Language in Art and the Work of Ali Omar Ermes

The resource pack ‘Language in Art and the Work of Ali Omar Ermes,’ was published by Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2018. Based on an innovative, cross-curricular approach to teaching Arabic both as a foreign language and as community heritage, the pack is aimed primarily at intermediate and more advanced learners, but can be adapted easily for lower levels.

In order to support teachers who work with the resource, Goldsmiths Teachers’ Centre and QFI have supported a program of professional development workshops in London, Leeds, and Birmingham. Presented here are extracts from a video recording made during the workshop, which took place at Goldsmiths on 22 October 2018. For the purposes of clarity and ease of use, the content has been broken down into 11 sections.


Resource Pack (Arabic)

Full Presentation

Video Clips

Clip 1 | Aims of the workshop & Visual art in Arabic language teaching 

Aims of the workshop:
As you listen to Luma explaining the aims of the workshop, consider the following questions:
• How relevant are the aims proposed to your teaching situation?
• Have you already used art in your language teaching?
• How did you approach it?

A selective list of terminology used in the workshop for talking about language learning and teaching is provided in Appendix A.

Visual art in Arabic language teaching:
There is general agreement that cross-curricular approaches to language-and-culture learning can bring substantial benefits and this applies particularly to the visual arts.

Why bring art into Arabic language teaching?
a. Have a think about this question yourself or with a learning partner.
b. Compare your thoughts with those offered by workshop participants in Clip 1.
c. Look at Appendix A summarising key points.

Download Slide 2-4

Clip 2 | Introduction to Ali Omar Ermes and the Resource Pack

Look through the first part of Section C in the Resource Pack (pp. 35-38). This includes background to Ali Omar Ermes and (for more advanced students) an interview with the artist recorded at the British Museum. You may also like to refer to the artist’s website.

• Why do you think the art work of Ali Omar Ermes was considered a good focus for students of Arabic language and culture?

Listen to Luma explaining the three sections of the Resource Pack and then look through it yourself. Note how a context is provided for the work of Ermes by looking first at language in art generally and then in the context of Middle Eastern art over the ages.

Guidance for the teacher is provided in a separate section of the Resource Pack.
• What aspects do you find most useful h

Some supplementary material is provided in the Appendix (pp.142-143).
• How useful is this?

How would you use the Glossary?

Download Slide 5 – 8

Clip 3 | Pedagogical framework: Overview

Here Luma presents important principles informing the pedagogical model reflected in the Resource Pack and then goes on to explain the three-phase structure adopted to guide the process.

• How does the dual focus on content and language affect planning?
• Why is so much emphasis placed on active involvement of students in the learning process?
• What is meant by ‘learner agency’?
• What do you understand by a holistic approach to learning?
• What are the three stages set out in the framework? Do they provide a useful structure for planning and, if so, why?

Download Slide 9 – 10

Clip 4 | Pedagogical framework: Sample activities from the Approaching phase

The first Approaching activity involves looking at all of the Resource Cards from the pack together.

Notice how Luma builds up art related vocabulary on the flip chart as she takes feedback from the group. Refer to the Glossary at the end of the Resource Pack (pp. 143-150) identifying key language required for talking about art. It is suggested that students build up their own personalised glossaries as they work through the unit.

How well do the sample activities provide a way in (a) to thinking about the art works and (b) to building up the language required for talking about art?
In the activity Luma suggests for younger learners there is a physical element. What is the value of this?
Can you think of another activity for the Approaching phase?

Download Slide 11 – 13

Clip 5 | Pedagogical framework: Sample activities from the Exploring phase

This phase aims to assist learners in developing their appreciation of the art works and at the same time to further extend related linguistic understanding and skills.

You may wish to refer to the template provided for the Juha activity (Resource Pack, p.130).

What strikes you about the Juha activity?
Does this ‘active reading’ approach develop literacy skills?
Does it involve useful thinking processes?
Does it support intercultural understanding?
Is it enjoyable for the learner?
Can you apply the activities suggested at this stage for younger learner (slide 16) to your students?
What art knowledge and language skills will they develop?
How would you change them to make them more accessible to your students?

The rap activity is related to the trio of art works, ‘La’, ‘Kalla’ and ‘Wa Lan’ on the theme of standing up to injustice in the world (see Resource Pack, pp.91-92)

Is the rap relevant and accessible? How do you think your students would respond to it?

Design an activity to complement the rap

Download Slide 14 – 17

Clip 6 | Pedagogical framework: Sample activities from the Creating phase

Drawing on what has been learnt about the work of Ali Omar Ermes in the Approaching and Exploring phases, students move on to creating something of their own and to present or perform it to a real audience. This is a chance for students to use their imagination and to personalise their work.

