"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone". Teaching Literature in the English Classroom

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

34 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

1 Why do we have to teach literature?
1.1 Tasks of literature: Cultural Enrichment, Language Enrichment, Personal
1.2 Involvement
1.3 Teaching fiction in school
1.4 Criteria for text selection

2 The phenomenon „Harry Potter“
2.1 Task proposals to teach „Harry Potter“

3 Reading activities
3.1 Pre-reading activities
3.2 While-reading activities
3.3 Post-reading activities

4 Conclusion about teaching Harry Potter

5 Bibliography
5.1 Book sources
5.2 Internet sources

1 Why do we have to teach literature?

First of all we have to ask ourselves this question to understand the sense of teaching literature in foreign-language classes. As „the study of certain classic pieces of English literature is considered a sine qua non for the truly educated person“(Carter, Long 1991: 1), it is clear, that it should be part of education.

„The reasons for teaching literature necessarily transcend the particular circumstances, places and contexts, in which literature is taught. Three main reasons for the teaching of literature have been consistently advanced. Each embraces a particular set of learning objectives for the student of literature. These are: The cultural model1

The language model2

The personal growth model3 “(Carter, Long 1991: 2)

These three models are not mutually exclusive and therefore should be seen only as tendencies, although they „represent distinct models which are embraced by teachers as reasons or purposes for the teaching of literature and they are related to specific pedagogic practices“(Carter, Long 1991: 2). It is to emphasize that these models are only necessarily abstractions and therefore overlap in reality, e.g. the language and personal growth models.

It is important to mention, that one has to distinguish between the study of literature and the use of literature as a resource.

The first „involves reading literature within an academic, institutionalised setting for purposes of obtaining qualifications in literary studies. It involves a considerable baggage of critical concepts, literary conventions and metalanguage and the requirement is often that students should show an ability to use such terms and concepts in talking and writing about literature. (...) Using literature as a resource suggests a less academic though no less serious approach to the reading of literature. (...) Literature can be a special resource for personal development and growth, an aim being to encourage greater sensitivity and self-awareness and greater understanding of the world around us. “ (Carter, Long 1991: 3) In this term paper the use of literature as a resource is in the foreground because as we will deal with the use of literature in the English classroom, there should be the personal pupils’ development and growth more important than literary terms. This does not mean that we completely exclude the study of literature from teaching it, but it takes up less attention because pupils should know some basic literary terminology to be able to speak and think about and to handle with it, but not to know every single literary term by heart only by definition. That would not be the way, in which pupils would take pleasure in reading literature. Having pleasure in reading literature is only one of the goals of teaching it. Another one is the specific cultural knowledge, which the pupils must get to know by reading literature of the foreign language „(,) da fremdsprachige literarische Texte anhand von anschaulich geschilderten fiktionalen Einzelschicksalen lebensweltliche menschliche Erfahrungen evozieren und aufgrund ihrer ’Erfahrungshaltigkeit’ fremde Lebensweisen, Werte, Normen und Weltsichten vermitteln, erschließt die Beschäftigung mit ihnen den Schülern und Schülerinnen eine andere Kultur“ (Bach, Timm 2003: 150 f.).

„(...) Literature offers a bountiful and extremely varied body of written material which is ’important’ in the sense that it says something about fundamental human issues, and which is enduring rather than ephemeral. (...) (Furthermore) literature is ’authentic’ material. By that we simply mean that most works of literature are not fashioned for the specific purpose of teaching a language. “(Collie, Slater 1987: 3) Although the last mentioned point seems not to speak for teaching literature, it could be the most important point. At first, pupils will deal in real life more likely with those ’authentic’ texts than with texts specially written for teaching English. Moreover it is more useful to support the feeling for literature than to deal with artificial texts. Nünning and Surkamp report in their essay Text – Literatur – Kultur: Handlungs- und produktionsorientierter Literaturunterricht und Fremdverstehen (Bach, Timm 2003: 150) that ’authentic’ literary texts demand more intensive reactions and opinions than most of the artificial texts, which are especially made for the use in school. Those texts are used to introduce new vocabulary and structures and therefore is their content less meaning carrying than the one of real literature. That is the reason why pupils have the problem that they do not feel personally appealed and that they cannot commit their own experiences to the texts in the school books.

