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Learning Through Literature

James Baldwin once wrote, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

I was an English teacher for seventeen years, and honestly, I miss discussing great literature with bright, idealistic teenagers. Literature is about life. Through stories and characters, we begin to understand ourselves. We gain glimpses into the human mind and witness the beauty, brutality, pain, desire, selfishness and compassion of human nature.

I often wonder about the future of teaching English. With Chat GPT and AI to do our writing for us, what will happen to English teachers? Will English as a subject become obsolete? If we think of English as just the instruction of grammar and workbook exercises, then yes, perhaps AI will replace English teachers.

But then I think about the value of literature and art, the way they enrich our lives and help us navigate our existence, and I know that as long as we humans are interested in understanding ourselves and finding meaning in our lives, we will need English teachers who can bring literature and poetry to life for students.

My hope for English departments at all schools — regardless of board affiliation or background — is that they empower English teachers to move beyond workbooks and grammar exercises, and to embrace literature. Through stories, students will not only improve their own vocabularies, grammar, and writing skills, but also gain a deep appreciation of the beauty of language and the power of narratives. Through literature, students will begin to discover themselves and their connectedness to others.

In the lower grades (KG — grade 2), teachers should be reading aloud to students from excellent picture books every day and immersing students in a world of stories.

In the higher grades (grade 3 onwards), students should be engaged in the study of at least two or three novels each year, and they should be actively encouraged to read independently for pleasure.

Read-a-louds, novel study, book talks, time for independent reading, and a vibrant library with updated collections will all help to build a rich reading culture in our schools.

We need to make sure that our students are given plenty of opportunities to engage with literature, poetry, and art as they are food for the human mind and soul, and they will never become obsolete.

Written by Maya Thiagarajan

Founder and Director, TREE

Contact TREE to learn more about our Reading Magic Program — where we enable schools and teachers to curate book lists, organize the school library, do read-aloud or structured reading, and create a culture of reading for pleasure. Visit our website and get in touch at

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