Essay on Teaching Detective Stories to ESL Students

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Reading exercises are unanimously believed to be one of most important tasks required in ESL classes. It enhances the vocabulary power of the students as well as improves the ability to write and enhances general language competence. Teaching literature to ESL students has been a topic of debate over the last decade. Some believe that even though there is a hazard of introducing literature to second language English students, it helps in expansion of the linguistic knowledge of the students. Most importantly, it helps to bridge the cultural gap present between non-English speaking students and the English speaking culture. However, using literary works for classroom teaching for ESL students may be disadvantageous as some of the topics discussed in such books/stories are controversial and students may feel uncomfortable discussing them in the classroom (Obeidat 37).

According to Ghosn (172), the increased awareness of inclusion of literature in the curriculum of ESL students has shown that the inclusion of traditional texts into the curriculum leads to the argument that the syllabus should be heavily drawn on the authentic stories that provides motivational insights and facilitates learning the language which are essentially important for L2 learning. It is believed that literature fosters development of the students' intercultural ability and hence, helps increase acceptance of the cultural discourses through language. Thus, it helps in nurturing the empathy as well as cultivating the intellectual ability of the students (Ghosn 172).

Many scholars have forwarded arguments against teaching of literature to ESL students. The argument against the use of literature mostly rests on the complex structure of the texts (Traore and Kyei-Blankson 561). Most commonly critics believe such literature is difficult to understand. There are other disadvantages of the use of English literary works. Some topics and concepts utilized may be controversial and/or students may feel uneasy and hostile to discuss them (Obeidat 37). Hence, it has been acknowledged that educators have to be careful when using literary works, as they have to take into account the diversity of their classes (Vandrick 253). Hence, literature, it is believed, does not serve the purpose of teaching grammar and English usage as is desired through ESL classes (Traore and Kyei-Blankson 561).



The study will focus on the use of detective stories of the twentieth century such as short stories by Conan Doyle in ESL classes. The research will try to understand the effectiveness of using detective stories as a curriculum in the ESL classes. The present paper will evaluate the use of these texts that will be applicable in various levels and groups. My working argument of this research can be formulated as follows: Detective stories of the 20th and 21st centuries can develop English language skills of ESL students. Detective stories reveal universal and cultural themes that are interesting to ESL students. Therefore, they can be conceptualized easily by the learners to help improve their language skills and competence. Through the use of detective stories, ESL students are directly exposed to the culture of the language in which they are written, by describing good and bad characters of the people involved. In this way, they learn how language is applied in everyday communication.

The research employs qualitative research methodology to garner support for the argument presented. The first part of the paper will demonstrate the literature review of literary works that will show the background on the work done on this area and the effectiveness of the use of literature and more specifically detective stories in ESL curriculum. The research will employ grounded theory that uses data collection will be employed to identify major features of the literary texts that should be used in language classes with intermediate and upper-intermediate ESL students. The paper poses special attention to the benefits (and disadvantages if any) of the use of detective stories (written by renowned writers in the twentieth century) in ESL classes.

Apart from the literature review, the paper will present a clear understanding of the effectiveness of using detective stories in TESOL training classes in which I participated at the CELTA Centre in New York City. As a part of their training program, all participants have to take up mandatory teaching session and try to understand how ESL students adapt to reading and comprehending detective stories and if it facilities in their learning experience. As part of the program, the participants are required to teach a class of 12 to 13 students. I introduced the students to a set of texts written by Arthur Conan Doyle and assigned it to several groups of ESL learners. When the project terminated, the students were asked to complete questionnaires where they reflected on the use of literary works. The questionnaires were prepared based on grounded theory that helps to motivate student's thinking and analyse students' perceptions, evaluations, and concerns.

This research paper is divided into three sections. The first is the literature review that will help us to understand the state and nature of previous scholarly works on the effectiveness of the use of literature in ESL class and then try to ascertain scholar's view on the use of detective stories in ESL classes. The next section will draw the methodology for the research paper based on which the analysis will be done in the third section.

Literature Review

According to researchers, language acquisition is a process of gradual acclimatization with the process of building vocabulary gathered through communication and reading and ability to use the language (Li 56). Li points out that inculcating the habit of cognitive understanding of the language is important in order to facilitate successful learning:

"... it is exactly these same conditions that foster the acquisition of a second language. The teacher is responsible for providing the understandable language (comprehensible input), along with whatever supports are necessary in order for the students to understand the message. Using approaches and materials that add content to the language such as props, gestures, and pictures, all contribute to the students' acquisition and eventual verbal production of language" (56).

According to Li, teaching ESL students requires using of approaches that facilitate the acquisition of language skills and competencies. It includes the use of different materials and tools to support the learning process. Teachers can use creative methods, including use of stories in literature to contribute to the learning process and allow students to acquire better proficiency in the use of a particular language. Li's observations imply that ESL teachers have a whole range of tools that they can apply in teaching ESL students. They are not limited in the scope of tools and methods they should use to make students understand the concepts of a given language.

