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Working with Context and Theory: Applying Ideas to Texts

Beth Kemp | Monday July 11, 2011

Categories: Hot Entries, Teaching Ideas & Skills Development, Linguistics Theory & Study, Using Theory

Contextual knowledge is needed in certain types of task in studying both Literature and Language.  In Literature, for example, contextual knowledge might arise in terms of social, historical or political background, or an overview of a particular writer, movement or genre, while in Language, this might be similarly socio-historical, but could also focus on the history of print and/or literacy.

Both kinds of English study also require students to apply theoretical knowledge to texts in some exam and coursework questions.  In Literature, this may pertain to schools of literary criticism such as Feminism and Marxism, while Language students are often asked to learn about psycholinguistic theories such as Nativism and Social Interactionism, together with the details of sociolinguistic studies such as those considering accent and dialect, conversational behaviour and attitude to language forms.

The challenge is often to get students to select appropriate pieces of their contextual or theoretical knowledge, rather than to produce mini essays explaining everything about a period or movement.  They are often keen to show their knowledge and don’t realise that its value is in the application to the text(s), extract(s) or question.

These activities, therefore, focus on developing the skill of applying facts and concepts to texts and extracts.  For ways to teach theory (linguistic or literary), there are ideas under the heading of ‘teaching linguistic theory’, and some of the ideas in the sections on conducting linguistic and literary analysis in class will also be appropriate.

How does it fit?

Resources required:

  • Text, extract or question
  • Set theory, research study or contextual information

This activity can be used after teaching a single theory or topic to consolidate it and provide practice in applying it.  Alternatively, the approach can be used in the revision phase, with different pairs or students working with different ideas.

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