Dear readers,
Thank you very much for revealing your favourite books in one of the last newsletters. They reminded me of why people read literature – and why teachers should teach literature to EFL students.
In Teaching English Literature (2016), six arguments are propounded:
• Language development
• Intercultural learning
• Personal enrichment
• Motivational value
• Interpretational openness
• Social prestige
When reading literature in class, the first and foremost task is to choose a suitable title for your learners. To a large extent, the students’ motivation and the efficiency of the learning process depend on the right selection of literature. The 4 C’s – canon, curriculum, catalogue, criteria – can help you in this decision. Several of our readers mentioned Harry Potter, so let’s see how this series relates to the 4 C’s.
1st C = Canon: To be awarded a coveted place in the various lists of literary organisations, universities or ministries, a book has to stand the test of longevity. As since the release of the first novel only two decades have elapsed, it is still too early to award the series the title of a timeless classic. Still, its unprecedented popularity, tremendous commercial success and far-reaching cultural impact have elevated Harry Potter to an icon of British culture along with the likes of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes.
2nd C = Curriculum: Even though the various federal and national curricula may not prescribe reading Harry Potter, educational standards and documents recommend current literature close to students’ interests.
3rd C = Catalogue: As Bloomsbury (GB) and Scholastic (USA) dispose of all publication rights, the series is unlikely to find its way into the catalogues of national school book publishers in the near future, so simplified and annotated readers for younger learners will not be on the market.
4th C = Criteria:
• Availability of text: Apart from the original hardcover and paperback editions, there are even illustrated versions with larger print and numerous pictures.
• Literary genre: This young adult series of “shrewd mystery tales” (Stephen King) combines numerous genres that are attractive for teenagers, e.g. fantasy, drama, coming of age, British school story, thriller, horror, romance, and to increase suspense, each book is constructed like a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery adventure.
• Subjective valence (Betroffenheit): Harry Potter assists teenagers in making their way through adolescence by dealing with themes like normality and otherness, loss and overcoming odds, oppression and survival, use and abuse of power, hatred and love, prejudice and free choice.
• Aesthetic quality: On the one hand, criticism of the books’ literary merits has been raised, e.g. by the great Harold Bloom, who found fault with Rowling’s overuse of clichés and dead metaphors. On the other, the books are imaginative, witty, readable – and saleable – page-turners.
• Linguistic difficulty: Being authentic material, the novels demand at least intermediate language proficiency. The vocabulary combines colloquial, contemporary language, e.g. the casual banter between Harry, Ron and Hermione, with numerous references to historical and abstract ideas originating in fantasy territory. As the series was written for the readers to grow with it, the complexity of language gradually increases, which may correspond nicely to language learners successively developing their competences. Moreover, the learners’ familiarity with the plot eases comprehension.
• Methodological material: You can find several literature guides, lesson plans, worksheets, discussion guides, fun activities, and essay collections online and in printed book form. However, they mostly do not refer to TEFL classrooms, and often cover different school contexts.
• Text-related media: An intermediality approach is supported by a load of film adaptations, unabridged audiobook versions (with Stephen Fry reading the UK editions), video games, stage productions – plus The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new theme park at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.
And if the whole series is too long for you and your learners, you may resort to time-saving classroom procedures like the sandwich approach, appetizer approach or patchwork approach. In any case, enjoy Harry Potter!
Best wishes, Engelbert Thaler

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