The teacher's role in the acquisition of language skills and competencies is important in ESL education. It caused by the fact that the teacher can influence the understanding of the message by using tools and principles not applied in the culture of the learners. The context in which norms and practices are applied must also be considered to enhance the process of learning. The content of the material used also have an impact on the way the learner attains the literary and linguistic tools used in the second language. In the process of linguistic and cultural socialization of ESL students to new linguistic and cultural environment, it is important to consider their different linguistic needs.

It could include provision of relevant learning materials and literature that enhance acquisition of language skills and competencies, while allowing students to feel free in their new cultural environment. The diversity of learning environment means that they not only learn about the linguistic rules but also language use and its appropriate application in different linguistic and cultural settings.

The use of detective stories to teach ESL learners may be hindered by systemic barriers, which can affect the ability of learners to understand the context and language used in such stories. For instance, learning settings that assume a universal culture of the ESL students can disenfranchise them given their unique language needs and capacities. Also, the instructional practices adapted by the teacher and the policies for teaching ESL learners can hinder the linguistic and cultural acquisition of competencies and skills necessary to achieve proficiency in a second language. Using detective stories to teach second language should, thus, be void of the teacher biasness in terms of ethnicity, race, class and even disability that may impact the way learners view the content of a given material.

As argued by Pugach & Seidl, "Deficit world views that disenfranchise diverse students and their capabilities and knowledge have created barriers to success for some students and have often led to inappropriate referral to special education" (10). It is, therefore, easier for an ESL teacher to assume that certain cultural themes contained in a particular text must be familiar to the learners and, therefore, not interfere with the process of learning. Where the learners have difficulties with understanding or situating the content of the material within a specific cultural setting, teachers should not assume disability but otherwise identify ways through which they can help learners understand the basic content of the text.

Recent research has shown that various methods of creating interactive conceptualizations while reading a story in the classroom that can enhance the grammatical learning of a language (Ripley and Blair 209). The intent to teach literature in class is to make the students aware of the text and narration structure. The process of reading and conceptualizing a story is a mutual interaction of ideas between the reader and the text (Harris 203).

Recent study has shown that the background of the reader has a strong influence on the comprehension of a text by the reader. In other words, prior knowledge present in the mind of the reader, created through previous discourses, helps them to understand the text based on the schemata present in their mind (Mihara 52).

2.1 Literature for Teaching English

The use of literature entails discussion and reflection on various topics revealed in the texts. Literature used for teaching ESL students and more specifically teaching English has been discussed widely in the scholarly literature. The advantages and disadvantages of using literature as delineated in the literature are discussed in the following paragraphs. Literature is believed to be essential in teaching English to an ESL class because of four reasons: authentic material, enhancement of cultural knowledge, language improvement, and personal association (His?manog?lu 54).

2.1.1 Authentic source

According to Lazer (5), literature has been used in language learning for centuries and there is one major reason for that: literature is the domain where all linguistic rules are employed to reveal the meaning. Through literary expressions, learners of a second language can experience the meanings of syntax and lexicons that are used in particular language. Most literary writings follow standard linguistic rules of the language, in which they are written. Hence, using the literary writing to teach second language exposes the learner to the rules and requirements applied in a given language. Thus, it promotes the acquisition of skills and competence required to understand and use a particular language. Clearly, when reading a text, students come across various grammar and lexical units that have been taught. Moreover, the use of literary works enhances students' knowledge and language skills and it is one of the most effective tools in ESL teaching (Ernst-Slavit, Moore and Maloney 118). Students have an opportunity to explore ways in which specific rules are employed by writers. Furthermore, reading literary texts expands students' vocabulary and enables them to develop linguistic confidence (Arthur 199). Again, when discussing texts (and/or trying to solve the case) students employ lexical as well as grammar units and can practice speaking skills as well. Notably, the use of literary texts may help develop reading, speaking, as well as writing skills. It is necessary to note that intermediate and upper-intermediate students are able to work with universal texts (Grellet 97). Hence, educators have to choose authentic but manageable texts to work with.

As literature is an authentic mode of input of the language, it provides information to the reader that may be both personal and relevant to him (Ghosn 173). Authenticity is essential in teaching English and is extensively envisaged in drama and novels (Khatib, Rezaei and Derakhshan 202). His?manog?lu points out, "in a classroom context, learners are exposed to actual language samples of real life/ real life like settings. Literature can act as a beneficial complement to such materials, particularly when the first "survival" level has been passed" (54).

2.1.2 Cultural Knowledge

Literature is the vehicle for teaching cultural diversity and creates intercultural awareness among students (Van 3). In a global world when people of other culture are learning English, it is important to gain a cultural insight into the life of the English-speaking world. Literature provides the window through which students can look into the life of other people. It allows the scope for enhancing verbal ad non-verbal communication norms and facilitate in understanding communication style in English speaking countries: "This colorful created world can quickly help the foreign learner to feel for the codes and preoccupations that shape a real society through visual literacy of semiotics" (His?manog?lu 54). In semiotics, learners are exposed to symbols and signs used in communication and the interpretation of such signs and symbols in different contexts. The use of semiotics can be found in different stories, such as detectives that help the learner receive further meaning in the contextual setup where learning takes place.

2.1.3 Language improvement

Literature is a source of spoken and written language and hence provides a potpourri of the various types of formal and cultural subject matter that defines the language. Hence, reading literature would allow the students to grasp the content, context, and syntax of the language. Literature is believed to hold a wide range of syntactic knowledge that helps the readers to grasp a better understanding of the language: "syntactic knowledge and vocabulary enrichment can be accelerated through literary texts. In other words, literature involves a profound range of vocabulary, dialogues and prose" (Khatib et al. 202). Literature also provides a good understanding of the language, which helps the students to write well. Reading a story helps the students grasp the idea of how the language should be written and enables them to "write the end of a story in their own words or narrate a story from the point of view of another character in a short story, novella, or novel" (Khatib et al. 203).

2.1.4 Personal Association

Reading allows the readers to associate themselves with the text of the story and hence, creates a connection between the reader and the text. The students are drawn into the text when they read it and hence, the understanding of the lexical items and phrases of the texts helps in understanding the story. The involvement that develops between the reader and the text can create a "beneficial effects upon the whole language learning process" (His?manog?lu 55). Moreover, learners of a second language are able to decipher the cultural context in which the language developed and appreciate the use of lexicons and other items of the language. They are also able to relate the cultural themes of the language they are learning with the native cultures and identify areas where differences exist. Such realization is essential in the ultimate mastery of the new language. It is caused by the fact that language develops within a culture and it is a tool through which non-speakers of the language can appreciate the cultural aspects of the language environment. Such endeavour can be realized when the reader is exposed to different literary writings and texts, such as detective stories that represent the cultural practices of the native speakers of the language. The entire process of learning is, therefore, not only a way of making the student speak and understand a new language but also compare the cultural formulations within which the language develops. The learning process also gives the students an opportunity to draw similarities and distinctions between their language and the new language and, therefore, improve their conceptualization and application language skills and competencies.

2.2 Why Detective Stories?

Though the advantages of using literature for teaching English to ESL students are strong, there are other relevant questions raised by critics who feel that teaching literature confuses the students who are just learning English as a second language. One of the problems raised by the critics in difficult syntax of literary works may confuse ESL students: "It is argued that literary texts are loaded with complex structures sometimes miles away from Standard English ... this complexity itself can become a source for practice especially for the learners at the intermediate and the above levels" (Khatib et al. 204). Other issues are related to the lexical understanding, grasping the literal and the integral meaning of the text, etc. For isntance, teaching James Joyce'sUlyssesmay become a daunting task to ESL students as the text is infused with innumerable stream of sconsciousness that is garbed under the mask of simplistic language. Hence, the students who simply understands the language will not be able to grasp the integral meanign of the text. Hence, it is unanimously agreed that literature is the right medium to teach language to ESL students but what type of literature can be a relevant question. As some literary works are critical and infused with language tropes and literary concepts that are difficult for intermediary and advancced ESL students to grasp, it is essential to learn the language that helps in understanding the language and not become confused with it. Hence, a simple text is required that would provide all the essential ingredients of literature and also remain comparatively simpler to understand.

Language use is possible within the cultural context from which it originates. Teaching ESL learners must, therefore, inculcate the cultural sensitivity as a means of impressing upon the learners to value the understanding of the culture, in which the language is used, while also appreciating their old cultures (Li 66). The difficult aspect of teaching second language in the perspective of the language culture is that ESL classrooms always comprise of learners from different cultures around the world. Thus, a successful integration of a new culture and cultural themes can lead to a richer understanding of the second language. It can also help appreciate the cultural experiences that the learners face in their classrooms.

It is also easier for teachers of ESL, who show sensitivities to the unique cultures of their students, to relate with the learners more easily. Therefore, it promotes the process of the content delivery in the material being used for teaching. The students are in a better condition to appreciate the context, in which the second language has evolved. It can occur to the level where it is possible to integrate the learning process with the content of the literature they are using to learn. While is it important for teachers of ESL to embrace cultural inclusivity in their teaching methods, it is important to address the issue of cultural strangeness that can lead to normal perception of culture. Dei et al. have observed that acknowledging diversity in ESL classrooms is important but at the same time,

...teachers should not be regarded as 'speaking for' or representing their entire cultural or ethnic group, nor should they be on call to 'perform' as part of the school's multicultural offerings. Rather, these teachers bring alternative ways of knowing that can provide greater points of access for students in developing broader worldviews (264).

