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Using Photographs in Language Teaching

Using photographs for teaching language

The digital age has made taking and sharing photos easier than ever before. We have easy access to many images which are free to use and download. Teachers have long used photos and pictures for various teaching activities and they can be particularly useful for language learning. They can be used in a variety of ways but particularly for vocabulary learning/practice and in paired cooperative style activities and games and for a stimulus for writing and speaking. Really the limit is the teacher’s time and imagination. One bonus is we also no longer need to take all the images ourselves, before we can use them but we do need to be aware of the copyright.  

Having a visual image can be stimulating and they also provides scaffold support for students who do not have a strong second language.

I have found several useful sites to share and although some of the ideas are more suited to older learners you can let the ideas spark your imagination for other ways you could use photos.

Eltpics is a free photographic resource for teachers, created by teachers (crowdsourcing). All photographs are creative commons, so if you want to use them, all you need to do is credit the photographer. The eltpics resource contains different themed sets which are arranged in albums. The albums have been organised by English teachers for English teachers.    

·         take a photo and…. The eltpics ideas site for teachers.This site has several great blog posts written by teachers showcasing how photos can be used in language classrooms. Including: A picture is worth a thousand words Posted on 06/10/2014 and Bringing it back to the classroom which includes a section Using ELTPics in class Posted on 21/09/2014. Creativity and ELTpics which looks at using photos to teach emotions, if you scroll through the posts you will also find lots of other great ideas.

·         Super quick motivating activities: Describe the image Posted on September 8, 2015 by Adam Simpson on Teach them English, an engaging speaking activity for elementary level learners

·         33 Most Perfectly Timed Photos Will Take Your Breath Away, February 9, 2015. These photos  might be useful for sparking discussion and as story starters.    

·          Literacy Through Photography for English-Language Learners  Dr. Tabitha Dell'Angelo, Edutopia. Originally published December 1, 2014, updated August 31, 2015.  

I have used photos to create BINGO cards for practicing topic vocabulary also for photo/vocabulary word pair matching exercises. In order to practice speaking and listening I have given half a photo to one student and someone else has the other half. The students then describe what they have and find the matching half. Another speaking activity is when one person in the pair has a picture which they describe to their partner who must draw the picture. Once complete they then compare the drawing with the picture to see how similar they are. If you are doing activities such as these it is good to scaffold the language that they might need by providing some sentence starters or providing some preposition’s they might use etc.

I have also often used photos as a writing stimulus collecting suitable photos over time. I usually find providing some stimulating questions with the pictures helps to get their ideas flowing and to elicit their prior knowledge on a topic. This works even better when they work in small groups as they need to use topic vocabulary to communicate with each other.

Please share how you have used photos for teaching language. 


·         Connected Educator Aotearoa/NZ is back for 2015, kicking off on 28 September.  This is a great event to connect with other teachers around NZ on the use of technology in classrooms.

·         Intergenerational transmission of minority languages Symposium:  Migrant language(s) in the home: practices and policies Friday, 11 December 2015, University of Canterbury

Other links of interest

·         6 Storytelling Apps That Get English Language Learners Talking By Erin Wilkey Oh, Common Sense Graphite AUGUST 31, 2015 on Mind shift.

·         What’s on the Internet for Flipping English Language Instruction? * * * On the Internet * * * Kostka and Lockward,  TESL-EJ Journal , August 2015, Volume 19, Number 2.

·         Ways to Get Kids to Express Themselves in Another Language Posted by Shelly Terrell on Aug 27, 2015, Sprout English

Zàijiàn and have a great week