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Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

Upon completion of this chapter, you should be able to:


Define what is literature

Explain the different genres in literature
Justify the teaching of literature in the ESL classroom

What is literature?
Genres of literature
Why use literature in the ESL class?
Maleys reasons for using literature in the ESL context
Reasons for not using literature in the ESL classroom

Key Words

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

Chapter 2: Literature and Language Teaching
Chapter 3: Teaching Poetry
Chapter 4: Teaching Short Stories
Chapter 5: Teaching Drama
Chapter 6: Teaching Novels
Chapter 7: Literature Circles
Chapter 8: Childrens Literature
Chapter 9: Literature in Malaysia

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

1.1 Preamble
This chapter introduces the meaning of literature and the different genres in literature prose,
poetry and drama. Also discussed are justifications for using literature in the ESL classroom
and also some objections to its use.

1.2 What is Literature?

Literature consists of writings which are sophisticated, serious, dry, or

heavy, hence boring.
Literature is almost always impossible to understand because it uses many
difficult, flowery, or bombastic words.
When we study literature, we try to find out the underlying or hidden
meanings and messages which we assume the author is trying to convey to
his/her readers.
Literature is good writing which English teachers should get their students
to read and appreciate.

Literature originates from Latin litterae which means the art of written work or "things
made from letters". Broadly speaking, "literature" is used to describe anything from creative
writing to more technical or scientific works, but the term is most commonly used to refer to
works of the creative imagination such as works of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines literature as:

written works (such as poems, plays, and novels) that are considered to be very
good and to have lasting importance
books, articles, etc., about a particular subject

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

printed materials (such as booklets, leaflets, and brochures) that provide

information about something

The Free-Dictionary defines literature as:

writing in prose or verse regarded as having permanent worth through its

intrinsic excellence.
the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.
the writings dealing with a particular subject.
the profession of a writer or author.
literary work or production.
any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills.
Archaic. literary culture; appreciation of letters and books.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines literature as a body of written works. The name has
traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the
intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution. Literature
may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language, national origin,
historical period, genre, and subject matter.
Literature represents the culture and tradition of people. It introduces us to new worlds of
experience. We enjoy the comedies and the tragedies of poems, stories, and plays; and we
may even grow and evolve through our literary journey with books.
Ultimately, we may discover meaning in literature by looking at what the author says and
how he/she says it. We may interpret the author's message through the use of literary theory.
Literature is important to us because it speaks to us, it is universal, and it affects us. Even
when it is ugly, literature is beautiful.
In short, literature is the art of written works. It is the body of written works of a period or
culture. Literature is published in written works in a particular style or particular subject.
Literature is the mirror of life. Our lives and all the subjects that are related to our lives can
be the subject matters or elements of literature. So we can get the touch with our lives
through literature.
The following are different ways in which the word literature is used:

She took courses in history and literature.

Her education gave her an appreciation for great literature.

He's an expert in Malaysian literature.

The literature of the Renaissance period

Studies in different Asian literatures

Can you send me some literature about your product?

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

1.3 Genres of Literature

Genre, is a French word which means "kind" or "sort" which originates from Latin word
genus to mean category. It is used to refer to different categories of literature, paintings,
films, dance and music based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by
conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are
discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining
these conventions. Sometimes forms are used interchangeably to define genre.
Genre is used as a label for a particular type of work that enables a reader to know what to
expect. For example, if a particular written work is classified as poetry, then the reader will
expect certain styles or characteristics of poetry which is different from a short story. Genre
is a category characterised by similarities in style, or subject matter. Genre should not be
confused with age category, by which literature may be classified as either adult, youngadult, or children's. They also must not be confused with format, such as graphic novel or
picture book. The distinctions between genres and categories are flexible and loosely defined,
often with subgroups. While are several approaches in classifying genres in literature, the
following is one approach (see Figure 1.1)

Genres in Literature




Figure 1.1 Genres in Literature

Consists of those written within the common flow of conversation in sentence and
paragraphs. Prose is a form of language which applies ordinary grammatical structure and
natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure (as in traditional poetry). The following
are different types of prose:

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

NOVEL: This is long narrative divided into chapters. The events

are taken from to life storiesand spam long period of time. e.g.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee Harper, The Return by K.S. Maniam
(see picture).
ANECDOTES: A merely product of the writers imagination and
the main aim is to bring out lessons to the readers and attitudes.
ESSAY: This is expresses the viewpoint of the writer about a
particular problem or event.

