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How to Savour Secondary School Literature

The beauty about savouring Very Happy Literature is that it gives one an opportunity to voice out one’s opinion backed by logic/evidence from text. What is further extraordinary about this subject is that it is subjective.

However, it is unfortunate that Literature is not considered a core subject. On the contrary, the savouring of Literature enhances one’s skill/ability in understanding human relations and also allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of the authors and explore in an in-depth manner, their thought mechanism behind the plot from the characters’ point of view. To use ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ as an example, if you have read it, then you will know what I am talking about.

Literature also assists in the development of the subtleties of the English language, which, in turn, leads to improved and sophisticated communication skills verbally and in the written form. This is true especially in honing up one’s ability in doing well in Paper 1 and in answering inferential questions in Paper 2 in the English Language paper.

All too many pupils brush aside the subject because their main grouse is that it is too boring. However, have they actually persevered in reading the book before passing judgement?? What about delving into the background of the author, in order to find out what was it that motivated him to write the novel in the first place. Or researching into the historical, social, political, geographical or cultural context of the text? How many pupils go that far? Not many, I reckon.

By and large, pupils tend to rely on the teachers for notes, guide books or online resources to ‘feed’ their imagination. When I was teaching, I tend to give the pupils Lit ‘homework’ to prepare for the text to be taught the following year. That ‘homework’ entailed doing background research on the author and the text, finding out meanings of some literary terms, reading and annotating the text and keeping a reading log as well.

So how can one savour the text? Read on:

  • Find out the author’s background
    • Is there any personal motivation behind the author’s book? ‘Animal Farm’ is an excellent example (I am using a Sec 2 text as an example). George Orwell’s novel is mostly derived from his personal grievances and
      experiences about Russia’s political system and inequality.
  • Find out the background of the book
    • Again, through your research, you will discover that ‘Animal Farm’ is an analogy of the communist system gone wrong in Russia (from Orwell’s point of view). Hence, the need to understand some terms like communism, socialism, capitalism as well as a brief history of Russia, like how communism came about and the Russian Revolution.
  • Literary terms
    • Some definitions of useful terms to take note of are plot, characteristics, themes (the first three are the most basic, which should be sufficient for now), followed by simile, metaphor, irony, symbolism, foreshadowing, point of view ie, is it written from the 1st or 3rd person, to name a few.
    • It is also good to have a list of adjectives (relating to feelings) at hand.
  • Annotation
    • Once you get the hang of Pt 3, then, as one is savouring the text, it is helpful to annotate (note down) one’s thoughts. For instance, a pupil can indicate “why” (if he is not satisfied with say, a character’s actions) and “characteristics of the characters” (what kind of person is he/she) “feelings about the character/ what the character is feeling/experiencing” etc… as he is reading and ‘discovering’ the text.
    • Page references also help, for instance, if the main character’s personality is further elaborated later in the book, one can pen “refer to page xxx also” in the earlier chapter.
    • This is also where indication of your personal response is very important. Let your imagination flow. Put yourselves in the character’s shoes. Again, taking the above-mentioned text as an example, you may write “I feel enraged/appalled (if that is what you feel) that farmer Jones has treated the animals so badly” after reading the first few chapters.
    • As you read the text, how do you feel about the character or incident that has just taken place? Or what feelings does this writing create in you? Do you like a particular word/phrase that was used? Why?

There is a reading log to upkeep too. But this will suffice for now. I always tell my pupils to treat their Lit text as their Holy book. They should bring it with them everywhere, read it whenever they can, over and over again, in the bus, while waiting in the queue etc.. because there will always be new insights that the pupils will discover with each reading.

Some food for thought … How to know if one is a true blue Lit student?? My personal take – just check his text, it should be dog-eared and full of annotations. Incidentally, I have always believed that Literature is subject to be savoured, not studied. Because just like food, you have to approach it with an open mind, without any judgement, relish it a few or many times, in order to learn to appreciate it. To quote Francis Bacon, “…books are to be tasted …chewed and digested.”

Here is a list of ‘Feeling Words’ to help you start off.

