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

What is in the picture?-5.jpg

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:

What is in the picture?-4.jpg

 

What is in the picture?-2.jpg

 

What is in the picture?.jpg

 

What.jpg

 

What is in the picture?-3.jpg

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!

Sell This Stuff!

Here’s a creative activity that should get students of all ages thinking outside of the box.

A while ago, I posted The Balloon Chair Prompt, in which students sell an unusual product to their classmates. Today I put a similar prompt onto a handful of different images so that you can use it with groups more easily.

The new prompt reads: You work in a shop that sells unusual, expensive items. A customer walks in and asks you about the object in the photo. Sell it to him/her.

Take a look, and then scroll down to the bottom of the page for some lesson plan ideas.

Sell it - stones: A creative prompt in which students use their creativity to sell a pile of stones.

 

Sell it : A creative role play prompt in which students use their creativity to sell a pile of pencil sharpenings

 

 

Sell it - Stuffed animal

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Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. Start by modeling the activity. Show one of the pictures to the class, and ask: What do you see in the picture? Why do you think this object is so expensive? What else could it be used for? (A pile of stones? This isn’t just ANY pile of stones. These stones were found inside of an ancient Egyptian tomb lying next to a mummy. They are said to bring good luck to whoever possesses them.)
  2.  Divide your class into several teams. (The pencil sharpening group, the pink drink group…)
  3. Tell each team to imagine that they work for a secondhand shop or a curiosity shop. Their job is to sell the precious, expensive object in their picture. Instruct the groups to work together to make a list of reasons that a customer should buy their object. Encourage them to be creative and come up with a backstory for their object, or come up with unusual uses for their products. (I would recommend making sure that all students write the list down.)
  4. Now rearrange the groups. Your new groups should have at least one member from each of the previous teams. (One stone person, one pencil sharpening person, etc.) Each group member should take turns playing salesperson and customer. The salesperson should tell the customers about their product, and try to convince them to buy it.
  5. *Instead of dividing the teams up again in step 4, an alternative is to have your original groups give whole-class presentations about their products. After they finish, classmates can ask questions, and then decide which one item they’d like to buy.

Like it?

Would you use it again? Do you have any other ideas on how to use these prompts? I’ll be happy if you let me know! Take a moment and leave your ideas and suggestions in the comment box below. Thanks for reading.

 

The Best Pet: Would you rather have a fluffy cow or a plant with eyes?

The world is full of big, important issues that your students could be debating, but I don’t have an example of one for you today. Instead, I have this prompt:

Which is the best pet?: Would your students prefer a plant with eyes or a fluffy cow?


Which is the best pet? : A horse? A bear? A fluffy cow thing? A plant with eyes? List 10 reasons why.


This is a prompt for those days when your class just needs a silly, lighthearted debate. It’s a good way to help nervous language learners stop taking themselves so seriously and start brainstorming.

Here’s a little handful of ideas on using this prompt:

  • Divide your class into four groups, and assign each group to a different one of the pets. (I would recommend assigning the pets randomly. It’s more fun and more challenging when students have to defend an idea that they don’t actually believe.) Encourage them to (a) compare their pet to the other pets, and (b) Think of specific examples of activities that they could do with their pet.
  • After your students are finished writing down their ideas, it’s time to debate! My debates are usually somewhat informal. I give each group the chance to state one of their ideas at a time, and then I allow the other groups to argue against it. (If anyone has any ideas for a better organized debate, though, I’d love to hear them.)
  • This prompt works well after teaching comparative and superlative adjectives. (A bear is stronger than a horse, but a plant with eyes is cuter and less dangerous than a bear.)
  • Here is a simple, printable organizer that I created to help your students outline their ideas: Best Pet Organizer

Thoughts and Ideas:

How else could you use this prompt in your classes? Please share your ideas in the comment box!

Six Memory-Inspired Picture Prompts for Past Tense Storytelling Practice

Memory Picture Prompts for ESL writing classes and beyond

What does this picture remind you of?

I created this series of picture prompts to encourage students to reflect and tell stories about their pasts. I had my adult ESL students in mind when I made them, but I think they could be used in creative writing classes for native English speakers, as well.

