This is easily one of the most engaging lessons I’ve ever taught. So far, I’ve used it with over 100 different students across a range of ages and classes, and it just works. As if that wasn’t enough, it also leads quite naturally into FCE and CAE writing projects (lesson plans coming soon). All in all, it’s a great way to get your students into modern British art, while also encouraging deeper reflection and critical thinking.
NOTE: Originally, this lesson was just a riff on a double-page spread from the Speak Out Upper Intermediate course. Eventually, I developed it to the point that I was no longer using the materials from the coursebook. However, I’m still very grateful to both Frances Eales and Steven Oakes for the fantastic idea!
Level: B2 to C1 (Upper-Intermediate to Advanced)
Age: teenagers or adults
Time: 60 minutes
Materials: vocabulary cards, slideshow of artwork by Banksy (comment for files)
- By the end of the lesson, students will be better able to use the following lexis to praise/criticise Banksy’s art: irresponsible, satirical; vandalism, a valid art form; controversial; provocative; anarchy-lite; defaces buildings; derivative; hideous; pioneering; iconic; subversive, distinctive.
1. Speaking: Tell students that they’re going to look at some famous artwork. In pairs, they should discuss the following two questions: What do you think of this piece of art? Why do you think the artist painted this picture? Show students slide #1:
2. Feedback: Do this as a whole-class activity. Depending on what your students are like, you might not have to do any work at all here. If they’re struggling to interpret the work, guide the discussion by asking them: Who can you see in the picture? Does she still look like that now? Why has the artist chosen to depict her as a young woman? What could the lightning bolt represent? Why combine iconic images of the Queen and David Bowie in this way? What moral or message could be behind the picture? What kind of person do you think the artist is? What are his beliefs? Encourage them to think as critically as possible!
3. Vocabulary: Tell students you’re going to give them some useful vocabulary, written on cards. (If you don’t have time to prepare these, just dictate the word list.) Working in small groups, ask them to sort the cards into two categories: I’m confident about this word/phrase vs I’m not confident about this word/phrase.
4. Feedback: Students can peer-check any new or difficult words/phrases with the rest of the class, or using dictionaries and translation tools. Give teacher-led explanations only when students really need it, e.g. perhaps with anarchy-lite or pioneering, where they might need a few more examples to get the idea.
5. Speaking: Tell students they’re going to look at some more work by the same artist. In pairs, they should discuss the same two questions (What do you think of this piece of art? Why do you think the artist painted this picture?), using the new vocabulary to help them. Now show them slides #2-#7, spending 45-60 seconds on each picture.
6. Feedback: Based on your monitoring during the previous activity, you might have some useful feedback to give here in terms of grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation or speaking strategies. If not, skip this stage!
7. Response: In pairs, students choose their favourite and/or least favourite picture from the slides. Use this as a starting point for a large-group or even whole-class chat. The discussion that naturally emerges at this stage is always fascinating and completely different for each class, but here are some examples of questions I heard during this stage: Why has Banksy chosen to stay anonymous? Should graffiti be legalised? Would Banksy want graffiti to be legalised? What would have to happen for Banksy to consider his art a success? To what extent does his work encourage vandalism? To what extent does it cheapen the work of other contemporary artists? Who gets to decide what is art and what is not? What would happen if Banksy painted a mural in your town/city?
That’s all for now! Below, I’ve included three of my #ELTwhiteboards so you can see all the different directions this lesson could take. Let me know where yours goes!