BTW, if if you do not know your Lit text for next yr, may I suggest that you use the book that you are currently reading for leisure to practice the tips as suggested above ….

I have categorized them under:


  1. bothered
  2. disturbed
  3. troubled
  4. indignant
  5. frustrated
  6. annoyed
  7. upset
  8. furious
  9. irritated
  10. angry


  1. tense
  2. trapped
  3. panicky
  4. shaky
  5. alarmed
  6. threatened
  7. intimidated
  8. uneasy
  9. agitated
  10. lonely


  1. despondent
  2. miserable
  3. disillusioned
  4. overwhelmed
  5. dejected
  6. solemn
  7. discouraged
  8. disheartened
  9. crushed
  10. sorry


  1. energetic
  2. amused
  3. hopeful
  4. pleased
  5. joyful
  6. content
  7. calm
  8. alive
  9. hopeful
  10. excited


  1. unprepared
  2. horrified
  3. speechless
  4. perplexed
  5. stunned
  6. shocked
  7. astonished
  8. puzzled
  9. confused
  10. amazed



Not much of fan of

Not much of fan of literature… maybe because the teacher buds & I had back in school was kinda lame but reading this post gave me an entirely different perspective on the subject.


The Toby Word and Language Service (TWLS)

The Toby Word and Language Service (TWLS) is a specialist English Language service: .

I research usage of English words and English Literature from the Middle Ages to the present day, and can answer a range of questions on this subject. Please allow me at least a week to answer some questions as some questions may involve a certain level of difficulty.

Thank You

Hi tutormom,

Thx for your post.  Yes, I do agree with your views.  In the past, the emphasis was on the APPRECIATION of Literature. 

I hope parents/pupils will have the opportunity to read your post and realize that it is possible to SCORE in Literature if one has the right attitude. 


Good Time


Hope you had a wonderful time Schweppes!!


thanks for great tips

thanks for great tips

Haha... yes, very important

Haha… yes, very important to give performance bonus to gramps. Otherwise, I will get the "sack"!! 


Performance Bonus

Wah, nice one schweppes!

Performance bonus for the gramps!

I like that a lot. Wah, Australia leh..

Envy.. 😉


Hi Autumnbronze Yes, went

Hi Autumnbronze

Yes, went to Australia for holiday with family. We usually go somewhere at the end of the year. Few reasons: to reward and recharge ourselves for working/ stuyding so hard the whole year (for DH, myself and kids), family bonding, and more importantly, to give my parents a treat (I call it their performance bonus as they help look after my kids, and also to maintain peace and goodwill with them. Haha) 

Still, it’s good to be back. Missed hanging out on KSP and went into withdrawal the 1st day I was there! Anyway, was very happy to see your published article when I logged on to the forum! Good for u!! 



Missed you :))

Hey Schweppes,

Were you on a hol?  Missed you and your bubliness 






Thanks for the great post

Thanks for the great post autumnbronze. <<smile>>

I love Lit and scored A1

I love Lit and scored A1 for it cos I put in extra effort; reading up on the author’s background etc on my own by visiting the library to sniff out reference books to gain a deeper understanding – and doing just what autumnbronze has suggested. My Lit teacher was great in making it interesting and gave lots of notes on the characters and storyline. However, one cannot depend on the teacher as the subject is too wide and near impossible for the teacher to teach all aspects.  Lit is a subject that you either hate or love and you either score extremely well or extremely bad. I find that it has become too exam oriented through the years.  When I was doing Lit, the emphasis was not on the exams though we were preparing for the O levels.  The main agenda was to understand the contents and express our knowledge and opinions well. As long as you can present your facts and put forward your opinions convincingly, you should do well. I approach the subject in a very relaxed manner and treat the novels as storybooks.  Reading those text for enjoyment rather than bearing in mind that I have had to sit for an exam helps too. Most students are afraid of taking Lit as a subject cos of the ‘difficulties’ in scoring distinction.  The preception that it is not an easy subject to deal with add to the misconception. For the sake of ranking, students are discouraged from taking Lit and take the safer option by offering subjects such as Geography which are more predictable. Students who offer Lit are viewed by their peers as weird and irrational for risking their chances to get another distinction. This is very sad cos most of the time, they are the ones who actually lose out. Lit has enriched my life as it gives me a much deeper insight and understanding on human behaviour which in turn provides a platform for me to enjoy those Hong Kong serials to its fullest. Last but not least, it helps me improve on my linguistic skills and raise my appreciation of the beauty of the English language.



