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Teaching Literature for ESL Students


Teaching literature in a language course to ESL students has been a topic of a lasting debate. Some researchers argue that, even though there can be certain hazards in the use of literature, it helps students to expand their linguistic knowledge and be exposed to cultural peculiarities of people of different backgrounds. As for disadvantages of the use of English literary works, some topics and concepts utilised may be controversial and/or students may feel uneasy and hostile to discuss them (Obeidat 37). Hence, it has been acknowledged that educators have to be careful when using literary works as they have to take into account diversity of their classes (Vandrick 253).

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The use of literature implies discussion and reflection on various topics revealed in the texts. Some of these topics may seem controversial for some students and, hence, educators have to choose universal texts and make sure they know their students’ cultural backgrounds. Therefore, it can be hazardous to use novels that focus on social, political issues (Obeidat 37). At the same time, detective stories can be a good option as they often concentrate on particular crime and little attention is paid to social, economic and political issues though these concepts can also be included in a detective story (De Caleya Dalmau et al. 221). Of course, it is quite manageable to choose the right detective story to avoid any issues during the story’s discussion.

Lazar claims that literature has been used in language learning for centuries and there is one major reason for that as literature is the domain where all linguistic rules learnt are employed to reveal the meaning (5). Clearly, when reading a text, students come across various grammar and lexical units that have been taught. The use of literary works enhances students’ knowledge and it is also seen as one of the most effective tools in ESL teaching (Ernst-Slavit, Moore and Maloney 118). Students have an opportunity to explore ways specific rules are employed by writers.

Furthermore, reading literary texts expands students’ vocabulary and enables them to develop certain linguistic confidence (Arthur 199). Again, when discussing texts (and/or trying to solve the case) students employ lexical as well as grammar units and can practice specking skills as well. Notably, the use of literary texts may help develop reading, speaking as well as writing skills. It is necessary to note that intermediate and upper-intermediate students are able to work with authentic texts (Grellet 97). Hence, educators have to choose authentic but manageable texts to work with.

Working Argument

This thesis will focus on the use of detective stories of the twentieth century in ESL classes. The present paper will evaluate the use of these texts that will be applicable in all groups of corresponding level. Working argument of this research can be formulated as follows:

  1. Detective stories of the 20th and 21st centuries can be seen in groups with students of different levels.

Planned Methodology

To respond to the arguments mentioned above, it is possible to utilise qualitative research method. The literature review on the use of literary works will be implemented. Grounded theory will be employed to identify major features of the literary texts that should be used in language classes with intermediate and upper-intermediate students. Special attention will be paid to benefits (and disadvantages if any) of the use of detective stories (written by renowned writers in the twentieth century) in ESL classes.


Arthur, Bradford. “Reading literature and learning a second language.” Language Learning 18.3-4 (1968): 199-210. Print.

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Brumfit, Christopher and Ronald Carter. Literature and Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. Print.

Da Silva, Ronivaldo Braz. “Using Literary Texts in the ESL Classroom.” R. Ci. Humanas 1.2 (2001): 171-178. Print.

De Caleya Dalmau, Miriam Fernández, Jelena Bobkina and María Pilar Sarto Martes. “The Use of Literature as an Advanced Technique for Teaching English in the EFL/ESL Classroom.” Educacion y Futuro 27.1 (2012): 217-236. Print.

Ernst-Slavit, Gisela, Monica Moore and Carol Maloney. “Changing Lives: Teaching English and Literature to ESL Students.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 46.2 (2002): 116-128. Print.

Grellet, Frangoise. Developing Reading Skills. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Print.

Hill, Jennifer. Using Literature in Language Teaching. London: Macmillan, 1986. Print.

Iorember, Margaret and Bilkisu Baba Sale. “Teachers’ Opinions on the Effects of the Non-Teaching of Literature in English in Secondary Schools on the Teaching/Learning of English Language in Yobe State, Nigeria.” Journal of the Nigeria English Studies Association 16.2 (2013): 227-235. Print.

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Khatib, Mohammad and Amir Hossein Rahimi. “Literature and Language Teaching.” Journal of Academic and Applied Studies 2.6 (2012): 32-38. Print.

Lazar, Gillian. Literature and Language Teaching: A Guide for Teachers and Trainers. Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1993. Print.

McKay. Sandra. “Literature in the ESL Classroom.” TESOL Quarterly 16.4 (1982): 529-536. Print.

Obeidat, Marwan M. “Language vs. Literature in English Departments in the Arab World.” The English Teaching Forum 35.1 (1997): 30-37. Print.

Scholes, Robert. Textual Power. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. Print.

Spack, Ruth. “Literature, Reading, Writing, and ESL: Bridging the Gaps.” TESOL Quarterly 19.4 (1985): 703-725. Print.

Vandrick, Stephanie. “Issues in Using Multicultural Literature in College ESL Writing Classes.” Journal of Second Language Writing 5.3 (1996): 253-69. Print.

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"Teaching Literature for ESL Students." StudyCorgi, 6 Mar. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Teaching Literature for ESL Students." March 6, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Teaching Literature for ESL Students." March 6, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Teaching Literature for ESL Students." March 6, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Teaching Literature for ESL Students'. 6 March.

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