“You have brains in your head,
you have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
wherever you choose”.
Our students need to cultivate a love of reading to help them choose their own directions in life and to enrich their thinking skills and imagination. Why not encourage our English language learners to dive into the wealth of literature and knowledge that native English speakers know and love?
I am blogging about reading and books this month in recognition of the Read Across America initiative . My choices are not a list of ‘important works in literature’ or a who’s who of literary giants. I have decided to recommend books that I know can help and inspire English language learners. I have also decided to feature books that language learners have shared with me on Facebook. I believe that student choices are very significant and that they will influence each other far more than we can influence them.
I have recently come across online discussions about whether we should recommend authentic English books to students whose native tongue is not English. For me, it’s non-negotiable! There is always an English book for native speakers that a language learner will profit by.
This was my response to one such post:
“In my opinion it’s one of the most important things a learner can do. I recommend anything that they will enjoy reading, something that matches their interests. Authentic texts are better than anything.
If they don’t like reading books, they will like comics. I feel so strongly about this that it’s the centre of everything I do & I’m writing books now to support English language learning in a real sense…they are not ‘how tos’ – call it educational fiction.”
Choice number 1
‘Oh the places you’ll go’ by Dr. Seuss.
This fun, significant masterpiece is perfect for children and adults alike. Dr. Seuss employs a magical technique of using rhyme and repetition in his stories which appeals to young learners, but which also helps language learners to hold onto important phrases in their memories. I chose this particular book because it is very deep beneath the rhyming banter and contains great messages about life. Therefore it can be read on many levels. As an adult native speaker I find it very inspiring, even though it belongs to my kids. It’s about one’s life journey, success and failure, peaks and valleys; and it instills some excellent concepts that every learner should become familiar with. Dr. Seuss is also a master illustrator and his art adds the all-important visual context that helps learners so much. My own kids are making a collection of toys from the Dr. Seuss’ characters. The main image at the top of this article shows a character made by my ten year old daughter.
Choice number 2
‘The Happy Prince’ by Oscar Wilde
“In the square below,’ said the Happy Prince, ‘there stands a little match-girl. She has let her matches fall in the gutter, and they are all spoiled. Her father will beat her if she does not bring home some money, and she is crying. She has no shoes or stockings, and her little head is bare. Pluck out my other eye, and give it to her, and her father will not beat her.’
I have taught this story at upper intermediate/advanced level. I would jump at the chance to run a literature course for language learners if demand was not so much for exams. Yet, as I always say, literature can be integrated into any kind of course if it can be used to promote fluency or writing skills!
Apart from the fact that Oscar Wilde is one of my favourite writers, he is also one of the most commonly quoted writers by language learners on Facebook. His bold wit and wisdom is adored by language learners everywhere. I chose the Happy Prince because first, it’s manageable for language learners who may not be up to reading the full plays or books of Oscar Wilde. Second, because it’s one of the most touching stories I’ve ever read about unconditional love for humanity. It’s a story that can change the hearts of children or adults. Language learners need inspiration and stories about the meaning of life. Engaging the emotions is the most brain-friendly way to teach or learn. Third, the use of language and description is wonderful and appropriate for advanced learners of English. I would hope that after reading this story, students would be ready to read ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, a story as applicable to life now, as it was then. As teachers we can use either snippets or chapters to give our students a true taste of culture, language and art.
Choice number three
‘How to talk to anyone’ by Leil Lowndes
“There are two kinds of people in this life:
Those who walk into a room and say,
“Well, here I am!”
And those who walk in and say,
“Ahh, there you are.”
This book is about ‘the lost art of verbal communication’. It is a book that language learners on Facebook are reading. They are recommending it to each other. I got the book on the recommendation of one of my Facebook learners and it is a very well-written, descriptive, though-provoking ‘how to’ book on relationships. This book addresses a very real problem that many language learners have to cope with. That of shyness in general, and shyness in speaking English. It’s the kind of book you would wish you had read when you were a teenager. It gives great insights into body language and psychology in fun, easy to understand English. It has an informal, modern style that can prepare students for real life English, as well as build up confidence and social intelligence.
Choice number 4
BritLit short stories & Word Powered.
This amazing BritLit resource is the brainchild of Fitch O’Connell at the British Council in Portugal. It provides us with the best of both worlds. Short stories and poems by contemporary writers designed as learning kits. They can be used in class, as project work or as independent extended reading resources for learners. They are also designed in such a way that teachers can build up their own styles of lessons, thereby facilitating creativity in teachers, rather than handing out standardised texts.
Fitch O’Connell kindly agreed to share some thoughts on teaching with literature.
“BritLit expanded beyond its original brief as a source of support and material for a fairly narrow group of secondary school teachers to become a resource meeting needs across a range of ELT circumstances. There is a growing recognition that literature (with a little ‘l’ – stories, tales and narratives) is a valuable resource for language learners, creating opportunities for a sense of ‘language ownership’ and engagement with affective learning which otherwise tends to get overlooked. Using the often latent imaginative skills of learners, literature provides a valuable cultural window utilizing real language and encouraging authentic communication skills to evolve.”
Fitch and a group of other teachers also got together to create a sister site called Word Powered, which explores very short films based on poetry. Anyone who has been following my recent articles or who remembers me from my free classes on Edupunk, will understand how excited I am by the possibilites created by the collaborative orchestration by Mr. O’Connell. There are so many things we can do to exploit these resources on WizIQ and in break-out rooms.
Choice number 5
Comics and graphic novels cannot be overlooked. They are immensely important as far as I’m concerned. Instead of listing a particular comic book or Graphic novel here, I want to recommend The Digital Comic Museum which I discovered here, much to my delight. Comics are great for reluctant readers, brain-friendly because of their visual presentations of dialogue and storyline, and conducive to encouraging students to make their own comics, which leads to writing. Many of my students and my children regularly make their own comics. The Digital Comic Museum lets you download free, public domain comics.
I will finish by saying that some classic children’s books deserve special mention for their themes, depth, humour, and wisdom. These are books deep enough to teach adults and teens. They would be perfect for intermediate and advanced learners. Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh books are my favourites amongst those I mention here.
Finally I’d like to add that as online educators, we can take the teaching of literature and language to exciting new levels by harnessing the best in brain-friendly technology to give our students multi-dimensional perspectives into ‘words beautiful words‘, and great thoughts for life and living.