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Book: Genre Pedagogy Across the Curriculum

Chapter: Systemic Functional Linguistics Approach to Teaching Literary Narratives: Semiotic Resource in Generating Critical Language Awareness

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24923


Literary narratives, ranging from traditional folk tales to experimental fiction, are one of the most privileged genres in high school English Language Arts classrooms. However, rarely do teachers and students analyze how particular patterns of language (e.g. transitivity, modality) function to construct characters, settings and ideological world views in these social texts (e.g. Culler, 1975; Lukin, 2008). In this critical literary project, students were taught how to use a functional linguistic analysis to make visible the ways in which J.K. Rowling configures power relations between characters, and manipulates the reader to think and feel in particular ways. Our chapter first provides a literature review on literary narratives and their instructional potential to foster critical literacy. It then chronicles how an urban high school teacher immersed her students in an SFL analysis of the patterns of appraisal, identification and modality in Harry Potter. This apprenticeship provided students with linguistic resources to support and refute various critical readings of the narrative (e.g. related to gender, social power relations). The chapter concludes by discussing how a similar critical SFL instructional approach to this literary genre can be used to engage high school students in thinking critically about the relationship between language, power and world view.

Chapter Contributors

  • Ruth Harman ( - rharman) 'University of Massachusetts - Amherst'
  • Amber Simmons ( - asimmons) 'University of Georgia'