Fostering L2 Voices with Literature: Pedagogical Insights

by Won Kim

University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)

Keywords: Language and literature integration, adult ESL learners, L2 pedagogy, classroombased research



This article reports on a qualitative case study of an advanced ESL class for adult learners at a private language institute in Canada. In this class, literary texts were used as teaching materials. This three-month long ethnographic study explored teaching practices of literaturebased ESL instruction and students’ perception of their learning experiences. Based on the study findings, pedagogical recommendations for L2 teachers interested in integrating literature into their L2 classrooms are offered. This article contributes to the growing pedagogical discussion on how content-based language instruction can successfully be implemented for adult learners.



Despite increasing attention given to more contextualized, communicative approaches to second language (L2) instruction (Atkinson, 2011; Duff, 2014), a linear view of L2 acquisition is still influential, resulting in L2 learning often being limited to decontextualized meaning-making practices (Cho & Krashen, 2001; Cummins, 2009; Johnson, 2004; Kramsch, 1996; Singhal, 2006; Wells, 1999; Widdowson, 1998). In response to this pedagogical limitation, scholars have stressed the advantages of combining language instruction with literature—a rich resource of contextualized language use and meaning. The advantages include:

  1. Allowing L2 students to experience and become more aware of the ways in which language constructs meaning (Donato & Brooks, 2004; James, 2003; Lazar, 1992; Minkoff, 2006);
  2. Increasing students’ cultural sensitivity because of the inherently socially-situated and culturally-constructed nature of literature (Henning, 1993; McNicholls, 2006; Shanahan, 1997);
  3. Fostering critical thinking skills through the process of reflecting on readings (Erkaya, 2005; Butler, 2006) and through connecting language and content (Custodio & Sutton, 1998; Hadaway, Vardell, & Young, 2002A; Reid, 2002; Seda, Ligouri, & Seda, 1999);
  4. Enhancing students’ attitudes toward and confidence in reading (Chiang, 2007; Hess, 2006; Krashen, 2004).


Further, scholars argue that L2 classrooms can be enriched with narrative and aesthetic forms of discourse (Kramsch, 1993; Nicholas, Rossiter, & Abott, 2011) that engage readers more closely with language with their response-stimulating and imaginative power (Belcher & Hirvela, 2000) and by appealing to the affect and intellect of L2 learners in collaboration through literary discussions (Chiang, 2007; Kim, 2004) or other meaning-making means such as drama (Winston, 2011).


For the unique affordances of literature in language learning and in an effort to promote learning of language and content (Marsh, Mehisto, Wolff, & Frigols-Martin, 2011), literature as content of learning has been integrated in many language classrooms (Gilroy & Parkinson, 1997; Hall, 2005; Paran, 2006). However, a review of the existing literature shows that, compared to research concerning young learners, there is a dearth of classroom-based research concerning the use of literature in the context of adult L2 classrooms. Indeed, little attention has been paid to pedagogical issues around ‘how’ literature can best be used in L2 classrooms, particularly for adult learners, and the nature of teaching/learning practices of incorporating literature in adult L2 classrooms has not been well-documented (Belcher & Hirvela, 2000; Carter, 2007; Gilroy & Parkinson, 1997; Kim, 2004; Paran, 2006; Yuksel, 2009). Indeed, further classroom-based research is needed to address important yet overlooked pedagogical inquiries into using literature for adult L2 learners.


This article represents an effort to contribute to the pedagogical discussion by providing empirically-grounded pedagogical recommendations based on findings drawn from a qualitative case study of a literature-based adult ESL class in an intensive English learning program in Canada. For the scope and purpose of this article, the focus of the discussion will be on pedagogical implications for the integration of language and literature for adult L2 classes. The article presents a theoretical framework and summarizes the methods and findings of the study. The article closes with specific pedagogical recommendations for L2 teachers interested in using literature.


This study was theoretically framed by speech genre theory (Bakhtin 1986) and print literacy development theory (Purcell-Gates, Jacobson, & Degener, 2006). These theories share common grounds in that the use of language is inevitably situated in its immediate and larger global contexts and that language/literacy development takes place explicitly and implicitly in constant interaction with the world. The following sections briefly discuss how these two theories underpin the use of literature in L2 learning.


