As English teachers, we are constantly looking for new ideas to teach, review and practise those same old language skills. Coursebooks are filled with excellent resources like flashcards, illustrations and photos to help us introduce new vocabulary, practise grammar skills and promote understanding. Those of us lucky enough to teach in a modern day classroom with access to the Internet, computers and interactive whiteboards have endless images and resources to choose from (often times too many to sift through). Sometimes we get so busy looking outside the classroom for fresh, original ideas that we forget to take advantage of the invaluable resources we have right in front of us – our pupils.
Pupil artwork can be a useful tool to personally engage our classes and promote the authentic use of English. So, back away from the colour printer and take a moment to reflect on ways you can use your pupils’ artwork and classroom displays to create meaningful and memorable language experiences in your classes.
In English class
You can use student artwork to review English vocabulary, grammar skills and language structures. Using classroom displays can be a great way to prompt discussions in which students can draw on prior knowledge and personal experience. You can have students talk about their own artwork, a classmate’s artwork or a variety of artworks presented in a display.
In Science classes
Many art projects can also be integrated into Natural and Social Science class to provide students with an opportunity to make personal connections to the content they are learning while developing language skills. Certain types of artworks lend themselves better to different topics and language structures. Let’s take a moment to look at some examples:
Portraits, self-portraits and figure drawings
In English class, these artworks can be used to talk about the parts of the face and body as well as colours, clothes and emotions. While discussing physical appearances, the pupils can also practise possessive pronouns, is/are, and the use of have got.
In Natural Science class, portraits and figure drawings can be used not only to help the pupils practise important vocabulary about parts of the face and body, but also to consolidate what they have learned about more complex concepts including the five senses and how the body works (bones, muscles and joints).
- Younger students can point at their portrait and describe the parts of their face. They can also describe their classmates’ portraits.
- Older pupils can interview a partner and write a description to display next to their artwork.
- You can play a game of I Spy with a display of artworks by giving clues and encouraging pupils to find the artwork you are describing, for example: He’s got short, curly brown hair. His eyes are brown. He’s wearing trainers, jeans and a striped t-shirt. Who is it?
- Pupils can label their artwork to review key vocabulary (eg eyes, nose, mouth/ sight, smell, taste, sound/ knee, hip, elbow, etc.)
See detailed instructions here
Cityscapes and 3D models of a city or building
In English class, these artworks are great for reviewing places in the city, forms of transport, jobs and to practise giving directions.
In Social Science,a model of a city can be ahelpful resource to help pupils deepen their understanding of the different parts of a city. It can also be used to discuss important concepts like the role of the local council, local services, road safety and living together.
- Pupils can add names to each building in their city, make road signs and name streets.
- They can use the model city to write and practise dialogues about work or daily life in the city.
- It can also be used to develop an interactive lesson on local government, providing pupils with a hands-on learning experience where they can take on different roles such as mayor or city council member and make decisions and laws for their city.
Animal sculptures and paintings/drawings
In English class and Natural Science class, learning about animals is a fun topic that the children really enjoy. By using animal artworks as visual resources, you can make this interesting theme even more appealing.
- Pupils can review important vocabulary and concepts by describing what their animal looks like, how it moves, what it eats, where it lives and which animal group it belongs to.
- You may choose to have your pupils present specific information about their animal to the class or they can write a short report to display with their artwork.
- Pupils can also work in small groups to create a habitat where they can combine their artworks, or pupils can categorize their animals into different groups based on specific characteristics, diet, where they live, etc. to organise their display.
In English class,this art genrecan provide pupils the opportunity to review important vocabulary related to food, furniture and everyday objects, as well as practise prepositions of place and descriptive adjectives such as numbers, colours, and shapes.
In Natural Science,a still lifecan be used to promote your pupils’ understanding of healthy eating habits, the five senses and living and non-living things.
- Ask your pupils to describe the position of one of the objects in their still life using prepositions of place.
- Play an I Spy game with a display of artworks by giving clues and encouraging pupils to find the artwork you are describing.
- Encourage your pupils to use their imagination to carry out a sensory viewing of their artwork and name the different objects that they can see, smell, hear, taste and touch.
In English class, landscapes allow students to talk about natural objects while practising prepositions of place, comparative and superlative adjectives and the use of there is and there are.
In Social Science, these outdoor scenes allow pupils to explore topics such as man-made and natural features, weather and climate, or life in rural communities in more depth. They can also be used to support a study of plants, trees and flowers in Natural Science.
- Ask your class to compare the objects in the foreground, middle ground and background of their landscape using there is and there are as well as comparative and superlative adjectives.
- Encourage pupils to talk about how different landscapes make them feel.
- Sometimes older pupils have difficulties with creative writing activities. Landscapes, among other types of artworks, can be used as inspirational writing prompts.The class can use their artwork to describe their setting or to begin or finish their story.
Masks, 3D models and puppets are great tools that inspire dramatic play in young children. Your pupils can use these types of artworks to promote their imagination and practise free expression. Younger pupils can help you prepare a short script to act out in front of their classmates. Older pupils can prepare a short dialogue in small groups.
Collaborative projects and group presentations provide excellent opportunities that facilitate language acquisition. Through collaboration, pupils can also develop interpersonal skills, share strengths and improve self-esteem and confidence when speaking English. Ask pupils to combine their artwork with other classmates and work together to prepare a presentation for the class. Provide your class with guiding questions, mind maps or gap-fills to help them organise their ideas.
External Exam Preparation
The process of preparing for external exams can sometimes feel a bit disconnected from our students’ lives and personal experiences. Although there are tons of excellent resources for exam preparation for young learners, none of them are as personal and meaningful as those made by the pupils themselves. There are some very creative ways to practise different types of external exam activities with pupil artwork, such as:
- Choose two artworks from a display and ask your class to discuss their similarities and differences.
- Choose three similar artworks and play Odd One Out. Instruct your learners to explain how one of the artworks is different than the other two.
- Ask pupils to work in a small group to combine their artworks and use them to tell a story.
There are many great teaching materials and helpful resources out there that are “ready to use”; but remember, but no one knows your pupils’ needs and strengths as well as you do, and no one knows their interests and experiences better than they do. Explore a variety of ways to use your pupils’ creativity in their artwork to help you develop creative language experiences in the classroom.