The Significance of Teaching Young Adult Literature in the English Foreign Language Class

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2017

17 Pages, Grade: 10,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. How is YAL defined?

3. Advantages and risks of reading and teaching YAL

4. The Significance of Teaching Ethical Values

5. Competences That Can Be Fostered by YAL

6. Examples of How YAL Can Teach Moral Values

7. Conclusion

8. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Tutorizing literature has always been an essential part of the curriculum for language teaching classes and owns a granted position in the language teaching process. In particular for Mittel- and Oberstufe canonical literature used to be the classical material teachers ought to make use of, whereas in the last years Young Adult Literature (YAL) seems to have a chance of taking its place. While YAL has been utilized in primary schools since the early 1990’s, it has made its way into the Mittelstufe toward the end of the 1990’s and has slowly started to appear in the Oberstufe nowadays (cf. Burwitz-Melzer, O’Sullivan 2016:7). Several positive experiences, recommended novels, teaching units and additional material are available by now, whereas there is still a lack of systematic analyses concerning the learning goals and teaching possibilities in different school years (2016:8). In addition, YAL consistently has to deal with its prejudiced reputation as teachers, parents and linguists tend to underestimate the worth and possibilities which underlie non-classical literature.

The following term paper will deal with the significance of teaching ethic values in school and how it can take place simultaneously with foreign language classes. In this case, the English Foreign Language Class (EFLC) will be in our focus. Above all, the main topic will be about how teachers can avail themselves of using YAL in order to teach the foreign language contemporaneous with ethical values. In order to do so, YAL will be defined and its importance for the EFLC will be emphasized. In this regard the chances and possibilities will be presented, furthermore the problems and challenges will be explained. Subsequently, the significance of teaching ethic values will be pointed out in combination with the competences which English teachers are ought to foster. Lastly some examples for teaching ethic values with YAL will be presented with the help of chosen novels which can be utilized in the EFLC.

2. How is YAL defined?

To illustrate its advantages and also challenges firstly the term of Young Adult Literature should be briefly defined and explained. First of all, Janet Alsup delineates YAL simply as novels whose addressees are teenagers and young adults from 12 to 20 years (cf. Alsup, 2010:1) whereas Chris Crowe emphasizes that classics such as Charles Dickens’ Great Expectation are no actual representation for YAL, excludes anything published before 1967 and describes how even university professors cannot agree on what can be defined as YAL and what cannot (cf. Crowe, 1998:120). Slightly critizing the age labelling of books in general, Crowe focuses on defining the term itself and claims YAL as novels of every genre, which have been published after 1967 – as the novel The Outsiders from S. E. Hinton has been published then, which he claims to be an outstanding example of teenage literature – and which are not solely appropriate to be read by teenagers but also made especially for them (1998:121).

Also Sarah K. Herz points out that YAL is often mistaken to consist of teenage romances or horror series although the genre teenage literature has gone through a tremendous enhancement from the early 1970’s on as “…the authors addressed the realities of teenage life and offered readers an honest view of the main characters’ hopes, fears, and dilemmas” (Herz, 1996:8). According to Herz many aspects of adult literature are also present in YAL such as lifelike conversations, a stable opinion, elaborated characters and settings and a proper writing-style (1996:8). Additionally, she lists some characteristics which are typically for teenage literature, for instance being marginally longer than 200 pages (1996:8). Above all, the main character of course has to be a teenager and the plot should deal with topics related to the protagonist and person of his age, the dialogues should be realistic and authentic, therefore teenage slang and informal language should be used (1996:8). A positive effect can be reached if the point of view represents teenagers’ way of thinking and if they are “perceptive, sensitive, intelligent, mature and independent” (1996:8).

To sum it up, one can delineate YAL as novels which are written for teenagers and young adults, concerning their everyday life and dealing with their personal conflicts and topics, while the focus lays on authentic situations. Ideally the protagonist is someone the reader voluntarily identifies himself with and a character one would praise as a role model, but this is not compulsory. The style should be appropriate for teenagers and young adults, therefore a balance between the level of children books and canonical literature should be the goal of a YAL author.

3. Advantages and risks of reading and teaching YAL

Notwithstanding the fact that numerous studies have proven and disclosed the significance of literature teaching and reading in general especially in children’s age, still lots of teachers and also parents tend to ignore its advantages although they could avail themselves from bringing literature closer to their students and children. As Alsup emphasizes, “literature is indeed powerful” (Alsup, 2010:5) and in order to constitute her statement she quotes the author Victor Nell who claimed the impact of reading and how it can influence the reader to change, by way of example exploring new thoughts, questions or feelings (2010:5). Also Roald Dahl, known for his black humor and famous children’s books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, spotted the significance of literature for children and expressed his enthusiasm for motivating kids to read in his following quote: “I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage” (cf. Dahl n.d.). To name another supporter of literature teaching, one can quote Nissen, who underlined the chances involved in teaching literature and the following classroom discourse as he claims that students tend to develop:

