The Literature in Language Teaching SIG:  The evolving role of literature in the language classroom

Tara McIlroy and Simon Bibby

The Literature in Language Teaching SIG: 

The evolving role of literature in the language classroom


The purpose of our SIG is to encourage and promote the use of literature in language classrooms. Created in 2011, members of our group work with traditional literature, such as short stories and novels, as well as poetry, film and creative writing. As we learn more from reading and teaching with literature we would like to welcome new members to the SIG, new authors for our publication, and innovative ways for literature teachers to approach literary texts with curiously and creativity.

Why Literature for the Language Classroom?

Literature teaching in language-based instruction continues to be a thriving area of research around the world (Hall, 2015, Paran, 2008).  This is the second time for us to write about the SIG (see Bibby & McIlroy, 2013) since its creation. The SIG does not seek to determine or delimit what ‘literature’ is (or indeed is not), duly noting Hall’s (2015) systematic attempts to pin down this very item. In discussing and the sharing of teachers’ ideas about literature, we take a wide, inclusive view. Writers and presenters for the SIG have explained their uses of varying genres and text types, including TV series, short stories, sonnets, poems, novellas, and full-length novels. Further, we are not limited to only the English language classroom (be it EFL or ESL), and have hosted recent talks and articles on Spanish literature in Spanish language classes, for example. There are three reasons and motivations that we have identified why teachers may choose to use literature in their classes. To briefly summarize, there is the language model, focusing on well-chosen examples of the target language being used; the cultural model, whereby texts are considered as representative artifacts; and the personal growth model, where literature is used as a tool for improv (see Carter & Long, 1991 for a detailed discussion). In reality, this framework has evolved since its creation, yet remains a robust starting point for those aiming to begin using literature in their language teaching classrooms.

Events, Publishing, and Sponsoring

Our main SIG activities are organising events, publishing a journal and newsletter, and co-sponsoring speakers. The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching (JLiLT) started up in early 2012. JLiLT officers noted the supply-driven nature of organisations such as JALT, where members need opportunities for presentation and publication, with the latter counting more heavily for career advancement. We decided to start up a new journal to provide members with the chance to publish quality papers, and did so with a rigorous double-blind review process in place. The journal can be found on our website:

In addition to participating in Pan-SIG and JALT International, the SIG has hosted collaborative events on the topic of literature. We have co-sponsored international guests, working with the C-Group and teacher-trainers Pilgrims, based in the UK. We have worked to host events with several chapters, and welcome interest from any JALT chapters who may want a literature-themed event in 2019. As ever, the synergies are there between chapters and SIGs - chapters have a venue and members, while SIGs can provide content, and we have many speakers who can team up and provide that content!

Final Thoughts, and Looking to the Future

Within the last five years, we note increased research into the emotional ‘transportation’ that occurs when reading. We are interested in the notion that close reading involves imagining the thoughts of others (Stockwell & Mahlberg, 2015) and that reading develops empathy (Bal & Veltkamp, 2013). We expect that the role of literature language teaching will continue to evolve in the digital era, partly due to the changing types of texts, moving away from the strictly linear. The changing role of research in this regard may impact on how we use literature, how we determine what literature ‘is’, and how we evaluate literature use within language teaching.

Finally, we thank all those who have helped us so far, as officers and as members, and all those who have written and published with us, and have been part of our bookish JLiLT journey thus far. Drop us a line at <>

—Tara McIlroy and Simon Bibby


Bibby, S. & McIlroy, T. (2013). Literature in Language Teaching: What, why and how. The Language Teacher 37 (5), 19-21.

Bal, P.M. & Veltkamp, M. (2013). How does fiction reading influence empathy? An experimental investigation on the role of emotional transportation, PLoS ONE, 8(1) p.1-12. Accessed from

Carter, R., & Long, M. (1991). Teaching literature. Harlow, UK: Longman.

Hall, G. (2015). Literature in language education (2nd ed.). London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Paran, A. (2008) The role of literature in instructed foreign language learning and teaching : An evidence-based survey. Language Teaching, 41 (4) p. 465-496. Accessed from

Stockwell, P. & Mahlberg, M. (2015). Mind-modelling with corpus stylistics in David Copperfield,  Language and Literature, 24: 129-147. Accessed from