The Advantages of Teaching Fantasy in the English Foreign Language Classroom. Teaching "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016

22 Pages, Grade: 10,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Background
2.1 Defining the Term “Fantasy”
2.2 Advantages of Teaching Fantasy Literature in the EFLC

3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Analysis and teaching potential

4. The Practical Implementation of Teaching Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the EFLC


Works Cited


1. Introduction

Literature is an omnipresent and important part of the English Foreign Language Classroom (EFLC). Currently, fantasy literature is in the focus as it appears more often in the curriculum next to so-called “high literature” as for example William Shakespeare’s works while teaching a foreign language. Particularly among students, reading fantasy novels has become a motivation to read school literature. Still, on the one hand, there are the ones preaching the usage of novels as Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia or Alice in Wonderland anyway on the other hand, there are the ones persuaded fantasy literature should not be part of the EFLC curriculum.

In the following, I am going to depict the benefits of working with fantasy literature in the EFLC. In the beginning, it is important to define the term “fantasy” as such correctly so you can evaluate its value for teaching English as a foreign language. Based on the definition of fantasy as theoretical background, I am going to present the potential of fantasy literature and why it should be part of the curriculum. While doing so my focus will be on Joanne Kathleen Rowling’s novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for which I am going to delineate an analysis. Secondly, the aspects of the practical implementation will be considered until the final teaching unit will be presented.

The bottom line of this term paper should emphasize the importance of teaching fantasy literature in the EFLC by leaning on the works of noted philologists such as Ulf Abraham and authors as J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling herself. In addition to that, a teaching unit on the basis of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for four double lessons constructed for a sixth grade will be presented. While doing so, I am going to explain the fostered competencies during the teaching unit adapted from the Hessische Bildungsstandards and how fantasy literature can affect the students’ motivation positively.

2. Theoretical Background

2.1 Defining the Term “Fantasy”

Concerning the Oxford English Dictionary “fantasy” as genre is defined as “[a] genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, especially in a setting other than the real world”(Oxford English Dictionary 2016) and also as “[t]he faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things” (Oxford English Dictionary 2016). As J. R.R. Tolkien states in On Fairy Stories the fantasy genre is depicted as literature which is classified as part of the “secondary world” (Tolkien 1938/47: 12) and appears to give the author the chance to be a “sub-creator” (1938/47: 12). Furthermore, the author is granted the possibility to create a second world and its characters. Based on this information, one can assume that the most important aspects of a fantasy text are being fictitious and a product of the author’s imagination, taking place in an imaginary world and involving magical treats.

Johannes Rüster presents in Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch the several subcategories of fantasy, such as “high fantasy” (Rüster 2013: 286), “sword and sorcery” (2013: 287), “dark fantasy” (2013: 288), “urban fantasy” 2013: 289), “social fantasy” (2013: 289) and “science fantasy” (2013: 291). In addition to that, Rüster explains how these are often combined with other genres – in case of the Harry Potter series for example with the British school novel - but also may take place at completely imaginary places yet without other characteristics of fantasy such as magical creatures. Particularly he states based on Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories that the key element of fantasy is experiencing consolation and deliverance (cf. Rüster 2013: 291-292).

Currently it is obvious how fantasy effects our everyday lives. While it has become common to be familiar with names like “Harry Potter” or “Voldemort”, novels such as The Chronicles of Narnia are filmed and remakes of Alice in Wonderland appear to be in the lists of the most-watched movies. Fantasy may contain literature such as novels but also comics, graphic novels, movies or TV series. Its diversity is one of the reasons, why fantasy literature should be used in EFLC and in the following subsection further benefits will be presented.

2.2 Advantages of Teaching Fantasy Literature in the EFLC

For a start, it is important to emphasize the fact that dealing with literature in general is a central aspect of learning a foreign language because it is a possibility to put oneself in different situations solely by reading. According to Wolfgang Ulrich Dressler, the essential feature of language is the fact that one does speak and write not in sentences but in texts. Consequently to this, dealing with texts should also capture a major part of the English class (cf. Dressler 1973: 3). Furthermore, Dressler’s statement concerning the pragmatic text theory disagrees with the Structuralism and Behaviorism which indicate that being able to speak a language solely requires vocabulary knowledge, their declination and pronunciation (cf. ibid.). In contrast to that, Dressler’s pragmatic text theory emphasizes the importance of the context and how it is dependent in which context a certain element of speech is used (cf. Corder 1971: 15). Combined with the fact that “[i]t is impossible in any secondary school to provide direct experience of language used as part of real life in the way the native learner gets his first language; one is defeated by the multiplicity of the contexts required: house, street, garden, sea-shore, woods” (Bright and McGregor 1973: 52) it becomes obvious that possibilities should be created in which the students can learn the foreign language in several contexts. To balance this gap, texts could be used as authentic factual texts are able to inform about the culture and norms of the country of the foreign language which should be learned. In conclusion, the importance of dealing with texts in the EFLC is proved.

