Tools for forming relationships with storytelling

A discovery in the woods the short story by Graham Greene is on our Introduction to English literature course reading list.

I enjoyed the piece – it’s a fantasy-like story of children taking on a secret journey away from their own little village by the sea to discover something in the woods. Graham Greene is said to be “one of the masters of modern English fiction”.

I found this short story a bit dreamlike. I interpreted it being about children of a mystical future finding the old world (from now?). Is it Greene’s way of warning the world about the risk of destruction? There could be different interpretations but I read a review where the interpretation of the short story went as far as saying “it brings home the potential consequences of the Cold War more powerfully than anything else I have read on the subject”.

Graham Greene, born in 1904,  according to his publisher worked as a journalist and critic, became literary editor of the Spectator and wrote novels, collections of short stories, travel books, plays, autobiographies, books for children, essays, film and book reviews. That is why we are to familiarize ourselves with his work on the literary course.

The learning objective of the English introduction to literature course reads as follows:

Upon completion the student should be able to:

  • display general knowledge of broad periods in the history of English-language literature, and specific understanding of representative authors and texts
  • understand and articulate the differences between several major interpretative approaches to literature
  • offer personal readings of individual literary texts based on close reading and textual evidence

This course will offer students a broad overview of English literary history by presenting and analyzing a range of literary texts from different periods and nations. The course will thus combine elements of literary historical survey with the techniques of close reading and literary interpretation. The course will also introduce basic elements of literary theory.

To be able to say we have a specific understanding of representative authors and texts in broad periods in the history of English-language literature, we have read several short stories during the course. I wonder a bit why we haven’t been assigned novels? Maybe it isn’t necessary for the basic studies course? Short stories can be “representative” enough to just get an understanding of the representative texts for the period and nations we are studying?

Next up for me on the reading list is Carson McCullers short story The Sojourner. In our next weekend workshop coming up on Friday, we will be using literary analysis techniques on Greene’s and McCullers’ short stories as we meet.

After the workshop days coming up, (our last for this course) we all have the literary term paper to write, a literary analysis of 1200 words. There’s some work to do there because I haven’t yet picked the short story that I’m going to analyze.

For me, this gives valuable tools for teaching literature and helping people, young or old, to “form relationships with books”, like Veteran Homeschool Mom says in her tips for teaching literature (Image below from Pinterest). As humans, we are all storytellers by nature and books are treasures we should teach our children to embrace. Let’s work to keep the storytelling tradition alive.

EDIT: Excellent Inspiring Video: TEACHING HIGH SCHOOL LITERATURE on 7sistersihh

Passion for reading

In the weekend we have contact studies. I know there’s pair and group-work coming up in grammar and academic communication and the second versions of our academic essay’s were due this week too, as we had them peer-reviewed. Peer review – that’s an excellent practice and you learn a lot both by reviewing and being reviewed. (It works well with tasks in working life too.)

Nobel prize winning literature

The fun part during this study period was reading Naipaul’s short story The thing without a name.  Reading papers on linguistics was a more laborious task, I didn’t quite manage to go through all of the required papers yet, so I’ll have a few to go before summer vacation. The short story we were assigned to read took me on a trip to Trinidad. The trip wasn’t merely a pleasurable one, but a realistic dive into the, sometimes, difficult circumstances of characters living in the slums in the 1950’s.

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, received the Nobel Prize in Literature  in 2001 “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.” (Goodreads). Apparently “V.S.” studied English at the university,  in the 1950’s in Oxford, England before he became successful in writing prose.

The short story

In The thing without a name Naipaul portrays the world through the eyes of a young boy (?) living on Miguel street.

“The sawdust no longer sounded with hammering and sawing. The sawdust no longer smelled fresh, and became black, almost like dirt. Popo began drinking a lot, and I didn’t like him when he was drunk. He smelled of rum, and he used to cry and then grow angry and want to beat up everybody. That made him an accepted member of the gang. Hat said, “We was wrong about Popo. He is a man, like any of we”.

I felt a certain pity for some characters in the story, but in a strange way, I could also relate to them. The vernacular language the characters “spoke” brought them closer, made them feel more real. There is drinking, domestic abuse, criminality, marital problems and life struggle in general. The story also seems also to capture a Trinidadian masculinity model. A model, where displaying dominance through violence is required to be seen as a real man.

Finding the passion for reading… again

Literature is one way of learning about the life and struggles of other people, learning empathy. I generally think people should read more; myself included. I used to be passionate about reading when I was younger, but nowadays there’s just too much digital noise around… Or maybe I’m just busy or lazy, I don’t know. Maybe it was the passion that lead me back to philology studies to make more time for reading? Anyhow, I think the right kind of literature helps us understand other people, but it can also help us understand ourselves better. I want to inspire my own kids and others to read more, even if it’s hard sometimes.

Reading this particular story left me wondering if there was any hope for the characters. Maybe I shall read the piece again to see how it makes me feel, reading it for the second time?

Sit back, catch up and hold on

I pulled through a weekend of intensive English philology contact studies. Sorry for the messy post, but I just had to write off this feeling of accomplishment. (Yay!) Our lectures started at five PM on Friday and carried on on Saturday, for the whole day. Friday evening is not the most energetic time of the week for me, I have to admit. We were supposed to pick up phrasal verbs in our grammar studies as well as hang on until after 8 PM to deliver the speech we prepared. Can’t really say we could sit back much.

