Unit 1: Analysing Literature: Introduction to the Language of Literary Texts


This unit focuses primarily on how to create diverse opportunities for students at the JSS level to develop their English language skills through exposure to the language of literature. This will involve engaging students with various genres of literature such as poetry, fiction and drama to develop their vocabulary and mastery of grammatical structures. The unit also aims to help you introduce to your students the different stylistic forms of literary texts. The objective of this unit is to enhance language use through familiarity with a range of vocabulary and structures as used in literary texts. This approach to the study of literary texts, leading to language-literature integration, sees literature classes as laboratories or practical workshops for the development of students’ language and communicative competence.

Unit outcomes

Upon completion of this unit you will be able to:


  • enable your students to enhance their vocabulary with interactive tasks using poetry,

  • familiarise students with the special uses of language in drama by converting a prose text into a short play, and

  • analyse children’s literature using students’ language resources.



Discourse patterns:

Text arrangements beyond the sentence level, including paragraphs, connectors, etc.


Types of literature such as poetry, drama and prose.

Language competence:

Language proficiency that includes the ability to communicate effectively in a language.

Communication skills:

The ability to use the language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing to effectively perform various language functions such as greeting, agreeing, requesting, exchanging social niceties and so on.

Communicative competence:

The ability of speakers of a language to know what to say to whom, and when. In other words, communicative competence includes the knowledge of the vocabulary and structures of the language as well as the social norms of speaking.

Integrated approach:

This suggests using literature to teach language skills and the resources of language (words, collocations, sentence structures, paragraph connectors, metaphorical expressions, etc.) to teach literature.

Literacy skills:

These include the ability to read and write in a language.

Critical thinking:

This involves the ability to reflect on a piece of spoken or written discourse (of at least one paragraph) and to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses in terms of both conceptual and language clarity.

Teacher support information

The aim of this unit is to use strategies and resources to enhance the language competence of your students through literature. In this unit, you will be able to use your familiarity with the literary devices used in prose, poetry and drama to help your students to communicate more effectively and eloquently. You will also find ideas to encourage your students to explore the interesting uses of words, phrases and sounds in literary texts. This should increase students’ awareness of literary language and help them understand literature better.

Case study

Case study

In Mr David Ilemede’s English class at Demonstration Secondary, students worked on a play called The Wives’ Revolt by J.P. Clark. As part of the project, the students were asked to focus on different aspects of language demonstrated in the play.

The students began by reading and acting out excerpts from the play with their teacher. For the performance, they were encouraged to choose the sections that they found most interesting. Mr Ilemede followed up on this enjoyable experience by encouraging the students to look more carefully at the sections they had chosen, to see how the grammatical structures of the sentences and word groups made the play more interesting. Working in groups, the students selected sentences, nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs and their combinations in phrases and clauses. With Mr Ilemede’s help, they began to identify the special meanings that these combinations of literary expressions brought to the play.

After this activity, Mr Ilemede prompted the groups to use the interesting structures in their own stories. They were encouraged to illustrate their stories with pictures, charts, diagrams and drawings.

The students greatly enjoyed this experience as it gave them an opportunity to use grammar in interesting and creative ways. They were also happy to see how the same language resources (sentences, clauses, phrases and word combinations) could be used in interesting ways in different literary genres such as plays and stories.

Points to ponder

  1. Do you agree that we can teach grammar fruitfully through literature? Why or why not?

  2. Do you feel literary texts should be explained to students in the class so that they understand the real meaning? Or should students be allowed to work together and discover the meaning of a text by themselves? Which of the above procedures do you follow in class, and why?


Activity 1: Using poetry to develop vocabulary in context

Activity 1

In this activity students work collaboratively to familiarise themselves with expressions specific to poetry, and to see how these create interesting meanings in English.

