A 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!
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 as ‘I 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.
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’