Independent Study Projects - The Use of Art/Photography in the EFL Classroom

This is a first contribution to the development of ideas and projects; you can post your ones.

We’ll make them dance together. 



An EFL classroom is a site for vitality. Vitality as communication. “The vital phenomenon is not a sequence of cause and effect, but a decision” (Dietmar Kamper, “Corpo, Cosmo, Religione” Bruno Mondadori Editore 2005). EFL teachers can take the decision to create vital phenomena each time they teach. Lessons of vitality are embodied communication: (Daniel N. Stern MD “Forms of vitality”, Exploring Dynamic experience in Psychology, the Arts, Psychotherapy, and Development, Oxford University Press, 2010). With the communicative method, all gestures, behavior, expressions, are essential, visual and functional communication, immediately effective, a direct interaction with any single pupil/student and the whole group.

Any moment there is vitality in a  class, the very first phenomenon of existence is reproduced, a bond that brings out the dynamics among people thanks to deep motivation.

Being alive is the essential tendency of any form of life and hence of human beings. Being exposed from the very beginning of life to communicative dynamics allows each one of us to develop cognitively and acquire the language we are exposed to: the language that primarily communicates affection and the sense of life.

The sound of a voice is like the sound of music; through the body’s movements I can sense, see and perceive whether there is care for me.

There is so much of this potential in an EFL class.

When you, as a pupil/student, take the decision of studying a second Language, the vital phenomenon of the first Language is reproduced; a new beginning with all the advantages too many times not taken into proper consideration.

An EFL teacher has the possibility to observe the variety of phenomena surfacing all the times pupils/students are asked or decide to produce themselves in L2. 

To the human being, any second Language has the peculiarity to be perceived as “innocent”, that is to say not only new for the student, but also with the whole potential to rebuild whatever in the student’s personality might have been affected by negative experiences in the past and can now be built again thanks to such an innocent perception of L2, with the renewed potential to communicate sense and affection.

Being conscious of giving pupils/students such an opportunity, makes the EFL teacher the first artist in the classroom. That means designing  a second infancy to be related with other human beings, comparing this new experience with the first one each one had, either consciously or unconsciously.

The EFL teacher is a trainer, a coach for pupils/students to become aware of what this art can be for everyone. Using deep immagination, the teacher allows a new identity to surface in the pupils/students, another body that becomes visible thanks to the L2, its clothes. It’s like dancing a dance that has not yet been danced, writing something not yet been written, painting a picture not yet been painted, playing a music not yet  been played, singing a song not yet been sung.

That’s what an artist does, eliciting new potential from inside the students, offering them the opportunity to produce themselves for their own purposes.

The acquisition of a second Language allows a second identity and other intelligencies to surface, it brings to the student all the cultural contents it has, giving thus them the possibility to create a new bond with life. Comparing the two different realities, they can make a mature use of this comparison and become more and more aware of this possibility they have.

To continue this art of communication, to decide what this multiple identity, multiple intelligence can be for, as a tool to be used due to their spontaneous cleverness. They can decide what project can be pursued with such a tool that day by day becomes more and more of theirs, more and more their own life.  

Keeping high the level of vitality in a EFL class is essential; so much of this vitality can interact with very deep levels any person has. The deeper they are, the more dynamics can be activated.

This delicate art of communication can also be enhanced by techniques as professional supports to make pupils/students be productive. And the more art is involved, the more all the stimuli will be deeply perceived.

Art is that unspeakable space that comes to reality all the times there is a deep research of an expression to understand the detachment from the whole, the entire, as human beings. Even if the body reproduces its evolution – ontogeny - there is philogeny too involved; we have its visible signs in the embryo, the beginning of the body, and they can become “visible” in the mind too.

After such a long time our mind can bring this potential back to consciousness and in an attempt of communication, can make a resource of it.   

Cinema, visual stimuli with music, narration, spoken and written language, subtitles, always with the teacher as a coordinator, dance and music, performances, behaviour, all this is art for the class. And pupils/students can be encouraged to take their own initiatives. Producing videos, performances, according to a plan, as a group or individually, makes at least it double the productivity in the class, for the students can perceive the genuine, authentic invitation to develop their creativity mainly for themselves.

All the times the linguistic skills to be acquired can be supported by authentic design by their own conveyed to effective and visible results, these latter are not only in the linguistic field, but also in the entire personality structure, since they become stronger, perceived by the self too, capable of interacting at so many a levels and of being appreciated by the whole community.

