Theoretical approaches to teaching literature in the English classroom and its practical realisation

Philip Dick’s short story “The Exit Door Leads In”

Seminar Paper 2008 28 Pages

Didactics - English - Pedagogy, Literature Studies



1. Introduction

2. Why literature?

3. Why science fiction literature?

4. Methodology for teaching literature in the English classroom
4.1 Selection criteria for literary works
4.1.1 Short stories in the English classroom
4.2 Ways of approaching literature
4.3 Reading activities
4.3.1 Pre-reading activities
4.3.2 While-reading activities
4.3.3 Post-reading activities
4.4 Reading techniques
4.4.1 Loud and silent reading
4.4.2 Other ways of reading literature

5. Concept for a teaching unit on the basis of Laxman Londhe’s “Einstein the Second”
5.1 The author
5.2 Summary of “Einstein the Second”
5.3 The science fiction aspect
5.4 Teacher preparations
5.5 Pre-reading activities
5.6 While-reading activities
5.7 Post-reading activities

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

8. Appendix

1. Introduction

Nowadays, in the 21st century, young people have got a multitude of possibilities to spend their spare time. However, the influence of the so-called information age we live in becomes quite apparent in the way they spend it. Many things young people enjoy doing are connected to multimedia products or the media in general. Besides watching TV, going to the cinema, playing computer games, listening to music via mp3-players or sharing mobile ring tones, our today’s youth is particularly interested in using the Worldwide Web as a main source of fun and information. Even seven years ago, the results of several studies in Germany already showed that technical or digital applications and the new media are an indispensable part in our youth culture.[1] Getting to know other people on Internet platforms such as “MySpace”, building up and living your own virtual life on “secondlife”, watching video clips on “YouTube” or just quickly get some information from “Wikipedia” – these are among the most popular things young people liked to do nowadays. Thus, the Internet seems to be a sufficient and fast accessible source for nearly everything.

On the contrary, books have become less popular even if they, too, provide information, which is generally more reliable than that to be found on the Internet, and, what is more, books broaden people’s minds and stimulate their fantasy. Especially when reading literary works, youths have to think up their own images of characters, settings and actions in contrast to just watching a film or playing a computer game. According to the 13th Shell Youth Study from 2000, only 35 % of the 14 - 29 year old people regularly read books in their spare time. Because of the vast amount of technological innovation and continuously growing entertainment possibilities, this figure might have even shrunk by and by. Thus, it is very important to keep young people interested in reading literature and motivate those to read who see the Internet and their TV set as the ultimate way of enjoying their time.

A good way to achieve the aforementioned aim is teaching literature at school. By doing so, many positive effects can be brought about. Therefore, the purpose of this paper will be to present the advantages of reading literary works and the methodical possibilities of teaching them in class. However, within the scope of this essay, special emphasis should be laid on reading English literature. Literary works which are not written in the pupils’ mother tongue may hold a certain appeal to them. Moreover, they could make a considerable contribution to understanding, speaking and learning English as an EFL[2] student. A more detailed argumentation why pupils could particularly benefit from reading literature in the English classroom and how this could be done from the didactic perspective of a teacher will be dealt with in the following. The short story “The Exit Door Leads In” by Philip K. Dick will therefore serve as an example of approaching literature in the EFL class. Since the story can be classified as a science fiction narrative, the SF aspect in English literature at school will also be a very important point to deal with.

However, before starting with the methodology of teaching English literature by means of Dick’s “The Exit Door Leads In”, some general questions have to be put and answered. At first, it must be clarified why it is of such a great importance to teach and read literature in the English classroom. And secondly, it has to be considered what the special features of reading and teaching SF literature in EFL classes are.

2. Why literature?

Starting with the first question, there are three main points to clarify the issue.[3] The first one is described by the ‘cultural model’. In this connection, literature is seen as a medium to let the pupils get into touch with culture-specific ideas and attitudes of a certain historical period or even of several periods.[4] Thus, EFL pupils are able to learn something about different ideologies, become aware of the diversity of human cultural concepts and eventually learn to appreciate those who are different from their own.[5]

Although the best way to learn more about the way of life in a certain country is probably a visit or an extended stay, many foreign-language learners just do not have the possibility to go abroad for a longer period of time.[6] Thus, other and rather indirect ways have to be found to deepen their understanding of the culture related to the language they learn. Besides radio programmes, films and newspapers, literary works, too, function as a form of indirect support for cultural enrichment of language learners.[7] Although literary works mostly tell fictional stories including created settings, characters and actions, they often reveal important aspects of a real society, give the pupils an insight into cultural characteristics of a certain country and enable them to find parallels and differences between their own life, society and ideas and those presented in the story.[8],[9]

