“First, the pulse of colour flooded the bay with blue, and the heart expanded with it and the body swam, only the next instant to be checked and chilled by the prickly blackness on the ruffled waves.”(To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf)
- Can colour represent people, places, things and ideas?
- Can it represent relations and interactions?
- Can it realise textual meaning? For example, can it offer a system of reference or create cohesion in a text?
- What about the emotional function of colours?
Reading picture books
“She paused a moment. But now, she said, artists had come here. There indeed, only a few paces off, stood one of them, in Panama hat and yellow boots, seriously, softly, absorbedly, for all that he was watched by ten little boys, with an air of profound contentment on his round red face gazing, and then, when he had gazed, dipping; imbuing the tip of his brush in some soft mound of green or pink. Since Mr. Paunceforte had been there, three years before, all the pictures were like that, she said, green and grey, with lemon-coloured sailing-boats, and pink women on the beach.”
What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain’s brink.
What is red? a poppy’s red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro’.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!
Colours and cultures
In Western culture, we usually associate colours with the following concepts and emotions. How is it different in other cultures? (Source: Introduction to visual grammar.)
- Blue: peace, tranquillity, truth, dignity, power, melancholy, coolness, heaviness. Regarded as being therapeutic.
- Yellow: Happiness, cheerfulness. Can denote caution, decay, and sickness in some shades.
- Red: Warmth, urgency, passion, heat, blood, excitement, danger and hostility. Used as an accent colour, it can promote expectations and quick decision-making.
- Green: Growth, fertility, health, cheerfulness, vegetation, money. Signifies life, new growth, energy and faith.
- Grey: Cool detachment, bleakness, and lack of intensity.
- Purple: Wealth, royalty, sophistication, intelligence. Also the colour of passion and love.
- Black: Death, rebellion, strength and evil. Associated with the supernatural, it can also suggest inner strength and determination, as well as power and formality.
- White: Purity, chastity and cleanliness.
- Black and white: Nostalgia, seriousness, truth, detachment.
- Brown: Credibility, stability, and neutrality.
- Orange: Warmth, strength of personality. Associated with autumn, it also has broad appeal.
Activity tip: Play a free association game and ask students to write down the first thing they can think of when they here these colours. It can be a place, an emotion, a food, anything.
The language of colours
The colour wheel
Learn about the colour wheel. What are primary and secondary colours? What are complementary colours? What is a hue and what is a shade?
For your intermeidate-advanced level students, here is an excellent video from a Coursera course on Introduction to Art: Concepts and Techniques.
The wonderful world of colours
The names of colours sound magical and there are so many of them that only reading the names of colours you can expand your vocabulary. Here are two lists, but you can easily find more.
Activity tip: Use the names of colours to write a poem or a story. Choose 5-10 colours and either start each line in your poem with a colour, or write a story containing all of the colours.
English through Art Activities
In our resource book, English Through Art, you can find some activities based on paintings which talk and teach about colours.
The absence of colour
Round off your exploration of colour by experiencing it through your other senses in The Black Book of Colours, written by Menena Cottin and illustrated by Rosana Faria. This simple and achingly poetic book combines descriptions of natural monochrome objects and their black on black ilustration using embossed lines allowing the reader to enter into empathy with a blind or visually impaired reader and experience the colour in a new and thrilling way.
As you can see, colours are inspiring for your language classes, and you can do so much more with them than just asking about the favourite colours of students. Do you have any inspiring activities based on colours?