10 ways to use art in the ELT classroom

10 ways to use art in the ELT classroom

Art is a wonderful medium to use in the ELT classroom,  it has so many incredible benefits as well as being fun and engaging. So here are 10 ways that you can use art in your lessons.

  1. Dictadraw   Dictadraws are a great way to get students explaining things. It can be the teacher describing a situation to her students, students describing their bedrooms or describing a projected image or half a picture to their partner, it’s a great way of getting students to deal with shapes, prepositions of place and present continuous.  It’s incredibly easy to set up, one student dictates to their partner what they need to draw, the listener puts pen to paper and when they have finished they can compare their masterpieces to the original, often with hilarious results.

2. The life of the ballerina

Edgar Degas (French, 1834 – 1917), The Dance Lesson, c. 1879, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon 1995.47.6

Images show a snapshot in time, the artist wants to convey a message or moment and elude to as much context as possible but as every artwork is so subjective, it can be perceived in any way.  This simple activity gets students to use their critical thinking skills to take the characters off the page by trying to imagine them in a broader context.  As pairwork speaking, or an individual writing task, choose an image which features at least one character.  Ask students to invent an entire backstory for them. What’s their life like? What time do they get up in the morning? What is their favourite food? What are they scared of? What’s their typical daily routine? By developing these character biographies you can let their imaginations run wild in a totally personal and varied manner.  Extend the activity by then comparing with someone else to hear another perspective.

3. Interview with Mona Lisa   Make the characters in paintings come to life by getting students to role-play interviews with them.  Students can write questions they want to ask the characters and role play the answers, or if they prefer why not write a dialogue between two characters in an image.  Present them to the class, film them and upload them to a class Youtube channel, record them for a radio programme based around art, or ask them to extend the dialogues at home. However you choose to set it up, there is tons of scope for language production.

4. Recreating famous pictures  Apart from giving students the opportunity to experience art that perhaps they have never encountered before, the classroom is also perfect for making their own art, allowing students to showcase their talents while completing a physical task using English.  A nice project which is both ambitious yet achievable is to get students to recreate famous pictures.  They might want to use themselves and their bodies and make photographs, they might want to paint, use plasticine, or even recreate scenes using objects from around the classroom.  Once they have made their reconstructions, they can then compare them with the originals to see what similarities or differences they can find.

5. What happened next… 

Jan Steen (Dutch, 1625/1626 – 1679), The Dancing Couple, 1663, oil on canvas, Widener Collection 1942.9.81

Use an image as a springboard for an imagined scenario. What happened directly after this image? What was said? Did someone else enter the scene? Get students to talk about, write or even act out the moments directly after the image and present them to the rest of the class who can vote on whose continuation they think is the best.

6. The jigsaw picture

Cut two or three images (famous or unknown) into smaller pieces and distribute them around the class so that every student has one piece of one picture.  Without revealing your piece to anyone, go around the class and describe what your picture is of and see if you can find the right ‘group’ that you belong to and what part of the picture you are (top left, centre piece etc) You can also develop a variation of this where you give students images with key pieces missing and they have to complete them by drawing and then describing the missing piece, or alternatively finding the person in the class who has their missing piece.

7. What’s your reaction?  In this lovely exercise there are no right or wrong answers and students are free to express themselves in any way they choose.  The idea is to present students with some type of stimulus, whether it be a piece of music, a poem recital or a short story, and to get the students to draw whatever comes into their minds.  They may want to choose to draw things literally, for example depicting the images they hear in a story, or it may be a far more personal journey of self-expression where they put down on paper whatever imagery comes to mind.  They may choose to show their pictures to their partner or, for the more shy artists, simply describe what they drew.

8. Art Attack  Organise an art competition between your students where they have to make a giant Art Attack (a huge picture made up of everyday objects, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about) in response to a poem, song lyrics or even a theme word.  Take photos, judge them, award prizes, publish the photos on your class blog or your school’s social media and take a moment to recognise the abilities of your students which extend much further than just English!

9.  Art Gallery  Turn your class into an art gallery where students dedicate a portion of their lesson, if not the entire thing, to browsing and responding to the different “art” displayed on the walls around the class.  It could be images which hint to the topic of the lesson, it might be work they have produced, it could be images relating to a certain grammar point (what’s just happened for the present perfect, or what’s his story? for modals of deduction for example) or it could be visual interpretations of idioms or phrasal verbs. With a partner, students can discuss each image and their response to it providing a great opportunity to talk about abstract ideas, exchange opinions and get an insight into someone else’s mind!

10.  Art Reviews  Finally, having visited the art gallery, turn your students into budding art critics as, following lots of lively discussion, they write reviews of certain images that they have had strong reactions to.  The beauty of this is that every piece of writing is bound to be both heartfelt and varied as it reflects everyone’s unique response to whatever art they are reviewing.  A great opportunity to introduce some lovely adjectives and get students to develop writing style.

Do you have any more ways that you use art in the classroom? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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