Here are the prompts… Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page for ideas on how to use them in class:

Converse memory picture prompt

Coffee Memory - picture prompt for writing

How Pepper picture prompt - What does this picture remind you of-

Crowd Picture Prompt: What does this picture remind you of- (2)

Cow Picture Prompt: What does this picture remind you of- (3)

Bubble Picture Prompt - What does this picture remind you of- (1)

Teaching Ideas:

  • Choose one of the pictures to show to your students. Ask, “What do you see?” List any relevant vocabulary words on the board.
  • Tell your students that you would like them to think about a past experience that the picture helps them remember. You might want to write an example from your own life to show students what you have in mind. For example, in the picture of the peppers at the farmer’s market, I might write:
    This picture reminds me of eating with my family on Saturday mornings when I was a child. My father used to eat these big green jalapeno peppers. I remember him often saying, “I’ll give a dollar to anyone who can eat one of these peppers.” I remember nibbling at the tip cautiously, but I don’t think I could ever bring myself to take a bite.
  • I would recommend giving ESL students a few possible sentence starters to get them started. For example:
    – This reminds me of ______________.
    – This makes me think of the time when _____________________.
    – This picture doesn’t remind me of anything because _________________.
  • Give students a specific amount of time to freewrite. (10 minutes is good.) Tell them that they shouldn’t stop even if they don’t have ideas. (If they don’t have ideas, they might write about why they have no memories about hot peppers, or about why they hate vegetables, about getting lost in a farmer’s market, or about other veggies they’ve tried.)
  • This is a good journaling activity. You could use a different picture every day for a week. At the end of the week, you can ask each student to choose one entry that they liked the best. You can have them turn it into a story, edit it, and then share it with their classmates.

Comments? Ideas?

Do you have any other suggestions on how teachers could incorporate these prompts into their classes? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments in the box at the bottom of the page.

The Moment Before… – A Picture Prompt

Writing + Speaking Prompt: What happened the moment before the picture was taken?

What happened before?

Here’s a joyful, open-ended prompt to get your students speaking, writing, or practicing whatever grammar point you’ve been working on. Below are some of my ideas on how you might incorporate it into your lesson plan.

  • Start by asking students to describe what they see in the picture. List new vocabulary on the board. (Some words that you might want to introduce: to cheer, to applaud, to clap, to laugh, auditorium, uniform, joyful)
  • If you’re teaching high school you might ask students to make inferences based on what they can see in the photo. (For example, I infer that the students go to a private school because they are wearing uniforms.)
  • Use the question at the top of the picture to practice past tense or present perfect with “just” (What has just happened?) You might have students respond individually and then compile a class list of responses. This can be done as a quick speaking warm-up, or extended into a longer lesson if you want to practice writing… Maybe have students listen to each other and then write all of their classmates’ ideas into a journal.
  • Another idea is to have your students work with partners or small groups and come up with a list of 5-10 possible things that might have happened just before the picture was snapped.
  • If you want to extend the lesson, you can ask students to choose one of their ideas and write a story about it.

What ideas do you have?

The suggestions above are just a handful of my own ideas, but like I said, this prompt is open-ended. Do you have any other suggestions on how to use this prompt in class? Please join the conversation and share your thoughts in the comment box at the bottom of the page.

Flowers on the Ground – a creative picture prompt with a storytelling worksheet

Flowers on the ground

Hi everyone! Lately I’ve been experimenting with new ways to use picture prompts in class and turn them into longer, full-blown lesson plans. Along with the prompt above, I’ve created a worksheet which you can download, print, and hand out to your students. (If you happen to try it out, please let me know how it goes. That would help me figure out whether to make more like it in the future.)

This creative prompt can be used to practice both speaking and writing skills, and it gives students the chance to work both on a team and individually. Your class is going to use a simple picture to build vocabulary, brainstorm ideas, create a character and finally, write a full-blown story.

As usual, my focus is on teaching ESL, but I think that English (ELA) and Creative Writing teachers might be able to use this prompt, as well.

Lesson Plan Ideas:

  1. Divide your class into small groups (3 0r 4 students per group works well).
  2. Display the picture on the projector, and/or hand out copies of this worksheet:
    flowers on the ground worksheet
  3. Discuss the task with the students. Explain that students need to brainstorm a list of possible reasons why the flowers ended up on the ground. I would recommend giving a couple of reasons of your own as examples (A girl got angry at her boyfriend and threw his gift on the floor. / A clumsy man accidentally dropped them as he was opening a door…)
  4. Give groups time to come up with a list. While students are working, you can help students with difficult vocabulary and list new words on the board.
  5. Ask groups to share back two of their favorite reasons with the rest of the class.
  6. Ask students to choose one of the ideas on their lists and turn it into a story. This can be done independently if you want your students to practice writing, or as a team, if you’d like to put more emphasis on speaking and teamwork. Again, you can use the worksheet to give your students some guidelines. If you don’t have access to a printer, you can write the following questions on the board:
    a- Who dropped the flowers?
    b- What happened in his/her life before he dropped the flowers?
    c- How was he/she feeling?
    d- What caused the flowers to drop?
    e- What happened after? How did his/her feelings change?
  7. Students share their work. I would recommend sharing in small groups if students wrote their stories independently, and sharing as a whole class if they wrote their stories in groups. It’s fun for students to see how many possible crazy stories came out of the same simple picture.

