Monkey Abroad

Videos and stories of the life abroad – food, culture, travel & work

Teach ESL

How to Use Art to Teach ESL (English as a Second Language)


As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, using art is a highly effective way to bridge the gap between student and teacher. It’s difficult to keep a class of 45 public high school students focused, especially when they speak a different language. To get that many kids to actually learn something in your foreign language lesson, artwork is your best friend.

Students in Thailand love to draw. Even as teenagers, it seems most Thai students retain the same artistic fervor they had when they were first learning to color. When I told my class of 15-year-olds they’d be drawing pictures to present to the class, they immediately got focused and awaited instruction.

A simple, effective ESL art lesson for ‘My favorite holiday’: The students illustrate their chosen holiday, write a couple of sentences about the holiday, and present it to the class.

All of my high school classes were incredibly receptive to this exercise. And this lesson isn’t just about drawing pictures. It’s an effective way for the teacher to assess each individual student’s speaking ability and improve their confidence.

Confidence is important because ESL students are very shy about speaking English. Even when a student butchered the English-speaking portion of this exercise, I gave them a ton of positive praise anyway. That way, the students at a lower level will be more inclined to participate in future speaking assignments.

Because of the success of this activity, I’m convinced that using art is the best way to teach English as a foreign language. Whether visual or musical, art is a universal language that bridges even the widest cultural gaps.

ESL artwork

ESL artwork: Christmas


ESL artwork

ESL artwork: Halloween


ESL artwork

ESL artwork: Song Kran


ESL artwork

ESL artwork: Loy Krathong


ESL artwork

ESL artwork: Christmas

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. Am so please that you’ve worked so hard to make this not only rewarding for the kids there but it appears you take much pride in fine tuning your skills in your teaching ability to feel good about how much you’ve accomplished every day. You are breaking the Code! I for one am very happy about your accomplishments!

  2. My favorite entry! Great exercise! Plus I learned about their holidays as well! Too bad I can’t be one of your students and make a stick man to show my talents… Even a kind teacher like Mr Cook would be hard pressed to compliment the hell out of my wanna be creation!!

  3. Kudos to the teacher and to the students!

  4. This Post, as well as your Blog, are proof of your insight Kevin. Art, multi-media, and photos DO bring a story to life in a visceral way that words do not–even from a gifted writer. I want my students to graduate with the skills and curiosity you have developed! .

  5. You sound like a great teacher. I can’t wait to be teaching in Thailand early next year! This blog has truly inspired me 🙂

    • Thank you Michelle! I’m glad the blog is an inspiration. Teaching ESL can be frustrating at times, but it’s very rewarding when you experience success in the classroom.

  6. Kevin, I work with your Mom and told her just yesterday how much I love your blog. Just got caught up with last 3 post. what a great adventure you are on! I expect no less from anyone raised by Lyn.

  7. Truly inspiring Mr. Cook. Just yet another way you have used your talents to help others!

  8. This is something similiar to what I did in some of my classes in Hong Kong. I had the students draw something about travelling to another country. For example, they may draw Mount Fuji for Japan. Then, I scanned each photo so that I could project it onto the projector screen. Each student came up to explain their own drawing with about 2 sentences. Students really appreciate art of others and I hope it encourages students to expand their horizons.

  9. i have a question.
    why els teacher don’t try learn “there language”
    have you ever been thinked ‘ foreign kid can understand?’

  10. Pingback: 27 Proven ESL Games for Large Classes (40-50 students) – Language Lab

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