Reimagining famous paintings : Stimulating creative and critical thinking in the EFL class through an art project

Reimagining famous paintings

Stimulating creative and critical thinking in the EFL class through an art project

Special thanks to Maria Karantzi and Annette Morley for their contribution to the project! 

Can art in the EFL class, trigger thought-provoking discussions and provide useful language content for primary school learners? The following post is based on a project I did with my 5th graders and displays some of the work done by the students.

Until I heard Maria Karanzti, an arts and crafts teacher presenting, the only thing I could could think of was to ask my learners do a tedious project on art. Something like:

“Find information about your favourite painting and present it in class”

But I knew that two things were guaranteed: utter boredom in class and powerpoint slides with copied and pasted information that my learners wouldn’t even have read before “presenting” them in class.

When Maria talked about the trend of “reimagining” famous paintings, I thought I saw the challenge arising for my learners.  So the project was rephrased as following:

“Find information about your favourite painting and reimagine it. You can draw or use technology to make your version of the painting. Write a short text and describe why you have made changes and how you feel.”

I showed in class Vermeer’s girl and the humorous “Star Wars” version and explained the notion. We even searched on ® Bing other “reimagined” paintings and the students found it intriguing. To my surprise, none chose to draw it and they all chose to use technology. Some used photoshop, others used apps that sounded alien to me. 

 The problem that arises at this stage is that you need to collect the students’ work and give them feedback. The most practical tool for that is  ®OneNote. You can create a virtual notebook and invite students to share there, photos of their drawings, information about the paintings and their reflective accounts on the changes they made. If the school does not support Windows, you can use any other collaborative web 2.0 tool like padlet or you can even have them in a USB flash drive. Once you have collected all the material, you can put everything together in a video like this one:

The original idea to create a virtual museum using ® Minecraft came unstuck as the 5th graders who promised to do it, failed to meet the deadline. However, all the students created their reimagined paintings. Beyond the artistic value, I was happy as an EFL teacher because all the students produced texts in L2 – some short, others longer and more elaborate. The  structure which was Reimagining famous paintingsmainly used was the 2nd conditional but there were also chunks of language which were closer to freer practice and using the language more creatively.

But that was not all… As we were talking about the project, issues arose like:

Is it a good idea to reimagine paintings and create our own version?

Does it make us more creative or does it show disrespect for the artist and the work of art?

These sparked heated discussions in class and on the school's Learning Management System, which were a source of inspiration for the next part of the project: An opinion poll.

I used ®Office Mix to create the poll but there are also a number of Web 2.0 tools that can be used in class. 

An English teacher openly opposed the idea while the art and crafts teacher was in favour which gave me the opportunity to do a follow-up on the topic.  I divided the class into two groups. Group A interviewed the teacher who was against and Group B the one who was a supporter of the idea. Then, the class listened to both recording and wrote down the arguments of each side. 

This was a great opportunity for me to introduce small argumentative paragraphs with a topic sentence, the argument and example. For instance:

I believe that reimagining famous paintings is not a good idea. First of all, we do not know exactly what the artist wanted to show and how he or she felt. For example, I can not feel the same like Munch when he painted the Scream.

This may not seem much of an accomplishment but for 10-11 year old pupils, supporting their views with reasons and examples is not an easy task.

Finally, after doing a unit in the coursebook on art, I asked my students if they knew about any special stories behind a painting or work of art. Even though I had originally feared that my students had mechanistically copied and pasted information about their favourite work of art, it turned out that some of them had paid attention. A few days later, A. K. came to class with this video: 

So far, my students had read, listened, spoken and written in English about a different subject (CLIL) and above all were motivated and felt creative, taking initiatives like the video produced by A.K.

Yet, there seemed to be one more element missing. Their own personal creations. So I asked them to create their own work of art and write a paragraph or shoot a video to talk about it. Here is a sample of their work:

Video created by M.M.

My pupils had fun and learned so many things that I intend to try it again this September. Would you like to give it a go with your students?

Dimitris Primalis


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