From the literature review, it is evident that literature is believed to be one of the best ways to acquaint second language English learners in ESL classes with the language. However, critics believe that the structure, syntax, lexicon, literary ideas are at times too complicated for an intermediate level ESL student to grasp. Keeping this in mind, it must be understood that some form of literature is required that would deliver the advantages of teaching literature in class while keeping the disadvantages aside.

While Obeidat (37) argues for use of universal themes in teaching ESL learners, other authors (Gee, 1996; Heath, 1983; Rowsell & Rajaratnam, 2005) have argued for a different approach. Obeidat (37) notes that some of the topics may seem controversial for some students. Thus, teachers should use texts with universal themes that focus more on a universal culture as opposed to the culture in which the language developed. According to Rowsell & Rajaratnam (67), it is not practical, since the ESL classes are always composed of learners from different social and cultural backgrounds. In any case, it is difficult to choose a cultural theme as universal given that what is accepted in one culture may not be acceptable in another one.

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Moreover, it is possible for students of ESL to be versed with the so-called universal themes because they become exposed to the material for the first time. The teacher is, thus, mandated to choose the texts that he/she considers as containing universal themes, while the same may not be considered as such by another teacher. Rowsell & Rajaratnam (68) also argue that since the class for ESL is diversified, a teacher may not be acquainted with the cultural backgrounds of each student in the class. Thus, he/she may not have sufficient material to address the cultural needs of each student. The solution to such problem is to use the cultural themes of the language and use them as instruments of passing the message to the learners (Gee 16). Considering universal texts, detective stories can be a good option. They often concentrate on particular crimes and pay little attention to social, economic and political issues, though such concepts can also be included in a detective story (Dalmau, Fern?ndez & Bobkina 221).

In order to situate an ESL class into the cultural context in which the texts, namely detectives, are developed, it is essential to recognize that speech and cognition of language is influenced by the cultural practice and social interaction. Literacy, discourse and language are also results of the social and cultural practices embraced by the community that uses a certain language (Grant 380). To this end, the practice of learning and literary acquisition should be embedded in different discourses that promote a way of knowing, talking, doing, reading and writing in a second language. The elements are all constructed and reproduced in cultural and social practices and interactions between the users of the language.

Different research findings by Cazden, 1988; Gee, 1999, and Gumperz, 1992) revealed that teacher-learner interactions, in an ESL language, are shaped by the interaction and instruction discourses applied in the class. Consequently, there should be a conscious approach to knowledge and skills that the learners might have about the culture, in which the language is developed. It will help in understanding of the cultural themes that the teacher wishes to use to teach the class. InLiteracies across educational contextsby Rowsell and Rajaratnam (25), the authors have observed that essential analysis of different life moments when two cultures collided, revealing the important role that culture plays in language learning and acquisition. Similar views are expressed by Gregory (15) who observes that social contexts play a great role in the way the learner of a second language receives the rules of a given language.

For instance, the author argues that children are most affected in the event of learning a socially and culturally outlined language, since they do not have the capacity to decipher the cultural assumptions espoused in the text. In other words, children have a limited sense of culture. Therefore, they may not differentiate between their native culture and the culture in which the language developed. An illustration given by Gregory to emphasize such point is the use of the word mammalade, which may be well-understood by a child born in the United Kingdom, since it is a culturally distinguished term (Gregory 15). The same may be problematic for a child of the same age born in the UK but whose first language is not English. Such child will not have material reference for the term and, therefore, it will be inexplicable for the child when used in the text.

The subtleties and complexities contained in the cultural identification process and literacy acquisition are usual for the texts and stories that employ cultural practices. However, as argued by Gregory, most ESL teachers find it, "easily implicit to assume that emergent bilinguals share our own understanding of "reading" and will find school methods and materials meaningful. It occurs even if their families may have learned to read well in the environment different from their own (Gregory 16).

As a result, the assessment of language use is not only characterized by a simple test of vocabularies and the levels of understanding by the learner. Rather, the process is entangled with assumptions founded in the culture, which may present some problems to the learner. It should not be viewed as a development of a new culture as Obeidat (37) has argued in his assessment. It, however, forces the teacher of ESL class to consider the emergent bilinguals that can hinder the process of language learning and which require the use of strategies and approaches to overcome such challenge. In such case the interesting stories that, although still contain the shortcomings of literary material in terms of helping the students to learn, can be used by the learner.

The resultant interaction between the learner and the teacher, on the one side, and learner and the material, on the other side, cannot be neutral. It means that one side influences the other one to a particular extent. It is, therefore, important for teachers of ESL to appreciate the assumptions, values and set of customs in which the language developed but also pay attention to the tools used to pass the message to the learner (Rowsell & Rajaratnam 14). Consequently, models of teaching ESL students, such as the two-way partnership between students and their parents, can be useful in transmitting elements of culture, traditions and language that may not be possible with teachers of ESL. In current model, language is an important resource that facilitates the learning process as students learn from each other through speaking. It is opposed to the reductionist model where it is argued that learners in ESL class should be entrenched in the culture of the host. In other words, the reductionist model advocates for assimilation, which can be described as a universal culture with universal themes developed specifically for a given language (Dong 280).