A BIOGRAPHY is a book giving an account of a person

considered famous or a celebrity written by another person other
than themselves, e.g. Tunku: His Life and Times by Mubin
Sheppard (see picture). An AUTOBIOGRAPHY is a book written
by a person on their own life. Both explain events in relation to
their childhood, youth and adulthood. .
NEWS: Is Report of everyday events in society, government,
science and industry and accidents, happening nationally or not.
ORATION: A formal treatment of a subject and is intended to be
spoken in public. It appeals to the intellect, to the will or to the
emotions of the audience.
MYTHOLOGY is a type of legend or traditional narrative. This is often based in part on
historical events, that reveals human behaviour and natural phenomena by its symbolism;
often pertaining to the actions of the gods. A body of myths, as that of a particular people or
that relating to a particular person.

FOLKTALE is a story that has been passed down, usually

orally, within a culture. It may be based on superstition and
feature supernatural characters. Folktales include fairy tales,
tall tales, trickster tales and other stories passed down over
FABLES: These are also fictitious, they deal animals and
imitate things that speak and act like people, and their purpose
is to enlighten the minds of children to events that can mould
their ways and attitudes . e.g. Aesops Fables (see picture).

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

SCIENCE FICTION stories examine how science and
technology affect the world. The books often involve fantasy
inventions that may be reality in the future, e.g. Journey to the
Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (see picture).
LEGENDS: These are fictitious narratives handed down over
generations and is believed to be based on history, though it
typically mixes fact and fiction. The hero of a legend is
usually a human, e.g. King Arthur and the Roundtable

FANTASAY NOVELS are often set in worlds much different from our own and usually
include magic, sorcery and mythical creatures. e.g. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

SHORT STORY: It is a narrative involving one or more

characters, one plot and one single impression. . e.g. The Pearl
by John Steinbeck (see picture)

Comes from the Greek word poiesis broadly to mean create or make, seen also in such
terms as hemopoiesis, more narrowly, the making of poetry. It is refers to those expressions
in verse, with measure and rhyme, line and stanza and has a more melodious tone. Poetry
aims to instruct the reader, provide pleasure to the reader and to uplift the reader to some
higher insight or meaning. The following are different types of poetry:

1. NARRATIVE POETRY - describes important events in life real or imaginary.

Epic: An extended narrative about heroic exploits often under

supernatural control. It may deal with heroes and gods.

Metric Tale: A Narrative, which is written in verse and can be

classified either as a ballad or as a metrical romance.

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

Ballads: Of the narrative poems, this is the shortest and simplest. It

has a simple structure and tells of a single incident.

2. LYRIC POETRY - refers to that king of poetry meant to be song to the

accompaniment of a lyre, but now this applies to any type of poetry that expresses
emotions and fillings of the poet.

Folksong - These are short poems intended to be sung. The common theme is
love, despair, grief, doubt, joy, hope and sorrow.

Sonnets A lyric poem of 14 lines dealing with an emotion, a feeling of an

idea. e.g. Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare (see picture above)

Elegy - This is a lyric poem, which express feelings of grief and melancholy
and whose theme is death.

Ode - A poem of noble feeling, expressed with dignity, with no definite

syllables or definite number of lines in a stanza.

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

Drama, is simply a work that is written to be performed on
stage by actors. From the Greek dran, meaning "to do,"
drama is thought to have developed from ancient religious
ceremonies. For instance, Greek comedy is traced to
ancient fertility rites. Tragedy (which comes from the Greek
word for "goat song") can be traced back to sacrificial
rituals. The term play has come to mean drama written
exclusively for performance, while the "loftier" term drama,
is commonly reserved for works that are considered to be
more serious works. The following are different types of

COMEDY - It is comes from the Greek

komos meaning festivity or revelry. This is
usually light and written with the purpose of
amusing, and usually has a happy ending.

MELODRAMA - It is usually used in musical

plays with opera. It arouses immediate and
intense emotions and is usually sad but there is
a happy end ing for the principal character.

TRAGEDY - Involves the hero struggling

mightily against dynamic forces; he meets
death or ruin without success and satisfaction
obtained by the protagonist in a comedy.

FARCE - Exaggerated comedy, situations are too ridiculous to be true; and the
characters seem to be caricatures and the motives undignified and absurd.


What is literature?
What do you mean by genre?
State the difference between prose, poetry and drama.
Discuss the different types of prose. Give an example for each type.
List the different types of poems.
Explain the different types of drama.

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

1.4 Why Use Literature in the ESL Classroom?

Using literature in the ESL classroom has gaining momentum. Language educators have been
debating as to how, when, where, and why literature should be incorporated in the ESL
curriculum. Discussion of how literature and ESL instruction can work together and interact
for the benefit of students and teachers has lead to the proposal of interesting ideas on
learning and instruction. Many teachers consider the use of literature in language teaching as
an interesting and worth considering (Sage 1987).

