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:
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.
- 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!
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? : 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!
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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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:
- Divide your class into small groups (3 0r 4 students per group works well).
- Display the picture on the projector, and/or hand out copies of this worksheet:
flowers on the ground worksheet
- 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…)
- 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.
- Ask groups to share back two of their favorite reasons with the rest of the class.
- 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?
- 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.
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!