South Atlantic Modern Language Association Convention, Atlanta, Georgia,
November 5-7, 2010
THE INTERPLAY OF TEXT AND IMAGE
“A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS”- EFFECTIVELY TEACHING ESL/EFL THROUGH THE USE
OF IMAGERY CORRESPONDING TO TEXT
USING IMAGES TO PHYSICALIZE TEXT
Gary Carkin, Ph.D.
Southern New Hampshire University—Institute for Language Education
Manchester, NH 03103
One of the most challenging tasks for English language teachers is to teach our English as
a foreign or, second language, students to “see” the images supplied by the words they
are reading. For too many language students, the words remain black forms on a white
background devoid of sensual relationship to meaning. As the psycholinguist, Lev
Vygotsky, has pointed out “A word acquires a sense from the context in which it appears;
in different contexts, it changes its sense. The dictionary meaning is no more than a stone
in the edifice of sense, no more than a potentiality that finds diversified realization in
speech” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 245). To teach the sense of words, visualizing and
physicalizing images contained in con-texts is important. Today, I would like to bring to
your attention three techniques which seem to achieve this purpose quite effectively.
At the Institute for Language Education, where I work at Southern New Hampshire
University, we seek to employ drama techniques in language education as much as
possible. The technique called “story theatre” is one way in which focus on images can
be achieved as well as focus on the spoken word. Thus, we have our students reading the
text out loud in a “readers’ theatre” kind of way while other students discuss the imagery
in the text and work together to form the images and put them into action. Theoretically,
this approach is supported by the notion that language production, as opposed to simple
comprehension, is an important feature of language acquisition (Swain, 1993). The
additional aspect is that the images are made to come alive as much as possible through
the performance of the students, so, can be viewed by other students who may be
working on the same or different material in the same way.
In story theatre, some students are selected to read the script, while other students form
the scenes and the interactions described by the text. In this way, students must not only
come to know the meaning of the words of the text, but also the sense of the way they are
being used. Through having to first truly visualize and then act out what they visualize,
students are led to experience the text and make it live through their bodily expression.
Thus, retention of new vocabulary and grammar is achieved through kinesthetic, visual,
aural and oral means.
The example here is from the textbook, Tapestry: Writing 3 (2000).
(SLIDES and FILM of Squeegeeing in Toronto and The Seal Wife)
Another method that we use at the Institute for Language Education is process drama.
The term process drama is used to denote that the important aspect of this form of drama
or theatre lies in the fact that it is for the participants rather than for the spectators,
although working through a process can sometimes lead to watchable performances as in
the last two examples. (The Seal Wife was explored first through process drama and then
reformed for the readers’, or story theatre.) This past summer, we used process drama to
illuminate a text concerning Rosa Parks, the woman who initiated the civil
rights/Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott back in 1955. Once again, the text told the
story, but to get to the experience beyond the print, process drama was utilized.
With process drama, various theatre conventions are brought to play a role in getting
beneath the surface of a text. Amongst them, may be straight forward imaging with
pictures which immerse the spect-actors (a term invented by Augusto Boal, (1979) the
Brazilian dramaturg) so that they are surrounded by stimuli that help create the
atmosphere of the drama. For the Rosa Parks drama, we immersed our spect-actors in
pictures of the period that showed the oppression in which African Americans found
themselves living at that time. Then, we instructed our spect-actors to play the part of
citizens of Montgomery, either blue or purple. The blues were to be the African
Americans, the purples, the whites. Both blues and purples began their journey standing
in line waiting for a bus. They were to begin to create their characters while waiting for
the bus: who they were, what they were doing, where they were going, what they
expected from the bus trip, why they were traveling on the bus, what their destinations
were, and any other thoughts that would help to hold them in the character of there
choosing and the thoughts of the time. This inner dialogue or inner-speech, is what
Vygotsky refers to as the prelude to articulated speech. In process drama, it acts as a
warm up to a convention known as thought-tracking where individuals, in role, are
asked to speak their private thoughts and reactions to events.