Speech Genre Theory

Bakhtin (1986) calls for attention to viewing language as speech that is inextricably embedded in a multitude of sociocultural and institutional contexts. In this framework, language and social context are in a dialectical relationship, as are language competence and language performance. Bakhtin argues that exposure to, experience with, and mastery of various speech genres related to local and global contexts is essential to language learning. That is, the mastery of linguistic forms (i.e., linguistic knowledge) may not be sufficient for language learning and may not automatically lead to successful performance in human speech communication (i.e., language use). Hence, language learning should engage learners in a variety of speech genres in order to appropriately function their social roles in particular contexts of human communication.


In addition, following Bakhtin (1986), words exist in terms of neutral and denotative dictionary meanings as well as connotative, evaluative, and expressive meanings infused with other people’s voices in live usage of the words. Bakhtin also distinguishes between sentences and utterances as units of an abstract linguistic system and as units of speech communication respectively. Bakhtin argues that when a speaker or a writer uses individual words/sentences (that are neutral and non-evaluative as part of an abstract linguistic system) for interactional purposes in concrete situations of human activities, they become utterances. Hence, it is important that L2 learning involves utterances as well as speech genres, which Bakhtin (1986) defines as “more stable types of utterances” (p. 60). Such L2 learning can allow ample opportunities for L2 learners to experience both neutral denotative meanings of the target language and its subjective, connotative, evaluative meanings. This speaks to the importance of including language as speech associated with local/global contexts in language instruction (Johnson, 2004; Widdowson, 1998, 2003).


In this light, one pedagogical question that arises is how L2 instruction can maximize opportunities for L2 learners to experience, be exposed to, and master a range of speech genres linked with multi-layered contexts. Speech genres can include various spoken/written utterances, such as everyday conversations, narratives, letters, essays, poems, and diaries (Bakhtin, 1986). Literature including both fiction and non-fiction on multiple topics and diverse forms may provide opportunities for L2 learners to experience diverse speech genres in a meaningful way.


Print Literacy

Purcell-Gates et al. (2006) propose uniting theoretical views of cognitive and social practice theories of literacy. They discuss the need to look at the relationship between the cognitive and the social as “transactional in a nested relationship with the cognitive occurring within the sociocultural context” (p. 81). This suggests that one’s cognitive engagement (i.e., reflecting on one’s experiences, understanding/constructing ideas/values, or evaluating/making sense of the world) is necessarily situated in particular sociocultural contexts. With this understanding, the authors provide a broadened perspective on language and literacy learning by defining ‘print literacy’ and ‘print literacy development’:


Print literacy is the reading and writing of some form of print for communicative purposes inherent in people’s lives. Thus, it involves decoding and encoding of the linguistically based symbol system and is driven by social processes that rely upon communication and meaning. Because it is social, its practice reflects sociocultural patterns and purposes as well as power relationships and political forces. (Purcell-Gates et al. 2006, p. 26)


Print literacy development is the acquisition, improvement, elaboration, and extension of the abilities and strategies necessary to comprehend and produce written language for communicative purposes within sociocultural contexts. This includes understanding the social meanings of literate activity and mastering the pragmatics of semiotics of literacy activities. (Purcell-Gates et al. 2006, p. 26)


Additionally, Purcell-Gates et al. (2006) stressed the importance of engaging learners with authentic literacy learning to enhance the learning to read and write process and argue that such authenticity of literacy pedagogy centres on authentic texts and activities. According to them, written texts are authentic if they are “either identical or very similar to those texts that occur in the lives of people outside of an instructional setting designed to teach reading and writing skills” (Purcell-Gates et al. 2006, p. 13). They emphasize that, if those texts are used for meaningful purposes in literacy learning, the activities can be regarded as authentic.


Such perspectives on authenticity of print literacy pedagogy are applicable to L2 learning contexts. This is because, similar to literacy development, the development of L2 also involves acquiring and extending abilities and strategies to comprehend and produce both spoken and written utterances in the L2 for interactional goals and meaningful purposes within a sociocultural context. In parallel, by defining authentic language as “local language in that it is always associated with specific contextual realities” (p. 710), Widdowson (1998) also emphasized that it is important for L2 learners to see a connection of language, pragmatic use, context, and communities and maintained that establishing such a connection is central to authentic L2 learning and use, as it allows learners to attend to both what words mean and what people mean by using them in context. In L2 instruction using literature, authenticity can be promoted by reading, discussing, and writing about literature for meaningful purposes within sociocultural contexts where the social meanings and pragmatics of language activities come into play. For example, L2 learners could be invited to read a book, write a review, and publish this review for potential readers in their community.


