Express yourself! Why you should use art in the ELT classroom

Successful communication hinges upon the ability to express yourself, whether it be by spoken fluency, gesticulation, music or art.  Having lived in Italy for the past ten years, more feelings and messages are conveyed through a series of body movements than through the accompanying stream of loud and passionate words that follows them.  In fact so intricate and complex are these body movements, there are entire guides dedicated to Italian gestures,

When teaching speaking skills it’s useful to highlight the importance of communicating with your body as well as with your spoken language.  We all know the difference between talking to someone who actively shows signs they’re listening, nodding along to the points we’re making, making the right faces when we tell surprising or sad stories, lightly touching someone’s arm to empathise. These non-verbal signals are as important to communication as the words themselves, empowering the speaker by encouraging them to continue and making them feel that they are being listened to.

Making the ELT classroom as inclusive as impossible means recognising that each student has their own particular areas where they excel, and for many those areas may not be in English. Yet everyone can make a meaningful contribution to a lesson and it’s while showcasing individual talents that we build community, trust and nurture the right environment for learning.

So why is art such a great medium to use in the elt classroom?

Art is stimulating and engaging – let’s face it, text is not exactly aesthetically pleasing, whereas art piques curiousity and injects colour (literally and metaphorically) into the learning space.  When we look at art we stimulate the motor cortex, the part of the brain which controls the body’s movements.  So we don’t just see art, we feel it too.

It appeals to different sensibilities – the present perfect might feel as though it’s an impossible concept but describing, producing or critiquing artwork can be an enjoyable, achievable task where language production is encouraged without being put under the spotlight.

Art demands different skills – our sense perception means we immediately judge what we are looking at as we connect with it. It is, therefore, a way of developing our critical thinking skills through analysis and creativity.  It allows us to pose and answer a series of questions: what am I looking at? How do I feel about the image I can see? Why am I reacting in that manner? What was the artist trying to convey through the image?  Critical thinking skills are fundamental for the development of personality, we need to be able to judge, react and reflect, and art is a great way of honing these skills.

It’s subjective – it moves people in different ways.  When you look at an image you get a totally different perspective from the next person and those subtle differences stimulate a wealth of discussion and ideas exchange. We also develop our sense of empathy, one of our skills that is not innate, learning others perspectives and understanding the artist’s self-expression can help us fine tune this ability to empathise.

Art is powerful – it invokes different reactions in the viewer, which can allow students to passionately connect with images in both positive or negative ways, all of which can be explored through language. This emotional reaction will mean that your students are more likely to remember what it is they are learning.

It’s fun – Pablo Picasso famously said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”  and whether you are a budding Picasso or you draw like the average toddler, it doesn’t matter, art is fun.  Expressing yourself creatively with paints, textures, or even stick man drawings will awaken your inner child and is bound to put a smile on your students’ faces.

So what are you waiting for? Put down the pen and pick up the paintbrush!  If I’ve inspired you, here are 10 ways you can use art in the elt classroom.





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