Teaching English with Art: Vincent van Gogh. This seventh volume of our successful series of eBooks combining ENGLISH TEACHING AND ART is a wonderful supplement to any coursebook or extra materials your students may already be using in the English class. It contains 30 speaking and writing activities (now including specific vocabulary exercises) for classroom use, based on some of the most striking works by one of the most beloved and controversial artists of Western Culture, VINCENT VAN GOGH.
The objective of the eBook is to expose the students to art while teaching English, fulfilling therefore one of the tenets of effective language acquisition: providing a realistic context for the language to be learned and practiced as a means to an end. Your students will love to exercise their English discussing the works of van Gogh. This is a proven way to make language acquisition fun and effective by creating in the classroom an atmosphere of interest, motivation and emotion. Each activity is clearly correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE (CEFR), and the level is stated next to it.
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Check out the video clip on the ebook TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: VINCENT VAN GOGH
When you read a piece of good writing in The Economist, Folha de São Paulo or The New Yorker, you will probably wonder about the special powers of the writer. How is it possible to sit in front of a laptop and, in one go, come up with such a refined and polished text. The writer must have counted on a potent muse sitting by his side, you conclude. But, for anybody who has attempted the hard task of putting a piece of writing together, the recognition that the path is a little harder will soon dawn on him. Hemingway defined the process in the most dramatic way: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
Of course, the Hemingway process would not be very popular in most of our schools and online courses today. As we are concerned mainly about writing in the language class in this post, we need to draw a line. After all, chances are teachers and coordinators would be charged with abuse and put in jail if they expected or encouraged the students to follow anything like the method proposed by the great author of THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA.
Luckily, there is a third way: fire the muse and follow a step-by-step process to your writing activities. Writing is a skill students must master. We have never written so much as in today’s world. Most of our communication on the Internet occurs in the form of writing, one way or another.
Following the 5-step process we’ll be outlining below is probably the most effective way to come up with a good text. Of course, if you have the privilege of counting on good professional editors, the process becomes a lot easier, but not many people – least of all language students – can afford this luxury on a day-to-day basis, so we must rely on ourselves, and, if we are lucky, on some of our friends and classmates for aid.
Therefore, what we are advocating here is that writing should not be a solitary activity: pairs or groups of students should take part in it, although, ideally, each one should be working on his own individual piece. There are very clear steps to follow in what is generally know as process writing. This is, in our opinion, the best approach to teach and practice this productive skill in the language classroom. Let’s cover each of the phases in the sections below.
1. Brainstorming (generating ideas). When you are given a writing assignment, get together with a colleague and think of all the ideas the topic might generate. Don’t censor yourself at this stage, anything goes. If there’s no given topic, your freedom is even greater, and you will have fun imagining all possible topics, points-of-view, arguments or characters that may go into your piece. This is more fun when done with another person or in a small group. Then, each one can follow their own thread of thoughts, after this initial kicking off of ideas, and get down to writing their first draft.
2. Drafting. Now it’s time to prioritize all the wonderful ideas you generated in the step above. Consider the physical space you need for the text: is it a blog post, a story, an essay, an infographics design, a tweet? How many words are you supposed to use in your assignment? Don’t even consider using all your ideas. Pre-select, choose, discard, adjust, change. Cut, cut, cut. Establish what should go into each paragraph, which sentence you will pick as the topic one. Draft and redraft as many times as you feel you should. The more, the better. Change sentences to a different part of the text for stronger impact or more consistency. Decide what should be the beginning, the middle and the end of the piece. It’s always easier to start with the end. Remember the clever words of the Cheshire Cat to Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
3. Revising. Now, possibly with the help of a friend, you are going to begin refining and polishing your text. Your colleague will read the text, ask questions whose answers he would expect to find in it, but does not. He will probably make suggestions. There’s no need to take everything he says into consideration. Your are the writer after all, so the final decision is yours, but try and incorporate some of his feedback. Apply your own critical thinking skills to decide if the text is coherent, well thought out, convincing, logical.
4. Editing. This next step involves going deeper in the process started in the previous step. Time to check for grammar, vocabulary and syntax mistakes. Make sure collocations and register (formal and informal) are adequate. Have the spellcheck on your computer on. Consult a thesaurus, dictionaries, and grammar guides. Read aloud to make sure your text sounds good, to make sure it sounds English. Enter phrases and idioms you wish to use into Google to see if they appear in other texts and really mean what you wish to say. Again, get help from your friends.