However, engaging learners with authentic language activities does not seem widely prevalent in L2 classrooms, particularly for adult learners. Instead, school-based or examoriented activities that focus on decontextualized comprehension/production skills often dominate L2 classroom instruction. My intention is not to deny their pedagogical value, but to suggest that a higher degree of purposeful language activities engaging learners with authentic literary texts for communicative purposes may enrich L2 classrooms as a more socially-attuned, pragmatically-authentic, and contextually-situated L2 learning space.

In light of findings by Bakhtin (1986) and Purcell-Gates et al. (2006), it can be expected that, in literature and language integrated instruction, both language learning and language use can occur naturally and simultaneously, which can evoke genuine and meaningful interactions for authentic communicative purposes. Importantly, the pedagogical possibilities and implications of such instruction need to be further explored through classroom-based research. Questions that can be researched include, but are not limited to: How are texts used in L2 classrooms? What learning experiences and classroom interactions are promoted? How can literature be better used for more meaningful language experiences? In an effort to contribute to the pedagogical discussion on literature-integrated L2 instruction, this article addresses the last question.



I documented and explored a literature-based adult ESL classroom in an intensive English program in Canada. A descriptive case study was employed to provide a holistic description and explanation (i.e., a literature-based adult ESL class) (Merriam, 1998, 2009; Yin, 2014). Given that the use of multiple sources of data could provide a complex and nuanced perspective on and holistic insights into both the potentials and challenges of L2 instruction using literature (Bryman, 2004; Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2007), data source triangulation was sought by using multiple data sources, including over 40 hours of class observations, field notes, and class-related written materials (i.e. course syllabus, handouts, and writing assignments). Students completed two e-mail questionnaires. The first survey questionnaire concerned students’ biographical and linguistic background information and English learning experiences (e.g., self-assessment of English abilities, purpose of learning English, previous/current reading experiences) while the second questionnaire focused on reflections on the course (e.g., feedback on the class activities, reading materials, weaknesses and strengths of the course).


Also, two interviews were conducted with three focal students and each interview ran for about 40 minutes. The goal was to obtain a more detailed account of students’ reflections on their learning experiences in the course by asking questions, including: “What parts of the course did you find difficult/enjoyable?” “Which texts did you enjoy the most and least?” “If you have noticed any progress in English, what aspects of the course were helpful for your improvement?” Additionally, two interviews with the course instructor were carried out to learn about the teacher’s teaching beliefs, backgrounds, goals for the course, and reflections on various aspects of the course (e.g., instruction, selected reading texts and activities, students’ language development, weaknesses and strengths of the course).


The class

The class under study was an advanced-level reading course in a 12-week intensive ESL program in a well-established private language institution in Canada. The course aimed at refining students’ reading skills and gave them the opportunity to explore nuances of advanced vocabulary using literary texts and to read various literary works for personal responses and critical interpretations.


The class ran four times a week for 1 hr 40 min each time. While the major focus was on developing reading skills, the class integrated all four language skills through ample opportunities to read, discuss, and respond orally and in writing to literature.


The students

There were 16 adult learners in the class. At the time of research, six had just graduated from high school and the rest were college students or had just obtained a Bachelor’s degree. Their first languages included: Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Thai. Most of them have lived in an English-speaking country for about a year. The students either planned to enter a university in North America or stay for a short time to improve their English abilities and gain overseas experience for better career opportunities.


In the e-mail survey questionnaire, half of the participants described themselves as reluctant readers and did not have extensive reading experiences in English. Six respondents stated that they did not enjoy reading, even in their L1. Those who read in English read novels and newspapers.


The teacher

The teacher of this course had over 35 years of ESL/EFL teaching experience. She explained some benefits of L2 instruction with literary texts in the following interview:

In an ESL class the problem we are always facing is how to bring the real world to our class. It’s an artificial class… But you get a story and the story is about people if it is well written. We can get situations that students can identify with. And it can be a stimulus. It can give them information. (Teacher, first interview)


The teacher also indicated the importance of fostering students’ independence to perform and function as competent language users. For this reason, she said that her instruction often involved student-driven activities.


