Welcome to this three-part series on teaching literature in the second-language classroom. In this post, I explore why teaching literature is so important. In the next post, I will look at what kinds of literature to teach. In the third episode, I will explain some of the ways I teach literature in my hybrid ESL classroom.

As I look ahead to the teaching session in August at Cegep de Saint-Laurent, I came across a book in my library by Collie and Slater entitled
Literature in the Language Classroom: A Resource Book of Ideas and Activities (Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers)

It got me excited again about teaching language and literature to my upper-intermediate and advanced non-native speakers of English at the college where I teach.

Today, I want to talk about why teaching literature in the second-language classroom is so captivating for me and my students. Here are seven good reasons for teaching literature.

Genuine language

In literature we find authentic or genuine language. It has passed the test of time. It is meaningful. Literature speaks to people across cultures and time periods.

Learners have to deal with different linguistic forms and communicative functions, just like a native speaker.

As Collie and Slater point out in their book, second-language learners have to cope with irony, exposition, argument, and narration.

Culturally enriching

Literature in the second language classroom is culturally enriching.

I’m an American who has lived in Canada for a good part of my life and who has studied in the UK. I feel particularly privileged in sharing the social and historical context as well as cultural meaning and values with my students In the literature we study.

I love teaching 19-20th century American, British and Canadian literature. But more about that in the next post.

Language focused

Literature in the second-language classroom is language focused. Collie and Slater point out that literature increases readers receptive vocabulary through extensive reading. It provides a rich content for new vocabulary and language structures.

It helps with writing skills too. It gives readers practice in forming different kinds of sentences, using different structures, and working with different ways of connecting ideas. Reading literature also promotes oral work. In the third post, I will share some of the speaking and writing activities I do in connection with watching a movie based on a novel.


Literature in the second-language classroom is engaging. It gets learners personally involved in the stories they read. According to Collie and Slater, learners "inhabit" the text as they focus on the development of the story. They often relate to one or more characters in the emotional turmoil that they sometimes feel.

Real-world centred

Literature in the second-language classroom is real-world centred. It often puts learners in real-life problem situations. When learners put themselves in the shoes of the characters, they practice their creativity and imagination in trying to solve these problems.


Literature in the second-language classroom deals with universal themes that all human beings experience. Love, friendship, prejudice, and revenge are some themes that always capture the imagination of my students.


Finally, literature in the second-language classroom is motivating. If a piece of literature is well-chosen, learners relish reading the story to its conclusion.

There so many elements of a literary piece–the plot, the characters, its meaning, the language used, the social and historical context–that get learners willingly talking and writing.

See you in the next post on what kinds of literature to teach in the second-language classroom.

Check out my online course How to Write a Literary Analysis.

There are six audio-visual lectures, a quiz, a self-assessment worksheet, and a writing activity.

See the video version of this post.