Drawing in the ELT Classroom to Explore Social Justice

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of delivering a workshop session in the Visual Arts Circle and Global Issues Special Interest Group joint pre-conference event at the 2018 IATEFL conference, here in Brighton. This practical workshop looked at ways of applying practical teacher-drawing and learner-drawing tasks to explore issues of social justice and human rights. Here’s a little write-up in case you missed it.

Why Global Issues and the Visual Arts?  What’s the link?

Those of us attending the PCE were doing so because we’re interested in, and recognise, either (or both) the power of visuals, and the importance of Global Issues in English language teaching.  The visual arts have the power to trigger deeper discussion and engagement with a topic.  We, and our students, are global citizens, of a world in which themes such as social justice and human rights are becoming increasingly important. I believe that these things need to be talked about.  One of the many things we’re doing as language teachers is helping to ‘grow’ a shared language – a lingua franca – with which we can talk about such things.  The visual arts have the power to help us do that.

But why drawing?  How does the act of drawing differ from just looking at someone else’s visual? This is something I addressed more thoroughly in my main conference session on Learner Generated Visuals, but the basic premise is that the act of drawing as a way of exploring language leads to a deeper and more personalised, memorable connection.

The workshop demonstrated and tried out learner-led and teacher-led drawing tasks. The learner-led tasks are designed to act as a launchpad, or springboard, for discussion, with learners working in pairs or groups to share and generate ideas. These tasks looked at what a child in today’s world needs to survive and thrive, and the relationship between society and the individual, although the activities can be adapted for a range of related topics.  

The teacher-led task, a PICTOGLOSS, is designed to aid learner comprehension of stories and language.   In the PCE session, we looked at a story entitled ‘Teacup’ by Rebecca Young.  

Whilst telling the story the teacher illustrates it on the whiteboard and the learners then use these visuals to verbally reconstruct and discuss the content of the story. Again, the Pictogloss activity can be adapted to work with a wide variety of text types.


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