There is no question that literature can be daunting for language learners. Many of my students experience of learning English was translating entire books word-for-word into their own language at high school – I remember one student who spent 4 years translating ‘1984’ in English lessons. I can understand the dismay students feel when I mention the word ‘literature’ in lessons, so in order to give students a more positive and productive experience of English literature, I’ve come up with 4 ways to use literature in class without so much as a hint of grammar translation.
1. Book Cover Blurbs
Photocopy the back and front cover of a selection of graded readers. Copy these on separate pieces of paper for example, if you have 14 students in the class, you will need to copy 7 different readers. Give half the class the front cover, and half the back cover. Students must stand up and mingle with other students in order to find the matching cover for their book. Encourage students to read the blurb, look at the pictures and give reasons why they think their covers are a match.
2. A Pronunciation Play
Take an extract from a play, there are many online or Classic Plays is a useful book to have in your staff room. Instead of just reading through the play, give students a pronunciation focus (stress, intonation, a particular sound a student has problems with etc.). Give each student a part in the play and ask them to focus on the pronunciation of their particular lines. You could ask each student to focus on a different pronunciation point or everybody on the same point. When everyone is ready, students perform the play with the aim of accuracy in pronunciation.
For example: After reviewing sentence stress and weak forms with my students (prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions etc.), I gave each of them a character in a play. I asked students to underline the unstressed words in the lines they had been assigned and to think about the use of the schwa and how to pronounce these weak forms. When everybody had finished, students performed the play.
Take a paragraph of a graded reader or novel if you have higher level students. Take a paragraph from the book and rewrite it, stripping the sentences down to the bare bones. Omit all adjectives, adverbs etc. Give the students a copy of the stripped down sentences. In pairs, get the students to think about how to make the sentences more interesting i.e. put the adjectives etc. back into the text. Make it a competition, when the students have completed the task give them the original text to compare their answers with. The group who were closest to the original text are the winners.
4. Make it Modern
Students either read a short scene from a play or watch the film clip. In groups, students have to re-write the scene/clip to make it modern and relevant to their lives. Students can change the setting, the register and of course, the language. For example, students watch the end scene from Romeo and Juliet. Most students will know this story already. Students work together to create a modern dialogue for the scene. They can use expressions, slang, phrasal verbs and their own acquired language. As the teacher, help with vocabulary and grammatical issues. When the students have finished you could ask them to perform their new version of the scene.