Using Current Fiction In Class

longway_cover.jpgI recently stumbled across a blog post of a teacher in Germany who used Nick Hornby’s “A Long Way Down” as part of an EFL class. A link to the class blog is also provided so you can peruse the different assignments and students’ work. Perhaps along the lines of high school English assignments, there are short essays about the main characters and topics like “Do children “owe” their parents anything?” (based on a quote and scenario from the book), as well as practice translating register in style (e.g. “whuz up?”)

I found this interesting not only because I started and had no chance to finish this particular book during a recent trip, but also because I would love to incorporate current fiction in a class. I generally find that either the class format doesn’t accommodate the use of a novel or the students just aren’t up to the level. A challenge can be good, but if students are struggling to understand the words, the appeal fades quickly and reading turns into more of a chore than an enjoyable and beneficial task.

I thought there were several things that helped make the activity a success in this case:

  • The students picked the book (though possibly under general teacher supervision, or from a selection of possibilities?). Especially for high school aged students, this is probably a great move even just on a psychological level. And obviously they are likely to pick a novel at least somewhat interesting to them.
  • The level of the book seems appropriate to the English ability of the students, judging from their writing. Reading a novel in a foreign language is no small task at all, and the importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated.
  • Access to a computer lab was possible, and they used a blog to organize the work and assignments. These factors facilitate each person working at his or her own pace, to some extent at least, and also allow the work to be easily shared, which I think can be quite motivating.

I’m curious to hear if other teachers have incorporated other current or classic novels into their EFL classes. Also, I’d be tempted to choose books I’ve enjoyed, but realize there are probably downsides to that, so I’m also curious to hear how (or if) people chose the books they used.