4 CLIL Art Activities for Any Foreign Language Classroom

It’s time to put down your textbook and pick up an easel.

Take off your language teacher hat and step into an art teacher’s shoes.

With a methodology called Content and Language Integrated Learning, you can branch out from dedicated language lessons by teaching other subjects–such as art–using the target language as the medium of instruction.

You’ll be strengthening your students’ listening and speaking skills simply by engaging with them in a new context.

As you work on art activities together in the target language, you’ll introduce new vocabulary and promote active listening, boosting your students’ language competence often without them even realizing it.

Let’s take a look at how and why CLIL works, plus four ideas for how to incorporate CLIL art activities into your classroom.

What Is CLIL?

CLIL is built on a simple premise: Teach subjects to students in a language other than their native language. For example, with students who are learning Japanese, you could teach art, math, geography, history or any other subject entirely in Japanese.

In this framework, comprehension is more important than memorization, and communication is more important than precise grammatical accuracy. CLIL provides a space for students to communicate naturally in the target language, picking up vocabulary in context, and—especially when used with creative subjects such as art—learning how to express their own, original ideas with the target language vocabulary and concepts they have at their disposal.

CLIL was coined in 1994, though many of its underlying principles had already been in use for years. This type of language education dovetails with bilingual teaching and shares many principles in common with language immersion programs (though they’re not synonymous).

In this article, I’ll be focusing specifically on using CLIL with art lessons and activities, so go here if you’d like a complete walk-through to getting started with CLIL.

Why Focus on Art Activities for CLIL?

One major advantage of art activities for CLIL is that they require a wide range of vocabulary words. When discussing creative projects it’s very natural to draw on historical context, geography, psychology or political themes as students get more advanced, as well as straightforward shapes, colors and patterns. You’ll be opening the scope of your target language discussion much wider than if you were teaching math rules, for example.

CLIL art activities also provide an opportunity to engage with target language culture, which is a crucial element of this foreign language teaching methodology. Because of this, students will be better able to understand the context of the language in real language situations such as those presented by FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

As a CLIL teacher, you don’t have to focus exclusively on art creation and design, but can also branch out to art history and theory. For example, a French CLIL art activity might include student presentations on the work of different French artists, as you’ll see below.

And unlike most other subjects, art lessons often allow students to leave class with a tangible piece of work, evidence of not only their newly acquired art skills but also their capacity to understand, think and create in their target language. This sense of accomplishment can act as both a reward and a motivator for students.

As with any lesson plan, CLIL art activities will require conscientious preparation, but don’t be scared off if you haven’t been formally trained in the arts. Remember that your primary objective is to foster communication in the target language, using art as a vehicle. That being said, you may find that you’re inspired to adapt or expand your CLIL art activities by bouncing ideas off of your art teacher colleagues down the hall, or by checking out online forums for teachers in creative fields.

Extra Resources for Continuing CLIL Art Lessons

Peter Sansom’s Blog: Peter Sansom is an artist and arts educator working in bilingual education in the Netherlands, writing in large part for an audience interested in CLIL information or materials. You’ll find a number of CLIL lesson plan ideas that you can adapt to your own classroom.

CLIL Art Blog: This blog is run by a public school teacher with fine arts training and a graphic design background. Language teachers without an arts background will find useful basics here (i.e. color theory, how optical illusions work) as well as ideas for games and activities. The CLIL Art Blog also regularly posts art theory- and art history-related videos that could be especially useful for EFL teachers as a jumping-off point for class discussions.

KinderArt: This is an online resource for art teachers that you can pull from for CLIL activity ideas. Despite its name, KinderArt has a wealth of resources for teachers of all ages, from early childhood to high school, as well as special education. KinderArt also focuses on a range of media, from painting to sculpture to printmaking.

British Council CLIL Resources: The British Council offers resources for CLIL classes in a handful of subjects as well as articles on CLIL principles and best practices.

4 CLIL Art Activities for Any Foreign Language Classroom

1. Describe and Draw

The main objective of this activity is to spark active listening in the target language. You’ll be giving your students direct instructions that they’ll use to create a piece of artwork, though they don’t know what the final image is supposed to look like until the end. This activity is easily adaptable to classes of any proficiency level.

You’ll need:

  • Paper, colored pencils and erasers for every student. If your school has the resources to provide individual easels, students tend to find that especially fun and engaging.
  • An image of a work of art that’s big enough to display in the front of your class.
  • A list of instructions for how to recreate this image, which you’ll read one-by-one.

Let’s say you’ve chosen René Magritte’s “The Son of Man.” Your instructions could follow this trajectory (you can make them as specific or loose as you want):

1. Draw the outline of a man from his knees up, putting his shoulders at the canvas’ vertical and horizontal center.

2. Put a beige brick wall behind him, up to just above his wrists.

3. Color the rest of the background blue for the sea up to his elbow, and gray with clouds for the sky above that.

4. Put him in a buttoned black jacket over a white shirt with red tie and a hat.

5. Draw a green apple floating in front of his face.

At the end, your students will compare drawings, usually to lots of laughter. You’ll then display the original image and discuss the choices your students made and how they interpreted your instructions. You can take this time to go over any instructions they didn’t fully understand. But remember, this isn’t a traditional vocabulary lesson, so don’t offer translations. Instead, talk in the target language and draw or demonstrate what you’re saying.

Surreal imagery works particularly well for this activity because it’s harder for students to predict, meaning they must listen attentively to the target language instructions.

2. Themed Collages

This is a fun activity to teach any age range about different styles, genres and periods of art in the target language. It also requires engagement with authentic materials.

