Using a story in language teaching: Some practical tips

Satya Raj Joshi*

Introduction

Courses designed for English language teaching have been facing problems of practical implication as per the requirement of students in their local space. In this respect, students are facing problems in Non-English speaking countries like low motivation, lack of confidence, and inadequate teaching methods. In the light of the above statement of the problem, the study seeks to provide answers to the following questions: What is the most serious problem of English literature teaching? Are school students learning the English language proficiently as required according to the curriculum? What are the techniques that would be helpful to students to learn the English language? How does the use of literature boost their language learning?

Literature has multiple functions and carries power. Regarding power, Kelly (1996) states that some of the great values of (children’s) literature are enjoyment, beauty, thinking, knowledge, understanding and language. Briefly, this idea can be explained through a good book that offers students fun and pleasure while learning. Aesthetics is about the beauty that students experience in writing. Texts are oral art that led readers to enjoy the beauty of language. It adds a lot of beauty to students’ lives, leading them to look at their own experiences in different ways. Fables, non-fiction and poetry are artistic interpretations of experiences, events and people. Texts also have value to improve your understanding of others. By reading, readers will see for themselves by showing what happens to others through this book. Also, discerning cultures guide students to learn about the bonds that unite people everywhere. People who come to understand and appreciate different cultures are more likely to see that people all over the world share similar feelings, experiences, and problems.

Literary work also works to develop imagination. Imagination is a creative, constructive, power. “Every aspect of daily life involves imagination. People imagine as they talk and interact with others, make choices and decisions, analyze news reports, or assess advertising and entertainment”(Kelly, 1996, p. 19). Creative thought and imagination are intimately related to higher-order thinking skills. Literature is essential to educating the imagination as it illustrates the unlimited range of the human imagination and extends readers’ visions of possibilities. In the same way, literature nourishes the reader’s creative process by stirring and stretching the imagination, providing new information ideas, so that readers can imagine the possibilities and elaborate original ideas. In this way, it expands readers’ ability to express their imagination in words and images.

Literature also increases knowledge and information. Learning enables them to participate in experiences that go beyond the facts. Good fiction writers not only increase their readers’ information store, but also encourage students to think about the magnitude of the ideas explored in their books, which encourages questioning and critical thinking. In this way, the texts also refresh comprehension. “Books are a way of thinking that serves as a source of information and a soundboard for intelligent children. All enlightenment promotes thinking by giving students the ability to meditate, this contributes to mental development” (Kelly, 1996, p. 10). In language teaching, the books provide a language model. “Language and thinking are so closely intertwined that the power of reason depends on one’s ability to use language.”(Kelly, 1996, p. 11). Books, however, often offer a richer language model than dialogue as a writer tends to use broad sentences and beautiful words, while the speakers often use a few of the same words over and over in conversation. Teachers, parents, and librarians often hear children use language found in their favourite stories. The literary work that will be analyzed should be interesting and has valuable things or values to be understood. Further, to explore contextual literature teaching the useful text of Richard Matheson’s Button, a short story is used here to apply in English language teaching by exploring its linguistics inputs and its application for practising language skills. This story tells about the problem of a couple in New York City. They are offered a “package” with some instruction and if it is successfully followed, it will give some amount of money to the doer. The female character is interested in doing this business. Is she successful in getting the amount of money? Unfortunately, it ends in tragedy. This is the intriguing problem that leads the readers of this story interested in analyzing and getting a valuable lesson.

Method of the Study

The study applied the ‘Text and Activities’ (Mumb & Mkandaware, 2019) method to interpret literature in language teaching. This method is the most common approach to using fiction and poetry in the classroom. In this project, the literary text is used for explaining and understanding, as well as stimulating readers for practicing their language skills. In this case, the literary text as the object of analysis is the short story Button Richard Matheson, one of the short stories compiled in American Short Stories for the EFL Classroom (1985, p.53). This text was analyzed with its use in the ELT classroom. The analysis emphasized the linguistic inputs that Readers/students can get, such as the grammar structure and vocabulary and the use of the literary work for practising four language skills.

Analysis and Interpretation

In using the literary text in the EFL classroom, the most important thing is to prepare the students to read the text. The preparation is important in giving the students the background for the reading to take place. The preparation also should help to motivate the students to read, so that there will be no student complaints on the task. This activity should cover the ideas of literary functions or power that is mentioned above. The pre-reading activities should cover the Functions of literary works such as enjoyment, aesthetics, understanding, imagination, Information and knowledge, cognition, and language.