Initiative, Konfliktbereitschaft, Kritikfähigkeit, Bereitschaft zur Kooperation [ … ] – und lernen Englisch. Sie tun dies, wenn der ‚Anspruch‘ des Textes, der fachliche Anspruch des Unterrichts, der eigene Sinn-Anspruch und der konkurrierende Anspruch der Mitschüler nicht gegeneinander, sondern ineinander wirken. [ … ] Das Lerngespräch über literarische Texte ‚lehrt‘ nicht einfach gewisse Einsichten, Techniken oder Wissensbestände. Es konfrontiert mit Fiktionen über Wirklichkeit. Es lässt den Lernenden teilhaben am Diskurs jener, die seine ‚Welt‘ darstellen. Es stellt ihn vor und in Rollenkontexte, die die seinen sein könnten. Und wenn als dies fremdsprachlich besetzt werden soll, wird seine Sprachlichkeit an Gewicht gewinnen. Wird sie nicht mehr nur Vehikel sein, sondern auch Hindernis – und Chance. Das wirkliche Produkt des fremdsprachlichen Lerngesprächs ist der in der Fremdsprache aufgebaute und weiterlaufende Text des Gesprächs selbst. (Nissen, 1992:164)

Nissen here did not only depict several positive aspects of teaching literature but also mentioned the fact that that it does not solely impart knowledge, moreover the students are involved and have to react to this by communicating in the foreign language. The aspect of teaching more than exclusively factual knowledge will be elaborated in the following sub items of this term paper.

Hence, one can state that despite the persons still avoiding literature and its advantages, reading in general, literature, and teaching and motivating children to read literary texts have succeeded in getting the regard it deserves. Similarly lots of teachers and linguists begin to realize the chances YAL possess and in consequence, a whole load of new teaching units are based on a novel chosen from the YAL section. To reach the goal Dahl has set to himself should also be an aim for language teachers and in order to do so, it should be obvious that reading canonical literature or factual texts may not be highly successful, whereas novels or short stories written especially for the interest of teenagers and appropriate for their age have much better chances to motivate students to read willingly, even voluntarily in their free-time, when in fact the number of 17-year-olds who read once a week downsized for 10% in the last 15 years (cf. Rövekamp, 2016: n.p.).

Handing teenagers novels and texts which deal with their everyday problems and interests, have authentic settings and storylines which concern them results in students who tend to react more personally and critically, let alone much oftener and animated (cf. Alsup, 2010:7). In addition to this, reading can result in character development, which has the best chances to success if the reader can identify him- or herself with the protagonist, likes the novel and thinks it is authentic and realistic.

By way of contrast, teaching YAL can also contain disadvantages which cannot be ignored as they may have a great impact on the students. Besides the fact that literary classes are highly time-consuming and involve a great workload, reading can result in character development, which is on the one hand a great chance to effect students in a positive way but on the other hand a serious responsibility as well as a high risk because the teacher can influence students solely by choosing a novel which effects students in a way he or she wants them to be effectuated.

Still, the fact that reading and teaching a novel in the EFLC needs a whole load of time cannot be ignored especially in the Oberstufe where still canonical literature such as Shakespeare is obligatory and reading another novel off the subject may cause time pressure and dfficulties in class. In consequence, reading short stories or not doing literature classes at all as long as they are not compulsory may seem attractive to the teachers as well as to the students.

Furthermore, literature classes contain a bigger workload. While grammar or vocabulary classes have been taught for years and consequently loads of patterns are offered so that teachers do not have to create the teaching units on their own, YAL is comparatively new and not many approved teaching models are available (cf. Burwitz-Melzer, O’Sullivan 2016:7). Therefore, individual literature classes which focus on a new YAL novel can be time-consuming as both the teacher and the class have to read the novel, additionally the teacher has to create a teaching unit on his own. Firstly, this contains more work than the classic teaching units that are offered. Secondly, not every teacher may be proficient enough to manage this task although it is required to be so.

Subsequently, experimenting with new novels may lead to the difficulty to miss the mark. While the teacher may find great potential in a YAL novel and interpret it in a certain way, students can misinterpret or come to a completely other conclusion. The choice of the appropriate novel is hard enough, let alone the creation of a whole teaching unit. As Hesse emphasizes, the selection of the right book itself is the first problem as there are so many possibilities and also gender differences and general preferences have to be considered (cf. Hesse 2009: 12-13). To solve the problem of the book choice, Hesse sets some guidelines as selection criteria, such as being aware of the count of unknown words, the coherence and logic of the storyline, the relation students can or cannot build to the characters, its amount of fun or interest, whether there is additional material, the potential for Intercultural Communicative Competences (ICC) or Personal Communicative Competences and if the teacher himself is able to use the novel to create “student-centered tasks […] so that learners are able to use their own knowledge and creativity” (Hesse 2009: 12-13).

At last, Alsup delineates the main and most critic problem of teaching YAL, namely the fact that teachers have the power to effectuate a change of mind solely by choosing a novel that has a certain influence on the class. Alsup emphasized the risks and difficulties of teaching YAL in the following paragraph:

“To what extent is the job of the literature teacher to effect personal change among students? Are English teachers qualified to elicit purposefully the identity change or growth of their students? Is it ethical to teach a book because a teacher believes it will make her students “better”, “more moral”, or “more empathetic” people? If literature can result in such deep, personal change, doesn’t that make it especially dangerous, as many censors already argue?” (Alsup 2010: 4-5)

The following sub-item of this term paper will deal with Alsups questions and delineate that it is indeed the job of a literature teacher to try to effectuate the students in order to become more moral, better and self-confident people. While the risks that teaching YAL may contain should be taken into consideration, it is still clear that literary classes, especially if they deal with young adult novels, are an outstanding possibility to influence young people in a positive way and a chance to motivate them to become passionate readers on their own.


Excerpt out of 17 pages


The Significance of Teaching Young Adult Literature in the English Foreign Language Class
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
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significance, teaching, young, adult, literature, english, foreign, language, class
Quote paper
Talia Baskaya (Author), 2017, The Significance of Teaching Young Adult Literature in the English Foreign Language Class, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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