You’ll need:

  • A stack of magazines, print-outs, posters or any other material in the target language that can be cut up for a collage.
  • Examples of your chosen art genre/period to display for the class.
  • Scissors, glue/tape and poster board for students.

This activity works particularly well for classes that are shy about their art skills or creative work, because there’s no drawing involved. Instead, they’ll be cutting up the magazines or other materials you provided to create collages that imitate a particular type of visual art.

This activity can be done individually or in groups, and you don’t need to adapt much to tailor it to different age ranges. (You may just expect more sophisticated results from older students.)

Let’s say you’re teaching pop art to your class of language students. Before collage-making starts, you should project images of work by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann and other big names in the genre (The Art Story is a great resource for crash courses in different art movements).

Ask your students what these artworks share; even the youngest students should pick up on the fact that they all use bright colors, eye-popping visuals and sharp lines. The older your students, the more advanced of a discussion you can lead, for as long as you deem necessary.

Next, it’s time to get crafty. Give your students at least 20 minutes to put together their pop art-inspired collages, which should include the basic characteristics that came up during your lesson and class discussion. To incorporate writing into this activity, you can wrap up with 5 to 10 minutes for your students to jot down the features of their collage and how they relate to the art movement you’re studying, which they’ll hand in with their work.

3. Artwork Presentations

These presentations are intended to promote speaking and reading in the target language. The concept is straightforward: Students present on a piece of artwork to the rest of the class. It may even be something you’ve already incorporated into your language classroom; however, there are a handful of elements to keep in mind to ensure that you’re getting the most out of these presentations as a CLIL activity.

You’ll need:

  • A projector, display board or some other way for students to show the class the piece of artwork that they’re presenting on.
  • A list of specific points that you want your students to address in their presentations.

The easiest way to keep this activity in line with CLIL is to put what’s known as “the four Cs” at the forefront of your mind. Developed by Do Coyle in 1999, this framework can help CLIL teachers build the strongest and most appropriate lessons for their students. The four Cs are content, cognition, communication and culture.

Content: As an educator, you should identify and be clear with your students about what’s being taught and what the learning objectives are. Either orally or in a handout, explain that these artwork presentations should deliver specific information including biographical information about the artist and major artistic themes and philosophies, all in the target language. “Content leads the way,” as Coyle says; it provides the context for all target language communication that will spring from these presentations.

Give your students free rein to choose any artist from the target language culture that they want for this presentation, because when they set the parameters for content, they’ll be more motivated to learn and progress.

Cognition: Students should think critically and creatively about the content at a level appropriate for them. Beginner students might provide a handout after their presentation with summary questions; advanced students might debate the quality of paintings they’ve presented on.

Communication: In CLIL, the target language is both a vehicle for learning and the destination. Students should have enough target language concepts accessible to convey their ideas about their chosen artist.

For an educator, that means not only ensuring that all CLIL lessons take place entirely in the target language, but also that you’ve taught enough grammar and vocabulary to provide a solid foundation for students to succeed in this setting. (For example, don’t embark on this activity quite yet if you haven’t taught the past tense.)

Culture: CLIL requires engagement with the target language culture and an awareness of how other societies or communities are different or similar from the students’ own. This will come naturally if you require that the artworks that your students present on come from the target language culture.

4. Adopt an Artist

This activity builds on the artist presentation, and works especially well with younger students who may be less inhibited to perform in front of others. However, this activity requires artist research, so you should assess how much preparation you may need to guide your students through beforehand, based on their age and level. Again, students choose an individual artist to focus on—in this case, to “adopt”—setting the content for the lesson.

For a set period of time (for example, one class period) your students will dress like the artist they have “adopted,” share that artist’s interests and speak about that artist’s work.

You’ll need:

  • A projector, display board or some other way for students to show the class examples of artwork that their artist created.
  • Paper and pencils or chalkboard/whiteboard space for your students to draw on.
  • Flashcards with conversation-starter questions.

There are three phases to this activity that will promote target language communication while providing you with some basis to assess their effort and progress: presentation, flex time and analysis.

Presentation: Each student speaks briefly (5 to 10 minutes) to the class about the artist they have adopted. They should discuss what type of work their artist makes (painting, photography, film, etc.), as well as basic biographical information and the major themes of their artist’s work. They could also discuss their costume choices.

Flex time: Students can free write, free draw or interact with one another in the personas of their chosen artists. A Spanish language student who has adopted Salvador Dali might spend this time talking about surrealism with a student who has adopted Joan Miró.

You can bring in conversation flashcards with pre-written questions for students to ask one another as a jumping-off point. These can range from simple biographical questions (“Where are you from?” “What art period were you part of?”) to more complex (“How would I recognize your artwork in a museum?”) depending on your classroom.

It’s also a good idea to push all of the desks to the edges of your classroom and bring in some easels or free up chalkboard space for your students to draw together.

Analysis: At the end of your class time, you should give students 5 to 15 minutes to jot down some of their experiences during this activity. Let them know that you’ll be expecting to read about what they did during flex time and how it relates to the artist they have adopted. They can also hand in any individual or collaborative writing or drawing that they did during flex time.

You can return to this activity again with new artists. If you have a big class, you can also stretch out the three phases across three separate class periods so that everyone gets time to present and flex time and analyses aren’t rushed.


These CLIL art activities should provide a creative, effective and hopefully enjoyable boost to your foreign language lesson planning. Your students will leave class not only with a new eye for art and culture, but also stronger and more confident in target language communication.

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