From the heart

Here's one about hearts... Image from eltpics by @AriannaBasaric

February 14th was approaching. Hm. What to do for a special Take a photo and… post? Where to find ‘the love’? Love is….  I love…..  I love eltpics? I love photos? And then the idea came. As the phrase I love images popped into my mind, so did the name of a well-known ELT person who has not only contributed photos to eltpics and supports it by mentioning it/us in sessions he gives around the world BUT has written books about using images in the ELT classroom, books such as Working with Images and The Big Picture. So I asked. And guess what? He said YES.

So, without further ado, I shall wish you all the love in the world today and every day, and hand you over to……(Valentine drumroll)… Ben Goldstein.

Heart as Symbol.     Various tasks

As we are celebrating Valentines this week I thought I’d look at symbols and icons, in particular the significance of the heart symbol. The original idea for these tasks came about when I was writing my Working with Images book. I came across the work of Iranian photographer Moza Hantoush who created a number of artistic images based around the heart. Also, a friend of mine in Barcelona Maria Molsosa was an inspiration – she has an impressive collection of heart images, some of which are included in this activity and also makes her own artistic hearts.

A     Brainstorming hearts

1  Brainstorm with learners different contexts where they might find the heart symbol, e.g. on a box of chocolates, one of the suits in a deck of cards, on most commonly on “I love…” posters, badges, flags or stickers.

You could also mention less likely contexts which feature hearts, (e.g. on the froth of a cappuccino), or those things which can be designed in a heart shape, e.g. cakes, chocolates, balloons. Hearts can be used in contexts in which there is no association with love, for example in campaigns to give blood. The heart is clearly not just a romantic symbol.

2  Brainstorm places where learners might write the symbol of a heart, perhaps as a romantic statement to somebody: e.g. scrawled on a beach (as in the image of this blog’s home page), cut onto a tree trunk, painted as a piece of graffiti on wall or a tattoo on their body or simply as a way to sign off when writing a letter or an email.

B       Hearts and words

3  Sometimes hearts have words written in them, particularly on Valentine’s Day cards or messages when hearts are used as symbols of love. Learners complete the gap fill task. Younger students might like to draw them.

hugs   love   mine   ever   me

A Be ______

B True _____

C Big _____

D For______

E Love _____ Tender

Do people send similar messages in hearts in their language? What do the class think of this custom? Sentimental? Fun? Romantic?

4  What words are associated with hearts apart from love and what mental images do these conjure up in the learners’ minds?

Ask learners what the significance of these words might be? Do they have the same associations in their first language?

(e.g beat, broken, arrow, key, gold, stone (as in “to have a heart of….”)

Show this photo from ELT Pics and ask learners to think of a suitable title:

Image by @sandymillin

(answer: an arrow through my heart)

5  Present some song titles which might include these words or others (e.g Heart of Glass, Unbreak my heart, Heartland, Heartbreak Hotel, etc.)

Ask students to picture or think of an image that could match these songs. They could design a CD cover for the song based on their image idea.

Artistic hearts

Maria Molsosa

6  Look at these different images of hearts uploaded on to Flickr/ELT PICS by Maria Molsosa. Maria goes around the world taking photographs of hearts which she finds in unlikely locations. Look at these two images of hearts that have a connection with trees.

Image A

Open heart

Open heart Image by María Molsosa

Image B

The girl who watered hearts

The girl who watered hearts Image by María Molsosa, by kind permission

Look at image A. How does the image make you feel? Why do you think the photographer called it ‘open heart’?

(Sample answer: The image is a sad, even brutal. Trees have long lives and this has been chopped leaving just a short trunk behind. The essence of the tree has suddenly been exposed like an open heart. The title ‘open heart’ could also refer to ‘open heart surgery’. In fact, ‘surgeon’ is used to refer to people who operate on human hearts and trees.)

Look at image B. In what way is this is a positive image? What do you think is its message?

(Sample answer: It could be positive because the girl is watering a tree that may bear many fruit or produce a lot of love in her life. However, the graffiti could also be asking: “Can love grow on trees?”

Moza Hantoush

7 Match these heart images with their titles. What do you think the different photos are saying about love? Which image do you think is the most striking or original? Why?

Seven Images by Moza Hantoush


Served with Love

Even when the heart stopped beating

A very special penny

With love comes pain

True inner beauty

Love is a gift

You don’t die of a broken heart


Consider the symbolic nature of other images. What diverse cultural associations does this image have? What does it mean to you, literally and metaphorically (e.g. the apple is the forbidden fruit, the record label of the Beatles but also the logo of an important computer company).


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