Who said that language class cannot be fun? One of the most interesting units I had along with my colleague, Adrienne, was the wonderful unit where we would bring out the paint and create canvases. The initial reaction of my students was always interesting. “I cannot even draw!” I would quickly tell them that, number one, I wasn’t an art teacher so the criticism wouldn’t be heavy duty and that it was set up so that anyone could have success.
The Unit was on Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) and was oh so much fun. I would have asked them ahead of time to bring in some paint, some brushes, a canvas, and some newspaper. I always had paper towels and usually had leftover materials from previous years just in case they forgot, and someone always did.
The way it worked was that I had made transparencies of the illustrations in the book to be put on an overhead projector. The illustrations, by Antoine de St. Exupéry, are quite simple and yet rich in visual beauty. I would have several overhead projectors set up and we would go to work. The students would project the transparency of interest right on the canvas. They could pencil it in and then paint. I told them that they could do whatever they wanted with creativity, change colors, add to it, whatever. Initial concerns of “I cannot do this” quickly changed into delight as the focus of class had totally changed for a moment. It was a great break from the usual activities. More often than not, a majority of the students managed to get the outline of the picture they were doing and some actual acrylics on the canvas the first class period. I believe, if memory serves me well, it took no more than one, at the most two class periods beyond this to finish. The resulting canvases were displayed around the classroom as they dried.
We generally planned for these to be made prior to National French Week, which was a very large undertaking in the school. We had all sorts of things planned. National French Week (la Semaine du Français) also coincided with parent/teacher conferences and the display always made students and parents very proud. French is not as popular as Spanish, obviously, and French teachers need to be very pro-active in making sure that the enrollment stays up. The crazy idea that Spanish is easier was omnipresent and false, to say the least. It is a phonetic language, but let me tell you, get into the heavy grammar and French is easier. Can we talk “subjunctive?”
The pictures were then displayed in the halls and in the Staff Cafeteria with their names and class displayed. The students were oh so proud of them and I have to say that they always came out beautifully. They were like jewels decorating our building.
Students always fondly remembered the painting unit and I have to say that it was probably one of the biggest successes during the year as students, even if not the most competent French speakers, could revel in their success as “artists!”
A special thanks to Adrienne who picked up this unit from a Seminar she attended.
Oh, and by the way, the images you see are actual paintings done by the students and totally representative of the final product.
The student requirements:
1 canvas (12×16 or larger)
1 small set of acrylic paints
2-3 brushes, assorted sizes (these can be shared by several people)
(optional) 1 fine paint marker for outlining
1 small sponge for different effects
1 small cup, several paper towels, and a newspaper section