An investigation into using Homer's Odyssey as a culturally familiar literary text to teach English as a foreign language in a Cypriot secondary school

  • Elina Stylianou

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


There has been an increasing interest among TESOL teachers in the use of literary text in language learning. Existing research highlights that it enhances students’ language skills and educational potential. It is important to use culturally familiar literary text because it can make the use of literature more accessible to foreign language learners. However, there are limited empirical studies on using culturally familiar literature in an EFL secondary school setting. This case study explores students’ engagement with Homer’s Odyssey as a culturally familiar literary text in their learning of English as a foreign language, in a Cypriot secondary school context. These students have been familiar with the Odyssey from a very young age and as part of their Ancient Greek lessons in the previous school year. As a teacher-researcher, I designed and delivered an intervention of nine sessions to three classes of twenty Year 2 students. Reader-response theory was used as a framework to explore students’ reactions to the literary text.

My approach is new, as to the best of my knowledge, this is the first study which uses a reader-response approach for investigating students’ engagement with a culturally familiar literary text in EFL teaching. This study also provides a new context, secondary school setting; most of the previous empirical studies have been undertaken in university settings and have focused on reading comprehension. The present study focuses on students’ voices, through exploring their perceptions and their responses to the literary text. The data on students’ engagement was generated from students’ focus groups and structured conversations, observation schedules and teacher interviews. Students’ responses to the text were also examined, through formative and summative assessments. Their spoken competency was explored as
part of students’ structured conversations.

This research makes an original contribution to knowledge, because it fills the
noticeable gap in the literature in relation to the empirical investigation of a literary text, through an intervention, in an EFL secondary school setting. The findings revealed students’ positive engagement, through their active involvement in the sessions and their enjoyment of the classes. They also revealed that the Cypriot students were able to demonstrate their higher order thinking skills. Students’ emotional engagement with the text made them enrich their vocabulary and engage in writing and speaking tasks.
Cultural familiarity provides appropriate scaffolding for teachers to use literary text in EFL teaching and culturally familiar literary text can enhance language teaching when used as an additional material to EFL curriculum. A reader-response approach provides a valuable opportunity to actively involve students in the learning process and provide holistic learning. When students experience efferent reading, through being familiar with the plot of a literary text, they can also experience aesthetic reading, as they can be encouraged to immerse themselves in the story and develop their language skills. This teaching approach can serve as a guideline for teachers who would like to use a culturally familiar literary text in their teaching and for curriculum enhancement purposes.
Date of Award9 Sep 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorEmma Salter (Main Supervisor) & Muriel Harris (Co-Supervisor)

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