Inviting professionals, artists to classes as part of a plan, can be so meaningful for students. They can act and speak as witnesses of what art can be, training pupils/students to develop their perceptions and new skills. When it happens in L2, the effects are multiplied.

Photography can be the most immediate production at anyone’s disposal, since anyone can easily take pictures as a part of the program in a linguistic training course.  Brought to class as visual dots to be connected and coordinated according to pupils/students’ personal plans,  they thus contribute to the surfacing of what thanks to unpredictability can make the resources of the class even more elicited. 

What would be just a walk somewhere to be narrated as an experience, or a travel, can be planned as a real project accompanied by the pictures taken. Thereafter an exhibition can be organized and a little publishing initiative can be undertaken.

This contribution by any students to the class' work can also contribute to the construction of their self esteem.

Art can come to class also via the Internet. Nowadays having an open connection in a classroom with an overhead projector or a MIW allows to emphasize any teaching activity. Internet offers by itself all the possible varieties of images, videos and information.

Pupils/students’ approach and use of technology is different from the teachers’ one: this too can be a contribution to the diversity, uniqueness of classes. Leaving pupils/students to feel free to search for the right topic at the right moment is so much of an unpredictable added value, acting this way too in a class, in addition to their skills being performed.

Whenever they can perform in a second Language, students, even professionals, feel more than free to explore new behaviors and new styles, including cognitive ones, most of the times without even realizing that that is happening. They can also surprise you, so that the more possibilities they have, the more the entire class can take advantages.


Twenty seven years ago, I had the chance to notice something so positive in a girl, Veronica, a special one, who was trying to find a special help in learning English as L2. She may also have had mental issues, but like so many others like her, she was more clever than so many others, including professors at universities, in learning English as L2.  

I continued with observations, accompanied by studies and research; an English friend of mine, teacher at the Interdepartmental Linguistic Center at the University of Pisa, offered me to go and speak about this interest of mine to her Lady Director. She appreciated so much what we could speak about, that she wanted me to meet her very dear colleague at the University of Florence, the Italian member of Progetto Lingua at the Council of Europe, Prof. C.G. Cecioni. He was among the most competent scholars in Italy about neurolinguistics, also studying English as a tool for the intrapsychic communication that allows underlayered signs to surface so to make their meaning comprehended.   

We met, he started training me, he came as a Visiting Professor to my English Courses for the European Programme ADAPT Telotec with the Province of Livorno, and gave me his articles to continue mastering the subject.

He made me meet the Head of the Mental Health Department in Careggi, friend of his, and I could then experience the use of the Language as a tool to be so finely tuned, to be able to obtain unexpected results also with patients I worked with at the Mental Health Department in Livorno.

While for example anyone would just use handsome as an adjective to define the aspect of a man, these students continued noticing that this is because hand in Italian means mano, that is man in English plus o, the vowel that commonly defines the masculine genre in Italian.

Abstraction skills, what a resource to work on, linguistic areas of the brain. Cross connections between the two hemispheres activated just by the simple stimuli of a second Language, mainly from the right hemisphere. So many times these connections are just not yet mature, and very little can make the difference. Their psychiatrists told me they couldn’t even recognize their patients, since  they had so much improved. I still have all the class materials.

This beloved Professor of mine gave me an article he wrote about Bilingualism, asking me to master the last paragraph, in which he said that it is quite likely to happen that acquiring a second Language even when adults, can produce positive effects on psychic equilibrium, and this is a field of such an interest for scholars of behavioral neuropathies.

When I sent him my writing, he, who was the one waiting for being called the majority of times, the way Professors are accustomed to do with their students, called me so enthusiastically that we spent almost two hours on the phone. Then I heard his wife “shouting” she had been waiting for too long to call their son and she needed the phone.  

This is just a sample of what I mean                                   

The course started like the flight of a kite       

Every now and then flying low     

Every now and then flying high               

That’s why we were happy and smiling

Since our talents were multiplying

Before our eyes,

the possible result of just using English by a teacher. This girl was being treated for severe psychosis like all the others; so much then can be done with all pupils/students just using English as many a formative level tool.

This writing for my independent study project when I was TEFL qualifying,  is also meant as a chance of mine to thank all the pupils/students who leaded me into learning so much of the Universe that all the times there’s inside each one of us and turn it into something positive for everybody in and outside my English classes.


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