Introducing literature

When I began teaching English eons ago it was the norm to include things like British culture and English literature at certain levels. Indeed both the Cambridge FCE and CPE  exams included set texts in the writing paper which students could opt for and many did. In the  university and colleges I taught at we had an introduction to English literature for ESOL students which they could take once they reached FCE level. Today it seems that these aspects of English language courses feature less yet many parents of Teenage students who send them on our Teenage Immersion courses want their children to have some exposure to literature and while in the UK it is an interesting thing to do.

Bearing in mind that one of the important tenets of our courses is that we want then to be different from ‘school’, it poses an important question – how to expose our students to literature in a fun and interesting way.

Reading Stories

Having had four of our own children, we have a good range of books for younger readers available in the house and so for the younger students we usually get them to choose something they like and ask them to read just one chapter each night. The first exercise in the lesson is for them to tell us what is happening in the story. We have found them all to be very enthusiastic about doing this and everybody gets involved in the unfolding tale and ask questions. If they don’t like the book they choose then they are free to find another but generally with a little advice up-front about the content, they choose something that will engage them as well as be accessible to them. One of the best recently was Charlotte’s Web which the group really got into and couldn’t wait each morning for more news about how the story was progressing!

Graphic Novels

A few years ago I discovered graphic novels and have a small selection which have proved invaluable for getting older teens (14/15) to read. The favourites are Frankenstein and Great Expectations. We usually end the lessons each day with a chapter. I have recordings of the stories which are well-done and bring them to life so we listen, read and discuss a little. We will also watch the movie of these books and one of the delights for me is how the students discuss what is missing from the film and how it compares with the book. Overall the feelings have been that the books were better and the films miss out some of the more interesting elements. These discussions are of course brilliant from a language point of view but also help the students to develop critical thinking and literary analysis.

As a spin-off from these activities there are several fun things to do around the reading sessions such as designing film posters, writing blurbs or reviews for either the books or the films. Actually acting out and recording scenes from the books is also an interesting activity which would extend the theme and get students to engage even more with the stories.

And the stories themselves – there are hundreds of great stories to introduce so if the students are not captivated – I choose another. They are here to improve their English and whatever we read will get that result so it makes sense that they enjoy what they do and can benefit from it.


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