5. Publishing. This is the last phase of your work. You will be deciding on the images to use, the layout, the kind of font you find appropriate. This part is a lot of fun, in general. Reread it one more time. Any more changes? If you are using a digital device, be brave and push the button PUBLISH. Next time you write something it will be even easier.
The Steps of Process Writing
Sometimes these steps may occur in a different order. Writing is messy. Moreover, the number of drafts cannot be stipulated: the more the better. But we all know there are time constraints to be taken into account, and the final product needs to be presented at some point. So let’s use common sense, and work on your piece within a time frame that suits your teacher’s expectations. In a language lesson, of course, it is the drafting that counts: the more you focus on polishing and making your piece more impactful and error-free, by adding ideas, deciding on the best location of sentences, breaking paragraphs in more consistent ways, and finally asking your friends for help to identify grammar and vocabulary problems, the more you will be learning. That’s when learning is really taking place. The final product is only the logical consequence of the hardest possible work you put into the project.
And remember, the final product does not need to be a masterpiece. The secret to fine writing has been repeated countless times by the experts – although both students and teachers seem to resist it: good writing is rewriting. Besides, writing improves over time, and the more you practice, the better results you will get. Good luck.
NOTE: If you are interested in process writing, you may consider checking out our eBook series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. Click here for further info on the series: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Check out this fun video clip on our CARAVAGGIO eBook:
Medusa was a beautiful priestess serving at the temple of Athena. Her beauty attracted a number of suitors, but she had to turn them down, as, according to her vows, she was supposed to remain a virgin.
However, Poseidon, God of the Sea, fell in love with Medusa and appeared to her in the shape of a bird. Being a god, it was easy for him to have his way with the poor maid and sleep with her.
As customary in mythological tales, the victim takes the blame for this sort of incident, and Athena, in a fury, turned Medusa into a horrific monster with the skin of a corpse and poisonous snakes for hair. Besides, anyone who dared to look her in the eyes would immediately turn to stone.
Perseus, son of Jupiter with the mortal Danae, grew up on the Island of Seriphus. For many years he longed to receive a visit from his father, but it did not happen. His mother would tell him to be patient, as time did not work in the same way for gods.
Danae attracted the attention of Polydectes, king of the island, who tried to force her to marry him. She refused, but the King imposed one condition not to marry her: Perseus must bring him the head of Medusa as a gift.
Perseus, although unprepared and young, did not hesitate to accept the challenge. He knew he had first to find the Grey Sisters, horrible old hags who lived in the forest and shared one eye between them. They kept taking turns at using the eye ball. In a moment of distraction, while one of them was passing the eye to another, Perseus snatched it and told them that he would keep the eye unless they told him where the nymphs lived. The nymphs would tell him where to find Medusa and would give him the necessary weapons to fight her. The old hags acquiesced.
Perseus set out to meet the nymphs, who gave him three weapons: the sword of Jupiter, his father; the shield of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom; and the winged sandals of Hermes, the Messenger of the Olympic Gods. He was also told not to look Medusa in the eye or he’d be turned to stone.
As he approached the lair of the monster, Perseus noticed a number of statues of men scattered in the garden. These were probably men who had tried to get to Medusa before him and were dully petrified. All was rock and desolation around the cave of the monster.
Perseus turned his back to the entrance and walked backwards towards the inner chambers of the cave, looking into the reflection on his polished shield for orientation. This way he would not have to look Medusa in the eyes directly. As he located her, he turned around with his eyes shut and struck her neck with the powerful sword of Jupiter, decapitating the creature.
Using Hermes’ sandals, he flew back to the Island of Seriphus, arriving right at the moment when the wedding between his mother and King Polydectes was about to take place. He shouted: Here’s your gift! And held the head of Medusa in front of the king. The King looked into the eyes of the dead monster and, as a result, was turned immediately to stone. And so Danae was free to go and live with her son again.
Caravaggio’s work, inspired by the myth of Medusa, was painted on an actual shield. It was not meant to be hung, but passed from hand to hand when viewed.
Note: the text above is from the ebook: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: CARAVAGGIO. For further info on the series please CLICK HERE: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Cubism is one of the most revolutionary and seminal art movements of the 20th century. It has its origins in the post-impressionist paintings of Paul Cezanne, and aims at depicting reality in a non-naturalistic way, being considered the seed of the abstract paintings developed later on. Cubism in its more innovative and radical form lasted from 1907 to 1914, when the First World War broke out.
