It’s A Place for Self-Reflection, The World of Words Expressing Limitless Thoughts, Imagination, and Emotions

Sabtu, 29 Januari 2011


Much. Khoiri & Pratiwi Retnaningdyah 

Introduction: Literature in Brief

This article tries to elaborate how literature can be used in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classrooms. In other words, it presents how the potentials of literary works, linguistically and culturally, are useful for learners to learn and improve their linguistic competence and cultural competence so that they will probably have communicative performance.

            Yet, it is perhaps necessary to review what literature is: What do we talk about when we talk about literature? Some may say that literature is writing which has a purpose beyond the merely supply of information and which is marked by artistic form, as it makes distinction between material that is merely instructive and that which has artistic purpose. Some others may claim that it is the expression of life in words of truth and beauty; it is the written record of man’s spirit, of his thoughts, emotions, aspirations; it is the history, and the only history of the human soul.  Still some others may claim that it is fundamentally as an expression of life through the medium of language.

Let us take Langston Hughes’ poem “Dreams” as a standpoint. From this poem, we may infer that it was created by an African American poet; indeed, he is a human being. What material was used to write it? Hughes wrote it when the African-Americans were social-politically inferior in the States, and devoted to them to struggle for justice. Hughes took the title as dreams always belong to humankind and, in this sense, could be rooted from human life and experiences. Was the poem only a direct portrait of human life? It is perhaps better to say that the poem is an abstraction of human life and experiences, with the poet’s imagination in his sublime creative process. The poem reflects its message and aesthetic language use. With this potential, it may call us for taking its use when we read it: for enjoyment only or for understanding too.

Such characteristics may also apply to Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”, Robert Burns’ “A Red, Red Rose”, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Naguib Mahfouz’ Middaq Alley, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, or William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, or Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. These works of poetry, prose/fiction, and drama—the three main literary genres—were created more or less in the same way; they also talk about human life and experiences. Yet, in addition, we can also recognize oral literary works (such as epic, folktales, legends, ballads, jokes) developed in traditional or transitional societies. In Javanese culture, many people are still familiar enough with Sunan Kalijaga and Sunan Giri’s Ilir-Ilir.

Thus, any restricted definition of the term ‘literature’ would be open to some criticism on a variety of grounds. However, despite the vast varieties, we can underline that literature may have such qualities as (1) man’s creation; (2) abstraction of human life and experiences, (3) the use of (written and/or oral) language as the medium of expression, (4) the representation of truth and beauty or aesthetic values; (5) useful for enjoyment and understanding.

Where is the position of literature in an EFL classroom? When we talk about an EFL classroom, we should deal with learners’ competence, both linguistic competence and cultural competence. An EFL classroom should provide the learners with a conducive learning atmosphere so they can acquire and/master the target language. Competence is more than acquiring mastery of structure and form. It also involves acquiring the ability to interpret discourse in all its social and cultural contexts.

For this reason, the use of literature in the EFL classroom can provide a powerful pedagogic tool in learners’ linguistic and cultural development. Either a poem, a short story, a short play, or a short folktale can probably serve as valuable materials to enhance their learning process and to support their mastery of language and culture.


Rationale of the Use of literature in EFL Classrooms

It is necessary to forward the rationale of the use of literature in EFL classrooms. First of all, literature can be a motivating medium for language learning. It serves a valuable material for language learners. More particularly, it enables learners to explore language components (pronunciation, stress and intonation, spelling, vocabulary, grammar). It may also facilitate learners to practice language skills (listening, reading, speaking, and writing).

Second, it serves real language use; the language in literary works is presented in its social and cultural contexts. Learners can learn what words or expressions are appropriate for interpersonal interactions in certain cultural settings. Moreover, it serves as a means to foster the development of thinking skills needed for L2 academic literacy.
Next, literature can serve as a means to build a sense of multicultural awareness or understanding. It should be noted that language and culture is inseparable; thus, learning English should also involve the learning of English culture. In this sense, learners can be enhanced to explore how English culture exists in the countries where English is spoken as the mother tongue. In other words, literature can make them develop the sense of appropriateness in what they say or write in English—and in how to behave when seeing a foreigner.

In addition, as an agent of change, learners need to develop their personal growth by nurturing empathy, a tolerance for diversity, and emotional intelligence. By learning literature, they are facilitated to explore and catch up the moral values. When they can integrate the moral values in themselves, it is probable that they can perform their empathy for others, show their tolerance for diversity, and manifest their emotional intelligence in daily life.

