Language beyond words

27th June 2003 at 01:00
Understanding that description is more than just words is an important skill. One way to get this across is to ask students to transfer the written word into a piece of art. I find it works especially well for boys.

For example, in Year 8 English we read as a class the first chapter of Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations. The focus is on the skills Dickens uses to effectively describe Pip, the churchyard and surrounding countryside.

Students then draw Pip and the scene. This requires close individual reading as they must pay attention to what's being described, the adjectives used, the colours, weather, and so on.

When they have finished the drawing they must select quotes from the extract and copy them on to the drawing, close to the images they relate to. The challenge is to fit on as many as they can. The pupils enjoy using different skills to explore descriptive writing and those good at art, but weak in English can really shine.

Next they write their own description, such as "The Haunted House", employing key descriptive skills to present the images they have in mind.

They then swap these with a partner and repeat the exercise they did with Great Expectations, drawing from their partner's description and selecting quotes to write on it. Partners love seeing if what has been drawn is what they were trying to convey to the reader. It can lead to some interesting discussions when the artists ask for clarification from the authors.

Natalie Chyba, English teacher, Cynffig Comprehensive School, Bridgend

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