The end of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century were marked by great technological innovations that cried for an art form that could express these fast changes and new times. Traditional art, based on realistic works, which had been perfecting the use of perspective since the Renaissance, could not compete with the innovations of photography and film. They would be a mere replication of these more accurate methods of showing reality.
Portrait of Fernande by Picasso, Pablo, 1909
In an attempt to grasp the essence of the times, Picasso started to move towards more simplified depictions of objects and the human form, trying to represent simultaneously the different angles from which they could be seen, not only from a unique perspective. He started to flatten his images, making use of geometric shapes (such as cubes, hence the name of the movement) and deconstructing reality by slashing the image into different planes, producing, thus, an effect which had a more intellectual than sensorial impact on the viewer.
The iconic painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is considered the first Cubist work of art. Primitive art, such as African masks and Iberian sculptures, played an influential role in the development of Cubism. This first phase of the movement is usually known as analytic cubism, characterized by the use of dark, almost monochromatic color hues, and growing to a point where the deconstruction of reality became so radical that the viewer could hardly identify the object or person depicted. The second phase, synthetic cubism, was a lot more energetic and colorful, including the technique of collage, where real-life two-dimensional materials, such as colored paper, newspapers or even hair ribbons, were glued to the painting.
Bottle, Guitar, and Pipe by Picasso, Pablo. 1912
It’s hard to pinpoint when Cubism really finished, although we usually place it in the historical period between 1907-1914. It actually did not end, but transformed itself and evolved into other styles in the following decades.
Even today we can identify strong influences of Cubism in architecture, design and, of course, the arts in general.
NOTE: If you teach languages, you might want to check out our series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ENGLISH available from AMAZON.COM: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
The key words to define the creative output of Picasso, one of the most famous artists in history – and whose art involves not only paintings, but drawings, sculptures, collages and pottery – are, among others: cubist, revolutionary, shocking, free, provocative, sinful, decadent, unique, striking, wonderful. Ahead of its time, as the work of most great artistic minds, it took time for his more innovative art to be understood and appreciated by the general public.
Picasso has become a brand. The influence of his work has gone way beyond art to touch the fashion industry, the automobile industry, architecture and design in all corners of the world for the last 70 years or so. Together with his close friend and rival, Matisse, Picasso is considered the greatest artist of the 20th century.
The Tragedy, 1903
The art of Picasso and Matisse were always in constant dialogue. They were always paying close attention to each other’s developing work, copying and referencing motifs and vocabulary to advance their own pieces. However, this copying was always subject to a digestive process, where the opponent’s innovations and techniques were appropriated and personalized, coming out as distinctive and original manifestations, when they finally showed up in the rival’s work.
Unlike Matisse, however, whose work does not spell out clearly its relation with his personal life, Picasso’s works reflect a life well lived: his passions, his womanizing, his contradictions, his lovers, his wives, his friends, his loneliness, his unorthodox and bohemian life style are all reflected in his art.
If he chose, Picasso could easily paint and draw in a more classic way, in the vein of the masters of more traditional art, as his early works attest. However, he thought that, in an age in which photography and film took over the job of representing reality as it is, the objective of the artist was to push the envelop, going way beyond the mere copying of the world as one sees it. Besides, Picasso had a very clear notion of the arbitrariness of the various signs of representation from his own life experience: he was a Spanish national who lived in France for most of his life without ever dominating completely the local language. It’s speculated that this factor played a huge role in his liberation from rigid patterns of realistic representation of the external world.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907
By working mainly at night and usually painting directly from his imagination, without models, Picasso struggled and succeeded in exploring the inner life of things and people. He expressed in his work the way he felt about people, he let their personalities and attitudes manifest themselves through his masterpieces. He distorted and played with the objects of everyday life to make them convey aspects we are not used to noticing. He depicted reality in totally new ways by mixing styles, flattening perspectives, and thus confounding and broadening the viewer’s perception, painting the same scene as seen simultaneously from different angles.
But his work goes way beyond the mere exploration of his personal life and the attempt to exorcise his inner demons. He grew to express the whole dark atmosphere of the 20th century, the bloodiest period in human history, in some of his most violent and impactful productions – such as the painting Guernica, which conveys, in horrific and stylized detail, the violence of war and its effects on innocent people.
The lasting influence of this great artist will still be felt in many years to come.
NOTE: You might want to check out our eBooks series available from AMAZON.COM, TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
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.
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 acquisition device. 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 you 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.
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 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
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 8 books so far, and features works by Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell, Vincent van Gogh and Winslow Homer. For further information on how to download the materials, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS
Check out this brief video on the material on TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MONET: