The ART of conversation: CLIL and Art

Sometimes children don’t want to talk.  They just want to draw.  Or paint.  Or play with clay.  Making art is a natural way for children to relax and express themselves without having to say a word.  I remember a child at school who cried every morning as him mom said goodbye.  He was unconsolable – until I brought him a paintbrush.  Paintbrush in hand, he let himself be led to an easel with paints and paper.  He put on a smock, and started painting.  Once that had been done, he could face the rest of the day with ease.

Not only is painting a great way to help children feel comfortable in the classroom, it’s also a great way to get them to talk, not only about what they are creating, but also about the process.  While they’re working for instance: what color do they need?  or do they need to clean their brush?  And afterward, the child can describe the painting, and the teacher can write the story down.

When talking about children’s art with them, it’s important to avoid judgement.  It’s easy to say “oh, how beautiful,” or “that’s nice”, but that doesn’t help the child develop his talent in this area.  We need to talk about the child’s work with him in a way that encourages critical thinking and lots of talking.  Luckily, there’s already a lot written on this particular topic, so I won’t repeat that here.  For a short and easy article about talking with children about their work, click here.  For a more in-depth article, click here.  Both articles help explain this concept.

What I would like to focus on in this blog entry is involving active language use in the CLIL art lesson.  It’s one thing to get children to paint a mural, but entirely another to get them to talk about it.  There is a lot that teachers need to keep in mind, for instance the starting level of the children in the subject area and in the language, the objective for the art lesson, and the objective for the language aspect of the lesson.

For instance, in this video (starting at 2:40 for art), one sees that the children are learning about drawing natural landscapes.  The teacher begins by focusing on naming the aspects of the landscape, together with the class: waterfall, hill, tree.  These words are described as the language of learning, and they use this to name what it is they are drawing.  Later, the children learn words needed for understanding and completing the assignment, such as draw, curved line, dotted lines, color in.  This vocabulary is the language for learning.  At the end of the lesson, they combine these words and talk about their pictures.  “I drew a hill,” is an example of language through learning, and they use this language to talk about what they have done.

During each phase of the lesson, it is important to maintain a balance in focus.  There is constantly a dual focus: on the one hand, on the art process, and on the other, focus on learning and using the new vocabulary.  In the planning, therefore, it’s important to constantly keep this in mind.  Useful questions for this might for instance be: what do I want the children to learn?  What do they already know?  How can I build upon that?  Where will they need extra help / scaffolding?  What do I want them to produce?  With this information in the back of your head, it’s easier to create lessons with focus and support, so that children can have a successful CLIL experience.


For further reading on CLIL and CLIL art lessons:

Here is a document borrowed from coyle_hood_marsh_clil_toolkit . It is a step-by-step, detailed explanation of CLIL, applicable to any subject area.

Here are a few useful sites that have more ideas and inspiration for CLIL and art:

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