Robert WF Taylor shares a few ideas for using art in the ESL classroom
Does art have a place in language learning? I believe it does. Children are
naturally creative. They respond to visual images and have most active
imaginations. Isn't creating images what art is all about? Art can assist a
teacher with many aspects of teaching English.
You don't have to be an artist. If you have artistic talents, then you likely already know the value art can have in the language classroom. If not, here are some ideas for you.
Use art when you are teaching the names of colors:
Primary: White, Black, Red, Blue, Yellow
Secondary: Green, Pink, Orange, Brown, Purple, Gray
What about sky blue, teal, magenta, lilac, scarlet, azure, chartreuse, burgundy, crimson, apple green, lemon or canary yellow, burnt orange, dusty pink, forest green, battleship gray, chocolate brown, mahogany, tan, ivory, off-white, etc.
A color wheel can help you to demonstrate these. Pick up some car brochures from local dealers and see how they describe the colors of their vehicles. These can augment a lesson on using more descriptive adjectives. In one lesson, I first show my class a black and white illustration of a typical office situation with several people engaged in various routines. The students describe what people are doing. Then, I show the students a color version and have them elaborate on their description. Color makes a big difference.
You can use art to teach shapes, simple tools artists use (including tools students use every day such as pencils, pens, erasers, rulers, etc.)
A book with different styles of paintings makes a great vocabulary building reference tool. Every painting can be a topic for discussion. Even just reading the various descriptions in the book can be a worthwhile language activity.
I had a two-CD set of 'Great Museums of the World'. You could use your computer mouse to navigate through each museum on the screen, enter different rooms and zoom in on a specific painting - even a section of the painting - which would prompt a pop-up description of what the artist had done. Aside from its artistic merit, what a great teaching tool! Unfortunately, it remained at a former school. I must look for it again.
Drawing programs such as Paint, Corel Draw, ZBrush, Smart Draw, ArtRage and Twisted Brush can be useful if you have artistically inclined learners. Pick a program and open the tutorial section. Students can greatly improve their vocabulary as they learn to use the program. There is a whole world of digital art and digital artists who use these programs to create images for cartoons, animated films and book covers. Creatures that you see in films were more often than not created on a computer. There are special digital art magazines (quite pricey!) and regular art magazines (not so pricey). Any one of these should start our creative and artistic ESL juices flowing. Check out the magazine section of a major bookseller in your area. I have used one of these in an English Conversation class to talk about the images in the magazine.
If, like me, you are teaching in a different culture, students can be invited to bring in a piece of art and 'show and tell'. This is a wonderful speaking opportunity. Think of possible related research and writing assignments you could apply as well. Local artists? Local museums or art galleries? Exhibitions? Art schools? Painting clubs? Any of these may have someone who would be willing to come in to talk to your class about what they do - maybe even put on a short demonstration.
Finally, students can use their artistic talents to illustrate their writing efforts - essays, short stories, descriptions of homes, friends, family, vacation, and other such typical ESL topics. I have had students make Japanese scroll stories where they have six or so panels on which to write and illustrate a short story. They then tape the panels together to form a scroll, tying the finished product with a ribbon. In the next class, students untie their scrolls and read their stories to the class.
Art can add another dimension to teaching English and is another way you can take advantage of local resources to support your efforts. Through the Internet, you have the whole artistic world at your beck and call.
If you use art in your class, I'd be interested in hearing from you.
If you would like a copy of my e-book "Introduction to Teaching Overseas", e-mail me at email@example.com. Dr. Robert Taylor has been teaching English in Thailand for close to ten years. He also teaches the e-learning TESOL course for Sunbridge Institute of English. www.teachesl.org
Great subject. I love art and
I was wondering how I could use it in my classrooms while I do practical work.
You gave me some wonderful ideas. Thanks".
Areen (Israel) 14 December 2008
I've used Artrage on Tablet
PCs with secondary students a lot, and it really motivates them. Most commonly,
I've asked them to complete a piece of writing (limerick or haiku works very
well) and once they have finished it they can make an illustration using the art
software. We then display both the writing and the illustration in a class wiki,
or on the wall of the classroom. Of course, this could also be done with paper
and art materials, but given that our students are such 'digital natives', use
of the computer software, plus all of the extra artistic effects it offers, is
an important part of the equation".
Mel 15 December 2008
I taught a Visual Arts ESOL
programme for many years in Sydney at an Intensive English Centre. We prepared
newly arrived migrant children for the NSW school system and all teachers had
dual qualifications in key subjects plus English as a Second Language training.
