I find that using photos such as the one above provide great opportunities for conversation with any level of English student.

I have used this activity with both groups and single students. Most English exams touch on the basic skills of English, such as description, instruction, narration, hypothesis and opinion. To help ‘train’ the students for this, a photograph is a great starting point. For this activity, I usually have a number of different pictures all of a similar theme handy for step two.

The students need to go through the following 4 steps:

1. Describe
2. Compare and contrast
3. Speculate
4. Give opinion

Step 1 Initially, my students are asked to ‘explore’ the picture, to say what they can see and describe the location or activities in the picture. This is the easy and unimaginative part but gets the students warmed up.

Step 2 Then, using my extra pictures based on a similar theme, I ask the students to compare what is going in the original picture to other situations in the different pictures. For example in this instance I would have a selection of pictures where people are waiting for some form of transport such as at train stations, bus stops, taxi ranks etc and ask my students to compare waiting for a plane to waiting for a taxi. I would try to get them to talk about the differences and maybe the different reasons why people have to wait.

Step 3 This moves on to me encouraging my students to speculate about what may have happened before the photo was taken and perhaps what may happen after the photo was taken. This is where the really imaginative and adventurous students really start to shine and get enthusiastic.

Step 4 Finally, I ask for their opinions about the picture and its content, such as whether they agree or disagree, like or dislike, are for or against, or believe or not in what was happening in the picture etc.

This is a preliminary activity I use in preparing for speaking exams, as I find that it helps students to give full and rounded answers to any type of question. In the follow up lesson to this, I then get my students to start using phrasal verbs, idioms, and something called the ‘magic of 3’ where you always give 3 examples, or adjectives, or ideas to any explanation, after which you really do have a discourse that is bordering on something truly remarkable. I also like to get my students to consider synonyms and antonyms to the vocabulary they used, so they can try to expand their knowledge and raise the level even higher.

Even the most boring and seemingly ineffective and dull photographs and pictures can actually provide a multitude of starting points for language discussion. So next time you are stuck for a lesson on a rainy grey afternoon, all you need is an old magazine, a pair of scissors and some imagination!


Waiting for the plane - Image supplied by ELTPics.
Photo by Sandy Millin https://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/13927493161/in/set-72157626527253332
Some rights reserved - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Add new comment

Log in or register to post comments