In the photo: The author of this post and the participants in the workshop "Teaching English Using Literature" with their copies of "American Themes" and "My Town".
Last Saturday 26th October, I was invited to give a short talk about the use of Literature in the teaching of English. This happened at the Universidad del Pacífico Teachers´ Congress. During the talk we discussed some possible ways in which Literature, specially literary writing techniques, can help students develop a better sense of the way language works. We also had the great opportunity of introducing the new Department of State publication “American Themes”, which we gave out to the participants together with “My Town”, a selection of texts by writers on American cities, thanks to the Regional English Language Office led by David Fay in Lima.
Using literature to teach/ learn English is an attractive alternative. In the first place, Literature is independent from any methodology. Teachers can insert literary works at any time in their curriculum and they can make the piece fit their teaching topics, vocabulary and grammar. Secondly, Literature becomes a tool for students to develop their language skills further from the textbook. What is more, Literature provides authentic, valuable and rich contexts for personal enrichment and growth thanks to its suggestive power and universality, variety and interest.
Apart from the obvious and natural place of Literature as a source of reading material, we teachers can use it as a springboard for other connected activities such as debates on the different “readings” a text may have for diverse readers. Also, we can adapt some innovative literary techniques to help our students develop their writing skills. Although the objective will not be to produce literary works, our students will have the opportunity to explore the language and have fun with it.
One such technique is called “Erasure”. The writer uses a published text, such a newspaper article, and a felt tip pen. Then, s/he erases parts of the text and keeps others s/he likes. The resulting piece is a new text which, even though it is using words from an existing one, has a message that the author has given to it. The technique is used by writers belonging to the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Movement, a group of poets who experiment with Chance Operations, techniques that try to give randomness a place in the production of literary works.
Another technique we presented was giving the text a limit in the number of words. We introduced the participants to Drabbles, a short narrative form of producing flash fiction, where the text has to have exactly one hundred words. The advantage for us teachers is that the fact that there is a limit in the number of words, will force students to edit and rethink about new and creative ways to say what they want to say in order to enforce the 100-word rule.
More information and examples of the techniques in use can be found on the following websites:
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poets: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5661