The Importance of the Teaching of Literature

            Why is literature useful in language classrooms? Experts have tried to put forward the important place of literature in ESL/EFL teaching.  Gwin (1990) and Brock (1990) summarize some functions of literature, among others:
1.      Literature provides learners with interesting and meaning input in the written form. Interest is the primary goal of literature.
2.      It provides a means for meaningful output through writing and discussion.
3.      It enhances learners’ understanding of cultural values of English-speaking people.
4.      It provides realistic experiences for the type of reading that is most probably encountered in academic courses.
5.      It encourages extensive reading.
6.      It provides a basis for learners’ conversation, group work, and problem-solving activities.
Meanwhile, Collie and Slater (1987:3) add that literature is an example of authentic materials in a way that literary works are not designed for a particular purpose in language learning. Learners are exposed to the original and unabridged language, yet modified to suit to classroom context. However, the most important aspect in the teaching of literature is the wide possibility of personal involvement in the process of literary appreciation.
            Besides, Collie and Slater (1987: 4-5) also propose three more advantages of literature: cultural enrichment, language enrichment, and personal involvement. For many learners, to deepen their understanding of life in the country where that language is spoken is just not possible. Through literature, they are given indirect routes to this form understanding; this is what cultural enrichment means. At the same time, they also gain language enrichment by reading literature. In terms of personal involvement, literature can help learners in the language learning process because of the personal involvement it fosters in readers. Engaging imaginatively with literature enables learners to shift the focus of their attention beyond the more mechanical aspects of the foreign language system.
Yet, of all the advantages of using literature in ESL/EFL courses, literary works do not seem to promise success when it comes to its practical level. It often happens that learners find it frustrating to read short stories, poems, novels, and plays. Many of them say that the language is complicated, with many unfamiliar words, not to mention the lack of cultural background knowledge. The problems are added with such literary elements as theme, characterization, setting, plot, and point of view that learners have to deal with, especially at the stage of literary analysis. With these burdens, it is not surprising that teachers have to face learners’ reluctance to read literature, even before they start reading. Then, the objective of reading literature as enjoyment is doomed to failure from the very beginning.
            The problem of language complexity is made worse by the question of what techniques and strategies should be used to teach literature. It is made much worse by the lack of learners’ cultural background knowledge. Teachers of literature often fall back on a traditional approach, in which they see themselves as imparting information-about the author, the background of the work, and/or the particular conventions that inform the text, and so on. Learners are expected to have the ability to take all this in and make it their own (Collie and Slater, 1987: 7).


Approaches to the Teaching of Literature

Now that we know that we can use literature to teach in EFL classes, the question would be what we use literature for. Is it used to teach language skills? language components? to arouse cultural awareness? or to build empathy? The answers to these questions will take us to different approaches to the teaching of literature in our EFL classes. On the basis of our purposes in using literary works as instructional materials, we could choose to employ one of the following approaches, namely Cultural Model, Language Model, or Personal Growth Model.

a.    Cultural Model
Cultural model is actually a traditional approach to teaching literature. A teacher who uses this model would attempt to explore and interpret the social, political, literary and historical context of a specific text. Other than revealing the universality of such thoughts and ideas, this model particularly helps a teacher to encourage learners to understand different cultures and ideologies in relation to their own. Unfortunately, Cultural Model tends to be teacher-centered. It does not provide ample opportunity for extended language work either. Due to these drawbacks, this model is largely rejected by those working in the area of TEFL.

b.    Language Model
Language-based approach  as the most common approach to literature in the EFL classroom (Carter and Long (1991). This model attempts to enable learners to access a text in a systematic and methodical way in order to exemplify specific linguistic features e.g. literal and figurative language, direct and indirect speech. In its practical level,  Language Model also involves teaching strategies that are frequently used in EFL classes. In other words, conforms to the repertoire of strategies used in language teaching, such as cloze procedure, prediction exercises, jumbled sentences, summary writing, creative writing and role play. However, literary critics see this model as a ‘reductive’ approach to literature, disconnected from the literary goals of the specific text in that they can be applied to any text. This is due to the classroom practices that engage learners with the text for purely linguistic practice. Instead of revealing the cultural aspects, literature is used in order to provide for a series of language activities orchestrated by the teacher (Carter and McRae 1996).

