10 Activities - Using Pictures in Class

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photoinesl_407318959A picture speaks a thousand words!  And you can get your students speaking just as many by using pictures in class.  Check out these fun and engaging communicative activities below.

I find these work at all ages and the best thing is that each task can be adapted to the level you are teaching and designed with a particular language focus in mind so whether you’re teaching the Past Simple at A1 or the use of cleft sentences at C1, you can pull from your bank of pictures and adjust your instructions as you see fit!!


1. Dialogue Bubbles

Choose a picture with two or more people and in pairs, students design a catchy advertisement or witty dialogue OR use it to focus on a particular grammar structure such as ‘going to’ (see below).

You could even choose a picture with two or more objects and ask your students to use their imaginations to add dialogue bubbles to the objects.  This can be great fun, used at all levels and all ages and is so versatile in that you can focus on whatever grammar/vocabulary you are teaching that week!



2. Storyboards

Storyboarding is a well-known and popular task in the ESL classroom but it means sourcing a sequence of pictures which can be a challenge!  If you’re feeling very creative, you could take a series of images in sequence yourself and ask students to write the story. To personalise it even more, use your town or the school as a backdrop for the story.

Storyboards are great to focus on particular grammar structures as you can assign the focus.  For example, maybe ‘Past Perfect Continuous’ with your higher levels (He had been waiting for the right moment to save her) or Past Simple with your lower levels (He saved the woman and jumped out the window).


3. If I Were There, I Would…

Choose a picture in an interesting setting or location. This is a great task to practise the Second Conditional.  ‘If I were there, I would get up early to watch the sunrise every morning.’ Can your students think of 3 Second Conditional sentences in relation to this setting?



4. Picture Profiles

Choose a small number of pictures of interesting people and get your students to work together to describe the appearance of the person in the picture but also to build a profile of that person using the following headings: Name, Nationality, Age, Profession, Likes/Dislikes, Life Goals and Ambitions and 3 words to describe the person’s character.  When finished, groups can share their profiles and discuss their choices; a great way to practise present simple, present simple continuous and adjectives for description and character at the lower levels.


5. Yes, Chef!

Take or source a picture of either a starter, a main course or a dessert.  Ask your students to describe the dish to their partners including the ingredients that were used and the recipe they think would have been used.  Now, ask your students to come up with a five-course menu to include this dish!

If you provide a picture like the one below of ‘Tiramisu’, your students might consider creating an Italian themed menu and should discuss Italian dishes and drinks.


6. Nostalgia – ‘I remember when…’

Bring in a picture of yourself as a young child and describe the picture to the class.  Now, tell the students about this time in your life starting with i.e, ‘I remember when I was four years old…’  This is a great task to practise structures such asI would…’ and ‘used to’ to talk about past habits. 


7. Compare & Contrast

This is a well-known task and useful to introduce to students of all ages to familiarize them with the format of  exams such as the Cambridge suite of exams (PET, FCE and CAE).

Choose two photos with a similar theme such as the two below on the theme of work.  Start by asking students to describe what they see in the two pictures to their partners and then to use phrases such as ‘They are similar in that….’ And ‘in contrast to the first picture’ to compare and contrast.  As a follow-up, you could ask your students to choose their next two pictures to bring in to class to describe.

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8. Picture Collage

Ask your students to work in pairs and together for homework take a series of pictures to illustrate their language learning experience (or whatever you choose).  They should bring their collage into class the next day (or you could set this mini project over two days) to present to the class.  Students describe their photos, why they took them and why they play an important part in their lives.

This task is great with teenagers and encourages them to use a wide range of vocabulary which they have already met; a fun and motivating fluency focused activity.  If your students have access, they could use www.picmonkey.com to create online collages.


9. Picture Dictation

Student A – The Describer
Student B – The Artist
Student C – The Scribe

A fun and engaging task for groups of three students.  Source a picture that has enough detail for students to

describe, draw and write about!   Assign your strongest student in each group the role of ‘Describer’ – This student is the only one who will see the picture; the other students, the ‘Artist’ will draw what student A describes and the ‘Scribe’ will write the description.

When finished, the three students compare their picture, drawing and written description and together discuss the similarities and differences.  Drawings and pictures could be posted on the classroom walls afterwards for other groups to decide which representation is the best and why!


