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English lessons dealing with pieces of literature often have the following structure: A few pupils read out loud chosen abstracts, sometimes interrupted by the teacher to correct the pronunciation or to explain certain expressions (e.g. metaphors, unusual words, etc.). Afterwards, there is normally only little time left to clarify some questions and then the teacher tells his students to read the next chapter and to learn some of the vocabulary. Some of the lessons are dedicated to a characterization of one of the protagonists of the play or an interpretation of a central scene. This kind of teaching follows the text very closely, leaves only little space for creativity and is most often not able to activate students’ interest in literary texts, but there are other ways of teaching literature that are more innovative and more likely to catch students’ attention rather than undermining it. Scholars of teaching methodology widely agree on the general benefit of using literary texts because they provide cultural enrichment, authenticity, mental and rhetorical training and controversial non-trivial texts, but there is a lot of debate on which methods are most suited to activate this potential.
This paper deals with some innovative approaches to teaching literature. It will provide a broad outlook on different models of reading processes and cultural implications of teaching literature, as well as some examples of innovative approaches to literature, but at first, the question ‘what is literature?’ has to be answered.