Using Pictures in the EFL Classroom – Some Activities

by Sophia McMillan
(Tokyo, Japan)

Shane Training Centre, Japan

Shane Training Centre, Japan

Pictures and photos are a valuable resource for stimulating classroom communication and can be used for more than setting the scene and eliciting vocabulary. Rather they can provide numerous opportunities for learning English while communicating about real-world events.


The activities listed below are merely some examples and can be easily modified and adapted for use with different learners, a wide range of target language, communicative goals and learner needs.

As with all activities these need clear, imaginative demonstrations to encourage learner participation. Using 2 or 3 pictures as examples when setting up the activities will help learners see how they can adjust for different situations. Eliciting ideas during the demonstration helps engage the learners and avoid misunderstandings. Learners need to feel safe in the classroom before they are willing to be creative and play with the language and activity.

• Alternative Scenarios – learners create a story to go with a picture then share this story and the true story with the class, who try to guess which story is correct (Pre-Int – Adv)
Procedure:
Decide on a selection of intriguing pictures (perhaps with a real story attached but hidden from the learners. In pairs or small groups allow the learners to choose one and try to come up with a scenario/story to account for the picture (e.g. who? what? where? when? why and How?). After a period of discussion they unfold the sheet to learn the actual story and prepare to tell both.

Have the groups join together to form larger groups and relate their stories, showing the picture. Other group members should listen, ask questions and try to guess which story is the true one. If their peers guess correctly they win a point, if not the points go to the ‘telling’ team for fooling them. This could be done as a whole class activity.

Alternatively, divide the class into small groups/pairs and give each group 6-9 intriguing pictures with hidden captions. Display the first picture and each individual offers a guess about the story depicted. The caption is then revealed with the winner being the member with the closest scenario as judged by the group. Repeat for each picture.

• Describe, Draw and Tell – Learners draw scenes described by their partner and try to guess the original story (Int – Adv)
Procedure:
Board a picture and elicit / teach language that will be helpful in describing scenes (e.g. on the left, in the foreground, in the
background, beside, in the bottom right hand corner etc).

Divide the class into AB pairs: A chooses a picture from a selection and returns to their partner keeping the picture secret. A then describes the picture to their partner while B asks questions and does a rough drawing.

After a set time A elicits the scenario from B, asking questions where necessary, to clarify points etc. A shows the original picture to B and tells them their scenario. Pairs compare their stories to see how similar they were.

• Picture Search – Learners relate a story while their teammate/s try to find the matching picture (Ele-Adv)
Procedure:
For homework have the learners draw/pick 2 pictures of interest and write a scenario in English. The following week put a selection of pictures around the room and have learners describe their scenario while their teammate/s try to identify which picture is being described.

Teams could compete to find the most pictures in given time frame. Those describing the pictures should change at the end of every successful description.

Alternatively: provide captions or story scenarios for each of the selected pictures and have the learners try to match them with the pictures.

• Wild Scenarios – Learners compete to produce the craziest stories. (Pre-Int – Adv)
Procedure:
Board one picture (either drawn or printed) and have the learners in pairs work together to come up with the wildest story to describe it. At the end of the discussion stage have the pairs present their story to the group, and get them to decide whose story is the weirdest – while remaining true to the scene.

• Picture Dialogue – Learners create dialogues to match the picture and perform them for the group. (Pre-Int-Adv)
Procedure:
Have a selection of pictures visible to the group as a whole (i.e. 4 on the board) and in pairs learners work together to create a dialogue for the scene. Have the pairs perform their dialogue in front of the class and the group must decide which picture the dialogue matches. Award points for correct guesses.

• Why was it news? – Learners explain why mundane photos might have made the news (Int – Adv).
Procedures:
Provide a series of apparently mundane photos that were news stories and ask the learners to decide why they might have been in the news. Compare their ideas with the actual story. This activity provides an opportunity for a wide range of language use.

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