As you maybe noticed, I tried using some phrasal verbs above. They’re not easy for non-native speakers! We waded through a whole bunch of practise sentences. The group quickly agreed that if you need to use phrasal verbs in writing, it’s best to check their exact meaning, as especially the fully idiomatic phrasal verbs can be tricky. I didn’t do that for the ones above, so you’re welcome to comment, if they are totally rubbish from a native speaker point of view! Non-idiomatic and semi-idiomatic phrasal verbs can be tricky as well, but less so than the idiomatic ones. It surely requires getting to know the idiomatic expressions well before the phrasal verbs come naturally for me in everyday conversations. I’m only happy that academic writing and our essays shouldn’t contain phrasal verbs anyway, it takes off some of the pressure of learning loads of new expressions in  a short time. (For example during this course).

After 8PM yesterday I was already a bit tired, at the time it was my turn to deliver my academic speech. The speech I prepared about B.F. Skinner on “Behaviourism and operant conditioning in education today”. I wasn’t as focused as I had hoped I would be, but I think it went okay anyway. Interesting figures were presented in all speeches and I have learned to like speeches more. I used to hate giving speeches, because it made me so nervous. Now I think it’s a good skill to have, but I still don’t like giving speeches unprepared. I like to be prepared.

After a good nights sleep and letting waving my family goodbye off to spend a Saturday full of winter fun at a fell an hour and a half’s drive away from here as I went back to the classroom like the rest of the study group. I tried not to think of the sun shining outside and the white snow reflecting the light, giving energy to those doing outdoors activities. I tried to think about the motives I have for taking this course and sitting inside on a beautiful Saturday. And I love to be on this course! Not just because I hope it will help me accomplish my goals. But also because I enjoy sitting and chatting with a fellow student about the short story (May Day) we were assigned and our interpretations, speculating about whether we were right or not.


But today, a Saturday in the end of March 2017, we weren’t just hanging around chatting and speculating around a novel. There was more grammar, academic communication and literature.

I continue to be amazed by language and it’s many different aspects.

And English philology is not just “English” to me anymore. It’s studying the methods for researching language from different points of view, learning and teaching and categorising. I used to have that relationship to Swedish during my studies, yes, but now I’m getting a hang of it again.

I realised we’ve now reached the point where we have sat through more than half of the contact lectures, but there’s still a lot of work ahead on this basic studies course (25 ECTS). I’m getting to a point where I’m thinking I now understand how little I know about this amazing subject. But I hope that’s a good sign!


I have developed a love for foreign language studies already as a kid, when writing letters to pen pals in faraway-countries. On our holiday to Catalonia a few weeks back, both my kids (9 and 11) went to have tennis lessons with a teacher who only spoke English. I ‘m glad, that especially my daughter, who just started learning English at school could get that kind of experience. I hope it taught her, that even with the little vocabulary that she now knows, she IS capable of communicating in a foreign language. I think she figured out that she doesn’t have to “stand by” and wait for a green light, (like the one in my picture taken in Catalonia) to allow her to use the few words that she knows. You start somewhere, and the most important thing in learning a language is to make good use of every little bit you know. That’s the philosophy I would like to spread as a (hopefully) future English language teacher.

EDIT: You can try learning phrasal verbs from videos. Here’s one example teaching phrasal verbs using BRING: English teaching videos



Speeches, essays, grammar and literature all go together

As adult students in the open university course, we don’t have contact studies that often. In the weekend we met on Friday evening and for the whole of Saturday.

On Friday evening we rushed through a 31 page Intonation course, – using printouts describing to us, how intonation affects the meaning of sentences or words. As a Finn, it’s not always easy to make a distinction between falling and rising tones and how they affect the meaning of a word, question or sentence. It takes some learning to understand where you can go wrong and what you can teach your future students to pay attention to.

Literature is also a topic of our studies. It’s interesting to study world classics and study the language, the symbolism and style, but it’s also amazing how literature can help us understand history and what life was like in another place, at another time. This month we learnt about modernism and read a couple of example novels, The Stranger by Kathrine Mansfield and Counterparts by James Joyce. Although I studied philology and literature before, I find it refreshing to go through some of the common academic techniques for analysing literature, like considering the setting, the narration and the language fabric. After we had discussed and analysed the novels we had read, I actually find I like the novels more. It’s after the discussions that I notice new aspects, symbolism, the complex characters and the many other pieces of the literary puzzle.

Before the meeting in the weekend we had all been writing academic essays on topics given to us and got our first peer-reviews before the workshop. At the workshops we started preparing for academic speeches on those same essay topics. We practised a 5 minute talk in groups, in fact the talks were about “Academic Talks”. Now the next task will be to make an outline for our own academic speeches before the next workshop, where we will be required to give 5 -minute speeches again, on our own this time. I’m a bit nervous thinking about that. I now know a lot about my topic, so filling 5 minutes won’t be hard. The difficulty lies in selecting the key points and keeping the time.

I’m mentally getting ready for creating the first outline for the speech, so I can practise before our next meeting.  I also have homework related to “Phrasal verbs“,  our topic in English Grammar. I’m really looking forward to learning new phrases. Then again working with topics like “the syntactic elements of structure of the verbal group” feels more tedious.

As I’m planning to be away on holiday next week, I have to work harder this week, to make up for the hours I’ll be leaving the books behind.

That’s mainly “what’s up” with my studies right now.

EDIT: I also had a pronunciation homework. Just read it aloud and uploaded it to Optima.