In addition to that, literary texts are able to foster the creativity and imagination of the students as well as to facilitate the foreign language learning. According to The linguistic sciences and language teaching “[a] work of literature […] creates its own situation, its own framework of events” (Halliday, McIntosh and Stevens 1973: 46) and consequently the British Contextualism emphasized the importance of literary texts in the sixties (cf. Timm 1998: 169). As stated in Abraham’s Weltwissen erlesen reading makes it possible to imagine being wherever you want to be. Literature is capable to create a limitless place without any borders. Especially fictional texts invite their readers into a spatial, temporal and notional world. Besides, fictional texts have a huge potential to encourage the readers’ imagination (cf. Abraham 2002: 29). In contrast to Harald Gutschow, who claims that “Literary classes are not Language classes” (Gutschow 1979: 130), Stephen Krashen asserts that learning a language primarily starts by reading and refers to Patsy Lightbrown’s experiment which proved that self-contained reading in combination with listening to tapes lead to equal or even better language learning than the classic English classes (cf. Krashen 1993: 23). Abraham justifies his assumption by referring to the emotional connection which the reader develops while enjoying literature. If the reader is able to identify himself with the protagonist, he willingly deals with his story and while doing so, they acquire new knowledge because knowledge acquisition concerning literature happens by connecting new information with the background the reader already had (cf. Abraham 2002: 20). Therefore, one can say that the usage of literary texts in general is obviously an important tool for teaching in the EFLC as it enhances foreign language learning.

In the second place, I would like to draw your attention to the importance of fantasy texts in the EFLC and for this reason I refer to Derrick Smith who indicates that most students – according to a statistics 60% - prefer fantasy novels when they read voluntarily (cf. Smith 2012). Although numerous parents and teachers may not be aware of the benefits this genre can provide, a lot of fantasy authors such as Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs summarize the advantages of fantasy within a short paragraph in The Discworld Companion:

Fantasy is like alcohol – too much is bad for you, a little bit makes the world a better place. Like an exercise bicycle it takes you nowhere, but it just might tone up the muscles that will [take you somewhere]. Daydreaming got us where we are today; early on in our evolution we learned to let our minds wander so well that they started coming back with souvenirs. (Pratchett, Briggs 2000: 10)

Moreover, Tolkien explains that fairy-stories represent Fantasy, Recovery, Escape and Consolation, which are all things children need and should have access to (cf. Tolkien 1938/47:15). Factual texts are not able to offer this. In fact, fairy-stories, fictional texts and fantasy literature which all may overlap sometimes give the opportunity to teach a foreign language as well as further contents such as social and intercultural competencies and while doing so, the students even enjoy the class because they like to deal with the teaching material. In addition to that, the students get introduced to new genres and have the chance to actually being interested into some of them. By teaching new literary genres - in this case for example fantasy - students get a chance to deal with other literature than the factual texts in their school books or so-called “high literature”. As Smith states: “I wasn't even aware that these genres really interested me because I'd only been exposed to one such book in my entire academic experience.” (Smith 2012). Additionally, he criticizes that students are required to read titles such as The Great Gatsby which he names as excellent novels but still emphasizes the fact that they will not be interested in reading if they have to read about stories they will not identify themselves with. (cf. ibid.). As a consequence one can say it is obvious that not only grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation are essential for the foreign language teaching but also reading; particularly actual literature which interest the students and they can identify with. For doing so, fantasy is currently the most valuable genre as there have been published several novels which are literarily excellent, highly recommended by numerous teachers and authors and also liked by a great amount of students.

3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Analysis and teaching potential

One of the most common fantasy novels for teaching English as a foreign language appears to be the Harry Potter series of Joanne Kathleen Rowling. Set in London, it tells the story of the eleven year old Harry Potter who finds out he is a wizard and attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At the end of the school year he is up against his parents’ murderer and dark wizard Lord Voldemort and manages to defeat him.

The plot is told by an omniscient narrator from Harry’s point of view including his thoughts and feelings. The first chapter is a flashback to the point when Voldemort is defeated, Dumbledore finding out about Harry having survived and leaving him to the Dursleys. The following chapters are narrated from Harry’s view. The noticeable themes are friendship, loyalty, bravery, love and individuality. As Harry grows up being unloved and constantly disdained by his aunt, uncle and cousin, he always has the feeling he is guilty for being different than them. At the point he finds out that he is a wizard, he still struggles to fit in the new world as he does not know anything about it. During a scene from the chapter Diagon Alley he meets Draco Malfoy and realizes there are outsiders in the wizard world too and that he might be one of them as he grew up with the so-called “Muggles” (cf. Rowling 1997: 60-61). Throughout the novel Rowling emphasizes how different personalities are valuable for a community by presenting Neville Longbottom as the clumsy and actually coward boy who still manages to stand up for what he believes is right and gets rewarded by Dumbledore in the end (cf. ibid.: 221). Also Harry, Ron and Hermione are characters with individual personalities and character traits but Rowling implies the reader indirectly how worthwhile being different than others may be and one should not be ashamed of that.


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The Advantages of Teaching Fantasy in the English Foreign Language Classroom. Teaching "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone"
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
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advantages, philosopher’s, potter, harry, classroom, language, foreign, english, fantasy, teaching, stone
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Talia Baskaya (Author), 2016, The Advantages of Teaching Fantasy in the English Foreign Language Classroom. Teaching "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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