The Internet TESL Journal

Using Art Postcards in ESL/EFL Communication Classes

Mary T. Hayes
Tokyo, Japan
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In keeping with the theory that authentic materials have an important role in the language classroom, I bring postcards of paintings by well-known artists to class to provide raw material for the students to carry out a variety of tasks. The aim is to allow the students opportunities to develop speaking skills while listening and drawing or taking notes, with the overall aim of having them produce their own original compositions on the themes they encounter. The works of art provide cultural content, but need not be culture-specific, an advantage when students are reluctant to accept what they perceive to be "foreign". These art-based activities not only foster motivation but support a creative approach to teaching. Furthermore, it is easy for teachers to adjust them to the students' level in the target language, and ensure that their classes are successful, enjoyable and satisfying to the needs of the learners by giving them a real sense of purpose and achievement.


For any language learner, drawing on the learner's own imaginative capability to use the structures and vocabulary that they already know to create original utterances in a communicative setting is a desirable outcome. Postcards of famous paintings provide a wealth of opportunity for language learning in the communicative language classroom, particularly those of portraits, social scenes, and the works of the surrealists. It is a good idea to organize them into themes if you have a lot. The art postcard can serve as a useful aid in motivating students to communicate something meaningful in a practical context. The cultural content expands the imagination and the learner's perspective on the world, leading to the desire to offer comment and opinion and ask questions. If the teacher brings a personal collection of art postcards to class, the students' curiosity is piqued and they become eager to communicate with him or her, and with each other about something concrete. Teachers may prefer to use pictures easily available on the internet to make their own postcards. Having possession of the card allows the student to feel in control of the language exchange process, and in the information exchange setting, getting their message across becomes not a test of language skill but a creative challenge. Students are thinking in and speaking in L2, even with only a basic knowledge of the language.

Set Up and Procedure for the Lesson

The activity is used in large classes where the students have six years of academic English with varying levels of competency.

Step One: Pre-teaching

At the beginning of this class, it is advisable to pre-teach or review the following:

Step Two: Describe and Draw

      Step Three: Deepening the Discussion and Writing

      Other Activities for a Follow-up Assignment

      In Conclusion

      The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIII, No. 2, February 2007