10. Prediction for Reading/Listening tasks

Source an engaging picture that relates in some way to your main reading/listening task.  Use the picture as a lead-in task for students to predict what the following task will be about.  If they are having difficulty, give them some vocabulary on the board to help them put together a full prediction.

Course books often use lead-in pictures but if you can find a picture of your own that personalizes the topic, it will add a more intriguing layer to your introduction. For example, the following lead-in picture could be used to spark students personal interest in the topic of camping before reading an article on ‘An Increase in Camping Holidays’ 


Do you have any other ideas for using pictures in class? Let us know in the comments section below..

25 Responses

  1. These ideas are really good.
    I sometimes cut out pictures of clothes and accessories from Magazines to explain clothes vocab.

    Thanks again.
    Mary H

  2. As a teacher its important to know how to use the pictures effectively and practicably in your classroom. try to vairy your teaching methods so that the children get easily involved into the lesson.

    • As a teacher[,] its [it’s] important to know how to use the pictures effectively and practicably [practically] in your classroom. t[T]ry to vairy [vary} your teaching methods so that the children get easily involved into [in] the lesson.

  3. Katrina Elizabeth Wood-Giannaraki

    Excellent Ideas. Bringing back into the spotlight.

  4. Caroline Deane-Caleffi

    The text in the first picture is not an example of ‘going to’.

    • Thanks Caroline – You’re right! It would be ‘going to go to the party….’ which we often shorten 🙂 Good observation! Hope you enjoyed the rest of the tips!

  5. Herman Palemmai

    Good and engaging ideas. Besides, we can also use situational pictures and ask students to act one of the persons in the picture. The students can speak or write their imaginary actions based on the picture. The pictures to be chosen should be familiar with the students. That’s one of my experience in using pictures.

    • Herman do you get your own pictures with situations or do you ask students to bring their own pictures?

  6. Luz Araujo

    Nice ideas to do an interesting lessons. When they are children I use to remember a shopping list for example or describe an object and the class has to guess what is the rigth object

  7. K R Lakshminarayanan

    a good strategy to help develop different communicating skills.

  8. […] 10 Activities – Using Pictures in Class is from ELT-Connect. I’m adding it to The Best Ways To Use Photos In Lessons. […]

  9. A good idea. We can encourage student’s writing skill and develope their vocabulary instead.

  10. Hi,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for comments.


  11. Great and useful ideas. Using pictures can save a lot of time, motivate students and involve most of them. I sometimes use «spot the differences activity» to compare two pictures. This is an opportunity to practise the comparative and comparison of scale forms. It is also possible to practise the superlative form by providing a serious to choose their favourite activity or dish…etc.

  12. Good tips, I always use pictuers in tesching .
    Pictures give student clear idea about the
    lesson no need to say the meaning of the words and engaged and make learning easy
    Thank you so much.

  13. Orsolya Magyar

    Thanks for the lovely ideas. I sometimes cover parts of photos and get my students guess what’s missing.

  14. Very good ideas, thank you very much for sharing us them, I used magazine pictures of people to see pronouns, and family members, but you help me to open my mind on the use of them.

  15. Bill Nguyen

    Great! thanks so much.

  16. As a lead-in task I really enjoy this one: find out 3-4 pictures connected with the topic before the lesson and in the very beginning of the lesson ask your students to close their eyes and wait for some magic to happen😃Meanwhile, you are giving the instructions like “I am going to nominate a certain letter to each of you, listen and remember your letter. Peter, Ann, George – your letter is A, Steve, Martha, Kevin – you are students B etc.”. Then you proceed with telling only A students to open their eyes, look at their picture, memorize it in all detail and close their eyes again. Then the same is done with B students, C students etc. depending on how many pics you have chosen to introduce the topic. Finally, regroup students into A+B+C (+D etc.) groups and ask them each to describe their picture to other people in the group so to figure out one main idea of the pictures. Check later with the class.

  17. yes this is wonderful to guide student through pictorial exercise.Its lovely idea to go through all the contents in real terms.

  18. thanks for the tips but I can’t use the pictures because it doesn’t open.

  19. we can have students look at a picture for about one minute and then ask them to describe the picture again with as many details as possible

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