Divide the students into five or more groups and give them a variety of short poems to read. Ask each group to identify at least one expression (a word or a group of words) in the poem that they think is used in an interesting or unusual manner. Let them come up with their own explanation of why they think the expression(s) is (are) special. If you can, put the expressions you collect from each group on the board and have a class discussion about them. You can use this as an opportunity to highlight the literary use of language in poetry, such as rhyme schemes, figures of speech, alliteration, personification, similes, metaphors, etc. During the discussion, ask the students in their groups to try to rewrite the poetic expressions in “simple” or “normal” English. For example, in this line from Longfellow’s poem “Rainy Day”:

My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past

there are at least three unusual uses of language: thoughts… cling… mouldering Past, and the word mouldering itself. If we try to make these expressions “normal” or “everyday,” we will realise that thoughts cannot cling; they can come/go/focus on. We can use adjectives like remote/long forgotten to refer to the past, but the expression mouldering is unlikely to be used. In fact, mouldering is not listed in the dictionary (although to moulder is). It is an unusual coinage, perhaps stemming from the word moulding which suggests “something becoming bad from misuse.”

  • With the students working in groups, ask them to identify the unusual words and expressions in their poem, and to write the possible meanings. Using this vocabulary guide, ask each group to read aloud their short poem to the class and interpret its meaning.

  • To give the students further practice, you can have them play a game like the one in Resource 1. To play the game, the students, working in groups, have to first read the given poem and discuss its theme in the group. The game is a guessing game, where some of the interesting expressions of the words, and their possible meanings in the poem, are given on flashcards. The flashcards are distributed around the class, and the students have to match the expressions to their meanings.

  • To make the game a little more interesting and meaningful, you could add pictures to the matching exercise. To play this version of the game, students would have to listen to a reading of the poem, and then, working in groups again, arrange a set of pictures to tell the story of the poem. You can then tell them the correct sequence or display the pictures on a screen. To round off the activity, you could summarise the poem and its theme. This would ensure that the students have understood the gist of the poem.

The function of these two games is to teach students the value of interpreting the special meaning(s) of a poem by focusing on its vocabulary. Students will also realise that a group reading of poetry can be a very enjoyable experience, and that one can interpret the same poem in different ways by guessing at different meanings of the vocabulary in the poem.

After the exercises are done, you could read the poem aloud or play the audio and have the class give a choral reading of the poem after listening to it. This would not only improve their recitation skills, it would also personalise the poetry reading and help them understand it better.

Activity 2: Developing creativity in language use: Converting a prose text to a play

Activity 2

In this activity, students work in groups of five to convert a short piece of prose (preferably a story of one or two pages) into a play after they have read and discussed the story.

  • Distribute a short story (maybe an adapted version of a popular short story, preferably not more than two pages) and ask your students to fill in the grid given in Resource 2 with information from the story after they have read it. Announce that they have to write a play based on the story. The grid should help the students include the necessary information, such as the characters in the story, the setting, the plot and the major actions and dialogue of the characters as an initial step in converting the story to a play.

  • The next step should be a whole class activity, where you could use the board to write a comparative list of the characteristics of a prose text and a play as suggested by the students. For example, A prose text has descriptions of places, characters, events and actions, but a play does not have descriptions; it has stage directions. This should ensure that the students have a clear idea of the content and structure of a play, in preparation for the task ahead.

  • Once the students have a fairly clear idea of the elements of a play, their next task is to plan, in their groups, the structure of the two scenes of the play they have to write. The two scenes should be no more than two pages each, with dialogue and stage directions.

  • The two scenes of the play should then be discussed and edited by each group. If necessary, show the groups a sample of a short play so that they can familiarise themselves with the structure of dialogues and stage directions.

  • You can also help the groups write simple stage directions for their play by giving them a few samples of stage directions that not only mark the characters’ places on the stage, but also their mental state, such as: (suddenly turning around)/(with a start)/(looking slyly at her)

  • When they are ready, each group presents their play to the class for critical comments and modifications, where necessary.

  • The groups should incorporate all their changes and then rehearse until they are satisfied that their play has achieved the necessary balance between simplicity and suspense through interesting dialogues, plot and an effective climax.

  • Each group’s play should be performed and videotaped, if possible.

This activity offers students strategies and opportunities to read, plan, outline and rewrite stories, and listen to play rehearsals and videotape their plays. As they carry out these tasks, they have the opportunity to listen to, speak, read, write and proofread language used in at least two different contexts.

Activity 3: Creativity in collaboration: Using students’ language resources for story development

Activity 3

At the JSS level, students are usually asked to compose short stories from a given outline. While such classroom activities help them practise the skills of composition by recreating a storyline, they do not encourage them to exercise their creative abilities. Creative composition skills involve the ability to develop a storyline by weaving ideas together in an interesting and logical sequence.