c.    Personal Growth Model
With the drawbacks brought by the both the cultural Model and the language model, there is a need to bridge the gap. Thus, the personal growth model attempts to bridge the cultural model and the language model by focusing on the particular use of language in a text, as well as placing it in a specific cultural context. In order to bring literature closer to learners’ lives, this model encourage learners to express their opinions, feelings and opinions and make connections between their own personal and cultural experiences and those expressed in the text. By so doing, the teacher will be able to help learners develop knowledge of ideas and language – content and formal schemata – through different themes and topics. In short, the emphasis is placed on the interaction of the reader with the text.
Theoretically speaking, the personal growth model serves to implement Reader Response Theory, in which text itself has no meaning, but only provides direction for the reader to construct meaning from the reader's own experience. Thus, learning is said to take place when readers are able to interpret text and construct meaning on the basis of their own experience.
At the practical level, One way to explore learners’ personal responses to literary works is to ask them to give comments in written form. Many learners are actually not accustomed to giving their comments and/or opinions in written form. Instead, they are usually asked to discuss a story, and then they would express their likes/dislikes orally. The idea of putting students’ personal responses in writing is actually very helpful to get the meaning of a particular work. One way that a teacher can use is to ask students to write their preliminary responses, which record their impression of the work they have just read, in any form they like, be it a phrase or a sentence. Since this note is not intended to be read by other people, the students feel free and comfortable to write anything that comes into their mind (Barnet,, 1996: 7)
            Another way is to prepare the learners to write their personal responses in paragraph forms. These personal responses record their reaction to the story off the top of their heads. They may note any personal experience affecting their responses as well as some questions they have about the story. In short, they may say that they like/do not like the story, do not understand a certain part/the whole story. The only condition that the students are expected to fulfill is that they should give the reason why they give such comments or reaction.
With the three approaches at hand, what do we, EFL teachers, need?  So far, the cultural model sees the text as a cultural artefact, the language model uses the literary text as a focus for grammatical and structural analysis, and the personal growth model that employs the text as the stimulus for personal growth activities. To us, the most appropriate approach would be an approach to teaching literature in the EFL classroom which attempts to integrate these elements in a way that makes literature accessible to learners and beneficial for their linguistic development. With this in mind, we would recommend that the personal growth model be used in EFL classrooms, as this approach combines together the purposes of the cultural model and the language model.



Selecting Literary Works

What kind of literature is suitable for use with language learners? Should teachers take an excerpt of a novel or drama, a poem, or a short story? How can they select the appropriate literary works for their learners?

Collie and Slater (1987:6) suggest that the criteria of suitability depend ultimately on each particular group of learners, their needs, interests, cultural background and language level. Yet, one primary factor to consider is whether a particular work is able to stimulate the kind of personal involvement, by arousing the learners’ interest and provoking positive reactions from them. If it is meaningful and enjoyable, reading is more likely to have a lasting and beneficial effect upon the learners’ linguistic and cultural knowledge.

            Second, it is important to choose a material which is relevant to the life experiences, emotions, or dreams of the learner. Teachers may conduct brainstorming, questionnaires, or alternatives to the learners to explore their life experiences, emotions, or dreams. Based on their reactions, teachers can choose a poem or a short story. When they like talking about their ideals, teachers may choose Hughes’ “Dreams”; when they are interested in discussing their emotions, teachers may choose Robert Burns’ “A Red, Red Rose”; and when they want to talk about life experiences, teachers may use Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

            Next, language difficulty has, of course, to be considered as well. Because they have a linguistic and cultural gap to bridge, foreign learners must be given a work which is not too much above their normal proficiency. In other words, teachers should consider the length and complexity of the works, as well as the vocabulary level. For children who are learning EFL, they should choose a simple poem, a simple short-story, or a simple novel excerpt. It does not mean that the learners know all about the vocabulary being used. To avoid frustration, however, the learners should be familiar with some eighty percent of the vocabulary.  

            Moreover, the learners’ interest and  appeal are also important. It is frustrating to give the learners materials which are out of their interest. Teachers should recognize well in what their learners are interested. It is not wise to give the learners a poem at every meeting; because this will cause monotonous reactions and result in boredom. Perhaps, it also necessary, in this sense, that teachers give their learners illustrated works since these works can increase their interest and help them to understand the works. 
            Besides, the material should give the learners special incentives: enjoyment, suspense, a fresh delight into issues which are felt to be close to the heart of people’s concern. This will trigger the learners’ mind to perform their moral commitment. To make the learners appreciate a person’s steadfastness to quality, teachers may use an excerpt of John Galsworthy’s story “The Quality”. A suspense can be created in the learners’ mind and heart if teachers can use Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”

            In addition, the material should consider the learners’ cultural background. When they know enough of mysticism, teachers may give them a story excerpt “The Monkey’s Paw”. When they understand about one’s struggle and sacrifice, teachers may use Robinson’s poem “Richard Cory”. In this sense, their cultural background will help them much to understand the works being discussed.              

