Beginner Ideas: Describing Pictures with “There is” and “There Are”

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There is a table. There are two hands. There is some coffee. There are two cups. There are two cups of coffee. There are two bracelets. There is pink nail polish. There aren’t any faces…

Early on when teaching beginners, there usually comes a point when my students have enough vocabulary to make simple sentences with the verb “to be,” but they can’t yet say much else. They can describe what they see in front of them using “there is” and “there are.” They can form plural nouns and use the words “some,” “a lot of” and maybe “any.” They have learned to use numbers, and they might even know a bit about adjective order in English. They still need more practice with “to be,” though, before we move on to other verbs.

At that point, I like to bring out the pictures. I show a series of simple pictures to my students, and we work together to describe what we see. I try to look for pictures with a mix of images that they already know the words for, as well as some words that they haven’t learned yet.

Here are some examples of the types of images that I might start with:

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What is in the picture?-2.jpg

 

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How can I use pictures with individual students or small groups?

  • Flip through the pictures individually, and prompt students to name or make simple sentences with the words that they know. (There is a bicycle. There are two people.)
  • Allow students to ask you questions such as “What’s this?” or “What are these?” or “How do you say __________?” about objects in the picture. Encourage them to ask you “How do you spell __________?” when they would like you to write a word on the board.
  • After you finish going through a series of images, go through them again, to review the new vocabulary.

How can I modify this idea for a bigger class?

It is possible to use the idea above as a whole-class warmup or end-of-class activity for a bigger group. However, you can definitely make changes if you’d like to let your students work in small groups or pairs.

  • You might show one image to the entire class. Ask students to write a list of things that they see in the picture in small groups. Prompt them to ask each other “What’s this/that” questions, and to look up unknown words in their dictionaries.
  • You might also start this activity by having students write their lists individually, and then compare ideas in small groups.
  • After the groups are finished speaking, bring the class back together, and review all of the sentences and new vocabulary that students came up with.

Or:

  • Divide your class into groups. Give each group a different picture to work with. Tell your groups that they should be able to describe everything that they see in the picture. Give them time to find the new vocabulary that they will need.
  • After they finish, call a group up to the front of the room, and display their image on the projector. Prompt students from other groups to ask them, “What’s this/that?” questions about the picture.
  • Once again, after each group has had a turn, flip through all of the images again to review new vocabulary that students have learned.

 

What do you think?

Have you used any of these ideas with your students? How else have you used pictures to teach beginners? I’d love to hear from you, so please take a moment to leave your comments in the box!

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