision.' (M. Shepard, G. Goldsby and W. Gerde : 1997).

According to Davies (1991) communicative competence is based on historical, practical, effective and contextual understanding. Therefore, in comparison to case-studies, novels and stories present real characters with their personal qualities, beliefs and attitudes. They are placed at the specific time, act at the specific place and are surrounded by real people. As a result, students have a clear understanding of context, some knowledge of culture and history that help them to create a genuine interest in the story.


Integrating fiction into the teaching process requires some preparation for a language teacher. First, teacher needs to consider what novels and stories to choose as  ‘the first merit which attracts in the pages of a good writer… are the words employed by finest meaning and distinctions, primal energy, a drum to rouse the passions' (W. Strunk : 1959). The best choice could be classical novels and extracts from recent bestsellers where ‘the good ended happily, and the bad unhappily'. To begin with Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen and Joanne Rowling and then to decide what is most appealing and most appropriate for your students' needs.

Second, incorporate fiction into syllabi, prepare exercises or use ready-to-use worksheets from the net. For example, teaching ‘Money and Markets' can be enriched by reading a novel ‘A Note of Admiration' by Oscar Wilde. It is an excellent piece of writing where you can find some terms of a financial market, a moving plot and interesting topics for further discussions. Before reading the novel, you can make a brief presentation about the writer by showing some pictures and displaying his famous quotations, such as ‘loving oneself is a long lasting romance' or ‘one either can be a piece of art or wear a piece of art', etc.


Third, devise some vocabulary matching exercises as some words in the novel are old-fashioned and some are financial terms. After that, let students read the novel for a few minutes and scan for answers to specific questions. For example, they could be general questions, like ‘What happened in the story?' or ‘Who is a model of admiration in the novel?' Then, focus your students' attention on skimming of the first paragraph and the last paragraph as they contain the most important ideas of the novel.

Sample questions:
  1. What is the privilege of the rich and being wealthy?
  2. How did Hughie look?
  3. What did he live on?
  4. How long did he work on the Stock Exchange?
  5. Why was he called a butterfly on the Stock Exchange?
  6. What did Baron Hausberg send to Hugie?
  7. Who made a speech at the breakfast?
  8. What does a ‘model person' mean?
Next, concentrate on a detailed analysis of the text by giving a reading test with four choices. It will help students to read thoroughly and understand the context deeply.
At this stage of reading, encourage your students to ask questions about the story, explain idioms, phrasal verbs and collocations. Finally, review and correct the answers with further follow-up discussions on the novel. For the next class, students can write an essay about the novel or prepare for a class debate. Essay and debate questions may be statements from the text such as ‘Men who are dandies and women who are darlings rule the world' or ‘Our business is to realize the world as we see it, not to reform it as we know it'.
To sum up, keeping in mind Saville-Troike's (1982) the most comprehensive definition of the speaker's competence in ‘certain settings' teachers may apply it to teaching a language through best fiction samples as they provide models for ‘appropriate non-verbal behaviors in various contexts, the routines for turn-taking in conversation … and other communicative dimensions in particular social settings'.