The Joy of Arts and Crafts – A Hands-on EFL Teaching Experience

Wright (2002) defines art as a fundamental aspect of human behaviour which involves intellectual as well as emotional exploration, expression and communication.  In other words, It is a reflection of the world around us. Besides the linguistic or the visual elements, we can see mathematical concepts in arts (shapes, patterns, etc.) and we interact with nature as well. Dance and music embed interpersonal relationships. By being an expression of the self, art is possibly the perfect intrapersonal activity.

But in spite of the complexity of the artistic phenomenon, in traditional learning environments, art and language learning seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. But this is not the case with the EFL classrooms influenced by the multiple intelligences model, where teachers turn to the arts and arts-based activities as a way to implement the theory in significant, enjoyable learning experiences. In one of his articles, The Happy Meeting of Multiple Intelligences and the Arts, Howard Gardner (1999) asserts that every type of intelligence has the potential to be mobilized for arts.  Moreover, participation in the arts is a wonderful way to develop a range of intelligences in children. Students at the “Key Learning Community” Middle School in Indianapolis, for example, receive double exposure to art, music and physical education than students in a regular school. The arts are valued for their interdisciplinary potential. The result is an arts-infused curriculum in which students explore relationships across disciplines.

Most EFL teachers may not have as high a level of knowledge or skill in musical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic intelligences, but they can still ensure the presence of these intelligences in their class. They should encourage students to use them to learn and show their understanding models of instruction that more closely imitate or mirror life in a significant way. As Wright suggests, “it is not so much a personal artistic skill in the teacher which is required, but an openness to what art is and can be” (Wright 2002:7).

Next, we are going to look at some arguments for using and appreciating the fine dimensions of teaching/ learning through arts in the EFL classroom, as indicated by Oxford (1990) and Wright (2002).  In the form of craftwork, drama, music or literature, art gives EFL teachers and students a more optimistic outlook due to the fact that it:

  • provides students with multiple ways to develop and express conceptual understanding and to accommodate different learning styles and needs;
  • encourages the idea that each child is unique;
  • connects with and celebrates students’ interests, leading to intrinsic motivation;
  • provides a safe learning environment and a framework for encouragement and support; as a result, students are willing to take risks to express themselves in new and different ways;
  • embraces opportunities to learn from mistakes;
  • encourages self-expression and self-discipline;
  • helps children to explore and appreciate the world around them and to have a positive attitude on themselves;
  • arouses students’ curiosity and sparks their imagination and emotion;
  • supports problem-solving by encouraging critical thinking, creativity, reflection and imaginative thinking;
  • takes the students out of the class and encourage them to use their language skills in the real world;
  • provides opportunities to teach respect, empathy and a compassionate understanding of multiculturalism;
  • allows students to observe and become actively engaged in the process of learning, both physically and mentally;
  • connects students with peers by sharing thoughts, feelings and impressions through cooperative learning experiences;
  • builds teamwork;
  • helps with setting goals and fosters lifelong learning;
  • allows students to experience a sense of pride in the process of a job well done;
  • helps create a livelier atmosphere in the classroom.

Teachers should not trivialize arts and crafts just because the learners are young. According to Berman (2002), if children can draw an image, they may be able to talk or write about it. Children are very active ‘sense-makers’, but their sense-making is limited by their experience (Cameron 2001).  Some students – old as well as young – learn best with a hands-on or experiential approach, dealing directly with the materials that embody or convey the concept. In other words, learners make meaning while drawing or making things.  As they explore shapes, colours, textures, constructions, they are expending their experience and understanding of the world – and doing it through the medium of the foreign language. Young children may build their vocabularies through meaningful interaction with realia.

Arts and crafts can be used to give students some extra-practice or just to embark them on a project of their own. Although arts and craft projects take some time, few activities offer greater opportunities for natural language use and development in EFL classrooms. Handicrafts are extremely useful as learners can develop their listening and reading skills while following the written oral instruction in order to create their own masks, hats, puppets or models of buildings. Moreover, students develop their eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. Young students enjoy interpreting the words with a puppet in hand. Puppets, an extension of the self, help students with intrapersonal intelligence lower their inhibitions. Shy students can hide their individuality behind the puppets which serve as a mask. Hesitant students become more self-confident, since they do not have to take responsibility for what they are saying.

We really hope that we have managed to prove (once again) that teaching and learning languages are much more complex than linguistic competence and the transmission of knowledge.

Berman, M. (2002), A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom, Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Cromwell Press
Cameron, L. (2001), Teaching Languages to Young Learners, Cambridge: Cambridge   University Press
Gardner, H. (1999), The Happy Meeting of Multiple Intelligences and the Arts, in
Harvard Education Letter, 15 (6). Retrieved from
Oxford, R. (1990), Language Learning Strategies: What Each Teacher Should Know,  Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers
Wright, A. (2002), Arts and Crafts with Children, Oxford: Oxford University Press


prof. Iuliana-Alina Muntean

Liceul Teoretic I.C. Brătianu, Hațeg (Hunedoara) , România
Profil iTeach:

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