Collie and Slater (1987: 4) mention, that there are more reasons why we have to teach literature: „In reading literary texts, students have also to cope with language intended for native speakers and thus they gain additional familiarity with many different linguistic uses, forms and conventions of the written mode: with irony, exposition, argument, narration and so on.“

Under these circumstances it is sad that literature used to be considered as dispensable in the English classroom. Not before the ’modern’ times of teaching set in, literature got more and more importance. This can especially be put down to the changed attitudes towards the status of literary texts and the formation of new learning goals like empathy4, change of the own viewing point5 and the understanding of the foreign6, which are achieved through the treatment of literature. Literary texts are free interpretable because of their poetic vagueness and therefore they challenge the reader to contribute to the construction of sense. Furthermore they activate the reader’s understanding of life and encourage to communicate about it (Bach, Timm 2003: 149 f.):

„Verstehen und Interpretieren ist nicht ein Ablesen der Bedeutungen, sondern beruht auf einer Interaktion, in der der Sinn der Texte erst entsteht. Beim Verstehen und Interpretieren ist somit der Schüler selbst als tätiges, denkendes und fühlendes Subjekt angesprochen.“ (Bredella 1987: 237)

As reading is what we do, when we deal with literary texts, it involves us in „sharing in the world the writer has created. This occurs as a result of the imaginative leaps we make in order to fit the created world with the world we know. [Furthermore reading involves us in] relating the experience of the text to experiences we ourselves have undergone or can imagine ourselves undergoing. This occurs as a result of an active shuttling back and forth between the ’fictional’ world and the ’real’ world. [The reader has to] interpret what the texts might mean. The literary representation of experience is not a direct one; it is frequently indirect. This forces the reader to make connections, to read between the lines, to seek for explanations and meanings. In literary texts such meanings are stated directly“. (Carter, Long 1991: 16)

1.1 Tasks of literature: Cultural Enrichment, Language Enrichment, Personal

1.2 Involvement

Reading and talking about literature can fulfil many tasks and has therefore certain opportunities in comparison to unrealistic speaking reasons. Collie and Slater (1987: 4-6) categorize these tasks in cultural enrichment, language enrichment and personal involvement.

Some learners of the foreign language will probably never stay long in or at least visit the country where the language is spoken. That is why the teacher has to adopt more indirect routes to this form of understanding so that the pupils gain an understanding of the way of life of the country, e.g. radio programmes, films, newspapers and significantly the literary works. Although the ’world’ in novels, short stories and plays are created, they offer nevertheless a full and vivid context in which characters from many social backgrounds can be depicted. This offers the possibility for the readers to discover their thoughts, feelings, customs, possessions. Although it is an imagined world, the reader can get a feel for the codes and preoccupations that structure a real society. (Collie, Slater 1987: 4)

As „literature is perhaps best seen as complement to other materials used to increase the foreign learner’s insight into the country whose language is being learnt“(Collie, Slater 1987: 4), it has to be part of teaching English to support the cultural understanding.

As „language enrichment is one benefit often sought through literature“, one can not doubt that extensive reading increases a learner’s receptive vocabulary and facilities transfer to a more active form of knowledge, although it is controversial whether literature gives learners the kind of vocabulary they really need (Collie, Slater 1987: 4). This means that the language of literary works is not typical of the language of daily life. It is an advantage that literature provides a rich context in which individual lexical or syntactical items are made more memorable. (Collie, Slater 1987: 4-5)

