As budgets decrease and funding disappears, so are many art classes.
It’s no wonder when administrators look at art as just a fun elective or a way to give the brain a break. But art is more than that. Even in ESL classes, art can promote language learning and enrich an otherwise bland curriculum. Are you looking for ways help your ESL students learn English while still promoting the arts? Here are some ideas on how to integrate art into your ESL curriculum.
10 Ways to Promote Language Learning through Art
Beginning at the Beginning
Art is great for beginning language students particularly because it’s possible to communicate without language. That may not be the best way to instruct your students since they are supposed to be learning English, but it is a good way to assess what they have learned when it comes to beginners. There is a difference between receptive language (what we understand) and productive language (what we can produce). You can assess a student’s receptive language through artistic methods such as drawing, since they do not need to produce language to show that they understand it. Try having students read or listen to a story and then sequence the events through pictures or illustrate vocabulary. You’ll get a good read on how much they know understand without requiring them to produce unfamiliar language to get their point across.
Sharing Culture through Art
Culture is a big factor in the ESL classroom. Your students will have to do more than just learn to respect their classmates’ cultures to get along. They will need to understand it to really understand who their friends are and where they are coming from on different issues. Art is the perfect place to start that conversation. We can learn a lot about a group of people by studying their art. Encourage your international students to share a classic piece of art from their culture. When they talk about that picture, and there’s no reason they can’t relay information they learned while researching the piece, they will have an opportunity to share their culture with their classmates. Encouraging your class members to ask questions about that culture is a natural next step. This creates a dialogue about cultural differences and values, and it can all start from sharing art.
An Opportunity for Language Use
Exposure to art and learning to appreciate it is a great way to put language to real life use. Try taking your students to a local museum to admire the art and then discuss how the different pieces made them feel. Many larger museums offer audio tours of some famous works, and those tours are a great if challenging listening comprehension exercise for your students since they won’t have visual input to go along with what the speaker is saying. Many museums also offer free tours – another great way to get in some listening practice. Researching a piece of art is also a good way to get some reading comprehension activity into your classroom. Follow up that research with a short presentation on each piece and you’ll have a speaking lesson and an art appreciation class ready to go.
Connecting Life to Art
For a real challenge, have your students read a short bio of a famous author. Then see if they can make connections between what they learned and some of the artist’s most famous pieces. You might have students work on this in groups so they can bounce their ideas off one another.
The opportunity to learn vocabulary from art is virtually unlimited since every piece is different and each portrays different subject matter in different aspects. But you can also use art to introduce unusual vocabulary to your ESL students, which is always a plus, by talking about different mediums used to create different pieces and different techniques each artist used.
Connect with the Public
Living in Pittsburgh, we have the opportunity three or four times a year to visit many local galleries in what the organizing group calls a Gallery Crawl. For several hours one Friday evening, the public is welcome to admire different exhibits in at least a dozen different galleries. This is not only a good time to admire less known art. It’s also a great chance to interact with members of the community. Whether it’s asking questions of the artists, curators, or other people or even just listening in on conversations, ESL students in this area can make connections between people and art, and they’ll be using English to do it. Keep your eyes and ears open and you might find a similar opportunity near you.
Art Teaching Grammar
When it comes time to teaching certain grammar points such as comparative adjectives, art is the perfect vehicle for comparisons. It is also great for teaching prepositions of location. You can even use art to practice certain verb tenses by discussing what is happening in the picture or what the artist might have been looking at when he was painting. It’s also a good opportunity to practice modal verbs.
Art as a Writing Prompt
Pictures are great for writing prompts, and the world of art gives ESL students plenty of inspiration. Choose a famous picture such as the Mona Lisa or The Scream and ask students to write a story using the person in the picture as the main character. Or ask them to write about a vacation to a place portrayed in a landscape.
Have your students write their own art quiz using the information available at a museum’s website. Many museums have pictures of their collections available online. After reading about the collections, have groups of two to three students write a quiz for their classmates to see just how deep their collective art knowledge runs.
Language Lessons Online
Even if you don’t feel comfortable writing your own language lesson based on art, don’t give up on the idea. The Getty Museum has free ESL lesson plans available online. All you need to do is print out the lesson plans and you’re ready to go.
Art has so much to offer, and the many benefits don’t stop at the door of your ESL class.
Art can inspire your students to express themselves in ways nothing else can. And since expression is communication, they will be doing great things with language in the process. Give art a try in your ESL class. Your students will be more engaged and feel more freedom to express themselves creatively, and their English will improve in the process as well.