David Petrie: A house of mystery and secrets

So here are six ways I think you could exploit this image with your classes.

So here are six ways I think you could exploit this image with your classes. I’ve tried to come up with one idea for each level, or approximate level, of ability – there should be something for everyone! With all of these I’ve taken the approach of using the image as a springboard for language production – the image is the stimulus if you will, the prompt to try and help learners generate language. The point in all of these is that the language comes from the learners and they work with what they’ve got – it’s not about input, but output.

Who lives in a house like this? (Elementary / Pre-Intermediate)

The learners develop a profile of the mystery owner, thinking about simple biographical information like: name, age, job, hobbies, favourite foods, favourite sports etc. and of course his “horrible secret”!!! When the learners have created the basic profile, they can write it up in sentence form for display around the room and can choose the best profile.

A variation on this is to create the profile in a circle fashion, so that after each piece of biographical information has been written down, the paper is circled to the next student who writes down the next bit. At the end, everyone has a jumbled up profile to write up.

What happened here? (Pre-Intermediate / Intermediate)

Ask the learners to provide adjectives to describe situations (e.g. romantic / disgusting / peaceful etc) and write up all suggestions on the board. Then get the class to select the ten best adjectives.

Give each student (or pair of students) 10 slips of paper and WITHOUT INDICATING WHICH ADJECTIVE they are writing about, the students write a sentence about an event that matches the description. E.g. Romeo proposed to Juliet and she said “yes”.

The teacher then collects in all the slips of paper and redistributes them randomly amongst the class. The students then have to categorise the sentences according to which adjective they think the sentences fit.

Finally, each set of sentence slips is given to a student or pair of students, who write up a more cohesive text based on the sentence slips and under the title “The most ___(adjective)____ house in the world” (e.g. the most romantic house in the world / the most disgusting house in the world).

These can then be displayed around the classroom.

My life as a house (Intermediate / Upper Intermediate)

Ask the students to think of significant events that might occur in the life of a house. These can include the strange and bizarre – after the success of the TV show “Breaking Bad” some of my students wanted to include “being used as a drugs laboratory”. More mundane ideas might be; being built, first people to live there, a famous writer stayed here, a child was born here.

The learners can then use these ideas to write an autobiography from the point of view of the house. This is quite good for reviewing narrative tenses and of course, passive structures as houses typically have more things done to them than they do themselves. Unless your students are really imaginative and come up with a robot transformer house…

Picture Prompts (Intermediate / Upper Intermediate / B2)

One of my favourite writing activities at school was the picture prompt – choosing a picture from a pile of old magazines and using it as a springboard into my own imagination. Pictures are quite useful for this because they situate a story in a context, they give learners some material to work with rather than forcing them to rely on a creativity they might not be feeling that day. But I would also give my classes an opening sentence to follow on from – something like: “As he walked through the door, Ann could see the shock on Paul’s face”. Which is nice and ambiguous….

Variation #1: Give them the example opening sentence and then ask the learners to come up with their own opening sentences, which they give to another student / pair in the class.

Variation #2: Find ten likely photos from the #ELTPics Flickr stream and come up with ten opening sentences – the students have to decide which sentences go with which pictures before they choose one of each for the story they are going to write.

Sell it to me! (Upper Intermediate / B2 / Advanced)

Ask students to write a brief description of the house in the picture. Essentially, what can they see? Then ask students to rewrite the description from the perspective of an estate agent trying to sell the cabin. How are the two descriptions different? Lots of positive adjectives and emphasising positive features of the property!

Now, using some of the many pictures of house you can find on the #eltpics flickr stream, divide the class into pairs and give each pair a picture of another house.
The students have to try and sell their house and buy one of the other houses, BUT – they can only buy with whatever money they raise by selling their house. Lots of room for negotiations, promises and apologies here!!!

Worth a 1000 words? (B2 / Advanced / Proficiency)

This is quite challenging and definitely one for the higher level classes. They say that every picture is worth a 1000 words…. So prove it!
Divide your class into teams (groups of three or four students) and give each student a copy of the picture, but with space underneath with which to write. The teams then have five minutes to write down as many associated vocabulary items as they can for each image. Each student in each group needs a copy of the list, so they all have to write everything down.

The only rule is that there has to be a connection. So, for example, in the image above we might expect “cold”, or “winter”, but we might not expect “sunglasses”.
When the time is up, regroup the students so they are working with colleagues from the other groups. The students compare their lists and award each other one point for every acceptable word or phrase. If necessary they have to justify their choices (e.g. “You need sunglasses to manage the reflected light from the snow.”)
The team with the highest score at the end wins! Bonus points if any team actually makes it to 1000 words!

This is quite a good preparatory task for Cambridge exam classes as it forces the students to think beyond what they can see on the surface and into the realms of association, speculation and justification!

One picture – six lessons!

I think that’s all from me – over to you! Any other ideas to add into the mix?

Photo by @adhockly | Image supplied by ELTPics

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