How to work with the eBooks of the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART


Teaching English with art has many advantages: it provides an exciting context; it exposes the students to beautiful and powerful images, making the lesson more memorable; it can easily be linked to other subjects in the school curriculum: history, geography, science, philosophy etc; and, as the response of human beings to different artworks is always unique, teachers can tap into that by personalizing speaking and writing activities. Personalization and freer practice are the most important stages in the language acquisition process.

Our eBooks bring photos of paintings of famous artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio, Monet, Norman Rockwell,  Vincent van Gogh and Winslow Homer. Based on these paintings, each book brings a series of vocabulary, speaking and writing activities, composing a set of 30 items altogether, each divided in a number of exercises. The students are encouraged to work on both topic-based and task-based types of speaking activities, and explore the steps of process writing. Teachers are free to decide how much time their students should spend on each writing activity. Notice that, while the speaking activities should take place in class, some of the steps of the process writing activities, such as drafting and publishing, can be assigned as homework. For further information on these approaches, please refer to the following articles previously posted on the blog LINGUAGEM:  Topic-Based versus Task-Based Speaking Activities (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1nJ) and Writing: Focus on the Process not on the Product (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1ot)

Click on the picture above for further info

Click on the picture above for further info

The activities in each book cater for different linguistic levels, ranging from beginner (A1) to  advanced (C2). They are correlated to the COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE, which makes it easy for the teacher to match the eBook exercises to whatever other teaching materials they are already using, providing, therefore, effective and interesting supplementary work on productive skills. These extra activities can be used as a warm-up; whenever the teacher feels the class needs a boost in their motivation during the lesson, through an energizing task; as a filler for a lesson which finished earlier; or as complement or extension to topics already covered in the main coursebook.

Our materials are not meant for self-study. It takes a teacher to monitor and lead the students through the activities, but the eBooks can be used both in traditional classrooms or on online courses. Ideally both teachers and students should have their own practice books – downloaded to the Kindle app on their desktops,  laptops, tablets or smartphones. Whenever the teacher wishes to provide heads-up exercises or have the students focus their attention more effectively, they can project the pages of the eBooks onto a blank wall, and ask the students to switch off their electronic devices.

Most of the speaking activities can be done in pairs or groups. Alternatively, the whole class can be involved. We suggest the teacher give the students some preparation time before they are ready to speak in front of the class. Another important technique would be to have the student repeat the same story, role plays or any other speaking activity with more than one partner, in sequence. He will invariably perform better the second or third time around.

As for the writing activities, we advocate the use of process writing techniques. The student should work on drafts that progressively get more sophisticated and accurate until they reach the final product. Students should be trained to self-correct or peer-correct these drafts. Teachers should establish how many drafts they expect for each activity. The final draft can then be corrected by the teacher before being displayed to the class in some form. Please remember that it’s during the drafting phase that students learn how to write. The final product is only a consequence. The longer they spend on the drafting phase, the better their writing is going to get.

In addition to the exercises, the eBooks bring short biographies of each of the artists featured, the historical context he lived in and the main characteristics of the artistic movement he participated in. The teacher should give the students a brief overview of the artist’s biography, his times, where he lived, and his style. Teachers will not need to go beyond what is written in the eBook, although there is a wealth of information freely available on the Internet if teachers or students wish a more in-depth introduction or to know more about the artist.

Some of the eBooks also contain short texts referring to specific artworks of that particular artist, either because they are prominent in his oeuvre or because they are based on historical or mythological events that, if explained in a more comprehensive way, will enhance the student’s understanding of the painting and help them with their English production.

We are certain these eBooks will prove invaluable in making your lessons stand out and help your students develop their English. For further info on the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, please click here  http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS and purchase the eBook about your favorite artist right now.

Check out this fun video clip on our CARAVAGGIO eBook:

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Topic-Based versus Task-Based Speaking Activities


Speaking is one of the most valued skills in learning a foreign language. When you want to find out about the general knowledge of a person in a foreign language you usually ask DO YOU SPEAK (language)? I can’t remember ever hearing from someone if I could listen to English, on the other hand.

Most learners therefore expect to speak the language fast when they join a course or hire a teacher. As teachers, however, we know that, being a productive skill, speaking will have to come after listening in the process of the students’ linguistic development. The same goes for writing: it needs to follow reading. Receptive skills (listening and reading) precede productive skills (speaking and writing). This is an absolute law that emulates the acquisition of the native language.

Ideally, students would have to spend sometime quietly listening to as much English as possible, at the right level, which, according to the linguist Stephen Krashen, would be roughly tuned to slightly above their current level in the language (i + 1), before they are asked to produce utterances. This quiet period of listening comprehension is called by the experts The Silent Period. This is when input is internalized (becoming intake).

In general, language schools and teachers cannot afford to apply this methodology exactly as it’s prescribed, as, for marketing reasons and to keep their businesses, they need to satisfy the strong expectation the students (clients) have about being able to speak the language quickly. Therefore teachers need to, at least, create a few speaking opportunities in the beginner’s class. Fair enough, this will not cause any serious disruption in the learners’ acquisition process.

Task-Based Speaking Activitie

Task-Based Speaking Activities

It would be important, however, to manage these expectations aptly, making it clear to the students that their ability to speak English will grow proportionally to the amount of linguistic input they get exposed to. The more they listen and read, the quicker and more fluently they will be able to speak the target language. Especially in dealing with adult students, I recommend teachers have a candid conversation with their students about what the methodology entails.

Having covered how to deal with the students’ frustration of not being able to produce English as fast as they would like to, let’s move on to how a teacher can create speaking opportunities for their students at any level.

There are basically two kinds of speaking activities: Topic-Based activities and Task-Based activities. The first refers to the kind of activities that usually involve giving the students a topic and expecting them to talk about it or discuss it. The latter involves a task: students use the language as a means to an end, trying to solve a problem or complete a task. Both kinds of activities are valid and enjoyed to a greater or lesser extent by different kinds of students. I would say that, as a general rule, task-based activities work better for lower levels while topic-based ones for intermediate to upper levels of linguistic proficiency. But this is not an absolute law.

An example of a task-based activity would be to have the students list the best places to go on vacation. Individually, each student would draw their own list (with, let’s say, 5 items, numbered in order from the best place) and, then, they would be paired off with the task of coming up with a common list. They would have to discuss the pros and cons of each place and prioritize their recommendations. Then each pair would present the negotiated list to the rest of the class.

An example of a topic-based activity, on the other hand, would be a debate: Gay Marriage: are you for or against? The students would express their own views on the issue. Teacher could guide the discussion by presenting typical and polite phrases to introduce disagreement, explain turn-taking rules, show them how to modalize one’s point of view, etc. Language and conversation skills would be taught together.

The exercises you find in our series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART include both topic and task-based speaking activities. The visual input is always a painting from a great master (Matisse, Picasso, Caravaggio). Students look at the painting in their ebooks and do the speaking activity indicated for their level (we use the Common European Framework of Reference to set the level). However, most activities are very open-ended and personalized, so sometimes the teacher can use even more advanced activities with lower-level learners, as the students themselves will adapt the production to their own level of English. An alternative way of dealing with the activities would be to project the image of the painting from a laptop or tablet onto a white wall to make it more of a heads-up type of exercise.

More on speaking and writing activities in the upcoming blog posts. Watch this space. To download a book from the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Teaching English with Art

Teaching English with Art

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.