When teaching a second language through the content of other subject areas, art lessons in my case, the production of language rich output from the pupils is often an important part of the learning strategies used. One day we might focus on written output and another on verbal. Both are important aspects of language acquisition and use.
Within a standard language learning situation the focus is often placed on issues such as sentence construction or grammar. Within my own branch of language teaching, the CLIL classroom (content and language integrated learning) other elements are given increased focus, such as subject specific vocabulary, ensuring the pupils have a mastery of subject themes and terminology.
This is all well and good, but personally (and creatively) I want to take the output one step further and ask the pupils to take the creative steps that I expect of them when we are drawing or painting and make similar steps in terms of language. In a sense I say to the pupils;
‘OK, you have a certain knowledge of language, now what can you do with it in terms of communication and creativity? How can your choice of language output engage, communicate and grip the reader?’
I’m exploring this very idea with my third year class (14-15 year olds) at the moment. We are going to be looking at how printed and digital advertising makes use of the way image and text can be combined in an unexpected and maybe slightly surreal way in order to help sell a product. The language output is initially likely to be in the form of discussion based around some examples. But really my attention is more on that question of how can well-chosen words be used to communicate in the form of a slogan or attention grabbing phrase. Whichever route is chosen, a sharp and concise text is required. It asks the question of the pupils what can you do with language, how can you use it, and in this case use it to activate an image in a particular way?
This challenges the pupils in a number of ways:
- Be economic in your choice of words, this is absolutely about being clear and to the point
- Be creative, entertaining and engaging
- Stretch your language ability to the limit, don’t rely on the familiar, safe and obvious routes of communication (a tendency that is often very strong in teenage learners!)
Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning, creating advertising imagery and text writing is deceptively complex and difficult. In some ways it is like coming up with a joke, we can all recognize and appreciate a good one when we see or hear it, but coming up with one of our own is completely different matter! It is not without good reason that businesses employ expensive advertising agencies to help them with this problem.
But let’s not be deterred, surely 14-15 year olds can do this!
It is all about framing the assignment up in such a way that it leads the pupils in down the path you want to explore and still offer scope for their own ideas and creativity.
I provide the pupils with an image from advertising. An image that has been lightly photoshopped in order to remove the text or slogan which activates the image in terms of bringing image and text together to promote the product being sold.
The pupils are also given the necessary information as to what the product actually is, if indeed it is not clear from the image. The challenge after that is simple, working in groups they have to write their own adverting text, one that engages and activates the existing image.
This whole project comes on the back of a series of lessons about the art of Surrealism, so I certainly encourage a slightly surprising and out of the box line of thought.
What does this require of the pupils?
- A thoughtful interpretation of the image that they have been given and an understanding of what exactly the product is and what our relationship to it can be.
- A concise and creative formulation of a text or slogan to activate the relationship between the image and the product Like when working on a drawing, pupils have to remain switched on to working with care, correcting where necessary and above all trying to stretch and refine their language output, both in terms of the verbal discussion of possibilities in the group and the small, but hugely significant written output that follows.
In practice this might only be a few words, but that is all the more reason to be critical in producing a truly fine-tuned phrase. Below are a few examples of the resulting pupil work, along with the original texts from the advertisements.
Original text: The challenges to a Paralympic athlete are always bigger
Original text: Big sound, small size
Original text: Specialists in luxury sports cars
Original text: Because dogs don’t always have it easy
Original text: Wherever you get a stain
Original text: Original text: Now with honey essence
Like when working on a drawing, pupils have to remain switched on to working with care, correcting where necessary and above all trying to stretch and refine their language output, both in terms of the verbal discussion of possibilities in the group and the small, but hugely significant written output that follows.