Anyway, such approach may cause numerous challenges as it is not practical. For example, it is not possible to develop a universal theme for English language because it has its own cultural themes on which it is based. The way an ESL learner understands the environment from which the language originates is important in diversifying the themes that can be used in the process of teaching. The teacher of ESL needs not only to understand the learners but also realize how to approach the whole process of teaching them (Peregoy 56). Most ESL teachers are now coming from a second language background. Such aspect is emphasized in the fact that language, especially English language, is still growing and new words are being assimilated into it. As such, the teaching of ESL learners should be informed by the continued sensitivity on how culture has evolved and the cultural themes have changed to reflect the new use of particular lexicons or words in the language.

As noted by Lincoln (27), it is difficult to separate culture from ESL class. In such classes, cultural awareness dominates the process of teaching ESL learners even if it is done unconsciously. Therefore, diversifying the themes used to teach ESL learners makes students come to the class and encourages them to understand the concepts that the teacher is trying to pass to them. It is an indication that language and culture are interlinked and thereby mobilize and operationalize the process of teaching using different materials. The nexus of the language use is considered within the context of culture in which it originates. Teaching ESL learners in a cultural context can be challenging especially due to the fact that teachers may contribute to the disenfranchisement and marginalization of culture and linguistic diversity. As a result, the best approach is to modify the instructional practices to cater for the diversified linguistic needs of the students. It is done through the use of stories like detectives with the potential of delivering a unified message to the learners (Pena 276).

The interpretation of the stories is narrowed to the themes expressed through literary tools used in the story. The authors of such stories are also inescapable teachers of that particular language. They must, thus, use explicit language that allows the passing of the content and themes as expected by the learner (Mohan 76). In a situation where the teacher is not sure of the methods to facilitate the content to the class, it is important to have specialized approach to teaching second language using ESL materials specifically designed for such purpose. The increased collaboration of teachers and specialists in ESL teaching creates a good environment for effective teaching of a second language. Teachers are also required to liaise with the experts in the areas they are teaching to strengthen their capacity to teach different cultural themes that meet the language needs of the learners in a particular cultural setup.

As noted by Barona (13) a good understanding of the cultural backgrounds of students and their linguistic capabilities contribute to the use of detective stories in ESL classes. The teacher should use stories that are connected to the lives and culture of the language to increase their motivation to learn and ability to recall different themes in the story. The principle of intentional language used in detective stories replaces the talking by the teacher. It, therefore, ensures that learners can understand the content of the story, while also grasping the syntax, lexicons and other literary forms used in the story (Genesee and Crago 66). Any tools are used to teach cultural themes should contribute to vocabulary building and consistent language use by the learners. Where the language development does not meet the expectations of the teacher, it is important that modifications are done to ensure that the objectives of teaching are met.

Modifications can be done in the sense of culturally inclusive and culturally responsive classes that emphasis the awareness of the second language, while also connecting the learners to their cultural values and norms. An important aspect to consider is the cultural norms and values of the teachers, which should not be transferred into the process of teaching second language students. Teachers should also avoid biasness in their approach to second language teaching, which has the potential to impact the instructional process negatively. It can occur irrespective of the content in the material being used, such as the detective stories (Paradis 177).

Where the teacher is biased, the possibility of distorting or even interfering with the acquisition of language skills and competencies is high. It is also argued that teachers should not overlook the unique history of their students by assuming the homogeneity of the culture of their students. Consequently, Fowler & Hooper (13), argue that several ESL teaching setups are "designed to support students who have English as their first language." Training on cultural sensitivity through in-service opportunities or teacher preparation programs enables teachers of ESL to acquire skills to support multilingual and multicultural learning settings where different cultural themes are embraced. Teachers can appreciate the diversity of culture in their classes through encouraging use of first language at homes, while also accessing it in their classes to connect the knowledge and skills of students with the second language (Case 128). They can also focus on the strengths of the learner as opposed to their weakness in learning a second language, using expert tools to provide insight on culture, language and diversity. In addition, teachers can promote usage of cultural themes by being aware of their cultural practices, norms and values in order not to involve them into teaching sessions.

While teacher preparations are required in every form of stories used in ESL classes, detective stories provide possibility for ESL students to explore the various literary forms used by the writers of such stories. The tests are also diversified in terms of the themes which range from good to bad. Thus, their usage helps ensure that learners are not only appreciating the linguistic and literary forms used in the stories but are also able to note the cultural setting in which the language is used (Geva and Schuster 140). The focus of the stories is mainly concentrated on the social and cultural aspects that dominate the interaction of the people in the society to which the language is applied.