Furthermore „literature can be helpful in the language learning process because of the personal involvement it fosters in readers“(Collie, Slater 1987: 5). It can happen that a learner begins to ’inhabit’ the text, he or she reads, and is drawn into the book. A process starts: „Pinpointing what individual words or phrases may mean becomes less important than pursuing the development of the story. The reader is eager to find out what happens as events unfold; he or she feels close to certain characters and shares their emotional responses. The language becomes ’transparent’.“ (Collie, Slater 1987: 5)

As it is often the case in teaching there are debates about the quantity and with it also about the quality of literature what and how a student has to learn in the English lessons. The question is, if it is better „to have a syllabus in which a broad range of texts is studied or one in which students develop the capacity for reading a more limited number of texts in depth “ (Carter, Long 1991: 4).

„A decision such as whether to adopt an essentially in-breadth or in-depth approach influences both syllabus design and broader curricular objectives. “ (Carter, Long 1991: 5)

A teacher has to consider language difficulty because „access is restricted if students cannot attain a basic level of comprehension and (...) it is better to choose for teaching literary texts which are not too far beyond the students’ normal reading comprehension“. The students need more importantly access on an experiential level, which means, that „students need to be able to identify and identify with the experiences, thoughts and situations which are depicted in the text“(Carter, Long 1991: 5). „They need to be able to discover the kind of pleasure and enjoyment which comes from making the text their own, and interpreting it in relation to their own knowledge of themselves and of the world they inhabit. “ (Carter, Long 1991: 5)

1.3 Teaching fiction in school

Fiction is „literature made up of imaginary events and characters, as novels, short stories, plays etc.: also, such works collectively“(Marckwardt 2004: 262). One can find a more precise definition in the Penguin book of literary terms and criticism:

„A vague and general term for an imaginative work, usually in prose. At any rate, it does not normally cover poetry and drama though both are a form of fiction in that they are moulded and contrived – or feigned. Fiction is now used in general of the novel, the short story, the novella and related genres. “(p. 320)

Nick Bentley reports in his essay on Developing the Canon: Teaching Contemporary British Fiction about the current situation of British Fiction:

“Contemporary British fiction is an area of literary studies that has been developing steadily over the last twenty years or so and most universities now run courses covering the period. And yet it is an area that has its own peculiarities and issues. The very nature of the contemporary means that the range of authors and texts being taught is more fluid than more established areas of literary study and the potential list is continually being added to.“ (Barfield 2007: 27)

It is obvious that not only the genre fiction becomes more and more important, but also British literature itself- the mixture of both is interesting. Although, as Bentley already stated, this field is not very established, especially because it is so modern. Furthermore, it is a still open area, which means that the development will continue. Bentley proposes a canon of contemporary British fiction (Barfield 2007: 35 f.), which does not include J.K. Rowling at all, but more than half the writers are female. He states: „It is a particular characteristic of contemporary fiction that the gender balance could be said to be more or less even, a fact that probably could not be said of the canonical lists of any other literary period or genre (with the possible exception of the Victorian period.“ (Barfield 2007: 37)


1 „Teachers working within such an orientation stress the value of literature in encapsulating the accumulated wisdom, the best that has been thought and felt within a culture. Literature expresses the most significant ideas and sentiments of human beings and teaching literature represents a means by which students can be put in touch with a range of expression (...) over an historical period or periods. Teaching literature within a cultural model enables students to understand and appreciate cultures and ideologies different from their own in time and space (...).“ (Carter, Long 1991: 2) „(It) is normally associated with a more teacher-centred, transmissive pedagogic mode which focuses on the text as a product about which students learn to acquire information.“ (Carter, Long 1991: 8)

2 „It is sometimes argued that a justification for the teaching of literature is its value in promoting language development. (...) Literature can be an instrument for use in connection with the teaching of specific vocabulary or structures or for language manipulation. (...) One of the main reasons for a teacher’s orientation towards a language model for teaching literature is (...) to put students in touch with some of the more subtle and varied creative uses of language. (...) A main impulse of language-centred literature teaching is to help students find ways into a text in a methodical way and for themselves.“ (Carter, Long 1991: 2) „(It) is normally associated with language-based approaches. These aims to be learner-centred and activity-based and to proceed with particular attention to the way language is used. The importance of interpreting relations between linguistic forms and literary meanings and of learning to read between rather than in the lines of the text is paramount.“ (Carter, Long 1991: 8)

