Thursday, 5 October 2017

Paintings enrich teaching and can inspire students

Teachers use all kinds of material in class: from course books which are a safe guide through grammar and gradually built vocabulary to images, magazines, books, videos and websites.
The same type of material can serve different purposes in a language classroom depending on the teacher’s imagination and goals but also on the students’ response, level and ability.

I will illustrate how we can exploit the same material or source at different levels and with different groups of students in mind. To do this, I will use a painting called La Strada di Casa by the Italian artist Carlo Carra.

La Strada di Casa by Carlo Carra, 1900

The image can be used as a visual stimulus for prompting descriptive language at any level. It has, I find, a haunting air about it which makes it appealing to any age.

Therefore, at an elementary level one would limit oneself to such descriptive language as:
Ø It is night time.
Ø The street is empty.
Ø The windows are shut.
and so on.

At a more advanced level, however, one would try to elicit
Ø A cloak of darkness spreads over the town.
Ø The stump of a tree is too conspicuous to ignore.
Ø The bright moon sheds an eerie glow over the dwellings at the end of the street.

The next question could be about the atmosphere, and again depending on the students’ level, one would expect a range of vocabulary and structures:
Ø The place looks spooky.
Ø The street is deserted.
Ø Not a soul to be seen in the street.
Ø A ghostly light illuminates the last houses in the row.
Ø The place is steeped in mystery while the ominous sky foreshadows an imminent catastrophe.
Ø The tree forms a stark silhouette against the sky providing no safe refuge for any stragglers.

Description apart, there is a dramatic quality in the image on which the teacher could capitalise.

My suggestion for further language development is inviting the students to populate the place in the image with any creatures – human or non-human – that they find appropriate justifying perhaps their choices and proceed to ask them to write a conversation or a story including all the creatures they have added or an extract of an imaginary book.

Again, the projects would vary depending on the level and age of the students but would fire their imagination, nevertheless.
I have created an animation to help anyone who might be short of ideas or needs a little bit of impetus to get started and I have written a sample extract to use with my advanced students.

Here you can see the animation.

And here is the sample extract:

With adults one could ask whether they can think of a film or more that they associate with the image, which would lead to further discussion and exchange of ideas. It could even develop into a class debate about which film bears the most striking similarity with the picture and the atmosphere it evokes.
Just a clue at this point: it strongly reminded me of a film made in 2004 entitled The Village.

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