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.
Teaching shapes and tools
You can use art to teach shapes and 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.