Literature as a Tool for Language Learning and Life Enrichment

By Mercedes Elicegui 

When we think about peace, we often relate it to war, famine, global catastrophes, but what about everyday peace? What about inner peace? 

These last two years all of us have been struggling because of the pandemic. Being quarantined has not been easy. Some of us have been lucky enough to stay safe, to keep our jobs, to be confined within comfortable houses and to have enough to live with. But others were not so fortunate. Some got ill, some lost family members, some were not able to continue working, some were forced to stay within a house with not enough room for everybody to live in comfortably. And that led to other issues. 

As a teacher of English as a foreign language in a private secondary school in Argentina, I have seen my students struggle with the disease, but also with depression, eating disorders, self-harm. 

In such moments, I cannot focus on teaching language and forget about my students’ inner battles. I need to reach them out and hug them, if not physically, at least emotionally. We all know that teaching implies building bonds and today that is more necessary than ever. Students cannot pay attention to their school goals if their minds and souls are not in peace. Each of them needs to feel safe, worthy and loved as a person; they need to know that they are much more than a surname in our attendance roll. 

However, as a teacher of mine told me some years ago when talking about these questions, we are teachers of English. At that moment I felt angry and strongly disagreed with her. I thought, and still think, that being human is above being a teacher. Now, when a little more water has gone under the bridge, I believe I have come to understand what she meant: we do not need to be this or that, but to integrate both aspects of our being into our classroom experience, and working with literary pieces helps me tackle both, language teaching as well as life events. 

As I work with teenagers, who are dealing with leaving childhood behind, I started the year working with the poems “Things I’d do if it weren’t for my son” and “Things I’d do if it weren’t for my mum” by Tony Mitton. These poems portray the different perspectives a mother and her son have on everyday matters. After reading the compositions, we move to analyze each point of view, paying special attention to the feelings involved: are mother and child angry with each other? Can people think or feel differently about the same things? Does that mean they do not love each other? 

Then, we focused on our feelings- how did we feel when reading the poem? Did we feel related to the kid’s position? What about the mother? Can we understand her? – to finally reflect on our reality at home. 

I do hope that by giving my students the possibility of thinking and reflecting on everyday issues and offering them with a safe space where they can share what they are facing or struggling with, I am helping them gain confidence in the use of language as well as providing them with tools to approach their battles in a better way, therefore contributing to their inner peace. 

“Things I’d do if it weren’t for my son” and “Things I’d do if it weren’t for my mum” retrieved from Mitton, T. (1997) Big Bad Raps. Orchard Books, London. 


Mercedes Elicegui is a teacher of English from Argentina, with over 15 years of experience delivering private classes and 2 years as EFL teacher in Secondary school. 

She is taking a Bachelor degree in English language at Rosario University, specializing in literature.