3 „One of the main goals (...) is to try to help students to achieve an engagement with the reading of literary texts. This engagement cannot really be measured in terms of passing examinations in literature; the test of the teacher’s success in teaching literature is the extent to which students carry with them beyond the classroom an enjoyment and love for literature which is renewed as they continue to engage with literature throughout their lives. What the teacher will have imparted in such cases is a lasting pleasure in reading and a deep satisfaction in a continuing growth of understanding. (...) To encourage personal growth the teacher has to stimulate and enliven students in the literature class by selecting texts to which students can respond and in which they can participate imaginatively, by promoting the kind of conditions for learning in the classroom which will make the reading of literature a memorable, individual and collective experience and , above all, by enthusiasm for and commitment to the teaching of literature as literature.“ (Carter, Long 1991: 3) „(It) is (...) more student-centred, the overall aim being to motivate the student to read by relating the themes and topics depicted in a literary text to his or her own personal experience. The approach is mainly anti-analytic and does not equate easily with information-based, product-centred teaching.“ (Carter, Long 1991: 8)

4 „The identification of oneself with another and the resulting capacity to feel or experience sensations, emotions, or thoughts similar to those being experienced by the other. [Greek. en- in + pathos feeling]“ (Marckwardt 2004: 232)

5 Bach and Timm (2003: 151) report: „Aufgrund des fiktionalen Privilegs der potenziell unbegrenzten Bewusstseinsdarstellung erhalten die Schüler darüber hinaus Einblcik in das, was in den Köpfen anderer Menschen bzw. Figuren vor sich geht, d. h. sie erfahren , was andere denken und fühlen und wie sie die Welt erleben. Diese bei der Lektüre intuitiv vollzogenen Perspektivenwechsel erweitern nicht nur den Wahrnehmungs- und Verstehenshorizont der Lernenden, sondern fordern sie bisweilen auch zum Umdenken heraus.“

6 Regarding this point Bach and Timm (2003: 151) report: „Gerade fremdsprachige Literatur bietet Lernenden somit die Möglichkeit, die Andersartigkeit fremder Wirklichkeitsmodelle kennen zu lernen, sich auf fremde Sichtweisen einzulassen und (...) auch über die notwendige Begrenztheit der eigenen Weltsicht zu reflektieren. Im Vergleich zu Sachtexten, die auf eine eher rationale Annäherung an das Fremde abzielen, liegt das Potenzial literarischer Texte dabei darin, dass sie durch die exemplarische Schilderung konkreter Einzelschicksale das Fremde emotional erfahrbar und nachvollziehbar machen. Daher kann die Auseinandersetzung mit literarischen Texten entscheidend zur Ausbildung von Fantasie und zur Erweiterung von Handlungsmöglichkeiten beitragen. Da sie auch in besonderer Weise die Entwicklung eines Sinns für alternative Lebensentwürfe, die Bereitschaft zu Toleranz sowie die Fähigkeit zu Empathie und Perspektivenwechsel und damit das Verstehen von Menschen aus anderen Kulturkreisen fördert, können die Schülerinnen und Schüler auf selbstständiges Handeln in der außerschulischen Lebenswelt vorbereitet werden.“

Excerpt out of 34 pages


"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone". Teaching Literature in the English Classroom
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald  (Anglistik/ Amerikanistik)
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ISBN (Book)
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Harry, Potter, Philosopher, Stone, Literature, English, Classroom, School, teaching, didactics
Quote paper
Jeannette Nedoma (Author)Rebecca Elisabeth Meyer (Author), 2007, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone". Teaching Literature in the English Classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/111218


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