Another reason for the necessity of reading and teaching literature is explained by the ‘language model’.[10] Although it is sometimes claimed that the language of literature differs quite much from that of the daily life, it has to be pointed out that regular reading of literary works helps to increase the pupils’ receptive vocabulary.[11] Moreover, it is easier for them to internalize syntactic structures as well as lexical items since they can link them to certain contexts in the piece of literary work they have read. Thus, the pupils’ writing and speaking skills can be influenced positively.[12]

Yet, teaching literature with the ‘language model’ in mind should not mean dealing with specific vocabulary, grammatical structures or other linguistic phenomena of a literary work in a mechanistic way.[13] It should rather help to develop awareness of the range of possibilities and creativity in using the target language.[14] By means of specific approaches and methods, the teacher is able to help the pupils to get into the text and call their attention to structural aspects, rhetorical devices as well as styles and tones without demotivating them.[15],[16] Thus, pupils experience that the use of special language features, such as in literary language, can produce certain and sometimes extraordinary effects. This awareness helps them to recognize new dimensions of the target language.[17] Furthermore, reading literature and dealing with its language in class can also lead to a deepened understanding of literature per se.[18]

Besides increasing the pupils’ cultural knowledge and their language-learning process, the ‘personal growth model’ is another important point to justify the necessity of reading and teaching literature in the English classroom. Teaching literature by means of carefully chosen texts and motivating methods may produce real pleasure in the pupils’ minds, even if the text they read is written in a foreign language.[19] If the teacher successfully puts his objectives into action, the pupils might even carry their enjoyment for literature with them beyond school and find pleasure in reading other English literary works on their own.[20] By doing so, they will soon become aware of the fact that they gradually find their way into the figurative language and the hidden concepts of books and that pursuing the action of the story is more important than understanding every single word.[21],[22] By trying to put themselves into the position of different fictional characters, they may also advance their sense of empathy and their ability of changing perspectives.[23] Furthermore, reading ‘authentic’ texts, i.e. which have not been written for the purpose of language teaching, could be a particular appeal to students since they might consider it a personal success to read, understand and thus master a genuine piece of literary work.[24] Finally, an intensive personal engagement with literary texts may also result in positive effects on the language-learning process.[25]

However, personal growth in this context does also include learning from literature in terms of societal, cultural and individual aspects.[26] The knowledge pupils gain by reading literature of different fields and about different topics greatly contributes to the development of their own personality, that is to say literature can enrich their attitudes and ideas concerning certain issues, their understanding of society and culture but also their awareness of being an individual in a community of many different people.[27]

3. Why science fiction literature?

Having explained the main reasons for teaching literature in the English classroom, it should now be presented why particularly science fiction literature qualifies for EFL classes. After having been neglected by literary studies and didactics many years and put down as trivial pulp fiction, SF literature and its great potential for foreign-language teaching has considerably gained in importance in recent years.[28] Indeed, there have been and are still written many pulp science fiction stories of so-called low literary quality. However, there are also many stories which combine fantasy elements with a critical view on different issues.[29] Since science fiction stories often present problems of the present in a utopian disguise, they are able to provide the students with thought-provoking impulses and sensitize them to problems and prejudices of the present-day world.[30]

Another reason why SF literature may be especially appealing to pupils is the scientific and technological element involved in many stories. The aforementioned interest of our today’s youth in technical and digital applications might thus induce a greater interest in literature dealing with these topics. Moreover, if the pupils are motivated by an exciting story, they are also more likely to communicate their thoughts and feelings about certain aspects of it and it will be easier and more enjoyable for both, the teacher and the pupils, to work with the text.[31]

Science fiction literature also comprises intercultural-oriented qualities in a way. Since SF stories are often located in the future, the world around the characters and even the characters themselves may differ quite much from those of the present. Extraterrestrial species or newly developed ones due to scientific innovation complete the feeling of ‘otherness’ students might perceive when reading such stories. Trying to understand the otherness of an alien culture, to change one’s perspective and to put one’s self into the place of a quite different subject in a quite different environment are important skills to be acquired by pupils since they can be transferred to and applied on the real world with its different nationalities, ideologies and cultures.[32]

However, the benefits deduced from working with a science fiction story in the English classroom can best be presented with the help of an example. As already mentioned, Philip K. Dick’s “The Exit Door Leads In” will therefore be the subject of a theoretical approach to such a piece of literary work. Yet, it is important to note that the English teacher cannot randomly choose a story but has to consider certain aspects when deciding to teach literature in the English classroom. This is the point where the question about why teaching literature merges into what sort of literature should be taught.