Data analysis

Multiple visits were made to the ethnographic database of the study in order to document and explore the recurrent themes pertaining to the nature of the teaching practices of this class and the students’ learning experiences. Quantitative findings of the study gathered through the survey questionnaires were also analysed. These quantitative findings related to students’ feedback on the course and their reading experiences: for example, questionnaire responses showed how students rated the course and what their most and least favourite readings were. Additionally, students’qualitative reflections on their learning experiences gathered through the survey questionnaires and interviews were reviewed several times in order to draw pedagogical insights for L2 practitioners. In representing students’ accounts, pseudonyms have been used.


Materials and activities

One teaching objective underlying this course was developing the target language through reading and discussing various literary texts that served as both resources of language and sources for interaction. The underlying rationale was that stories, a universal speech genre, would provide ESL learners with meaningful and pleasurable language experiences while helping students develop skills such as summarizing, paraphrasing, comprehending semantic and pragmatic meanings, and referencing.


The texts used came from two main sources: 1) a course textbook pre-selected by the program and 2) literary texts chosen by the teacher. The textbook was an ESL textbook for advanced ESL learners that included 19th to 21st century short stories, plays, and poems, accompanied by vocabulary exercises, discussion questions, and a writing component focused on literary essays.

The other major source of reading texts was a teacher-selected collection of short stories, poems, and newspaper articles. According to the teacher, selection criteria were appropriateness, relevance, length, and themes of the texts. The teacher reported that the text should be long enough yet manageable, while its topic could appeal to her young adult readers. In addition, a 300-page novel, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes—widely read by adolescents and adults in North America – was added. In one term, the class read 17 short stories, nine poems, two newspaper articles, one play and one novel.


Reading and discussing literary texts were central to the teaching and learning practices of the class. A large proportion of class time was devoted to small group discussions. The discussions were mainly based on questions from three sources: the textbook, teacher, and students. Some questions were efferent (i.e., seeking information) or presentational in their nature, while some were aesthetic (i.e., involving personal responses) or exploratory (Barnes & Todd, 1995; Rosenblatt, 1978). Notably, student-initiated questions played an important role throughout the term, particularly when individuals in a group of four used questions to lead a discussion about a novel. During such a discussions, students were encouraged to present their interpretations and responses, and refer to the text to support their claims.


Writing was another major component of this class. Each student was required to write an academic literary essay on the novel as well as a personal reflective response to five literary pieces of their choice. Throughout the course, unfamiliar vocabulary from the texts was reviewed. The teacher selected a list of words from each piece and discussed different aspects of each word, including its use in the context of a story, part of speech, collocations, meaning, and connotations. This was followed by a group discussion of the questions regarding the new vocabulary words learned and a weekly vocabulary quiz which requires students to construct and paraphrase sentences.


Findings and Discussion: Pedagogical Recommendations

As there is a scarcity of empirical studies on how literature can or should be used in an adult L2 classroom, in the remainder of the article, the empirically grounded pedagogical recommendations will be presented for teachers interested in integrating literature and language in their classrooms.


Reflective Reading Material Selection

The reflective selection of reading texts was found to be integral to the successful outcome of learning and high learner engagement with literary texts. Selected texts should reflect the students’ proficiency and interests (cf. Belcher & Hirvela, 2000; Carter, 2007; Cox & BoydBatstone, 1997; Hadaway, Vardell, & Young, 2002B; Krashen, 2004; Nuttall, 1996; Smallwood, 1998; Tseng, 2010). If students do not enjoy what they read, learning outcomes can be adversely affected.


The majority of students in the class under study indicated a preference for contemporary and relationship-focused short stories, such as All the Years of Her Life by Morley Callaghan and Penny in the Dust by Ernest Buckler but they enjoyed the novel by Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon too. Student feedback in questionnaires and interviews indicated that these three texts were viewed by a majority of the students as appropriate to their reading levels. The students shared a common reaction to the comprehensible, accessible nature of these texts. Commenting on the novel, one student Miju said (in an interview), “This one is a modern novel. I can read and finish very fast. I mean faster than traditional stories in the textbook.” Another student, Jane, said in the questionnaire, “I didn’t need to use dictionary too much to follow the story [the novel].” These works are frequently found on reading lists for adolescent readers in North America.


