What are some ways you use pictures/photos in your teaching?

Hello colleagues, It would be great to generate a bunch of ideas for using pictures/photos for teaching English. An activity that I've been doing with lower level students is having learners make odl-fashioned flashcards , which --by the way-- research has shown to be an effective strategy for learning vocabulary. We use the flashcards in a variety of ways. I borrowed this idea from our friends from Arlington, VA at REEP as demonstrated in this great video, "Spotlight on Flashcards."

What are some ways you are using pictures/photos in your teaching?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition


I'm using pictures tonight for the beginner English class I teach. We talking about families right now and I wanted to show some families that are different from the standard mom/dad/kids.

Susan and all, That video was fantastic. I don't use flash cards very often because I've thought them to be boring, but this video showed some creative ways to use them, and now I'm eager to give them another try. If anyone has suggestions of where to find flash card resources, I'd appreciate it if they would share them.

I use pictures a lot in my classes, especially the lower level classes. I received a beautiful donated set of photos, about 10 x 12 in size, with various people, animals, food, and scenes, and I use them 2 or 3 times a week. I use them to review, for example, pronouns - What is he doing? What are they doing? - I invite students to come to the front of the class to describe the pictures - and students work in pairs to ask each other questions about the pictures.

A olleague and I presented a fun activity called Close Up Pictures at TESOL a few years back. Students use their phones to take a photo of part of an object close up and then the whole object. After they've taken a set number of photos, they work with a partner to guess what the photo is. It's great for vocabulary development. They can take the photos during class, or you can ask them to take pictures at home with a specific focus, for example, things in your kitchen. If I can track down the video from our presentation, I'll post it.



Hello Lisa, Dorothy and all, Thanks for your comments on ways to use photos. Photos are surely indispensable to our teaching, especially at lower levels.

Dorothy, you asked about flashcard resources. I create flashcards using card stock and copyright free images on Google. I first project color photos to the class while the students label the same images on a black and white version with 12 to 20 images-- depending on the level of the class. After we've labeled the handout together, I distribute the same handout printed on card stock. The students then cut out their cards and write on the back of each. I use different colored card stock for each set of vocabulary we study, and I distribute a small snack size baggie for the students to keep their flashcards in. 

Students and teachers are also making (or finding) flashcards on Quizlet for vocabulary study.  What has been your experience?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Hello colleagues, I wanted to share another activity for using photos with beginners, including those with limited formal schooling. This technique, called the "Picture Word Inductive Model," was developed by Emily Calhoun. For this activity, it's good to choose a an interesting photo that has a number of items for students to label. (See the example photos in Larry Ferlazzo's New York Times Learning Network article.)

An amazing source for pictures is the New York Times Year in Pictures. Here's a link to the 2016 version. It's my understanding that copyrighted pictures can be used for limited educational purposes (i.e., "fair use") as long as the proper attributions are included.

Some members might be interested in this handy Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines for Educators.

Here are the steps in the "Picture Word Inductive Model":

1) First, display a photo and ask learners what they see. Students call out words, and the teacher labels the image accordingly. The teacher can add vocabulary words as needed.

2) Students label their own copy of the photo.

3) The words that get generated from the picture can be used in a wide variety of ways including sorting, cloze activities, writing sentences and then paragraphs, etc.

You can read a complete description of Calhoun's technique in this ASDC article, "Teaching Beginning Reading and Writing with the Picture Word Inductive Model."

This method would be particularly useful when working with learners who have limited formal schooling. It would be great to hear members' thoughts on this innovative teaching strategy.

Hearing from one another here in our community benefits us all! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Susan, I really like this resource! Thanks so much for sharing. It reminds me of VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies https://vtshome.org/), in which students are shown an image and asked "What's going on in this picture?," a question intended as a springboard into free-flowing language for beginners and discussion and interpretation for higher levels. I just found out that the New York Times picked it up and now runs a weekly feature on the activity, which would be useful for an ELL classroom of any level: https://www.nytimes.com/column/learning-whats-going-on-in-this-picture. 

I'm a big fan of image-based instruction methods, so would love to hear more ideas on the topic!

This sounds like a great idea, and I can't wait to try it!  The link to the NY TImes site isn't working, however...

Hello colleagues, Here is another source for wonderful photos that can be used by teachers and students for free. The ELTpics site was created by language teachers for teachers. The site is designed so that teachers can contribute photos, too. Enjoy!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP