From image to text: How to encourage pupils to think creatively

February 12, 2018


Images as a source for language

Guest post by Peter Sansom, Part I of the “Practical CLIL ideas” series 

As an art teacher in my lessons I make use of a great deal of images. Paintings and sculpture from art history, films, drawings and photographs all have a part to play. This visual input in my lessons invites a descriptive use of language, which in turn offers interesting possibilities for CLIL lesson strategies.

Simply articulating what we see in images is an obvious starting point, generating spoken or written output. Encouraging pupils to think more creatively in their use of descriptive adjectives might also be useful.  However the best use of descriptive language comes when it is truly integrated in the creative process of image making.

How to integrate language in this creative process

I’ve experimented with this in various forms. Pupils first writing a short descriptive text before others use only the text to try and produce their own version of the original image. I’ve had groups describing a concealed still life arrangement while others tried to draw it. More recently I’ve exchanged texts that described portrait photographs with a school in Finland. My pupils each received a descriptive text and then tried to re-stage the photographic composition without ever having seen the original.

The results?

It’s a tremendous learning experience. Firstly calling for accurate descriptive writing. This is followed, after the text work has been exchanged, by a very critical evaluation and interpretation of the written descriptive work of others, as the pupils set about a process of photographic recreation.  But maybe the most enlightening element is actually the fact that the project helps the teenagers to discover that language isn’t quite as concrete in its interpretation as we would perhaps like. Even when text is grammatically correct and solidly written there may well be grew areas where multiple interpretations are possible.

I conduct such descriptive exchange projects in the art class, but I certainly feel that there are possibilities to combine images and descriptive work in other subject areas.

Peter Sansom is an arts teacher at the Maaslandcollege, Oss in the Netherlands and teaches his arts lessons to children aged between twelve and sixteen using CLIL teaching practices. Documentation of these projects and others can be found on his blog:

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