Things I take to class #9: Photos for speaking activities

From my session at the APABAL Convention in Palma, September 10th…

I like to take good photos to class: ones that will produce  a lot of response and thus a lot of language. They invariably do not come from Google Images and never include boring things like watches (which could be drawn on the board), or mobile phones (which could be pulled out of a pocket) or people like David Beckham (who everyone knows anyway).

For the following activity, you need 6-8 photos; in my APABAL session I used photos of baby animals which I obtained from National Geographic's Photo of the Day, which I check every morning just in case there's something suitable for class, and save any that I might want to use.

I've not reproduced them here as I feel strongly that we shouldn't steal images to use on blogs; I don't have quite the same qualms about merely showing them to learners in class.

The activity, Stage 1

  • Show the pictures one by one quite quickly (5-10 seconds each) on the interactive whiteboard (IWB) or using PowerPoint
  • Turn the projector OFF
  • On a single piece of paper, pairs of learners jot down the names of the animals, in the correct order, with as much detail (colours, numbers…) as possible
  • Check how good their recall was (and, importantly, answer any vocab questions)

Stage 2
Now dictate the following, without making any reference to Stage 1:

  • What's your name?
  • Who's your best friend?
  • What did you have for breakfast?
  • What sports do you do?
  • What else do you like doing?
  • What's on your iPod?
  • Finish the sentence: "I once…"

Stage 3

  • Individually, learners answer the questions dictated as if they were one of the animals in the photos
  • Learners share their answers in groups of 4; their partners should try and guess which "animal" they are
  • In pairs, chose one of the "stories" and expand it as they wish into a finished piece of writing (with each pair thus producing a single piece of collaborative writing)
  • Learners post their work to the rest of the class via Edmodo or a shared class blog and (importantly, to maximize interaction) comment on each others' work

I like this activity as it makes minimum use of technology to get a maximum amount of interaction between the learners.

That's partly archived by having the learners work almost exclusively in pairs and/or groups, including at the collaborative writing stage.

Instead of using the word "Dictation", which causes teens (and others!) to moan, say "Can you just jot this down?". I like "dictation": it's a good exercise, especially if it's informal and interactive: if someone doesn't understand a word, they can ask for clarification. It also saves making a totally unnecessary photocopied "exercise". is another superb place for images for class.

See also

10 things I take to class
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