EFL Special: Teaching Superheroes and Heroines

Dear readers,

I dare you to ask your EFL learners “What comes with great power?” Chances are they will know the missing bit to one of the most famous quotes from the world of comics and superheroes. Do read on if you need to dust off your superhero knowledge!

With recent superhero movies taking over where comics started, a new canon has been years in the making, a canon which teachers would be wise to consider. When students struggle to find personal value in the ‘classic’ canon – that is important literary works, agreed on by people who are usually far older than the average EFL student in school – it might be time to utilise the canon students already bring to class. Numerous heroes nowadays follow archetypical stories of love, loss and self-sacrifice. And the best bit for teachers and learners alike: The original versions broadcast into the world are widely available in English. This is authentic language material waiting to be used, created already with a young audience in mind. Let me introduce you to two examples:

“With great power comes great responsibility” is the catchphrase from any story about Spiderman, a young man transformed after he was bitten by a radioactive spider. Yes, this transformation serves as an obvious symbol for puberty and its challenges, superpowers or not, but at the same time, it can be so much more. One of the latest instalments, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, passes the torch from well-known white protagonist Peter Parker to Miles, a young black boy, who in turn is trying hard to fill the shoes of his idol. The film’s message is as fresh as it is classic: Having superpowers surely help, yep, but for someone to be of service, to become a hero to their community, there is no alternative to facing the challenges posed to them. (For another example revolving around a heroine look no further than 2019’s Captain Marvel.) Isn’t this a message about responsibility for oneself and for others which we should be teaching to our students?

Another example of a brilliant start down your superhero-fuelled rabbit hole is Black Panther, the 2018 movie which shone a bright light on late actor Chadwick Boseman and fictional Wakanda. After decades of watching heroes the stereotypical white middle-class male could identify with, it is about time to look for diverse role models. Enter Black Panther, a black man who has to convince both his fellow citizens and the world that there is a future of peaceful co-existence for all of them. Stemming from a Peter-Parker generation myself, I cannot possibly put into words what it might mean to a child to see a person who looks like them succeed on the big screen. I do know, however, that we all profit from having a range of role models, and I will gladly suggest that superheroes like Miles or T’Challa (Black Panther’s real name) become role models for my students.

There are several advantages of working with cross-media material: Go back to the original comics and have their pictures trigger a discussion in class. Maybe edit out the speech from the speech bubbles and have your students write their version of the dialogues? Have them track down differences between the movies and the comics and how that influences a story – media literacy, anyone? These movies usually include speeches of manageable length addressing core values of human life: honesty, dedication, courage. And of course, superhero stories being movies, lend themselves nicely to the myriad of teaching sequences you can find when dealing with films. For some inspiration, why not start with these ideas covering Black Panther in the Classroom?

If you have a superhero story you would like to recommend to the EFL world, do share it with us, please. Growing up, your students will need all the super-charged, super-fast and super-reliable help they can get to navigate a challenging period. So let me double-dare you, fellow EFL teacher: Use your great power, and responsibly lead your students along the way towards a new canon: their canon.

Thank you for your time and feel free to get in touch!

Rico, on behalf of the Lit4School team

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” – Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, Line 139

Have you ever thought to stage a scene or a whole play with your pupils? In contrast to narrative and poetic texts, dramatic ones are meant for performance in front of an audience. As a literary genre with both, textual (script) and representational spheres (performance), plays offer multiple possibilities and reasons for communicative and creative teaching activities in the language classroom. Indeed, one can and should analyse both the script (e.g. according to the setting, characters, themes and plot) and actual performance of a play (e.g. according to visual and auditory signs, spoken text, mime, gesture and external appearance of the actors) with beginners and advanced learners of English on their level.

However, plays are meant to be acted out. Therefore, building the dramatic competence should also incorporate the representational side of the genre: While performing a sketch, a scene or a whole play, your pupils will memorise chunks of language, they will practice their verbal and nonverbal skills, creativity and social interaction. Staging a play or musical can be a great bonding experience for the whole class. Younger learners will enjoy shorter forms such as role-plays, pantomime, freeze frames or reading a dialogue. The Reader’s Theatre offers scripts and short plays for learners of English on an intermediate level – this spontaneous form of theatre does not require costumes or memorisation. Two collections of comic strip versions of classical plays by Shakespeare offer stepping stones for younger learners.

Choosing the ‘right’ play for your students can be taught. To overcome historically grown national, ethnic and gender restrictions, we as teachers should open up the canon in selecting contemporary and transcultural forms of drama from the Anglophone world – apart from the classics by William Shakespeare. As we do feature quite a variety of dramatic texts from the British Isles and beyond, this is our selection of our favourite plays and musicals for you:

Sarah’s picks:

  • Annie by Rob Marshall (film/musical): Premiered in 1976, the musical Annie has captured many hearts and been adapted into three separate film adaptations. The film features the same songs, telling the story of orphan Annie, who longs to be part of a family. When she gets taken in by a billionaire for the holidays, she gets a glimpse of what she’s been missing.
  • The Mountaintop by Katori Hall: This drama offers a fictional depiction of the night before Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. Set in King’s hotel room, it navigates themes surrounding death, philosophy, American history and the Civil Rights Movement. The short length and fixed setting make it a classic read-it-in-one-go type of play for older students.
  • Another option for a play related to American history would be Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry, a comedy-drama about friendship and stereotypes in a time of segregation.
  • YOLO Juliet by Brett Wright: This drama provides a twist to a classic tale. What happens to Romeo and Juliet’s epic love story if you add smartphones to the mix?