The benefits of using young adult literature when teaching adult L2 learners are widely recognized (e.g., Chen, 2006; McNicholls, 2006; Smallwood, 1998; Tomlinson & McGraw, 1997). Additionally, it is worth noting that all texts (including the pieces discussed above) chosen most frequently by the students as favourites were stories that were contemporary rather than classics and which deal with human relationships, as also shown by previous research (e.g., Chiang, 2007; Tseng, 2010). For example, the two most preferred short stories were about the relationship between teenagers and parents. Similarly, the novel presents the challenge of a person with low intelligence (Charlie) struggling with the relationships with people around him. The students’ preference for contemporary and relationship-related stories suggests that L2 teachers may consider incorporating texts with these features as possible reading options for their adult L2 learners.


Another consideration in selecting texts is their physical format. The findings of this study suggest that participants in this particular class preferred the novel to the short stories introduced in the course textbook. Several mentioned that the novel was preferred because of the potential affordances that its authentic book format might hold for L2 readers. Miju explained in the interview that, When I read Flowers for Algernon, I read it everywhere, on the bus or at a table. But when I read old stories in the textbook, I have to sit on the chair at a desk with my dictionary.” This may be an indication of different effects that different formats of presentation (i.e., authentic book or non-authentic book format [e.g., academic textbook]) can make on one’s attitudes toward reading. Additionally, all of the literary works that the students indicated in the questionnaire as their least favourite were from the textbook. This might be related to the format of their presentation (i.e., academic textbook format). Such format may be attributable to readers’ presumptions about reading the short stories presented in the textbook; that is, these stories in the academic textbook might be viewed by some students as the readings for analysis rather than for pleasure.


Another recommendation might be to include a diversity of literary texts in the reading materials to maximize language experiences. As Bakhtin (1986) stresses, it is important for L2 learners to experience and be exposed to various speech genres associated with sociocultural contexts during the course of developing their L2. Various texts that can be considered include short stories, novels, poems, essays, newspaper articles, diaries, and scientific reports. In her interview, Mori speaks about the value of being exposed to and reading various texts:


Reading was helpful. We need to read… you can learn different styles and patterns and see how they are used. Also, it definitely helps writing. The more you read, the more patterns stay in your mind. When you write, you will unconsciously know it makes sense.


Exposing students to a wide range of literary texts can introduce them to diverse writing styles, contextually situated meanings of words, and structures of various discourses. Additionally L2 teachers could consider content of literature that is more relevant to the learning contexts students are situated in. For example, ESL teachers, particularly those in

Canada, may consider including more Canadian literature, as reading and discussing contemporary Canadian content could benefit newcomers to Canada. In particular, realistic stories about immigrants or multiculturalism of Canada could appeal to adult immigrant learners and engage them in discussion of the readings.


Involving both Aesthetic and Efferent Reading


I enjoyed reading All the Years of Her Life… I liked it. I was like that when I was a teenager. I didn’t steal, but I didn’t care much about my mother and stuck with my friends… The story was very similar to my story. That’s why I like that story. While reading the story, I felt kind of down and sad, and started missing my mom. (Jan, interview) …


Discussing and responding to literature was an important class activity. A number of scholars argue that involving both efferent and aesthetic responses to literature in L2 classrooms could benefit learners in developing their L2 skills as well as literary appreciation (Ali, 1994; Elliott, 1990; Hess, 2006; Hirvela, 2004; Tutas, 2006).


In language classrooms, a major focus has often been the practical aspects of language as an instrument to exchange information. This was more prevalent in adult ESL classrooms (James, 2003; Paran, 2006). Considering human language involves a combination of affects and intellects (McRae, 1991), teaching only practical aspects of language to L2 users may present incomplete facets of language in use (Belcher & Hirvela, 2000; Hess, 2006).


Likewise, reading experiences in many L2 classrooms are often confined to skill-oriented, semantic meaning-based, and information-seeking processes (Cox & Boyd-Batstone, 1997; Cummins, 2009; James, 2003; Paran, 2006; Widdowson, 1990). In reader response theory, Rosenblatt (1978) argued that readers can take both aesthetic and efferent stances. In an efferent reading stance, readers find information by using various reading skills while an aesthetic reading stance involves readers transacting with the text, and drawing upon their preoccupations, feelings, and experience. Efferent reading may involve presentational talk, whereas aesthetic reading can involve exploratory talk (Barnes & Todd, 1995). Readers may take on one or both stances when reading, depending on genres texts and purposes of reading.