Lastly, teachers themselves like what they are teaching. It is ironical if they give the learners the works they hate and do not understand well. On one occasion teachers want to teach a poem; thus, they must not teach a novel excerpt. A small poem they like will arouse the learners’ participation even greater than a novel excerpt they do not love to teach. Thus, teachers should learn to love a piece of literature they want to teach.  

Thus, basically the literary works in EFL classroom should fit the learners’ age and level of language mastery.

Stages of a Literature-based Lesson using Language Model
            Now we are ready to put theory into practice. What steps are necessary when we want to use literature as instructional materials? If a teacher intends to use literature to improve the learners’ language skills, he/she may consider the following steps. As commonly used in any teaching strategies, a literature-based lesson would also involve the following activities:
a.    Warm- up activities
This step helps the learners relate the text to prior knowledge and experience, to heighten motivation for reading, and to build background knowledge before reading. Some suggested activities would include the use of specific and open-ended questions, graphic organizers,  key words, prediction and anticipation guide , text/topic preview (see the sample lesson plan (RPP)).
b.   Mid-reading activities
Various techniques can be used when the text is ready for discussion. For example, the teacher can treat the text as a listening or reading material. In the teaching of listening or reading that involves literary texts, the teacher can either read the text aloud, use audio tapes/VCDs, ask some students to volunteer reading the text (note: make sure the student’s pronunciation is good, otherwise, it may hinder understanding). Some other techniques may also involve the use of Round robin and jigsaw reading, or the teacher may simply ask the learners to read the text silently.

c.    Post-reading activities

As commonly practiced in the teaching of reading, the teacher would use post-reading activities to help the learners process the text, apply the knowledge to related info, interpret the text, and use the new info in a meaningful context. The teacher could use the following techniques, i.e. knowledge-based questions (comprehension), reflective and inferential questions, group/individual projects and activities, related readings, writing activities such as dramas, speeches, letters, or journals.

Stages of Literature-based Lesson using the Personal Growth Model
Another alternative of a literature-based lesson is to bridge between the cultural model and the language model by implementing a personal-growth approach. This model may involve the following stages:
Stage 1: Preparation and Anticipation
This stage elicits learners’ real or literary experience of the main themes and context of text.

Stage 2: Focusing
Learners experience the text by listening and/or reading and focusing on specific content in the text.

Stage 3: Preliminary Response
Learners give their initial response to the text - spoken or written .

Stage 4: Working at it - I
Focus is on comprehending the first level of meaning through intensive reading.

Stage 5: Working at it - II
Focus is on analysis of the text at a deeper level and exploring how the message is conveyed through overall structure and any special uses of language - rhythm, imagery, word choice etc.

Stage 6: Interpretation and Personal Response

The focus of this final step is on increasing understanding, enhancing enjoyment of the text and enabling learners to come to their own personal interpretation of the text. This is based on the rationale for the personal growth model




There are many benefits to using literature in the EFL classroom. It offers a distinct literary world which can widen learners’ understanding of their own and other cultures, It can also create opportunities for personal expression as well as reinforce learners’ knowledge of lexical and grammatical structure.  Moreover, it offers learners strategies to analyse and interpret language in context in order to recognize not only how language is manipulated but also why.  In addition, it offers foreign language learners the opportunity to develop not only their linguistic and communicative skills but their knowledge about language in all its discourse types. In short, the use of literary texts in the language classroom can be a potentially powerful pedagogic tool.

            It is strongly recommended that literature be used in EFL classroom, since it cannot be separated from language in the teaching of English as a foreign language. Teachers should be careful in selecting the teaching materials so that the learners find their learning meaningful and enjoyable. To enhance the learners’ active involvement, the teachers are recommended to select the most appropriate models for a certain situation: cultural model, language model, or personal growth model. What is important, however, the learners should be conditioned in fruitful activities so that they can acquire much of the materials presented.




Barnet, Sylvan, 1996. Literature for Composition. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Brock, Mark N. 1990. “The Case for Localized Literature in the ESL Classroom.” English Teaching Forum 28.3. pp. 22-5.

Collie, Joanne and Stephen Slater. 2002. Literature in the Language Classroom. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gwin, Thomas. 1990. “Language Skills through Literature.” English Teaching Forum 28.4. pp. 10-3.

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