Shakespeares Romeo och Julia
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Not just one role for literary texts in the Subject of English at the upper secondary school level


According to the Swedish National Agency for Education, literary texts should be used in the subject of English at upper secondary school level. But how they can be used and why is not clearly defined. A new thesis at the University of Gothenburg shows that this leaves considerable room for interpretation on the part of English teachers and that the role of literary texts is not limited to language learning and exercises in reading comprehension.

Catharina Wolcott
Catharina Wolcott.
Photo: Janna Roosch

Eleven per cent of all upper secondary school teachers in the subject English in Sweden responded to a survey in 2019, from which it emerged that literary texts are primarily used to develop reading comprehension, and to some extent it is used as a language learning tool. Both of these goals are included in the English syllabus, even if they are not directly linked to literary texts in particular.

The survey results show that literary texts can be used for several other reasons in the subject of English.

“Teachers use fiction to develop their students’ ability to analyze literature and also to develop their critical thinking skills. Goals that are not clearly expressed in the English syllabus,” says Catharina Wolcott.

In-depth interviews

To gain a greater understanding of how literary texts are used, she conducted in-depth interviews with a selection of the teachers who responded to the survey.

“The interviews show that, in addition to the general goals that focus on language skills, teachers of English in upper secondary school tend to base their use of fiction on their own assumptions and beliefs, what are usually called ‘teachers’ beliefs’.”

The role of literary texts in the subject of English

Some of the interview participants identified the important role of literary texts in teaching democratic values by providing the opportunity to empathize with other people’s life situations, while other participants identified literary benefits.

“A number of teachers use literary texts to address a combination of areas ranging from language and culture to social circumstances, communicative language learning, critical thinking, literary analysis and the democratic citizenship, while others primarily emphasized language learning and reading comprehension.”

From Shakespeare to Tolkien


The study also shows that the texts chosen by the teachers can vary greatly; everything from Shakespeare to Tolkien are used to represent older texts.

“Overall, the study shows that a national debate on the role and use of literary texts in the subject of English would be justified,” says Wolcott.

The thesis The Role of Literary Texts in Swedish Upper Secondary EFL Education: The Teacher Perspective was publicly defended on 29 September.

Link to the thesis:


Catharina Wolcott, phone: +46 (0)702-55 23 30, e-mail: or (University of Skövde)