My young teen students are at a crucial point in their emotional development; they are in the process of discovering and defining "who they are." Since art is such an emotional endeavor, Art teachers who do not help students to make connections between emotions and their creation are not only missing an invaluable opportunity, but are also remiss. As an Art teacher who relies on students building emotional meaning within their work, I know how hard it can be for students to understand how to create meaning without words.
Our students rely on words to convey meaning nearly everywhere else in their lives. . .Even the body language they use connects to a word. So, when we ask them to use color, line, shape, texture, form etc. to create meaning. . . They are often lost. Teaching students to create meaning without relying on words -or speech bubbles- takes time, patience, and reiteration. It also takes trust. The students need to know they can share their emotional ideas with you and receive helpful and constructive feedback.
Here is a great example (my apologies! These are phone photos!):
This student is creating a batik about how to end war. But, the rules of the project state she must find a way to display this concept with at least 50% positive imagery. So, her intention is to show someone in need receiving from someone with plenty.
She didn't like her first sketch because (in her words) "It looks like some creep hanging on the playground."
So, she added some contextual background clues to help the reader understand.
And, here is the finished work:
There is an animated short by Disney that has been nominated for an Academy Award. If you haven't yet seen Paperman. . .You really should (it is only 6 minutes). The whole short has no words, and is a great example for students on how to use color/scene/context/expression to convey emotion without words. It is also G-rated. Enjoy
P.S. Here is a great link about some of the "how" to the creation of Paperman (great if you teach any animation/or animation-based projects!)