Implementation of “Creative Writing Using Van Gogh” (SOl-HR-355)

Author: Ana Polombito Karamatić, English teacher

School/Organization: OŠ oca Petra Perice (Primary School)


Creative writing is a skill that many pupils are afraid of not only because of the complexity of the writing process itself but also because of the lack of inspiration, self-confidence or motivation needed during the process.

Creative Writing Using Van Gogh learning scenario, created by Justin Nicholas Micallef from Malta, solved the problem perfectly. The artist’s life aroused students’ interest, his paintings sparkled their imagination and helped them stay on track and finish the task. What’s more, the scenario wasn’t only about writing as it also provided elements of practicing listening and speaking skills.

Who were the pupils?

The scenario was implemented in two lessons of English Extra Classes attended by seven pupils aged 13-14 who show greater interest and higher results in English than the rest of their Year 7 classmates. From the very beginning it was clear that Van Gogh was a mystery. Only two of all the students could briefly explain who he was. One of them knew that he was the author of Starry Night, the other that he cut his ear off. For the rest of the class it was the first time they heard the artist’s name. It was a fact that didn’t surprise me and I knew we needed a strong start.

How did it go? 

Van who?

At the beginning of the first lesson I adapted the original scenario by watching a short video about the artist posted on YouTube by Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
I also distributed the worksheet containing questions about the artist that needed to be answered while watching.

Students watching the Van Gogh Museum video

During the discussion that followed, the students said that the paintings were great but were shocked by the fact that he cut off his ear and killed himself. When asked why he did that they answered that he probably suffered from some mental illness even though the fact wasn’t said explicitly in the video.

Mix and write

The next step was the presentation containing six Van Gogh’s paintings downloaded from Europeana . I changed some of the paintings suggested by Justin Nicholas Micallef.

The presentation included:

1 The Wheat Field

2 Shell Fisherman

3 The Carrot Picker

4 Self-Portrait

5 The Potato Eaters

6 The Cornshocks

We discussed them in a way that students elicited words describing sounds, feelings, weather and season that they thought could be experienced by the characters in the paintings. Most of the suggestions were realistic, but there were some very creative and funny responses. It was a moment when students became aware of the power of their imagination.

Then the rearranging the paintings and writing started. Some of them decided to work in pairs, while the others felt more comfortable working on their own.  The process took some time so they finished the stories at home.

Students rearranging the photos individually
Students writing stories in pairs

Listen to what I have

The aim of the second lesson was to present the stories. To practice listening, pupils read the stories while the others tried to rearrange the paintings for each of the stories.

Finally, students’ stories illustrated with paintings were all put together on  a Padlet  .

Screenshot of Padlet with students’ stories

The stories

All of the students succeeded in completing their stories so we got a collection of five stories. What’s interesting is that all stories had a melancholic atmosphere suggested by the paintings. Van Gogh appeared as a character in two stories and one even included his mental issues. During short discussion that served as students’ feedback they all said that the paintings helped them plan the structure and the contents of their stories and they were all pleasantly surprised with their results.

Outcomes for the teacher

Teaching with Europeana resource provided an attractive and inspirational support that my students needed very much. Since the attendance of the class I implemented the scenario in  is not  mandatory , fresh and innovative resources are essential in order to keep students interested.

Did you find this story of implementation interesting? Why don’t you read about the related learning scenario? Creative Writing Using Van Gogh created by Justin Nicholas Micallef

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Public Domain Mark 1.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by the Rijksmuseum.

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