Why should a language teacher use literary texts in the language classroom?
What sort of literature texts should be use for teaching of language skills?
What are the benefits of using different genres of literature to teach language?

The use of literature in teaching the four basic language skills (i.e. reading, writing, listening
and speaking) and language areas (i.e. vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation) gaining
prominence in many countries where English is taught as second language. Why do you think
literary texts such as short stories, poetry and drama are used to teach English? According to
Collie and Slater (1990), there are FOUR MAIN REASONS which has led language
teachers to use literature in the classroom (see Figure 1.3).

Real World





Figure 1.2 Reasons for Literature in the Language Classroom

1) Real World Material

Most works of literature are not created for the primary purpose of teaching a language.
Teachers who have incorporated literature in the language classroom realise their potential
because students are introduced to real life or real life like settings. For example, Aesops
Fables are used in the primary school, the values learned from the fables can be applied to the
daily life of students. In addition, by using literary texts, students learn to cope with language
which intended for native speakers (but there are several literary works written in English by

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

Malaysians for Malaysians). They learn different linguistic forms, communicative functions
and meanings.
2) Cultural Enrichment
It cannot be denied that most of the literary works in English originate from England, the
United States and Australia. However, in most countries where English is taught as a second
language, there is a growing body of local literature written in English such as Malaysian
literature in English, African literature in English, Indian literature in English, Arab literature
in English and so forth.
The teacher has the choice of using American, English or Australian literary works or local
literary works in English Malaysian literature in English. Using literary works from other
countries such as novels, plays and short stories facilitate understanding how communication
takes place in that country. Though the world of a novel, play, or short story, learners gain an
insight into characters from different cultural backgrounds with their unique customs,
traditions, feelings, beliefs, fears, what they enjoys, values, habits and way of thinking,
Literature is perhaps best regarded as a complement to other materials used to develop the
second learners understanding into the country whose language is being learned. Also,
literature adds a lot to the cultural grammar of the learners.
3) Language Enrichment
Literature provides learners with a wide range of individual lexical or syntactic items.
Students become familiar with many features of the written language, reading a substantial
and contextualized body of text. They learn about the syntax and discourse functions of
sentences, the variety of possible structures, the different ways of connecting ideas, which
develop and enrich their own writing skills. Students also become more productive and
adventurous when they begin to perceive the richness and diversity of the language they are
trying to learn and begin to make use of some of that potential themselves. Thus, they
improve their communicative and cultural competence in the authentic richness, naturalness
of the authentic texts.
4) Personal Involvement
Literature can be useful in the language learning process owing to the personal involvement it
fosters in the reader. Once the student reads a literary text, he or she is drawn into the text.
Understanding the meanings of lexical items or phrases becomes less significant than
pursuing the development of the story. The student becomes enthusiastic to find out what
happens as events unfold via the climax; he or she feels close to certain characters and shares
their emotional responses. This can have beneficial effects upon the whole language learning
ln short, the students are engaged in the plot that they pay little attention to or even forget
about the difficulties they might have regarding vocabulary or any other aspects of the target
language. Somehow, they become more worried about understanding the s tory, which
actually becomes part of their concern. It works as if a person were trying to understand a
movie he/she is not able to d ecode the language. The desire to unde rstand and become part

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

of the context is infuriating that it helps the learners to overcome language obstacles. Again,
the instructor's involvement is of extreme importance. Hence, heishe needs to carefully
choose what is to be read, "for it is a t this point that the difference between the expectations
of the teacher and those of his disciples become painfully

a) Literature is regarded as real world material. How does it help in learning

English among second language learners?
b) How do literary works encourage learners to understand the culture of the
setting in the story, drama or poem?
c) How do literature enrich language learning?
d) Do you agree a reader can get personally involved in the text he or she reads?

1.5 Maleys Reasons for Using Literature in the ESL Classroom

Maley (2001) lists further SEVEN reasons for regarding literature as a potent resource in the
language classroom as follows:





Personal Relevance

Economy & Suggestive



1. Universality Because we are all human beings, the themes literature deals with are
common to all cultures despite their different way of treatment - Death, Love,
Separation, Belief, Nature ...the list is familiar. These experiences all happen to
human beings.
2. Non-triviality Many of the more familiar forms of language teaching inputs tend to
trivialize texts or experience. Literature does not trivialise or talk down. It is about
things which mattered to the author when he wrote them. It may offer genuine as well
as merely authentic inputs.


Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

3. Personal Relevance Since it deals with ideas, things, sensations and events which
either constitute part of the readers experience or which they can enter into
imaginatively, they are able to relate it to their own lives.
4. Variety Literature includes within it all possible varieties of subject matter. It is, in
fact, a battery of topics to use in English language teaching. Within literature, we can
find the language of law and of mountaineering, of medicine and of bull-fighting, and
nursery talk.
5. Interest Literature deals with themes and topics which are intrinsically interesting,
because part of the human experience, and treats them in ways designed to engaged
the readers attention.
6. Economy and suggestive power One of the great strengths of literature is its
suggestive power. Even in its simplest forms, it invites us to go beyond what is said to
what is implied. Since it suggests many ideas with few words, literature is ideal for
generating language discussion. Maximum output can often be derived from
minimum input.
7. Ambiguity As it is highly suggestive and associative, literature speaks subtly
different meanings to different people. It is rare for two readers to react identically to
any given text. In teaching, this has two advantages.

The first advantage is that each learners interpretation has validity within
The second advantage is that an almost infinite fund of interactive discussion
is guaranteed since each persons perception is different. That no two readers
will have a completely convergent interpretation establishes the tension that is
necessary for a genuine exchange of ideas.

Apart from the above mentioned reasons for using literature in the foreign language class,
one of the main functions of literature is its sociolinguistic richness. The use of language
changes from one social group to another. Likewise, it changes from one geographical
location to another. A person speaks differently in different social contexts like school,
hospital, police station and theatre (i.e. formal, informal, casual, frozen, intimate styles
The language used changes from one profession to another (i.e. doctors, engineers,
economists use different terminology). To put it differently, since literature provides students
with a wide range of language varieties like regional dialects, jargon, differences because of
socio-economic status and so forth.
Povey (19727), in summarizing the aims of using literature in ESL classes, argues that
"literature will increase all language skills because literature will extend linguistic knowledge
by giving evidence of extensive and subtle vocabulary usage, and complex and exact syntax."


Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature

1.6 Reasons for Not Using Literature in the ESL Classroom

While several reasons have been put forward on why literature should be part of the ESL
curriculum, there are language educators think otherwise? The following are common

First, since one of our main goals as ESL teachers is to teach the grammar of the
language, literature, due to its structural complexity and its unique language, does
little to contribute to this goal. For example, the language of poetry may violate
grammar rules and may confuse the learner

Second, the study of literature will contribute nothing to helping our students meet
their academic and/or occupational goals. However, if literature helps one with
their reading fluency, then literature can contribute to their occupation in later life

Finally, literature often reflects a particular cultural perspective; which may be be

quite difficult for students. Others argue that by knowing the culture of another
community through its literature, people may be more tolerant and appreciative of
the community.

These arguments certainly need to be addressed if we are to reach a decision as to whether or

not to use literature.

a) What are Maleys arguments for using literature in the ESL classroom?
b) What are the reasons for not using literature in the ESL context?



Language enrichment
Cultural enrichment

Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature


Literature originates from Latin litterae which means the art of written work or
"things made from letters".

Literature are written works (such as poems, plays, and novels) that are considered to
be very good and to have lasting importance.

Genre, is a French word which means "kind" or "sort" which originates from Latin
word genus to mean category.

Genre is used as a label for a particular type of work that enables a reader to know
what to expect.

Prose is a form of language which applies ordinary grammatical structure and natural
flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure (as in traditional poetry).

Drama originates from the Greek dran, meaning "to do," drama is thought to have
developed from ancient religious ceremonies.

Drama, is simply a work that is written to be performed on stage by actors.

Poetry comes from the Greek word poiesis broadly to mean create or make, seen
also in such terms as hemopoiesis, more narrowly, the making of poetry.

Poetry refers to those expressions in verse, with measure and rhyme, line and stanza
and has a more melodious tone.

Teachers who have incorporated literature in the language classroom realise their
potential because students are introduced to real life or real life like settings.


Chapter 1: Introduction to Literature


Collie, J. and S. Slater. 1990. Literature in the Language Classroom: A Resource Book of
Ideas and Activities. Cambridge: CUP.
Himanolu, M. (2005), Teaching English Through Literature. Journal of Language and
Linguistic Studies. 1(1), April.
Maley, A. 1989. Down from the Pedestal: Literature as Resource in Literature and the
Learner: Methodological Approaches. Cambridge: Modern English Publications.
Maley, A. (2001). Literature in the Language Classroom. in R. Carter and D.Nunan (eds.).
The Cambridge Guide to TESOL (pp. 180-185). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
McKay, Sandra (1982). Literature in the ESL Classroom. TESOL Quarterly. 16 (4).