Comments

If you liked this activity, or if you have any questions about it, please take a moment to leave your comments in the box at the bottom of the page! I’m still new to blogging, so your feedback is super-helpful to me!

Three Creative Classroom Prompts for Writing and Speaking and Describing People

Three Creative Classroom Prompts for writing, speaking, and describing people

Today I have three new creative picture prompts to help your students practice describing people. All three prompts require some imagination, and could be used to practice speaking, writing, or a combination of both. If you are an ESL teacher, they would work well after studying descriptive adjective, present continuous, or any form of past tense.

Take a look at the prompts below, and then scroll down for some lesson planning ideas to help you incorporate them into your classes.

Who owns this van? A Creative Classroom Prompt


Dog on a leash - A classroom prompt for writing and speaking


Whose shoes are these? - Classroom prompts for speaking and writing - describing people

A Collaborative Speaking and Writing Lesson Plan Idea

  1. Display the picture on your classroom projector (or print copies, if you don’t have the technology available). Look at the picture with the whole class and brainstorm a list of relevant vocabulary words.
  2. Divide students into pairs or small groups. Ask each group to come up with a list of 10 specific details about the person referred to in the prompt. Their details might include name, age, job, appearance, personality quirks, daily routine, secrets, dreams, etc.
  3. After the teams have completed their lists, ask the groups to work together to write a short story about the person who they just described. All ten details should be included in the story. (If you’re teaching a lower-level ESL class, you might ask your students to write a profile of the person in paragraph form instead of a story.)
  4. Ask the groups to read their stories aloud to the class.

Other Lesson Planning Ideas

  • If your students need individual writing practice, you can forego splitting your class into groups, and instead have students write their lists/stories independently.
  • Another idea is to write a list of 10 details together as a whole class. After you finish, divide the class into groups and ask each group to write a story about the same person. I would recommend giving them a specific prompt to work with. For example, if you used the third picture (the one with the shoes), and you came up with a character named Anne who is 28 years old and unemployed, you might ask, “How did Anne lose her shoes? Write a story.” After the groups finish, they can take turns reading their stories and comparing their ideas.

Comments

What other ideas do you have for incorporating these prompts into your classes? Please share them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!

A Bunch of New Thought Cloud Picture Prompts – comics in the classroom

Last week I posted about a few strategies for using thought cloud prompts in your ESL classes. (Here’s a link, in case you missed it.) Today I’m back to follow up with a bunch of new picture prompts to help you bring comics and bubbles into your classroom. I plan to come back an update this post with specific ideas on how to use each one in your classes. In the meantime, if you have any ideas and would like to contribute, please feel free to leave a comment in the box at the bottom of the page or send me an email at inyourcountry1@gmail.com.


And now for the prompts


  1. Sometimes you just find yourself alone, gazing at the sunset, dressed in a bunny suit…

Bunny Cloud

2. What’s going on in this vintage children’s book illustration?

Thought Bubble Prompt - vintage love triangle

3. Did I brush my teeth this morning?

Vintage Romance thought bubbles

4. What’s wrong?

Crying thought cloud

5. How does my hat look?

In Your Country (1)

6. One day a Hollywood talent agent will walk down this block…

In Your Country (2)

7. French fry crumbs!

Bird Brain

8. My arm is tired.

Statue of Liberty's Mind

9. Is it lunch time yet?

Onion Man thought bubble

Lots of Thought Cloud Prompts for Your Classroom

Comments

If you try any of these out in your classes, please let us know in the comment box below. I’m super-interested in hearing what you did, how your students reacted, and whether you’d like to see more of these in the future.

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.

Sell It! – The Balloon Chair – A Creative Writing and Speaking Prompt

Sell This Object - Balloon Chair

I like to use “Sell It” prompts after teaching comparative and superlative adjectives, although there are a lot of other ways that they can be tied into your lessons. Here’s what I usually do:

  • 1- Introduce some new product-related descriptive adjectives. (I come up with a list of about 7-10 new words based on the level of my class. These might include: comfortable, uncomfortable, cutting-edge, old-fashioned, masculine, feminine, etc.)
  • 2- Show the class various pictures of products cut from magazines, and ask the class to describe them using the new vocabulary.
  • 3- Show the prompt above to the entire class, and ask them to use the prompts to write a creative description/advertisement for the product using the questions as guidelines. This can be done in small groups for speaking practice or independently, if you want to focus on writing.
  • Another alternative is, instead of using the prompt above, to hand out a picture of a different product to each student or group. One student might get an old-fashioned bicycle, another might get a car made of grass, and another might get a futuristic robot. Then each student can “sell” a different product.
  • 4- Finally, students come up to the front of the room and take turns trying to sell the item from the picture.