Thought Cloud Prompts for the ESL Classroom (and beyond)

Thought Cloud Prompts

What ‘s on That Guy’s Mind?

Thought clouds can be a great tool for introducing new topics, writing stories, and practicing grammar tenses in your ESL classes. They’re good for brainstorming, expanding vocabulary, and encouraging creativity. I’ve created a list of several strategies for putting them into action in your own classrooms. As an ESL teacher, my focus is on using them with English language learners, but teachers of other subjects (especially creative writing) may find some ideas here, as well.

Strategy #1: The Warm-up / Do-Now Prompt:

When I introduce a new topic, I find that pictures with thought clouds can be helpful in (a) brainstorming vocabulary and (b) giving students the opportunity to share their opinions and past experiences on the topic.

Train Station Thought Cloud
Try using this picture to warm up for a lesson on travel or public transportation.

If I were beginning a unit on travel or public transportation, for example, I might display the picture above, of a man standing alone in a bustling train station (I think it’s Grand Central Station in New York City). First I would ask the whole class, “What do you see in the picture?” I would list new, relevant vocabulary words on the board.

Next, I would give students a couple of minutes to write a sentence or two into the bubble. When they were finished, I would go around the room and ask students to share their ideas.

Finally, I would bring in some discussion questions related to both the picture and the lesson that we are about to begin. (I would probably have students discuss the questions in small groups, and then report back to the rest of the class.) For example, for this picture I might ask:

  • Have you ever travelled alone? Tell us about your trip.
  • Do you like traveling alone? Why or why not?
  • Did you ever get lost while you were traveling?
  • Do you usually feel overwhelmed when you go on vacation? Why or why not?
  • Do you prefer to travel by train, plane,  bus or car? Why?

Of course, the questions would vary depending on the level on the class and the topic of the lesson.

Strategy #2: The Tense Practice Prompt

After teaching a new tense, you can put a new grammar structure into action by describing and analyzing photos. For example, to practice the present continuous, I might show students the curious vintage photo below, which was taken in a doll factory:

Doll Head Thought Cloud

I might ask:

  • What do you see in the photo?
  • What is the man doing?
  • What is he wearing?
  • What is he thinking?
  • What is he planning to do this evening?

I find that creative students tend to enjoy this type of activity. Less creative students, however, may look at you blankly, and say, “…uh…I don’t know…” In response to the questions about his plans for the future. That’s something that you may want to keep in mind when planning.

Strategy #3: The Storytelling Prompt

Some pictures tell a story. By asking a few good questions, you can help students use their imagination to flesh out that story and make it their own. Take a look at the prompt below:

www.InYourCountry.wordpress.com
This photo can be used to tell a story and practice mixed tenses. What happened before and after the accident?

This picture tells a simple story and can easily be used with lower-level ESL students. A young woman looks up at the camera, distraught, while an ice cream cone melts on the concrete near her feet. What exactly happened?

After my students fill in the thought bubbles on this photo, I ask the following three questions, which give students the opportunity to practice present, past, and future tenses:

  1. What happened just before the photo was taken?
  2. How does the woman feel in the picture? Describe what you see in detail.
  3. What happened next?

My favorite approach is to write the first part of the story (Questions 1 and 2) as a whole class. After we’ve come up with a detailed story together, I either divide students into small groups, or have them work individually to write the end of the story. After they finish writing, everyone shares their endings.

Comments, Please!

Have you used thought cloud prompts in your classrooms? Would you like to see more of these in the future? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave your comments in the box below.

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2 thoughts on “Thought Cloud Prompts for the ESL Classroom (and beyond)

  1. You have nice, clearly written ideas! Thank you for your words, and I don’t think you’ll stay want to stay anonymous for long. The blog is shaping up nicely already. 🙂 Cheers!

    Like

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