(Process drama conventions highlighted in bold.)
The chairs of the class room were arranged as a bus and as they got on, the passengers
were directed to the back or the front of the bus depending upon their colors. Through the
action, with the graduate student/teachers participating in roles of bus driver,
policewoman, and Rosa Parks, the spect-actors (the language students) were asked to
improvise interaction, speak, and stop for thought tracking from time to time. In this
fashion, all could experience the external action of the circumstances of the time as well
as the inner drama revealed through the thought tracking. At the center of the exercise
was the moment that Rosa Parks was arrested and taken off to jail. All language students
participated in that improvised moment and in the final frame told their friends, family,
or fellow office or factory workers of their experience in a paired oral improvisation.
The next frame brought us to spect-actor questioning of the police woman, the bus
driver, and Rosa Parks through a convention known as hot seating. The teacher-actors
had to reply to questions, any questions, made up at the moment by the language learners,
about their characters. Finally, in a whole group activity the language learners discussed
their characters’ feeling as well as their own feeling while engaged in the drama.
In process drama as well as in story theatre, language learners are image makers, having
to comprehend the text in order to flesh out its meanings through their images. Images
must be perceived, discussed, and physicalized in the process that emerges from the text,
which is expressed through the action of the students, the spect-actors, and then
culminates in activity that can be communicated to others through the action of the image
makers. In this way, language is internalized and is made to stick because it is felt.
Finally, I wish to alert you to a new technique that is finding great success in Canada in
the teaching of French as a second language. It is called the Accelerative Integrated
Method and employs gestural images to convey meaning of words much as in Indian or
Southeast Asian dance. There are many components of this methodology, but because it
bundles all the language acquisition research of the past twenty years and especially the
fast moving brain research of the past five, it is proving most effective in guiding students
to rapid fluency. Once again, image is created through text, but is first explored through
specific gestures related to choral production. Once students are familiar with the word
by word pattern of images, constantly vocalized, they are led to longer sentences and the
linkage of these through story format. The stories are then shown to students in form of
little video-plays and the students practice the lines for all characters based on the visual
reproduction of gesture. When students achieve enough flow of language through the
support of the system of gestures, they are then freed to play the roles using natural
gestures and speech. By that time, they have achieved ability to communicate with about
800 words and can manipulate the language using various tenses and grammatical
patterns. I think we will be hearing much more about this method in the future. We are
piloting its use now at Southern New Hampshire University for English as a second
language. Stay tuned!
In summation, Lev Vygotsky, in his seminal work, Thought and Language, outlined a
five step process through which language acquisition and production occurs: one starts
with motive, which, in turn, creates inner speech, which in turn, creates an image that
stimulates emotion that supports speech. And, as brain-based expert, Terry Small, has
indicated, “The mind doesn’t remember words. It can only remember images.” In our
praxis of language teaching, we should keep in mind the necessary flow between motive,
inner speech, imaging, feeling, and speech. Without the vital participation of image and
emotion, the process is short circuited. Language can only live through the expression of
feeling that is created through the lively focus on a flow of images. The image is where
we hang our words. Meaning is communicated by how we see what we say.
Accelerative Integrated Method, aim Language Learning (aimlanguagelearning.com)
RR#1, AL-33, Bowen Island, BC VON 1G0 Canada
Boal, A., The Theatre of the Oppressed. New York: Urizen Books, 1979.
Morris, Nomi. Squeegeeing in Toronto. Tapestry: Writing 3. Edited by Rebecca Oxford
and Meredith Pike-Baky. Boston: Heinle Publishers. 2000
Small, Terry. Terry Small Learning Corporation, Surrey, B.C. Canada
Swain, M., “The output hypothesis: Just speaking and writing are not enough.”
Canadian Modern Language Review, 50, 158-164. 1993.
Vygotsky, L., Thought and Language. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986.