Subject Material

Working with Art - for the Teacher

Published: 11.08.2009
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Tableau vivant (“living picture”) and the artwork book report - two approaches for varied learning.

In Class: tableau vivant

Tableau vivant (“living picture”) is a great way to get students participating and talking. Put students in groups and give each group a famous painting (it should have at least the same number of people in it, one for each student). Have them find a few props to get the feel of the painting, and a few articles or clothing that resemble what the people in the painting are wearing. Each group takes  turns, and performs as the rest of the class watches.

The aim is to recreate the scenario in the painting as closely as possible.  The group must stand in the exact same positions as in the painting, frozen in time. Then, one after another breaks free, talks for a half a minute or so, then returns to the pose before the next student has his/her turn.

Each student has to work out beforehand what he or she plans to say. As their teacher, you can be as prescriptive as you like, giving them free reign, or giving strict guidelines. In any case, their monologues should be relevant in some way to the context or setting, whether they choose the more traditional approach of introducing themselves (Who am I? and What am I doing in the painting? etc.) or the more psychological stream of consciousness approach – relaying the thoughts passing through their (character’s) head as they stand there. These are just two examples, and the possibilities are almost endless.

This can be a fun way to create some variation, generate some enthusiasm and get students speaking English in the classroom.

Artwork Book Report

Instead of the standard book report (which anyway often ends up being a hotchpotch of Internet copying and pasting), why not have your students create a book report using works of art? This is a fun alternative to the traditional book report, although the focus needs to be on the big, general categories like setting, characters and plot, rather than details like diction, tone, writing style, point of view and the like. 

Have each student reflect on the traditional aspects of fiction:

  • setting –where and/or when it takes place
  • characters – who the main character(s) is (are)
  • plot – the action, or what happens (think especially about what the conflict is)
  • turning point or climax – the most intense part of the story, in which the plot comes to a head (art can be an especially useful device here, in identifying and representing the turning point)
  • main theme – what it is all about, a larger idea (common themes can be love and romance, friendship, jealousy, loyalty, crime, family relationships, etc.)


Next, have them go online, or look through art books if they have access to them, and find paintings, sculptures or other works of art which reflect the story’s setting, character(s) and plot, turning point, and/or main theme. These artworks do not have to represent the story exactly; what they are looking for is the general idea. Then have them explain, either orally or in writing, how each work of art reflects the different aspects of the book.