Aesthetic reading has been underrated in language classrooms (Elliott, 1990; Hirvela, 2004). In order to engage with language in the text to the fullest extent, students should experience both stances (Hirvela, 2004; Rosenblatt, 1978) to develop both the affective and practical aspects of the language they are learning. The instruction in this class was designed to balance the both stances. While students had to pay closer attention to information in the texts when they were required to make summaries or answer comprehension questions, they were encouraged to immerse themselves in the stories while writing a personal response to short stories or preparing for discussions of the novel or poetry. Aesthetic reading was evident in small group discussions on the novel, which yielded the liveliest exchange of responses. Lengthy group discussions often filled with hearty, boisterous verbal exchanges confirms a high level of personal involvement in the story and the discussion about it. Miju commented:


In the novel presentation, people prepared questions and asked them to others. In these novel presentations, I realized that Asian and South American have different thoughts. Actually stories in the textbook have their answers written because they are usually used books. So I couldn’t hear people’s real answers. But this one [the novel] doesn’t have an exact answer. We have to explain our own thoughts. (Miju, interview)


Several others also mentioned that the discussions were enriched by each participant’s ideas, emotions, and viewpoints. This aesthetic reading experience was also extended to efferent reading when participants were asked to write a formal literary essay about the novel. This suggests how L2 teachers can create opportunities to engage students in both aesthetic and efferent reading stances to maximize the quantity and quality of interaction among readers, language, and literature.


Building a Community of Readers


Speaking with people is interesting. Sharing ideas with people is interesting. Speaking with people like, “What do you think of that?” “Do you know what this word means?” And sharing our knowledge. (Mori, interview)


Findings of the study suggest that integrated literature and language instruction provide opportunities for exchanging and negotiating individuals’ reflections on reading. One teaching implication that can be drawn is that, in order to make this venue a welcoming place for all the voices of the students in the classroom, it would be essential to establish a learning community in the classroom. To this end, it is critical to make each individual feel welcomed and valued.


The teacher in the present study put this principle into practice by encouraging students to share opinions freely. In interviews, she noted that “there may be no right or wrong answers in responding to literature, but there can only be good or better answers if those are supported by evidence in the text” (teacher, interview). Class observation indicates that she enacted her beliefs in class by making an effort to maintain her position as a listener rather than an evaluator of the students’ responses throughout the term. One of the pedagogical advantages of such teachers’ positioning would be that any response might be acceptable as long as they are justifiable and warrantable. Different viewpoints and divergent thinking are invited. Such a learning atmosphere can enhance the quality and quantity of interaction in the target language (Belcher & Hirvela, 2000; Cox & Boyd-Batstone, 1997; Kim, 2004; Paran, 2006). Hence, an L2 teacher’s effort to create a sense of community through respect and collaboration should be made from the very beginning.


Extended Reading


We had always the same pattern: we read and discuss, and read and discuss. I think that’s why people get tired or bored. Even if they read different stories, it was always the same pattern. (Mori, interview)


Another teaching recommendation is to stretch the act of reading to its fullest extent so that readers can experience and benefit from works of literature that are linguistically, affectively, and culturally rich. As described earlier, in this classroom, discussion in small groups played a vital role in students’ experiences with literature and language. The positive role of small group discussions was also evident in the questionnaires and interviews in which students’appreciation for small group discussions was noted. Conversely, however, some students also viewed small group discussion as routine instruction and lost their focus over period of the 12-week term.


As witnessed in this class, although small group discussion had its place in the class as an important opportunity for reflecting on and extending students’ readings, this could be even further extended by bringing readers and texts together more closely. This can be done through the active engagement of students’ minds. Such active engagement can commence before reading to trigger students’ interest with any aspect of the story and continue during and after reading. For example, as a warm up activity before reading, some groundwork can be done to get them connected to the sociocultural or historical background of the story. Any images, facts, historical or social events, movies, documents, or music related to any aspects/themes/issues of the story can be introduced and explored as a departure point for interacting with the story. Students’ life experiences relevant to any aspects of the story can also be drawn. Without such preliminary engagement, some literary texts specific to a particular time, place, and culture can be challenging or even foreign to some readers, which may result in an unsatisfactory level of engagement with the story. As an illustration, Miju spoke about her experience with an unfamiliar story:


The story [An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge] was a little bit weird. I wondered about that story, so I did some research on line. I found that that story is an old one and that story is connected with the time. That means that if I wasn’t in that century, I wouldn’t be able to understand that situation and everything. (Miju, interview)


During and after reading, in concert with small group discussions, creative dramatic activities, such as readers’ theater, hot seat, tableau, and other process-oriented multimodal drama-based activities, could also be used to stretch students’interaction with literature and language. With their multisensory nature, they could connect the minds and bodies of readers to a story (Booth, 2005; Bournot-Trites, Belliveau, Spiliotopoulos, & Seror, 2007; Even, 2008; Kao & O’Neill, 1998; Roman & Nunez, 2015; Winston, 2011).