Quoted from foreverj:

"i knew there was no way i could score an A1 in eng lit as compared to chinese lit. but i stil chose the subject. although it was the only subject i didn’t score an A1/A2, i had no regrets whatsoever. it was a subject i love and no need to study, haha!

 would love for my dd to choose this subject when its her turn to choose her ‘O’ level subject next time! :)"

Wow foreverj,

The above 2 statements are THE statements that any true blue Lit teachers would want to hear.




thank u autumnbronze for

thank u autumnbronze for reminding me of this beloved subject! i actually wanted to choose chinese lit for sec 3 and told my dad that i would choose it. the next day, when i went to school, i changed the chinese lit to eng lit on my own (quite last min) and went home and told my dad i changed my mind, hehe… luckily my dad did not scold me.

reason for me to change was becos i love the subject! i had this great eng lit teacher (male) in sec 2 and he made the subject come alive! we were doing macbeth then and he was absolutely brillant with the exaggerated and dramatic tone etc etc.

i knew there was no way i could score an A1 in eng lit as compared to chinese lit. but i stil chose the subject. although it was the only subject i didn’t score an A1/A2, i had no regrets whatsoever. it was a subject i love and no need to study, haha!

i would love for my dd to choose this subject when its her turn to choose her ‘O’ level subject next time! 🙂


Thx for the compliment

Opps… hope that didn’t put you off …


Anyway, thx for the compliment

As for needing my ‘tools’, hmmmmm …. still have this strange feeling  that you’ll manage without me somehow.  But hey, sure … anytime for you and your DDs











We need more pupils like you


Quoted from ks2me:

"I too hope kids can like Literature without being put off by the exams approach.  The skills learned in appreciating Literature is applicable in life if they can look beyond exams." 

We need more pupils like you …. pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee


Thanks autumnbronze

Hi autumnbronze,


Firstly, it is tough being a teacher, then it is tougher being a Literature teacher.

I don’t envy teachers as I know their job has a mix of multi-talent in order to excel.   I too hope kids can like Literature without being put off by the exams approach.  The skills learned in appreciating Literature is applicable in life if they can look beyond exams.

Wish you were mine...

I wish you were MY Lit teacher last time! Weh!!!

I love Lit but we had a lousy male teacher who was

so technical and so Lit got boring. HE was the only

one reading!

Told ya this was portal calibre, autumnbronze!

Niwaes, i WILL need you for all the tools for my DD

in approximately 7yrs time, ok? Deal?


Thx ks2me


Hi ks2me,


Thank you for sharing.  Haiz, I know exactly how you feel.  As an ex-Lit teacher,  I had to balance between inculcating the students’ love for Lit without constraining the way they think, as well as bearing in mind that I have to ensure that they do well in their exams too. 

I always tried, as far as possible, to avoid hand-holding them.  With the lower sec kids, it is easier, but with the sec 4s, a bit tough (that said, I still believed in the philosophy of ‘guiding’ them, rather than ‘spoon-feeding’ them).  With the lower sec kids.  Many of them come into the classroom skeptical about the subject.  However, usually a few weeks/mths down the road, they become positive and receptive towards the subject.  But I believe that once the love/liking for Lit has been properly inculcated, then these Lit students will be ‘loyal’ Lit students for life, whether they end up doing Lit in their ‘A’ levels or tertiary education. You are a perfect example



I love Literature

I love Literature but I may not love the exams.  Why?  I used to like to write my own analysis and appreciation which was not in the model answers.  Teachers did not have the patience to read through my analysis but as long as it was not in the model answers, marks would be deducted.  That was my disappointment in Literature as it was afterall a subjective subject yet it was marked against model answers.     Thank God I did not fare badly in it but the experience taught me to realign back to being exam-smart.

That said, I still love Literature.

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