Detective stories, therefore, allow the learner to focus on the understanding of the second language concepts, while enhancing the cultural responsiveness of the story. They are also positioned in the sense that they allow learners in ESL class to embrace cultural diversity detached from their norms, values and native cultural practices (Derderian-Aghajanian and Cong 15). The preparation that is done before the beginning of the process of writing detective stories also takes into consideration the linguistic and cultural diversity of the readers of such stories. Thus, they create possibility to align the content with the particular language needs of the reader. Detective stories can contribute to building of capacity and skills of the learner in the class and beyond. Learners are able to connect with each other and share the resources and knowledge that they have acquired in class. They are prepared to increase their capacity to grasp the content of the stories, while also appreciating their linguistic needs within the community they live (Mahrous and Ahmed 291).

The use of detective stories in ESL class can also be attributed to a number of factors. The first is that educators and teachers of ESL students may not be appreciative of the unique language needs of their learners as a means of identifying and assessing the needs for a second language. Detective stories also help avoid the cultural and linguistic biases within the setting where the learning is taking place as it can lead to a disproportionate number of second language learners acquiring the skills and language competencies in their class (Palmer and Chang 242). Detective stories also eliminate the inconsistency in the interpretation of the learning process where some learners may have learning deficiencies. Moreover, they help avoid learning strategies and styles that are reflective of the educational values and norms, some of which are not appropriate for the cultural practices of the new learning environment. The result is reduced discrepancy in the placement and referral of ESL learners in favour of the native speakers of the language being taught.

Teaching ESL classes using detective stories should be grounded on the particular cultural values, which, in most cases, are not congruent with the learning environment (Mahrous & Ahmed 291). Most learners in the ESL classes experience intercultural and intergenerational gap while learning a second language. In some cases, the learners may have different views on what it means to be literate in a second language. It, therefore, affects the way they receive the stories used to teach. It will also go down to the themes that are evident in the stories used for teaching in ESL classes. In some classes dominated by students from cultures as Chinese, they already have a philosophical approach to reading of classic literature, while others like the Canadians are more predisposed to picture books (Li 62).

Such differences must also be considered when choosing the medium of learning. In fact, in many cases detective stories have always emerged as a combination of the various cultural philosophies. The socio-cultural perspective adapted in the study by Grant (4) defines literacy in terms of learners becoming literate in the context of their cultures and communities. According to the author, "cultural background is an essential aspect of personal identity that interacts with the education one receives in a certain society, because values advocated in the Canadian education system may not be consistent with Chinese cultural and educational values" (Grant 4).

Moreover, the role of communities and families in literacy development is important towards the understanding of the themes and literary tools used in the texts. Within the context of a communal or family living, second language learners first learn from their parents before they are exposed to the teaching environment (Dong 34). The parents and community members may not be proficient or articulate in terms of the skills and knowledge required in the second language. However, the way they transmit their cultural philosophies on certain stories, culture and learning can influence the eventual perception that the learners adapt when they finally encounter new material in the class.

It is also important to consider the differences that the learners may have in terms of English speaking countries and non-English speakers. The differences are evident in the relationship between student and the teacher, implicit and explicit learning, as well as learning styles. Due to such differences, some ESL students may require more facts to conceptualize the themes in reflecting their unique concept of literary acquisition. Furthermore, some ESL learners may be accustomed to instructor-centered settings in their cultural background and when they come to an environment that is student-student, teacher-student or student-centered, they are not as quick in adapting to the new systems of learning as expected (Rowsell & Rajaratnam 45).

In addition, some ESL learners may bring with them a philosophical perspective about learning, which may hinder the way they receive the themes they are taught in an ESL class. For example, the Chinese ESL learners who are influenced by the Chinese saying that "Master 300 Tang (Tang Dynasty) poems, and you become a poet yourself," may engage in implicit learning rather than the explicit learning from other cultures where such saying is nonexistent (Gumperz 15).

Using detective stories can help the learners acquire language skills and competencies in the second language. As a result, it is important to pay attention to the differences that exist between the capacities of the learner to process and understand the information they are exposed to (Gregory 21). ESL teachers are influential in questions regarding usage of different literary materials to guide and direct the process of learning. Students are also expected to have their initiative in the class as a means of perception of the material content they are using to learn. Most of the cases of failure for second language students are caused by the mismatch of the learner's primary discourse in their native countries and the discourse of the country from where the language originates.

The discourse differences are evident in the literary beliefs, interactional patterns and the language use. Learners who come from non-mainstream culture are required to learn a new set of conventions when speaking about usage of language and linguistic tools to communicate (Gee 45). Many research findings show that it is challenging to the learners in ESL classes. It is resulted by the fact that the literary practices, themes and the approach are different from what they are used to in their native cultural backgrounds.