The activity given here is meant to encourage students to express themselves creatively through a fun-filled group task. It is also meant to give them training in thinking logically and connecting ideas to develop a composition in an interesting way.

To prepare them for this story-development task, give them a homework assignment a day before. Give them two versions of a short story to read. The first version should contain the original story and should have a clearly developed storyline, with well-developed characters and a narrative that progresses logically with a beginning, middle and end. The second version should have some distortions in style, such as an unclear storyline, no clear progression from beginning to end and hazily sketched characters. The students’ task is to individually mark which story is “better” and more interesting to read, and why (i.e., what differences are there in the two versions). The objective of this homework task is to help them find out for themselves the important ingredients of a good story so that they can use this knowledge for their group storytelling exercise.

For the actual exercise, have the students give a report on their homework assignment. You could list the points they give on a board. The preliminary discussion should cover the features of a good story, like the ones listed in Resource 2 for Activity 2 above.

Organise the students for the storytelling task in the manner suggested in Resource 3. If possible, videotape the storytelling task, and play it back to give the students a chance to refine their own lines and make them more interesting, crisp and creative.

Unit summary


In this unit, you learned how to help students develop their language competence through exposure to various samples of literature. You learned about the need to listen to and orally practise story and poetic presentations, and about the need to expose children to creative writing for a variety of purposes and in a variety of settings.



  • Having gone through this unit, which of the activities did you find easy to use in your classroom? Which ones were difficult to accomplish?

  • You are not expected to undertake each of the activities in a 40-minute class. The activities can be spread over other lesson periods. Which ones did you undertake in class and which parts did you use as homework assignments?



  • Use the questions above to assess your understanding of the unit. Cross-check your answer with a colleague who is also working on this unit.

  • Write down some strategies that you learned in this unit and that could be used to enhance the teaching of language through literature at the JSS level.


Resource 1: Using a poem for vocabulary enhancement

Resource 1

To play this game, divide the class into two groups. The first group will have words and phrases related to the poem “The Improbable,” and the second will have the matching meanings.

Begin the game by asking a member of Group 1 to raise a flashcard with a word or phrase on it. Group 2 now has to raise the flashcard with the matching meaning. For example:

Student A (in Group 1 raising the flashcard):

Which expression in the poem means “unlikely”?

Student B (in Group 2 raising the flashcard):


Note: If you think your students will find this task difficult, you can modify the question by mentioning the stanza number.

This game continues until all the questions in column 1 have been asked by Group 1 and answered by Group 2.

Column 1

Written on the flashcards of students in group 1

Column 2

Written on the flashcards of students in group 2

  1. Which expression in the poem means “unlikely”?

  2. Which word in the poem means “likely”?

  3. What does the word “nubile” suggest?

  4. Which emotion is called a “scary scourge”?

  5. An example of alliteration is:

  6. Which word refers to the act of hanging?

  7. Which expression suggests “without success”?

  8. An example of a metaphor for hanging is:

  9. What part of speech is the word “fruiting”?

  1. Possible

  2. Scary scourge

  3. Noose

  4. Adjective

  5. In vain

  6. Improbable

  7. Young, innocent and attractive

  8. The new disease

  9. Love



“The Improbable”


The improbable happens in unexpected places-

A young woman of twenty three hangs herself

After leaving a note: “Nobody loves me, I have no man”

What a pity, what a pity, what a pity.


None would have thought it possible

That a nubile woman would die for lack of love

When too many were dying for making love-

And many sell love in public places all over the world


The new disease afflicts so many who love in haste

The disease is not written on the face and knows no bound

They have searched in vain to cure themselves of love

Love that’s a scary scourge in the eyes of the wary.


And yet who’s spared from debility and death

That love proffers to lovers tied her a noose

Her favorite wrapper to a fruiting tree outside

Love that is not in haste is not in waste.




Resource file


See in the enclosed DVD an audio recording of the activity:

  • Scripts\Module5\Unit1\Activity1\Resource1\Audio\The_Improbable.mp3


Resource 2: Guide to editing

Resource 2

The following checklist can be used to evaluate a piece of prose fiction (i.e., a story):

Characteristic feature
(Tick [√] as appropriate)



Examples from the story

Is the title of the story intere ting? Does it il ustrate the plot of the story well?




Is the plot of the story interesting?




Do the events in the story have a clear beginning, middle and end?




