A Good Picture File

polaroid-construct1.jpgHow do you spell relief? P-I-C-T-U-R-E F-I-L-E.
I believe access to a good picture file can be a real asset when teaching EFL.

What is a picture file?
A collection of different types of picture, ideally (in my opinion) from magazines, but also including photos, realia like menus, maps, and tourists guides, and perhaps some printed online images. If you’re lucky, your school will already have one. If not, you can help make one.

What makes a good picture file?

  • Variety: pictures of objects are great but also people (average and unsual, everyday and famous), “scenery” (houses, shops, nature, cities) and scenarios (obvious ones and strange ones – a man hanging from a lamppost, holding hands with a gorilla, etc.)
  • Pictures that won’t fall apart! They may be laminated (not my first choice), glued onto background paper of a uniform size, or simply printed on thicker paper.
  • A reasonable number of pictures: I appreciate the ability to flip through pictures when I decide to use them; too few and well, obviously, there may not be enough, but too many can be just as bad, especially if there are an abundance of mediocre pictures.

What can you do?

  • Certainly you can convey the meaning of words, or use pictures to practice vocabulary (clothes, adjectives, parts of the house, furniture) or structures (there is/are, question forms, present continuous).
  • Sometimes I use pictures to “falsely personalize” activities in the book. Some Cutting Edge “wordspots” have a list of questions for students; it can be fun to take on the identity of a person in a picture and answer for them. For those who are a bit more self- conscious, like teen-agers, this can also take some pressure off.
  • To practice question forms, which, in my experiences, students continue to need work on up through advanced level, you can use pictures for a memory test. Student A looks at the picture for 30 seconds, B then takes the picture away from A, looks at it himself, comes up with ten questions about the picture. You need to chose pictures carefully, making sure there are enough reasonable questions to ask.

  • For higher levels, you can choose a form that needs revising (past modals, mixed conditional, future forms), do some basic revision as a group, and then ask students in pairs to come up with a sentence or two for each of six to ten pictures. They shouldn’t share their sentences until the end – when the other groups have to guess which picture the sentence is about. There are a number of practical ways to arrange this.
  • If you ask students to generate language for some other purpose – a dialog or a story – they can incorporate the pictures and/or use them for inspiration.
  • Other bloggers on pictures and picture files: Carol at ESL Lesson Plan on authentic materials in general and Sue at An ELT Notebook with five picture activities.