EFL through Literature and Theatre

I have always believed that Literature is not separate from Language as a subject. Language is the tool to create literature and literature is the tool to teach language. They are usually taught as separate courses in the pupils’ mother tongue, but what about the countries where English is taught as a foreign language?

In Greek primary schools, English is taught as a foreign language and the coursebooks provided by the State rarely contain excerpts from actual literary texts. They usually contain specially written texts to teach a specific grammatical phenomenon or vocabulary topic. There are also some authentic texts taken from newspapers/magazines/brochures etc but literary texts are scarce.

I believe that literature should be included in our syllabi both as a teaching tool and per se. English and American literature are extremely rich and there are stories, poems and plays suitable for primary school children, even when teaching English as a foreign language.

A few years ago I adapted Shakespeare’s Hamlet for my 5th graders [aged 10-11] to perform at a school play. The adaptations I found in print or online didn’t suit my pupils for a variety of reasons, so I wrote the parts in English and inserted short texts in Greek in between scenes to help the audience [younger pupils, staff and parents] understand what was going to take place during the following scene and what had taken place in between the scenes in the original play.

The children had a terrific time rehearsing and performing the play! They managed to learn their lines by heart quite easily [which was a surprise to us all], they learned chunks of language [which I hope they still remember] and they really worked on their pronunciation [as they were going to perform in front of so many people]. They also got to know Shakespeare! Before embarking on the play adventure, we worked on a project on Shakespeare: life, works, Elizabethan era and theatre, Shakespeare’s language and his contribution to the English language…

I also urge my pupils to READ for pleasure! Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, graded readers specially written for EFL learners [adaptations of great classical literature]. Or even English translations of Greek literary texts.

For younger learners, I like to work with bedtime stories and myths: Pinocchio, The Selfish Giant, The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig [ 🙂 ], The Princess and the Pea, Aesop’s Fables [my 3rd graders chose The Wind and the Sun to perform for our school a few years ago]…

I strongly believe that my work as an English teacher doesn’t mean that I have to stick to teaching the language in its narrow sense [grammar rules and vocabulary by topic]. In my opinion, teaching a foreign language shouldn’t be very different from teaching our mother tongue. We are there to teach skills and more importantly INSPIRE our pupils, make them fall in love with the language and culture we are presenting them with!

What about you, dear fellow teachers? Do you integrate literature and/or theatre in your EFL teaching? What are your or your pupils’ favourite works? Can’t wait to hear about your ideas and experiences!