Teacher and Students as Co-Participants

Language instruction with literature requires a teacher to serve as a facilitating co-participant rather than a knowledge transmitter. To place students’ voices at the centre of the classroom, teachers need to show how genuinely they are interested in students’ voices and make continuous efforts to create a safe space in the classroom where class participants openly share their interpretations and reactions to text.


Further, fostering students’ sense of independence as astute meaning-making language users needs to be part of students’ L2 learning. Students should be given ample opportunities to develop independence as language users. Thus, teachers, as facilitators and co-participants, should invite students to a space where they freely interpret, reflect on, make decisions, and negotiate meanings in collaboration with other participants.


Equally important, students need to learn to understand their roles as active participants in the learning process. For example, as observed in the class under study, students could actively initiate interaction by asking their own self-developed questions to elicit responses from their peers. This can contribute to extending a typical teacher-led IRF (i.e., initiation, response, and feedback) to a more extended, student-led interaction in L2 classrooms.


Different Shades of Language


Reading English stories taught me what an English-speaking writer thinks, and the way they organize their work. It’s also helpful to my writing. And during this class, I get more vocabularies than any other class. (Jan, interview)


I actually know a lot of expressions and a lot of grammar. I just know the skill and function. But I don’t know how to use them and how to make sentences. I know the function of double comparative structure as in the more the better, but I didn’t know how to use it. And I didn’t know in which situations I can use it. But after I read a modern novel, I can know how to make a sentence and how to use the grammar in our daily life. (Miju, interview)


The class under study combined language and literature. Literary texts that are contextually situated can reveal how language operates and functions in context and foster readers’ awareness of how language works in diverse and dynamic ways. Literary texts can contextually and aesthetically demonstrate how words have different shades, which create different meanings linked with different context. Literature and language-integrated learning can complement and extend decontextualized, literal meaning-based language learning to contextually situated, pragmatic meaning-based learning. It can also provide students with opportunities to experience and experiment with possible forms and meanings of words within context including denotations, connotations, nuances, and usage.



This article explored pedagogical insights into how literature can enrich L2 classes, serving as a resource of language and a source for interaction. Literature and language integrated instruction can involve students in the learning of language and literature. Learners’ L2 expertise can develop while they are attending to stories of themselves and others. Maximizing learning outcomes of language instruction using literature requires careful planning and preparation in terms of the active participant role of the teacher and students, choice of texts, and the quantity and quality of classroom discourse. Successful pedagogical implementation of L2 instruction using literature can bring seemingly superficial L2 classrooms one step closer to the reality of communication. A more purposeful, contextuallysituated, and pragmatic understanding of language can result in a locally-situated, jointlyconstructed exchange/negotiation of meaning by involving and connecting the minds of language learners. As Cox and Boyd-Batstone (1997) argue, “in both the literal and figurative sense, student’s voice is the goal in L2 instruction” (p. 41). L2 students’ voices can be heard when teachers’ connect students as meaning-makers with language and literature and guide them through powerfully engaging literary texts.


Changes in the nature of the interactional structure in the classroom can lead to changes in overall teaching practices and ultimately the education system (Gibbons, 2004). With the interactional structure being the co-construction and negotiation of meanings by all participants at the heart of learning, literature and language-integrated classes can lead to substantial changes in classroom practices in and through which the voices of students, teachers, and texts can come together and thrive in dynamic interaction in the literal and figurative sense.



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About the author

Won Kim is a language educator in the Department of Language & Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia, Canada. His research interests include classroom discourse, engaged learning, multimodality, discourse analysis, learner/teacher identity, and L2 pedagogy. His doctoral research focused on the role of drama in adult ESL classrooms and he has presented at various local/international conferences in second language education.

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