How to Engage Students with Limited English Through Community Connections: AME 133



Do you have students who speak limited English? Teaching art in a community with language barriers is a ripe opportunity for engagement and connection.

You might just need to approach teaching differently.

Today’s guest, classroom teacher Hannah Coggins, teaches 1st and 2nd grade in Africa. She shares her strategies for engaging and slowing children down long enough to reflect on their art so they can truly be the best version of themselves.

Hannah is a member of The Sparkler’s Club and was featured as our spotlight teacher for May. Like all Spotlight guests, Hannah turns the interview around and asks Patty a couple of questions.

Patty shares her experience teaching art to children whose English skills were very limited and how this strategy is equally effective when you have laryngitis. And why both Hannah and Patty recommend trying it!

Behavior management and student engagement usually go well together.– Hannah Coggins


– What motivates Hannah to teach art as a classroom teacher

– How to address a child who wants to go down a different path from the lesson assigned

– The biggest challenges Hannah has faced in the art room (this one will definitely resonate with you!)

– Tips for teaching art to students whose first language isn’t English

– Why it’s so important to incorporate a students’ culture into the lesson




Here is Hannah’s interview in our SPARKLE magazine.

1. What was your path/journey to becoming an art teacher.

I trained to be an elementary teacher at university in the UK. This training included art, along with core subjects and other “specials”. I’ve been teaching for 12 years and have always been able to include art in my weekly schedule.

I wanted to study a degree which was varied, with lots of practical application. Teaching was a good option.

In more recent years, I have taught overseas in a number of African Countries. This has enabled me to have more flexibility and ownership over the curriculum I use. Art has always stayed a key part of my schedule, both in weekly dedicated art time, as well as incorporating it into other curriculum subjects.

2. What do you feel is your best attribute or strength as an art teacher?

I’ve been able to instill a strong sense of confidence in my students, allowing them to experiment and try new things without feeling like they can get it “wrong”. Across my teaching, I encourage children to take risks and challenge themselves.

We have a strong community within our class of support and encouragement, which also supports high standards of behavior and participation.

3. Do you have a specific classroom management strategy?

I believe strong teacher-student relationships underpin everything else. I endeavor to be a cheerleader for each of my students throughout their studies. Behavior management and student engagement usually go well together. Partly because I teach one class all the time, I am able to hone these areas.

I have clear expectations and boundaries which I think is beneficial for the students. They know how to ask question in a respectful way, and that I am open to hearing their ideas on additions or changes to a particular project.

I have a fairly high-energy teaching style, but I try to pare this back during art. I try to create a slightly serious tone in order to allow the kids to focus on craftsmanship and high quality outcome. We still chat and laugh of course, but they tend to appreciate that focussed style so they can really invest in their work. This is very similar to how we approach longer writing projects, which also require quiet focus for maximum creativity and accuracy.

4. Why do you feel teaching art to kids is important?

Within the classroom setting, I probably do about 50% art techniques/skills and 50% curriculum related projects to apply the skills. I love the fact that art can enhance the curriculum and gives students another avenue to express themselves and be creative. It is important to allow self expression and creativity across the curriculum, so having a strong art program to teach and explore the techniques and mediums, is crucial.

I have found that art provides a great avenue for kids to start conversations about how they are feeling, and what’s going on, on the inside. This has been especially true since I have worked in small international schools, where the kids live fairly cross cultural, transitional lives.

5. Why did you join the Sparklers Club and how has the joining the group helped you?

I decided to become a Sparkler for professional development (to increase my skills as an art teacher).

I see myself as being a pretty creative person and have always seen the benefit art has upon student learning and development. However, I have had limited training and am not particularly strong in certain techniques (drawing for example!). Being a Sparkler has boosted my confidence in knowing an order to teach different concepts, how to break things down, and linking different curriculum subjects with art skills, as supposed to just drawing a picture that matched a topic.

I love the Facebook group and seeing all the great projects people are doing. It also helps me keep track of new lessons and content in the Sparklers Club.

I think the lessons are excellent and very well put together. The students love them, which is obviously important! I like the way many “staples” are used — black pastel, guided drawing, paint techniques — which helps students build on skills and follow along. But at the same time, there is also a wide variety to choose from and always lots of ways to adjust lessons to fit our needs.

Hannah’s student’s art…

Little Blue Hippo - Egyptian Art Bundle The Sparklers Club

Little Blue Hippo – Egyptian Art Bundle (1st grade)

Little Lamb art project- Fiber Arts for Kids The Sparklers Club

Textured Sheep – Fiber Arts Bundle The Sparklers Club

The Yellow Kayak Art and Literature Bundle The Sparklers Club

The Yellow Kayak Collage – Polynesian Bundle The Sparklers Club


Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk: Every Kid Needs a Champion

You can visit Patty through Deep Space Sparkle on Facebook and Instagram

Patty Palmer At Home Instagram

Join the Sparklers Club waitlist HERE


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