For two page guide ‘Collage: Creating around an object or picture’ see Resource Pack (pp. 152-153)

One form of creative response to art works can be poetry writing. This may be either a stand-alone piece or an element within a collage. Poetry writing is not just for advanced students; even beginners can write effective pieces. Providing a simple structure can be helpful and models are provided in our short Guide to Poetry Writing. 

What different possibilities are identified for creative tasks?
Is it important that students do this collaboratively?
What do you notice about the way in which workshop participants go about making their collages?
What suggestions are made about poetry writing?
Are the collages produced by different groups all the same?
How do the workshop groups look when they are presenting their work?

Download Slide 18 – 20

Clip 7 | Discussing the trio of art works, La-Kalla-Wa Lan

In the remaining sections we look at how Fatima Khaled planned and taught a unit of work on La-Kalla-Wa Lan at the Peace School, a community-based complementary school in north London.

 Take a close look at the Resource Cards for La, Kalla and Wa Lan and consider how they work together as a trio, for example how does text work with artistic elements? Then look at the way the workshop participants responded.

What struck you most about their ideas?
What comment was made about the poetry in the art work?
What did Fatima mention about the responses from her students in school?
Does Fatima suggest that there is just one way of interpreting the art works and what is the effect of this on students?
What other points do workshop participants make about the value of this trio of art works in the context of the Arabic classroom?

Note: On slide 21 Fatima has picked out three lines (1,5,8) from the ‘nathr’ by Ali Omar Ermes which she used as examples with her students.

Download Slide 21 – 22 

Clip 8 | Background to the Peace School and key aspects of pedagogy

What do participants feel about challenges that teachers of Arabic face in motivating their students?
How do the images on slide 25 reflect the pedagogical approach of the teacher?

Download Slide 23 – 25 

Clip 9 | Taking a close look at the La-Kalla-Wa Lan activities in the Resource Pack

Refer to Resource Pack (pp. 87 – 97 and 136 – 140)

Look at Appendix C with table completion activity given to participants in the workshop.

Have a go at the table completion activity yourself and then compare your impressions with those of participants in the workshop.

Which of the Approaching and Exploring activities do you like best and why?
What are the distinguishing features of Approaching and Exploring activities?
How important is it to acknowledge students’ background knowledge in the Approaching stage and why?

Now create an Approaching and an Exploring activity of your own (related to your teaching situation) and compare with it with suggestions made by the workshop participants.

Download Slide 26 – 28 

Clip 10 | Planning and scaffolding the La-Kalla-Wa Lan unit

Cross-curricular art and language learning requires a dual focus on developing both art-related and language-related understanding and skills. Thus there is a need to be thorough in planning and scaffolding lessons.

How important is planning in a cross-curricular approach and why?
How does the teacher break down the process of art and language learning into manageable steps for the class?
What are three most important scaffolding strategies mentioned by Fatima?
How does art help students develop their understanding of the Arabic language? (Look at the feedback from students on Slide 32)
How does Fatima cater for students from a non-Arabic background?
Fatima draws attention to the Art Glossary contained in The Resource Pack (pp.143-150). Is this a useful resource for teachers and how would you use it?

Planning Toolkit. This is a detailed guide which includes sample lesson plans

A report on the teaching of the unit on La-Kalla-Wa Lan at the Peace School, including comments from the students involved, can be found on the project website.

The ‘Framework for thinking about and discussing the work of Ali Omar Ermes’ referred to by Fatima (Resource Booklet, pp. 52 and 151; PPT slide 30) is provided in full in Appendix D. It lists questions under four headings (Content, Form, Process, Mood) to assist students in developing their appreciation of art works.

For guidance on scaffolding and creating a digital story, refer to ‘Critical connections: Multilingual digital storytelling project. Handbook for teachers’ by Jim Anderson, Vicky Macleroy and Yu-Chiao Chung published by Goldsmiths, University of London (2014).

Download Slide 26 – 28 

Clip 11 | Creativity phase (at the Peace School)

How did students relate the art works to their personal experience and situation?
What process did the students go through in making the film? 

Look at the bilingual Arabic-English digital story created by students at the Peace School.

What strikes you about the film?
What have students learnt through making it?
What are the challenges for students in making a film like this?
How does the teacher provide support?
What is most important, the film made by the students (PRODUCT/OUTCOME) or the PROCESS they have gone through in making it? Why do you think this?
How did workshop participants respond to the film made by the students and do you agree with their comments?

Download Slide 36 – 46 

Further Study

Colleagues interested in learning more about the approach explored here may find it useful to read the following article published in the journal, Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching:

Abdelhadi, R., Hameed, L., Khaled, F. and Anderson, J. (2019) Creative interactions with art works: An engaging approach to Arabic language-and-culture learning. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 13. doi: 10.1080/17501229.2019.1579219.

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