Art in the classroom
As the saying goes, ‘Art is all around us’. In its many forms it presents fantastic opportunities for discussion, focused language work and skills-based activities. However, this bottomless cultural resource is largely underused by many language teachers. In this article I will describe its place in the classroom by exploring the following areas and discussing some practical ideas
Why use art?
Lessons based around works of art have many benefits for both the teacher and the students.
1. Responding to art can be very stimulating and can lead onto a great variety of activities.
In its simplest form this might be describing a painting, but with a little creativity all sorts of things are possible. For example, the well-known ‘grammar auction’ activity can be redesigned as an art auction, where the students have to say a sentence about the piece of art – anything they like – and then the rest of the students bid according to how accurate they feel the sentence is.
2. Using art provides a useful change of pace.
While many teachers use visual images to introduce a topic or language item, actually asking the students to engage with and respond to the piece of art can encourage students to become involved on quite a different level.
3. Incorporating art into the class or syllabus can take the students out of the classroom and encourage them to use their language skills in the real world.
A visit to an art exhibition or an assignment that involves research on the internet can generate all sorts of language.
4. Thinking about or even creating art can be very motivating.
It can take the emphasis off of accuracy and put it onto fluency and the ability to clearly express thoughts and ideas. This is great for students whose progress in speaking is hindered by a fear of making mistakes.
5. Responding to art has the potential to develop students’ creative and critical thinking skills.
Students as low as pre-intermediate level will be able to read a short biography of an artist and discuss how their art depicts different aspects of their lives.
These are just some of the reasons why art can be successfully used in the language classroom. Now let’s have a look at some of the common problem areas and try to identify some solutions for these.
Potential problems and solutions
Problem: As we all know, art is very subjective and therefore we may be faced with students who are reluctant to engage with the chosen examples of art.
Solution: Encourage students to either choose which works of art are explored, or alternatively ensure that a variety of styles are represented. Choosing art that has some relevance to the students is always a good idea, either from its subject matter or the background of the artist.
Problem: Students (and teachers!) may not perceive some art-related activities to be useful for language learning.
Solution: As this is our primary goal, it is therefore very important to structure activities carefully so that there is a clear outcome and learning point. For example, a simple discussion about the meaning behind a piece of modern art can be combined with input on functional language for giving opinions and agreeing and disagreeing. Meanwhile, other activities can be language-led. For example, using a piece of art to generate wh- questions which are then given to another pair of students to answer. Considering structure will also help to control the direction of discussion/lessons based around responding to art. This can otherwise sometimes be difficult.
Three ways of using art
1. Looking at art
There are lots of different activities that involve students looking at and responding to pieces of art. For example:
2. Sharing art
3. Creating art
As I hope I have demonstrated in this article, art definitely has a place in the language classroom and can be used in many different ways. It is a great resource for discussions as well as practising a variety of language. Activities incorporating art are motivating for students, provide an often welcome change of pace and can stimulate and develop creative and critical thinking skills.
Pictures for Language Learning – Andrew Wright (CUP)
The National Gallery www.nationalgallery.org.uk
The Victoria and Albert Museum www.vam.ac.uk
The National Portrait gallery www.npg.org.uk
Amy Lightfoot, British Council, India