The use of detective stories can enhance the process of second language learning by empowering both the teacher and the students to understand the linguistic tools used in the story. However, it is important that the teacher puts consideration to the possible conceptual misunderstanding or ignorance that may occur as a result of the clash between the native culture and the culture from which the language originates (Gee 67). Detective stories have cultural themes that must be placed within the context of the culture where the story is set. It means that the culture of the second language origin will have advantage over the native culture of the learner.


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Furthermore, as Obeidat (37) argued for the concept of universal themes being used to teach learners in the ESL classes, it is not practical to develop what he calls a universal theme. He explains it by the fact that ESL classes are diversified in terms of cultural backgrounds and language needs. Having universal themes will be based on the assumption that the students have the same cultural backgrounds, similar predisposition to a given second language and the same language needs. Even in a setup where such conditions are satisfactory, the teachers must apply unique approaches free from their biasness in terms of values, norms and cultural practice, as well as the bias of the learners towards their native culture. Otherwise, allowing such elements to guide the direction undertaken in teaching an ESL class will coincide with the results of observation by Grant and Wong. According to their observation, "the mainstream literacy professionals have often failed to accept their role of helping language-minority learners develop skills in English reading" (p. 392).

The research questions therefore that arise out of the literature review are:

1. Do detective stories have simpler language and grammatical structure, which makes it easier to understand for the ESL students?

2. Are the socio-political impacts on the student's psyche considerably reduced in case of detective stories as they concentrate more on the crime and less on the social, economic, or political issues?


3.1 Research Objective

The research objective of the paper is to understand the effectiveness of using detective stories over and above literary short stories in teaching intermediate ESL class, as it is believed that the former has a greater chance of being comprehended easily. Hence, for ESL students to deal more effectively with the detective story, which implies they can easily read, comprehend, and evaluate the stories. Thus, a comparative analysis is required to ascertain the effectiveness of teaching detective stories. Thus, the research paper considers two type of reading material to be evaluated:

  1. Literary short story by O'Henry - 'The Gift of the Magi'
  2. Detective short story by Arthur Conan Doyle - 'The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton'.

In order to understand the level of comprehension of the students for each type of text, they will be given a questionnaire, which will evaluate their understanding of the text based on the following parameters:

  1. Locating the core meaning of the text
  2. Identifying the main idea or the supporting detail of the text
  3. Determining the sequence of the text
  4. Making inferences
  5. Distinguishing from the facts presented in the text from the authors suppositions and opinions
  6. Evaluating the content of the text

It should be noted that all the students would face these similar questions covering these parameters in order to understand the effectiveness of the text on the understanding of the students. The questionnaire that was sent to the participants was short and consisted of only seven questions. They were not asked to indicate their names or age. A simple demographic question ascertaining their race was requested. The questionnaire had the following questions:

  1. What according to you is the main plot of the story?
  2. Are there words in the story that you did not understand? What are they?
  3. Who are the main characters and how their relations evolve?
  4. Are the natures of the characters easily understandable?
  5. Did you find the story interesting? Why?
  6. Was the story difficult to understand? If yes, why?
  7. Was the language of the story easy to grasp? Which areas of the story you had difficulty to understand?

3.2 Research Design

This essay will focus on the use of detective stories of the twentieth century, short stories by Conan Doyle in ESL classes. The present paper will evaluate the use of these texts that will be applicable in all groups of level. The research design will aim to understand the effectiveness of detective stories of the 20th and 21st centuries in developing the English language skills of ESL students. The primary hypothesis of the paper is that detective stories of twentieth and twenty-first century are effective in teaching English to ESL student vis-?-vis other short stories or non-fiction texts. To support this argument the research paper uses qualitative research method. The literature review on the use of literary works will be implemented. Grounded theory that uses data collection will be employed to identify major features of the literary texts that should be used in language classes with intermediate and upper-intermediate ESL students. Special attention will be paid to benefits (and disadvantages if any) of the use of detective stories (written by renowned writers in the twentieth century) in ESL classes.

As part of the research design, I attended the TESOL training program acknowledged by CELTA Centre in New York City and as a part of their practice I was assigned to teach a class of 12 to 13 students.

A number of texts by Conan Doyle will be utilized in several groups of ESL learners. When the project terminates, the students will complete questionnaires where they will reflect on the use of literary works. The questionnaires will be considered with the help of grounded theory that will help to motivate student's thinking and analyse students' perceptions, evaluations, and concerns.

3.3 Method

Four groups (each consisting of three students) participated in the reading project. All students were from the intermediate level of the ESL class. Each group was assigned to read one of the four listed genres of text. The aim was to understand if they were able to comprehend each similarly or there was difference in the degree of comprehension of each text.

