10 Activities Using Images and Photos


Images are a powerful tool in the classroom for creating interest, introducing topics and starting off conversations as they motivate students and help them to think without the basis being around sentence structure and grammar. They are a great way of evaluating what students already know about a topic and eliciting information to expand on vocabulary around a topic. Generally, even the most unenthusiastic of students become more interested when they see images instead of written prompts. It is important to note the different types of visual resources that we can use, such as:


Different types of images

  • photos
  • drawings (teachers own or found on the internet)
  • paintings
  • Puzzles (arrange to make out the image)
  • illustrations
  • symbols
  • Jumbled images (need to be put into order)
  • cartoons and comics
  • flashcards
  • collages
  • Partial images (need to be completed be the students)
  • picture stories
  • magazine ads
  • Newspaper and website illustrations
  • Video clips (or still)


The important thing to note is that images can be used for much more that the generic topic of descriptions or the difference between the ing/ed adjectives. The opportunities to use them are numerous, as Scott Thornbury describes in An A-Z of ELT. Images are useful for eliciting and provoking conversation “the intention behind eliciting is a worthy one: it serves not only to maximise speaking opportunities, but to involve the learners actively in the construction of knowledge, building from the known to the unknown” (www.scottthornbury.wordpress.com).  But teachers need to make sure that they are relevant to the learning topic and interesting for the students and also, based on real life situations. He also asks for precaution with the amount of images we use in class to not overuse eliciting. I completely agree with this point and images are just one way of creating interest or eliciting. We need to vary our teaching strategies to avoid monotony.


Collaborative task (situations)

Images are a great basis for developing conversations around situations. They can be used to show language learners how we link ideas and expand on a topic to make it more interesting. Images can be used especially to practice conditional tenses in conversation to suggest possible results of decisions that we make. Here is an example of how to use images in paired conversations. An example sentence would be, ´if they choose to offer a free coffee, more people will come to the cafe´.


Story telling

Images can be great for telling or creating stories. They are brilliant for showing how to sequence events (the use of connectors) or even the use of tenses (past simple vs past continuous) and can be wonderful for getting an insight into the way our students think and even getting to know about their interests and personal experiences.


Linking topics

A key feature in discussion is a persons ability to link topics and ideas. A fun activity could be to take pairs of images that at first look, seem to be about completely different topics. Students need to discuss the images to find the missing link (difficulty level can be increased by increasing the number of images on display).


Puzzle images

A great starter activity (that can be used with all ages) is to take images and cut them up. The aim of the activity is for students to reassemble the image. From this point, students can discuss the images, gather vocabulary or even form (provocative) questions.


Image pairs

This easy and fun activity can be used for sentence formation or expanding vocabulary around a topic. Students are to have various images face down on the table. They take turns to turn over two images and justify why they are linked. Some will have not clear link but others will be easy to match. The students keep the images that they have turned over.   Compare and contrast The ability to compare and contrast images and situations is an essential skill in language use. But how to practice this skill is most easily demonstrated using images. This can include the way of demonstrating similarity or difference, using vicual resources to make clear definitions between one and the other. From this point students can speculate and also give opinions. (for exam practice, add a time limit)


Where is the …? Can you see the …?

A different spin on basic descriptions could be by working in pairs to describe a part (or particular person) within an image that the listener needs to find.


Complete the image

A fun activity could be to show students incomplete images and through description, complete them. This will capture learners interest as it will give them the opportunity to be creative.


Describe and draw

This is a great way to practice target vocabulary and can be used with all ages. It is key to discuss prepositions before conducting the activity to avoid obvious confusion.





Which image is missing?

The teacher shows a series of images (a story, a sequence) with one of the images missing. Students need to guess (or discuss) which image is missing in pairs and then the teacher will reveal the missing image.

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