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I've been teaching relatively advanced students English composition in a summer language program run by the Canadian gov't this summer. My
students were between 16-24, but I think this would work for both younger and older groups too. Fo r this activity, I went to the local art college library and found four different paintings (one medieval, one surrealist, one pre-raphaelite and one realist) and brought them to class. I put each painting in one corner of the room, and asked the student s to visit each painting and write down a list of as many words as they could find to describe what they saw. The words could include colours, shapes, objects, relationships, situations, and any feelings the painting might give the student. Next, we reg rouped and tried to brainstorm a class list of words together on the board. This way, the students got to share any vocabulary they'd learned, and compare their different responses. Finally, I asked the students to write a short composition about one of the paintings. The composition had to include a detailed description of the painting (the colours, shapes, objects, situations etc.), and a brief "story" explaining what was going on in the painting. Finally, I asked the students to give the painting a title. This assignment always produces really creative and visceral responses! When the students read each other's compositions, they are amazed by the different ideas they find, and it really seems to challenge their vocabulary. With some groups, we' ve talked about "perspective", "vanishing points", "surrealism" and "symbolism"!
Not bad! Some of the paintings that have worked really well are ones by Salvador Dali (melting watches), Rene Magritte (that famous one with
the guy in the bowler hat with t he big green apple in front of his face), Van Eyck (The Marriage of Arnolfini), and Van Gogh (Starry Night). I'd be curious to hear if any one else can suggest any other paintings.

Name: christina mckay
Email: [email protected]
Location: Halifax, N.ns Canada

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