1 Using art and craft to stimulate English language learning

Creative arts lessons are hands-on and active for students. Language learned and used in these sessions can be memorable. In the first case study, the teacher takes notice of how students use language generally in art and craft lessons, and decides to incorporate English into these activities.

Language in art and craft lessons.

Case Study 1: Mrs Pooja uses art to develop spoken English

Mrs Pooja, a new teacher in Class V, was not very confident about teaching English. During her pre-service teacher training she had done Hindi pedagogy, but had not opted for ‘pedagogy of English’.

My assessments showed that very few students had learnt any English since Class 1. I thought back to my pre-service training, when I observed students learning Hindi during art and craft activities. I decided to try out the same strategy for English lessons.

From my English textbook, I chose a story that had many different animal characters. I had students make masks and costumes for the animals in the story.

Before the students started to create their masks and costumes, I wrote some vocabulary in English on the blackboard:

  • Art words: ‘colour’, ‘cut’, ‘paste’, ‘material’, ‘paint’, ‘draw’, ‘shape’.
  • Animals: ‘monkey’, ‘tiger’, ‘deer’, ‘pig’, ‘frog’, ‘fish’.
  • Adjectives: ‘old’, ‘young’, ‘small’, ‘big’, ‘bright’, ‘dark’, ‘brown’, ‘orange’, ‘black’, ‘green’, ‘striped’, ‘slippery’, ‘shiny’.

I had the students repeat the words after me, in English. I used the textbook pictures and my own gestures to make sure they understood.

As the students worked on their masks and costumes, I encouraged them to use the English words as much as possible with me and with each other. As they worked, I also used English for making suggestions, agreement or disagreement, and descriptions. For instance:

  • ‘Try this …’
  • ‘That’s a good idea!’
  • ‘Is it hard or soft?’
  • ‘What colour is this?’
  • ‘Please give him/her the paint.’
  • ‘It’s very beautiful!’
  • ‘I like it very much!’
  • ‘Do you like it?’
  • ‘Show me … Show [other student’s name].’

If my students didn’t understand a word or sentence in English, I would repeat what I said in Hindi. I encouraged the students to practise the English sentences with me and with each other as they made masks and costumes. It was good practise for my own English.

At the end of the art lesson I asked students to write words and sentences in their notebooks, in English, to describe their masks and costumes. For example:

  • ‘My mask is red and orange. It is a lion.’
  • ‘My costume is shiny and green. I am a crocodile.’

While correcting their notebooks, I noticed that all the students had attempted to write, including one who had been diagnosed as dyslexic.

Pause for thought

Mrs Pooja was observant about what worked for students, and developed her practice based on her observations. Do you think Mrs Pooja had good opportunities for assessing the students’ English in the art and craft lesson?

What else do you think Mrs Pooja’s students could do with their masks and costumes, in terms of writing or performance?

In the art and craft lesson, how do your students talk to you and to each other? Do they ask questions, follow instructions and describe their plans and the outcomes of their work? Do they use special vocabulary? How could you use this for English language teaching?

Art and craft lessons have the potential to include all students, including those with learning disabilities. The rest of the unit gives you activities to use with art and craft for teaching and learning English language.

See Resource 1, ‘Using questioning to promote thinking’ to learn more about the value of discussion and interaction in lessons.

Activity 1: Your textbook, art and craft − a planning activity

Choose a lesson from your English textbook – this might be a story, a poem or a description. With other teachers, write down your ideas for art or craft activities that could be included in this lesson. You can ask the art, craft or drama teacher for advice. Some ideas might include:

  • making puppets, masks or costumes for characters
  • drawing or painting scenes or characters
  • creating clay models or constructions of buildings or environments
  • making props from recycled materials to act out the story
  • painting a large picture for scenery or a mural
  • creating a collage
  • weaving.

Now choose one of these art or craft forms to extend the English lesson.

Think of English words and phrases to use with students for the activity. These might include:

  • art and task-specific language, for example ‘cut’, ‘paste’, ‘paper’, ‘paint’, ‘draw’, ‘clay’ …
  • descriptive language, for example ‘bright’, ‘dark’, ‘red’, ‘blue’, ‘beautiful’ …
  • instructional language and directions, for example ‘watch’, ‘look’, ‘first’, ‘next’, ‘now you need to’, ‘slowly’, ‘carefully’ …
  • evaluative comments, for example ‘Do you like it?’, ‘What do you think?’, ‘Is it nice?’ …

Write down the English words that you will use in the lesson. Practise these words and sentences.

Write down the English words you want your students to use in the lesson.

Discuss your ideas with fellow teachers or your head teacher.

In Activity 2, you will implement the lesson you have planned.

Activity 2: Using English in the art or craft lesson

Let students know you expect them to use English in the art or craft activity. Label materials and tools in English. Teach students simple sentences to use while working in groups, such as:

  • ‘Please give me ______?’
  • ‘Will you please pass the ______?’
  • ‘May I take ______?’

Give and repeat instructions in English. Like the teacher in Case Study 1, model the English you want students to use. Use English to describe, praise and ask questions. As students work, move around the classroom to monitor and support the English they are using.

You can assess students’ attempts to use English. Use a simple checklist as suggested in Table 1.

Table 1 Checklist for students’ English use.

Students’ namesUses English frequentlyUses sentences occasionallyUses English occasionallyYet to attempt using English

Encourage students to use the English they learn in the art or craft lesson. This will boost their confidence to use English for different purposes.

What you can learn in this unit

2 Art, talk and writing