Go to the Learning and Violence HomepageHome

Psychotherapy and Brain ResearchLearning StylesHolistic ModelsExpressive ArtsParticipatory Approaches

Exploring Learning Differently

Expressive Arts


Expressive arts approaches include visual arts, music, creative writing, movement, drama and other similar modes of learning and expression. Educators and researchers have identified some ways that expressive arts approaches support holistic learning (Check out Invitation to the Dance).

Creative expression can develop our strength, elicit hope, and build a sense of self that guides us toward action in the broader context.
(Anaam and Orlando, 2002)

Social: Expressive arts can:

  • invite people into learning
  • help to build community
  • contribute to egalitarian relationships

Emotional: Expressive arts can:

  • encourage learners to be aware of their emotions and how emotions can affect cognitive abilities
  • make room for emotions (create safe space to deal with difficult issues / process emotions) – natural and socially acceptable way to express feelings
  • provide opportunities for facilitators and learners to speak one-to-one
  • creates space / process to express feelings
  • address fears and increase level of risk taking
  • make room for positive emotions
  • revive the playful spirit
  • lead to increased confidence

Spiritual: Expressive arts can:

  • support a positive change in self-concept, self-esteem and confidence
  • increase self-awareness and self-expression and personal growth
  • help learners to identify and draw on their strengths
  • support exploration of the self, and developing a sense of “I am” and “I belong” (Clover, p. 5)
  • help learners find their voices and author alternative narratives…” (p. 1)
  • Malchiodi (2007) writes about how art connects to self-understanding, search for meaning, and personal growth (p. 2) support learners to deepen their understanding of themselves and of the world

Mental: Expressive arts can:

  • affirm capacity to learn, do and understand
  • provide a way to express / communicate
  • provide a way to tell a story without having to disclose it
  • bridge to and supports literacy learning.
  • engage disaffected students
  • help learners to process learning and find out how the group is doing
  • encourage reflection
  • encourage “presence” (in the moment)
  • value the range of ways of knowing (rational, metaphorical, intuitive)
  • develop creative thinking
  • contribute to balanced use of right and left brain
  • reach students with different needs / learning styles

Physical: Expressive arts can:

  • help people who are visual, kinaesthetic or musical learners.
  • encourage learners to be physically involved
  • increase people’s ability to concentrate and remember.
  • reduce stress / tension – contributes to relaxation
  • aid physical coordination

Aesthetic: Expressive arts can engage people in seeing and creating beautiful things.

top of page

Using Expressive Arts Approaches

This section includes links to ideas that you can use in teaching and learning. The links are organized by approach, as each approach will support a number of dimensions of self. Click on each of the titles to see some great ideas and links to many useful resources.

Projecting Ourselves: Our Words, Our Future Images and words from women in our community

Born out of an open invitation extended to women in the community, this was a pilot project, a workshop from June 6 to July 13. It has been a satisfying experience, discovering in us new forms of expression and ways of bettering ourselves. Breaking with traditional forms of expression, the project included writing (through journaling, spontaneous writing, and essay writing), photography, oral expression (sharing daily events), and collage (as a form of expression).

It gave us the confidence that we can excel in every aspect of our life.

We want to thank Catholic Charities, especially our teacher Melissa Jameson, for inviting us to participate in this project. We also thank the Elizabeth Morrish Mad Money Fund and WE LEARN, as this would not have been possible without their support, and finally, to the Peace and Justice Center for opening up this space for us.

Movement and stillness

These sites and sections of this site describe activities that help to reduce stress and tension. They can be introduced with any learning activity and are valuable to help prepare for other expressive arts work.

Reduce stress.

Online yoga videos guide you through exercises to help reduce tension.

A Guided Meditation based on the rainbow of the seven chakras, or energy centres.

Training our minds to be quiet and still can make it easier to settle and learn.

Reflection on movement.

Movement can make a difference to learning.

Exploring the body mind connection.

back to list


Expressive writing – and reading others’ writing - help us express our emotional and spiritual self and build community. Writing can also release tension and contribute to physical well being.

collage created by Jenny HorsmanTeaching Writing

Kate Nonesuch from Duncan, British Columbia, talks to Evelyn Battell about how she works on writing with women from a Transition House. She talks about how she creates space where women can choose what and how they want to write about their lives. Read their conversation here.

A collection of this writing is included in “New Beginnings”.


Creating a comfortable environment for writing.

Eliciting meaningful writing

Our WordsNew Beginnings: writing by women in a writing group sponsored by a community college and a women’s shelter. An interview about leading that writing process.

Creating and personalizing journals and ideas for writing.

The value of keeping a journal.

The Creative “Righting” Centre. This site outlines a process for using visual art and words to respond to the poem The Guest House by Rumi.

Poem Hunter provides links to full texts of poetry that could be used to prompt reflection, writing and discussion.

Panhala: words to poems accompanied by photographs and music.

Our WordsAdult literacy learners on the importance of writing.

The Pongo Publishing Teen Writing Project helps young people who are living difficult lives to express themselves through poetry and other forms of writing.

Writenet.ca promotes writing in adult literacy with some good writing prompts.

A place to join a network of writers.

back to list

Visual Expression

There are many different visual forms you could try – they can offer a new way to express ourselves – or they can lead to writing. Below are a few ideas – but you can find many more on the internet.

Mindscaping: using doodles and drawings to organize and communicate ideas.

Self-portrait: Directions for creating a self-portrait from photographs, pictures, small objects and fabric.

Expressing freely: an activity which encourages movement and physical involvement while creating something beautiful from everyday materials.

The Mandala project promotes peace through art and education.

Mask making can prompt reflection. So can Collage.

How to make a Self Nourishment collage.

Art as a pathway to learning.

Reflections on using collage in adult literacy.

back to list


Doing handwork can be a comfortable way to participate in a group or a way to make it easier to connect with oneself. Many sites on the internet offer instruction to create different comforting objects. Google to find ones that work for you when you’re ready to try something new. Below are a couple of resources to get you started.

Worry doll

Creations from the Heart: Native Crafts and Learning Activities

back to list


Music – can include singing, percussion instruments, as well as listening to, and perhaps moving to a broad range of types of music. Creating or listening to music can build community, tap into our emotions, help us express feelings, and help us find words. It can be fun, reduce stress and energize or calm us down depending on the music we choose.

Reflection on Using Music which describe reasons for using music to support learning and provide examples as to how.

Checkout Tamika’s story - she used music to help herself deal with the trauma of abuse.

Music by themes: click on the themes and then click on the index on the left hand side you can find musicians (and visual artists) with work that illustrates or evokes the theme.

Songza is an online juke box with many audiotapes and music videos.

Two resources on using music in teaching / learning by Michelle Lazar and Chris Boyd Brewer.

The SIBL project provides lesson plans for using popular songs to support learning about literature. Two CD’s of songs can be ordered from the site.

Suggestions for writing about emotions in response to music. For more examples and ideas for how to create and express in different media you can go to Taking Care – Create and Express.

top of page