Sarah-Sophia’s Picks:

  • Translations by Brian Friel: A short play about the language, communication, history and cultural imperialism in Ireland. It juxtaposes both languages and cultures (no worries, it’s still written in English) and emphasises the importance of language regarding fruitful communication. Translations provides an insight into the issues between Ireland and England and is a valuable addition to diversity in the English classroom.
  • I, Shakespeare by Tim Crouch: Crouch rewrote four of Shakespeare’s most famous plays for a younger audience: Twelfth Night (I, Malvolio), Macbeth (I, Banquo), The Tempest (I, Caliban) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (I, Peaseblossom). While the language of these plays is kept as Shakespearean as possible, the plays are shorter and easier to understand and follow. On top, the plays are told from the perspective of different characters as mentioned above in Brackets.
  • Lyle the Crocodile: This is a lovely children’s book by Bernard Waber but Kevin Kling and Richard Gray turned it into a musical of 36 pages. The webside playsfornewaudiences.org has a wide range of plays for younger students. They also display the most important information quite nicely in stating the number of pages, how many actors are needed, how long performance takes, and provide an age recommendation.

Simon’s Picks:

  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers: This award-winning, young adult drama novel follows a 16-year old African American boy who awaits his murder trial. But did he really commit the murder or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? A current issue, which might fuel your classroom discussion on justice an injustice in the United States.
  • Top Girls by Caryl Churchill: An empowering play about what it means to be a tough businesswoman in modern society. But must one ‘pass as a man’ to be successful as a woman? This drama allows you to problematise unequal opportunities in the labour market such as the pay gap, gender stereotypes and sexism.

Initiated by the International Theatre Institute in 1961, World Theatre Day reminds us to celebrate the rich and cultural diverse tradition of theatrical performances. Theatre connects people, encourages dialogue and fosters creativity. In the recent year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted theatrical life and forced theatres to close. Live performances have been cancelled ever since and been replaced by social distance and online performances. As long as stages remain empty, dark and dusty, actresses and actors need to be supported. Acting for OthersTheatre Support FundActors’ Benevolent Fund and other funds have provided support and assistance for theatre workers in the UK. Also, many theatres offer tickets for live streams and online performances: London’s Old Vic Theatre will stage and stream Dr Seuss’s The Lorax from 14. – 17. April 2021. On Tuesday, the 22. April, teachers all around the world have the opportunity to register for a free school ticket for one of the performances on World Earth Day.

If you come across a brilliant new drama that you think teachers should know about, make sure to suggest it so we can feature it on Lit4School.

Enjoy your Easter holidays, kind regards and stay safe everyone!

Sarah, Sarah-Sophia, Rico and Simon

For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.” – William Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (1807) 

Since 1999 World Poetry Day celebrates and recognises intercultural, linguistic diversity in poetic expression with readings, exhibitions and recitations. Described as the ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings‘ (William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads) and as an art, which ‘makes familiar things be as they were not familiar’ (Percy Bysshe ShelleyA Defence of Poetry and Other Essays), poetry is a literary genre that usually features (1) brevity, (2) density, (3) subjectivity, (4) musicality and (5) complexity. As for every other literary genre, definitions vary, but it might be safe to say that most poetic forms rhyme, follow a regular sequence of stressed and unstressed syllables (metre) and are, due to their density, rich in stylistic and rhetorical devices. 

Teaching poetry allows for flexibility, as poems are usually shorter and fit into one lesson. ‘Language cast in verse‘ (Michael Meyer, English and American Literature) comes in multiple shapes and poetic sub-genres (such as lullabies, Christmas carols, songs, odes, free verse, rap, sonnets and haiku) that you might want to explore with your students. Poems are available for different language levels and offer a great variety of topics that are mentioned in the teaching curricula. Most importantly, poetry can motivate your students, as it allows for creative classroom activities. The (1) pre-, (2) while-, (3) post sequence, provides a well-structured framework when applying poetic texts to the EFL classroom. (1) Before reading the poem to the class, you may introduce the author, explain the communicative situation, discuss or brainstorm about the title or familiarise your pupils with unknown vocabulary, phrases and grammatical structures. (2) The while-stage offers different possibilities for recitation such as choral-, role-, mood-, chain- and commented reading. Also, you can provide your class with incomplete or wrong versions of the text (gaps, jumbled and nonsense lines etc.) the students have to correct during the 1st and 2nd reading. (3) After you read the text twice with your students, you should check their global and detailed understanding by asking questions. This stage also allows for discussions on different perceptions or an evaluation and contextualisation of the poem. Vivid imagery, rhetorical forms, concentration, compression, reduction and the repetition of words, sounds and phrases charge poetic language with meaning and allow for analytic and formalistic interpretations during this stage. Excessive analysis, however, bears the chance of close readings, intensive reception and revealing reader responses, but also the danger of one-sided teaching, which can be perceived as ‘boring’ and ‘tedious’ by learners of English. Therefore, analysis and interpretation should always be accompanied by playful, creative and experimental tasks and activities e.g. adding a stanza or verse, collaborative creative writing, interpretative recitation or poetry slam competitions. 

