Five Reasons to Teach English Using Art

I have always been very interested in the association between Art and Learning. Teaching with art. In my workshops and presentations as a teacher and sales trainer, I usually try to illustrate my sessions with slides containing pictures of famous paintings or sculptures to make a point. The reaction of the audience is invariably positive. I started then to think about the power of the pedagogy or andragogy (training adults) that incorporates art works as some form of context in the specific field of English language teaching. These are some of the reasons to expose learners to art I came up with. The list is by no means exhaustive, and I would appreciate your help in adding your ideas to this blog in the comments section at the bottom.

Apollo in the forge of Vulcan, 1630. Velázquez.

Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan, 1630. Velázquez.

1. Fun: art is fun. Fun makes learning easier. We all know that whenever leaners are enjoying an activity their level of engagement rises and, therefore, they spend longer stretches of time focusing on the topic. Considering the goldfish-like attention span of most people today, due to the overwhelming amount of information they are bombarded with from all sides, this is already a victory in and of itself.

2. CLIL: most teachers are familiar with this acronym that means Content and Language Integrated Learning. It’s been around for some time now. It only means that language should be taught within a specific context, as a means to an end, rather than as a metalinguistic process. Learners acquire a second language more effectively if they come across real or contextualized uses of it: in a text, a listening passage or a video clip, for example, so they can concentrate on the message as much as on the medium. The length of exposure to the topic may vary: the longer the better. This means that if you teach, for example, history or math in English for a whole term, the learners might develop a better grasp of the language than if you had used fragments or decontextualized sentences to focus only on the language itself. Art, therefore, lends itself perfectly to the job, as it provides a wonderful canvas (pun intended) to design innumerable language activities on.

3. Emotions: Krashen, the linguist, warned us against psychological barriers that, when up, prevent the linguistic input from reaching our innate language development mechanism, hindering development. The classroom environment must be as free as possible of pressures and inhibiting factors to be more conducive to learning. Art can be a great help in creating this atmosphere of calm and relaxation learners need to internalize input. But it also keeps them alert, due to its positively emotional impact, which is also a necessary condition for language acquisition. Besides, beauty makes the language more memorable.

4. Flexibility: teaching English based on paintings and sculptures lends itself to all kinds of activities across language levels, catering for different kinds of learning styles. Of course the impact is huge for the more visually oriented learners. But if you add a listening comprehension task about the piece of art or aesthetic movement your are discussing, or have, for example, learners work on some kind of hands-on activity as a follow-up – such as putting the pieces of a puzzle together, producing their own art work, or making a collage on the theme – you will be equally catering for the auditory and kinesthetic learners.

5. Personalization: learning is all about personalization. People have individual learning paces, varied kinds of intelligences, diverse learning styles and interests. Art and its many manifestations allow for different meanings and interpretations. The same work of art fosters different reactions and emotions in different people. Teachers can tap into this. Allowing open-ended responses to a speaking or writing activity based on a painting makes for solid and effective methodology.

The Nude Maja, 1799-1800, Goya.

The Nude Maja, 1799-1800, Goya.

Both teachers and students profit enormously from the inclusion of art in their English lessons. Most people are not really exposed to fine art, despite all the technological means to reach it we have at out disposal today. So, in addition to all the reasons we listed before, we, as teachers and educators, will be refining the learners’ aesthetic taste, opening up a whole world of discovery and instilling a wish for self-improvement in them.

Cupid and Psyche, 1786-1793, Antonio Canova

Cupid and Psyche, 1786-1793, Antonio Canova

If you want to see some practical examples of English lessons using art, we have some ready-made plans on Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/jorgesetteelt

For those of you who are English Teachers and love art in general, we offer a wonderful collection of supplementary eBooks for the students to practice vocabulary, speaking and writing, based on the works of famous painters: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. The series is comprised of 7 books so far, and features works by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell and Vincent van Gogh. For further information on how to download the materials, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Check this brief video on the material on TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MONET:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

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One thought on “Five Reasons to Teach English Using Art

  1. Pingback: Teaching English with Art | ELT ebooks

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