The pre-reading activities that can be given by the teacher to lead the enjoyment, understanding, and imagination, among other are the explanation of the cultural setting of the short story, and some questions related to the cultural setting. The setting of this short story (Button, Button) is New York, a metropolitan city. This setting is easily found at the beginning of the story, “The package was lying by the front door – a cube-shaped carton sealed with tape, their name and address printed by hand: “Mr and Mrs Arthur Lewis, 217 E. Thirty-seventh Street, New York, New York 10016” (Matheson, 1985, p. 21). By explaining the cultural setting of the big city, the reader will get ideas about the context, especially the cultural context of the story. For example, the culture of sales marketing does his job in a big city, will give vivid ideas on what and how they are doing and for what purpose. This explanation to the students as the pre-reading activities will lead them to understand the problem faced by the people in such a big city life cultural context. The problem of the human being expressed by people through literary works is always interesting because it reflects human problems and their response to the problem. Moreover, the problem, often, is universal, meaning that it can happen anywhere and to any person. This understanding will help readers/students perceive the importance of reading and studying literary works to enrich their perspective of life.

The post-reading activities that can be delivered to the students are some questions they have to answer at the end of the reading. The questions are: What does the title Button mean? Does the story have a tragic end? Do you agree with the female character, Norma’s assertion that the death of someone you have never seen is not important to you? What is the message the author wants to deliver in this story? Does the author have a specific idea of the nature of the human being expressed in this story? The given questions help the reader to identify the comprehension of the story. The comprehension can be seen from the answers to the questions and the discussion further on the answers to the questions. This is also important to identify the student’s response and expression to the problems presented in the story. The students’ ideas on such problems need to be explored further in group discussions in the classroom.

The linguistic inputs that can be drawn from the stories can be described in two parts, the Vocabularies and grammatical structure. The vocabularies that can be learned from this story, for example, are as follow: vocabularies related to the ‟sales” and behaviour of the characters as well as the condition of people in such cultural context: sales pitch, monetarily, gadget, genuine offer, shudder, dismay, scope, stack, abruptly, slipper, authentic, incredulous, numb, repress, eccentric, authentic, contemptuous, ridiculous. Teachers need to know exactly the meaning of the words and ask students to find out the meaning and idea of the words. This activity can be followed up with the making of sentences using this word. The students can create their sentences, by inserting this word in each sentence. This encourages the understanding of the meaning and language-producing skills. The other grammatical structure and vocabularies that are valuable to be learned are some phrases. Some phrases are important as the linguistic inputs are valuable to observe, such as “It is a sick one” (Matheson, 1985, p. 591). “Now you are loading things”(Matheson, 1985, p. 592). Not that I believe a word. His voice was guarded. She cut him off. “…Turned over the supper steaks “(Matheson, 1985, p. 594). The teacher can ask students to find out the meaning of the phrases in the context and get a whole understanding of the story. This will enrich the student’s vocabulary and grammatical structure, as well as the understanding of the plot of the story.

The next function of literary works in English language teaching is its use for practising the four language skills, though it is not necessary to apply all of the four language skills at once. Here are some examples of instruction. In writing skills, for example, students are asked to write down one of the mentioned or discussed expressions as the prompt to write down a short paragraph. For example, the expression “It is a sick one”, in this sentence, refers to a joke. The meaning of the sentence is if it is a joke, it is a sick joke, a joke that is not amusing but sickening. Students can continue with their ideas from this prompt, to express “the sick one”. Such expression can be applied to practising speaking skills as well. The other examples can be drawn from the other phrases found in the story. By identifying the phrases, understanding the meaning, and producing it in the students’ expression, the creative reading can be reproduced into other activities covered in other language skills, such as speaking and writing.

Conclusion

The story as a literary text is used for explaining and understanding, as well as stimulating readers for practicing their language skills. Using literature as a resource offers teachers possibilities for language learning activities on materials that energise greater interest. The multiple levels of meaning of literary texts provide opportunities for developing inferential and interpretational skills that students need for understanding all kinds of representable materials. Using literary texts in language teaching can make the students more aware of the language they are learning, help them develop skills and strategies they can apply in many different situations and contexts, increase their interest and motivation, and make the learning of language more interesting and worthwhile experiences.

Author’s bio:  Satya Raj Joshi is an MPhil in English Literature. Mr. Joshi is a lecturer, critic and translator. He began his literary career during his school days and continuously wrote poems, did translations and published critical opinions on language and literature in different newspapers and journals. Currently, he works for CG education, Nepal.

References

Kelly, A. Colette (ed). (1996). Children’s Literature: Discovery for a lifetime. Gorsuch Scarisbrick Publisher.

Matheson, Richard, Button, Button, in David Queen (eds). (1985). Configurations: American  Short Stories for the EFL Classroom. English Language Program Division, United   States      Information Agency.

Queen, D. (ed). (1985). Configurations: American Short Stories for the EFL Classroom.

Stanford, A. Stanford (ed). (2006). Responding to Literature. 5th ed. McGraw hill International    Edition.

Mumba, C., & Mkandawire, S. B. (2019). The Text-based Integrated Approach to Language Teaching: Its Meaning and Classroom Application. Multidisciplinary Journal of Language and Social Sciences Education (2664-083X, Online ISSN: Print ISSN: 2616-4736)2(1), 123-142.

 

 

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