4. Methodology for teaching literature in the English classroom

4.1 Selection criteria for literary works

Choosing suitable literary works also means knowing the particular group of language learners. Like every group of people, an EFL class also represents a conglomeration of different individuals with different interests, needs, backgrounds and language levels.[33] Thus, it seems to be a nearly insolvable task for the teacher to reconcile every individual need when choosing a literary work. However, if the teacher gets to know the students’ general preferences and competences by means of discussions and questionnaires, for instance, it will be more probable that his/ her choice of a literary text meets the pupils’ taste, arouse their interest and activate them to personally engage with the story.[34] Particularly if the piece of work shows some relevance to the students’ life in terms of experiences, dreams and emotions, it will be more enjoyable for them to read it and it will also be more likely to bring about positive effects on the pupils’ linguistic and cultural competences.[35]

Besides selecting a literary work because of its relevance to the pupils’ life and their taste, it is also important to consider the general guidelines of the curriculum. According to a compulsory range of topics which have to be worked through in the English lessons of a certain grade, the teacher has to choose what sort of literary work can be read in accordance with a certain topic of the curriculum.

The language difficulty of a literary work is another criterion which has to be taken into account. Since many EFL pupils, even in higher grades, have only got a restricted ability to express themselves in English and to understand authentic English material, it would be advisable to choose a text which does not exceed too much the students’ language proficiency.[36],[37] Yet, even linguistic obstacles can be overcome if the story is really appealing and responds to the pupils’ emotions and thoughts.[38],[39]

Since teaching literature in the English classroom is mostly connected to a higher expenditure of time and effort, the length of a literary work can also be an important selection criterion.[40] In this context, it should briefly be dwelt on the advantages of dealing with short stories.

4.2 Short stories in the English classroom

In many ways, EFL students can profit by reading short stories. On the one hand, short stories just have, in accordance with their name, a practical length. Even if the text might be slightly longer, the teacher is able to discuss and work through the whole story within a few lessons.[41] If there have been any problems or if the pupils should do special exercises for homework, it is also easier for them to reread the story on their own because of its length.[42] Thus, they often enjoy reading short stories more than reading longer texts since the feeling of having mastered an authentic piece of literary work can be achieved much sooner.[43] Because of being extremely compressed in terms of storyline, language and imagery, short stories, if they are written well, can be an excellent tool to stimulate the pupils’ fantasy and their desire to communicate their thoughts.[44] Even if a story is very short, it can be full of hidden ideas, concepts and intentions which the pupils can discover in various types of activities. Because of the time factor, dealing with short stories also allows the teacher to include a greater variety of literary works with different topics in the English lessons. This might give students greater pleasure than dealing only with one novel which focuses mainly on one issue.[45] Nevertheless, the teacher should create a well-balanced mixture of different types of literary works which shall be read in the English classroom, i.e. novels, dramas, short stories, poems etc., to give the pupils an insight into the diversity of literature.


[1] egora.uni-muenster.de/FmG/freiz_s0002.shtml, 02-04-2008.

[2] Abbreviation for: ‘English as a foreign language’.

[3] Carter, Ronald; Long, Michael. Teaching Literature. Burnt Mill: Longman, 1991, p. 2.

[4] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 2.

[5] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 2.

[6] Collie, Joanne; Slater, Stephen. Literature in the language classroom: a resource book of ideas and activities.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 4.

[7] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 4.

[8] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 4.

[9] Bach, Gerhard; Timm, Johannes-Peter (Hrsg.). Englischunterricht. Tübingen: A. Francke, 2003, p. 150.

[10] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 2.

[11] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 4.

[12] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 5.

[13] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 2.

[14] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 2.

[15] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 2.

[16] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 5.

[17] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 5.

[18] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 2.

[19] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 3.

[20] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 3.

[21] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 3.

[22] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 6.

[23] Bach, Englischunterricht, p. 151.

[24] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 3.

[25] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 6.

[26] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 3.

[27] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 3.

[28] Diller, Hans-Jürgen (Hrsg.). Schullektüre. Trier: WVT, 1979, p. 163.

[29] Diller, Schullektüre, p. 163.

[30] Diller, Schullektüre, p. 163/ 164.

[31] Diller, Schullektüre, p. 164.

[32] Bach, Englischunterricht, p. 159/ 160.

[33] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 6.

[34] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 6/ 7.

[35] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 6.

[36] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 6.

[37] Jarfe, Günther (Hrsg.). Literaturdidaktik – konkret: Theorie und Praxis des fremdsprachlichen Literaturunterrichts. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1997, p. 24.

[38] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 6/ 7.

[39] Carter, Teaching Literature, p. 6.

[40] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 6.

[41] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 196.

[42] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 196.

[43] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 196.

[44] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 196.

[45] Collie, Literature in the language classroom, p. 196.


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theoretical english philip dick’s exit door leads




Title: Theoretical approaches to teaching literature in the English classroom and its practical realisation