Free resources for English poetry, such as poetryfoundation.orgpoetryarchive.org or poets.org, can be found on the internet. Also, Lit4School offers a great variety of poetic texts for every grade and school form. Here is a selection of our all-time favourite poetic texts featured on our platform:

Elementary School (Grundschule)

Middle School and School for Students with Special Needs (Oberschule und Förderschule)

Grammar and Vacational School (Gymnasium und Berufsschule)

Spoken word poems are a powerful phenomenon of contemporary poetry. Have you thought about using one in your EFL classroom yet? Here are a few examples, which also address current affairs such as #fridaysforfuture, #metoo and #blacklivesmatter:

We hope you enjoyed our second #EFLSpecial blogpost on poetry in the English language classroom. Soon, our third post is coming and this time dramatic texts will be explored and explained further.

Literary regards, stay safe and tuned,


Most of us remember the stories, fairytales, fables and anecdotes our parents, grandparents and educators told us once. Ever since, quite a few of us have changed roles and become enthusiastic story-tellers. Today, on World Storytelling Day, we celebrate the rich and colourful heritage of an intercultural art, which also marks the first blog entry of our EFL Special “Literature in the (Elementary) Classroom”

Storytelling is a cultural practice, which already existed long before Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and Caxton’s introduction of printing to the British Isles. The history of oral transmission is probably as old as language itself but remains an essential tool for the preservation of shared values and the diverse history of cultures all around the world, as well as for entertainment and educational purposes. Skillful storytelling demands the speaker to unfold the text meaningfully. To make the listeners hang on every word, the story-teller must interpret the story. When accompanied by movement, gestures, mime and music, storytelling inspires the imagination of children and grownups. Acting skills, improvisation, the effective use of intonation and audience involvement can enhance the understanding of the listeners as well. Here is a perfect example of storytelling, performed by Mara Menzies at the National Storytelling Festival 2019, organised by the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough. Festivals, such as the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, offer a great insight into the variety of different storytelling methods, traditions and techniques. 

In school, storytelling is usually found in the elementary EFL classroom but can be used in all forms of schools and at all levels of proficiency. The method (1) provides your pupils with authentic literature, (2) introduces them to new words, phrases and grammatical structures, (3) invites them to interact and imitate, (4) motivates them and (5) opens up a great variety of creative follow-up activities. Before you start telling the story, your students must be familiarised with unknown grammatical structures and new vocabulary. Choral repetition is an effective strategy that will help your pupils remember important passages. It is appropriate to include all learner types (kinesthetic, visual and auditory) when applying storytelling techniques. Therefore, you may want to use sensory stimuli to fuel their imagination by making them smell, taste, hear, see and feel the story. Also, to activate your pupils, you may want to ask questions or make them imitate aspects of the story. You might also use the technique to introduce elements of a literary text: characters, setting (time, place, atmosphere), plot, themes, conflict and point of view. To learn more about storytelling this resource by the QUA-LIS NRW or these guidelines and examples by the Landesinstitut für Schule und Medien Berlin-Brandenburg might be helpful. 

Contrary to the assumption that literature in the EFL classroom is just for pupils with advanced language skills, age-appropriate texts are available for all levels of English. Beginners usually enjoy shorter and visualised forms that rhyme, which are introduced, read and explained by the teacher. Well-chosen stories will enhance the motivation of your pupils and spice up your English teaching at school. Here is a selection of our all-time favourite children’s picture books, which are perfect for storytelling:

You will be surprised that even in times of distance-teaching storytelling techniques remain effective tools for language teachers e.g. by using videoconferencing systems or taped readings. There are quite some stories that are waiting to be told by you.

Stay safe everyone!


Read anything. Read the things they say are good for you, and the things they claim are junk. You’ll find what you need to find.” – Neil Gaiman 

As Neil Gaiman points out in the introductory quote: literature is an exciting adventure to embark on, a journey, which will take us to the most unusual places, which makes us connect to different ways of living and offers paradigm shifts for younger and older readers. The World Book Day or International Day of the Book was founded on April 23rd 1995 by the UNESCO to encourage young people to discover literature or as its founder, Baroness Gail Rebuck, outlines: “We wanted to do something to reposition reading and our message is the same today as it was then – that reading is fun, relevant, accessible, exciting, and has the power to transform lives.” Today, on March 4th 2021, we celebrate (re-)discovering literature, reading for pleasure and book enthusiasm all around the globe for the 24th time.

On this occasion, we would like to announce our EFL Special: “Literature in the Classroom”, which will explore different genres and works – from all-time-favourites to more current and topical examples of literature featured on Lit4School. Our EFL Special will provide you with a shortcut of didactic hints, methods and resources you can use when teaching literature in the EFL classroom.

Stay tuned and safe!