The reading project was implemented within a month. Two groups were given a short detective story, 'The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton' by Conan Doyle. The other two groups read 'The Gift of the Magi' by O'Henry. The participants were intermediate and upper-intermediate students. The students were allotted time to read the stories and then they wee given an hour to discuss the stories within the group. Then questionnaires were sent to the students by email such that they would answer them in a relaxed atmosphere. The questionnaires were sent along with a consent form. The answers to the questionnaire were evaluated qualitatively trying to understand the effectiveness of the comprehension of the stories. More attention was paid to the evaluation of experiences and answers of students who have read the same texts.


The total number of participants in the research was 12, three in each of the four groups. The main demographic segregation of the group is presented in table 1.

Table 1: Demographic division of participants based on race

Number of Students


African American









Asian/Pacific Islander





These students were grouped into four groups based on random drawing of names and each group was given one of the two stories as a reading assignment. Then they were allowed to discuss the stories amongst themselves. After this, a questionnaire was sent to the twelve of the participants by email and was asked to answer them when at home, alone. This allowed the participants to answer the questionnaire without any direct influence from one another.

The questionnaire had open-ended questions suited for qualitative research. Group 1 and group 2 were assigned the story by Conan Doyle while group 3 and 4 were assigned the story by O'Henry.

The comparison of the answers of the first two groups shows that these two groups were comfortable in understanding the meaning of the story. The main plot of the story was easily understood with five out of six answering that the story was aimed to mark the return of Sherlock Holmes (the main protagonist). The main plot of the story by Conan Doyle is clear to the participants as almost all of them said that the plot was regarding the blackmailing of the rich lady, Lady Eva Blackwell who hired Holmes to investigate and stop the affair. The rest of the story seems clear to the participants as they mentioned that the plot is regarding the blackmailing. However, the story 'Gift of the Magi' remained less clear to the students as they were not sure if the story was about the poverty and love in the life of Jim and Della or it was about the gift that showed the strength of their love. The plot according to the participants remained varied and most of the students identified the plot to be love in face of adversity and importance of giving gift during Christmas.

While answering the second question, more participants felt they failed to understand words from group 3 and 4. Most of the participants in the third and fourth group did not understand words like "meretricious", "truant", "mendicancy", "fob", "coveted", and "depreciate" from the story "The Gift of the Magi". Some other phrases that they were unable to understand were "flung to the breeze", "prudence and reason", etc. Some references to myths and classics like, the Queen of Sheba, was unclear to the participants. While the first two groups encountered fewer words that were not clear to them like "piteous", "swagger", etc.

In the questions related to the characters and their relation, the first two groups were very clear about the main characters as Sherlock Holmes, Watson, Lady Blackwell, and Milverton. While the third and fourth groups were able to understand the main characters as Della and Jim. However, the non-Christian participants were unable to understand the reference of the story to the Magi.

When asked if they found the story interesting, the participants assigned the detective story unanimously said that they liked reading the story as the plot was gripping and they were eager to know how the story ends. However, not all participants assigned the story by O'Henry felt that they liked reading it. This shows that the detective story is more acceptable to the people from varied culture as the main bases of the stories are the plot and not the cultural discourse. However, O'Henry's story is based on love, family, adversity, and Christian beliefs which was difficult to understand for students from non-Christian, African, or eastern cultures.

Most of the participants believed that the detective story was not difficult to read and comprehend while the participants reading O'Henry's story felt that the story was not critical but the way the plot was presented was a bit difficult to understand. Clearly, the problem that they faced was with the language, syntax, and the structure of the story. While a detective story, which is usually, a clear narrative description of events, with little literary tropes employed to embellish the text, was easier to comprehend.


The research findings supports the hypothesis presented in the paper i.e. detective stories are easier to comprehend by intermediate level ESL students. Detective stories follow a simpler narration structure with little attention given to literary style and concepts. They do not usually use literary concepts like multiple narration, stream of consciousness, etc. Instead, the narration structure is simple, chronological, with direct dialogues. The author, thus, does not narrate the drama evolving in the mind of the protagonists keeping the descriptions strictly to the physical movements and conversations. On the other hand, in a literary short story, the comparative literary tropes used and the exemplification of the mind of the characters creates a dual space, which readers who are unfamiliar with the language find difficult to understand. Students may encounter difficult words in either of the stories but it is more likely that they will face difficult and unknown references in literary short stories, which are not evidently understood from the text. If similar references are presented in detective stories, the authors of such stories usually present an explanation for the reference within the text, thus making it easier for the readers to understand. For instance, the reference to Queen of Sheba or Magi from the Bible is not explained in the text of "The Gift of the Magi". They remain as implicit references that the author assumes that the readers will understand. The participants found no such implicit references in the text of the detective story by Conan Doyle. The research findings clearly demonstrate that the detective story was more clearly understood by the participants and both the groups assigned the detective story easily comprehended the story. However, the groups to which the short story was assigned found it more difficult to comprehend the story. They faced more difficulty with the language, grammar, style, phrases, and literary references. This demonstrates that detective stories from 20th and 21st century are effective inclusions into the curricula of intermediate ESL students.

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