Are the characters clearly developed?




Do the settings reflect the theme of the story and its plot?




Do the words and structures reflect a natural use of language? Do the dialogues resemble real-life conversation?





Are appropriate punctuation marks (commas, full stops, etc.) and spellings used?




Is the climax of the story interesting?




(See the sample short passage developed in Resource 4 below)

Resource 3: How to organise circular storytelling

Resource 3

Circular storytelling is a good way to unlock the imagination and develop listening and reasoning skills in a creative and entertaining way. To organise the circular storytelling:

  • Have the students sit closely in a quiet classroom atmosphere, preferably in a circle facing one another.
  • Announce that they are going to compose a story together. Since this is going to be a group task, there will be some rules. (i) Each student will be allowed to say only one sentence in turn, (ii) their sentence will have to follow from the one said by the previous student and (iii) they must not interrupt when someone else is speaking.

  • If the class is large, give each student only one turn to speak. In a smaller class, students can have two turns to speak.

  • To start the students off, ask them to choose one sentence from the following story beginnings.

    • It was a bitterly cold day in December, and Angela had just got home from school.

    • Reeta looked at her mother in shock: she just couldn’t believe what her mother was telling her!

    • Abdul and William woke up to find themselves in a dark room, their hands and feet bound tightly with nylon ropes.

  • To help them, you can choose one of the beginnings, say it aloud and add a sentence of your own. The students, in turns, add to your beginning. Alternatively, the first student can say the chosen sentence aloud, and add another to it to continue the story. The next student will add the next line, and the exercise will continue until all the students have contributed to the story.
  • As this is an oral exercise, you can make arrangements to record the story, either by audiotaping it, or by writing down the sentences as they are said. This will make the exercise more exciting for the students, and also generate laughter, as the storyline may move from one direction to another as the narration continues. You could also play the story back or read it out to discuss grammatical mistakes, differences in style, choice of words and so on, providing correct or more appropriate alternatives, so that students learn as they listen.

  • Remember to enforce the rules of the game: if the storyline breaks, the group has to start from the beginning, either with the same opening sentence or a different one. Also, there should be no interruptions during the storytelling. Instruct students to say their sentence slowly and loudly, so that everyone can hear it clearly.

  • The next student continues the story by adding the next sentence, another student adds another sentence and so on until the story comes to an end.

  • This activity takes a bit of practice before it will start to flow well. No interruptions of any kind are allowed once the story is in progress.

  • If the story breaks down, the teacher should try to encourage further attempts with prompts.

  • The circular storytelling can be changed to circular story writing by the teacher writing an opening sentence and having the students contribute more sentences in writing, one at a time, until the story is completed.

Resource 4: Guide to summarising a prose text

Resource 4

The prose text below is used to illustrate how you can summarise a prose passage.

  • Step 1: Read the prose text below carefully.

There were mosquitoes everywhere when the rain came. John found some in his shoe. Emily saw three on the cooking pot and their father found several in his car. The whole village was infested with mosquitoes. This situation made the whole village call a meeting. They had a debate. How would they get rid of the mosquitoes? Every person got a chance to speak, and everyone listened carefully. The people discussed each of the suggestions made by both the wise and the foolish. However, none of the ideas was good enough. Then, an old woman who was sitting at the edge of the group, put up her hand. She told the villagers that in a small bush far away near Benue River, there was a plant with anti-mosquito odour. It was a magic herb. When it was burnt, the smell attracted all mosquitoes to the fire. The people decided that this was an excellent idea so they sent three people to get the plant.

  • Step 2: Gather the most important points in the passage:

Mosquitoes everywhere/whole village infested/issue worrisome/ discussion of the issue/old woman’s suggestion/plant in a bush near Benue River/attracts mosquitoes/three people sent to get the plant.

  • Step 3: Change the notes into two sentences:

During the rainy season, mosquitoes infested the village, creating a worrisome situation that needed to be solved. The villagers accepted the suggestion of an old woman to use a plant near Benue River that could attract all mosquitoes and destroy them.

Teacher question and answer


Question: What happens in a class where about half of the students cannot read or write English well?

Answer: In such a situation, do not ask a student who is not confident about using English to perform all the activities in this unit. Give the students comics written in good English to begin with. They can then start reading stories meant for younger children, moving up gradually to literature appropriate to their level.