Art is a wonderful way to teach English and group projects such as murals encourage co-operation and communication between students of all ages. As making art involves many different processes it is excellent for sequencing and following/giving instructions. It is also an effective way to acquire and implement language of description and comparison and, as you have pointed out vocabulary acquisition for the elements of design (shape, size, colour, texture, tone etc.) is so much more enjoyable if done in a practical and hands-on way.
Expressing ideas and feelings through art is also of immense value where students are at the beginning stages of English language acquisition and for many of my refugee students was a form of therapy. It is also a way to respect , exploreand share the cultural traditions of different cultures, both of the host country and of the students themselves. I found your article very interesting! Thank you".
Jenny 15 December 2008
Thanks for giving me such
original and creative ideas. I'm teaching English as a Foreign Language in
Spain. Although I often try to make my classes enjoyable and I like creating
projects, sometimes I run out of ideas. I have always liked art and it's awesome
to merge both Enlgish and Art in class. I will try some of them! Thanks!"
Desirée (Spain) 15 December 2008
I use art all the time in my
ESL classroom. The one thing you have to be careful of is your students
knowledge of the words you are using. I demonstrate and use the words along with
what I'm doing and then have them repeat the words. A lot of it for them is
memory. They do enjoy doing creative things though at all levels. You don't have
to be an artist to use art! Use the online resources. Crayola.com is a wonderful
resource and there are many others".
Susan 15 December 2008
A creative and innovative
concept to use for an effective classroom lesson. It not only provides a field
for ideas to keep aimless, wandering minds of students' busy but is also an
efficient tool to explore English language in a new direction. Thanks for
sharing the idea."
Sugitha 16 December 2008
Thanks for that, my degree is
in art and I have always had a keen interest in teaching english through art.
This article was inspiring and now I will feel more confident to use my skills
in the classroom."
Karen 18 December 2008
Thanks for the article. We are
writing our education thesis on using alternative lessons, such as the art-based
to teach English to high school students. We have found much about use of art
with younger children, but not so much with older youth".
Sue 20 December 2008
As a teacher of both adult
beginning ESL students, and high school middle level ELL students, I find that
art is an invaluable way to help students focus on the writing process while
appealing to other modalities of learning. Having used graphic realia for years
to help bring the words alive, I also find that when they can create a visual to
go with a story, or when beginnners can create murals/collages with pictures of
themes (e.g. food) I get more enthusiastic response, and better overall
participation and learning. Two modalities simulataneously are always better
Meg 22 December 2008
There are 6 artists spread
over 3 generations in my family. I am not one of them, however, I do use art in
the classroom. I visit galleries and exhibition locally and when on holiday and
buy cards of interesting pieces to use in class. I teach business English to
business people. The course is very intensive and art works as a great diversion
and talking point. 99% of people have an opinion some will see it as pointless,
waste of time and money etc , while others will see it as an essential part of
any culture. Try contrasting Modern Art with the Traditional, Italian, Asian
etc. Asian students often have a great knowledge of European art and can put us
to shame. I use it to help give opinion and teach them more direct language than
they would normally use. Rubbish, garbage, trash, brilliant, awe inspiring, full
of life, colourful, inspirational, soul destroying, disturbing, nauseating,
worthless, priceless,... I could go on and on. Adjective heaven. For lower
levels simple degrees of love/hate, interest/disinterest can be explored. The
main thing is to enjoy it!
Phil 31 December 2008
I have used art a lot while
teaching English to students in southern Thailand. One lesson the students
particularly liked was one in which I had a picture which I did not show the
students. Instead I looked at the picture and described to them what was in the
picture, and they had to try to reproduce it. For example you could have a
picture of a beach or a park with many things going on. An alternative is to
give them a cartoon strip you have drawn but leave the story unfinished so they
have to complete it. In the next lesson they write a description of what is
happening in their version of the cartoon and then read it to the rest of the
class. I also do pictures on flash cards which I later give the students a
photocopy of and use the whiteboard a lot to illustrate new vocabulary.
Robin 28 January 2009
This is a great article! I too
like to use art in the classroom, especially because I believe that it's more
efficient when trying to learn a new language to understand concepts than to try
to translate everything. I usually act out new verbs or draw on the board to
show the meaning of new vocabulary. I think the visuals help the students
remember the meaning better, and it's also fun.
Vicky 10 March 2011
I once went to a session at a conference that discussed using art as a teaching tool. I learned a lot... using a piece of art as a conversation piece, or giving instructions on making an object, but my favorite thing was drawastickfigure.com. It is a great way to engage students when there is only 5 minutes left in class and their attention is elsewhere.
Karen Anita 17 Oct 2013
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