Using Pictures in the ESL Classroom

Pictures are one of the most obvious and common resources for teaching English as a second or foreign language. After all, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. If we can get our students to respond to a single image with a thousand of their own words, or a hundred, or ten or even one, under certain circumstances, that can be a significant step toward language production. In this post, I discuss some ways to use photos in the your classroom.

Years ago, before the Internet, I was an academic coordinator in an ESL program in California. We had an extensive library of resources, and yet I think the best materials were the extensive collections of photos that we had curated in albums according to themes. We had collections related to jobs, family, animals, nature, cities, and many more. I had devoted a significant amount of time to creating activities, lessons, and classes around these materials.

Some of these activities and lessons were inspired by the picture stories books by Ligon and Tannenbaum. These books presented brief stories through a simple series of images with little or no text. The images encouraged learners to produce their own text to describe the pictures (or select them from potential texts provided by the teacher) and create a meaningful sequence. These texts can be presented to the rest of the class in a written or spoken format.

At the most basic level, this activity may be used to have students associate vocabulary with images. At a more advanced level, it can be used to create a comic book or graphic novel. In fact, a number of websites support the creation of online, digital, or printable comic books based on this concept. There are so many that creating comic books (and possibly graphic novels) will be the topic of next month’s blog post. For now, we will stick with images since we can use them in so many creative and engaging ways. Let’s begin with finding potential images to use for instruction.

Digital Image Archives

Today, the Internet offers many options for finding, archiving, curating, and implementing images. Teachers, or learners, can of course simply search Google and find thousands of relevant images. You can even design this activity as a basic vocabulary activity, using the initial step of searching for images to help students produce particular lexical targets or phrases or combinations of words. Students can even conduct these searches using Google Voice. Those who are not familiar with this practice may benefit from this screenshot:

Your students can also use voice search.

Some websites that do a great of job of curating and archiving images for English language teachers (ELTs). For example, ELTpics invites teachers to share their own images through Facebook and Twitter. The images are archived on a Flickr stream. This project began in 2010 and currently has 27,560 photos. These images are diverse, intriguing, controversial and compelling. They can be useful for ELTs in a variety of ways, but even better, I recommend that a school, TESOL group, or community of teachers adopt this model to create their own set of images for their own purposes.


Using memes in the English language classroom may be the easiest way to get started combining social media and images to promote language production. The creation, sharing, interpretation, and discussion of memes can offer students a wide variety of opportunities. You can find websites that make creating memes easy. Some of the simplest meme generators are Make a Meme, Meme Generator, and imgflip.

If appropriate, students can share their memes through social media and engage in the participatory culture that it promotes. Typically, these practices are so engaging that they compel participants to share and engage with one another extensively. If students are too young, or there are cultural reasons not to use social media, you can mimic social media practices with memes. Students can share these locally, either digitally or printed, and exchange feedback in various ways. Having students take or gather their own images can make projects more meaningful and allow them to create meaningful connections between the context of the images and their learning.

Native American image

Although memes may be very simple on the surface, they can convey complex, sophisticated, and potentially controversial messages. For example, the meme above  combines a simple question and response with a powerful image. It conveys a complex issue of immigration that is relevant and timely for many English language learners and can serve as s prompt for extensive activities. Engaging students in discussions around such topics is critically important for promoting citizenship and democratic responsibility.

Conversely, the meme below is more playful, focusing on a new form of language that learners should be familiar with. It could also be used in many different ways to prompt get discussions and writing activities.

Picture Stories

Creating picture stories adds new layers of complexity. In collaborative group activities, students can negotiate the sequencing of images that incorporate narration, dialogue, and even acting, with a movie or a digital story as the final product. Of course, students could also write a story using the pictures. In fact, you can find numerous websites that enable your students to create comic books, picture stories, graphic novels, or whatever you choose to call them, for example, Pixton and Canva.

Having students share these stories with others can create opportunities for interaction that include various forms of feedback. For some additional ideas, here are some resources:

You can also use Instagram for teaching ESL:

from TESOL Blog


💕Friday freebie!💕

Hi everyone,
Here is the Friday freebie!
This week it is a great Spanish unit on Prefixes!

Click here to download this unit!

As teachers we know how important it is to have a firm understanding of prefixes. Research shows the importance of building students’ vocabulary. When students learn and review prefixes they see relationships between and among languages. Many prefixes have a basis in Latin – also the basis for Spanish. Unknown words or new vocabulary can be figured out by students when they use their knowledge of prefixes.
That being said, check out this great freebie:

This 27 page game packet increases your students’ abilities to identify number prefixes in Spanish and gain meaning of unfamiliar words through play. By playing the 3 games included in PREFIJOS DE LOS NUMEROS students become familiar with these great prefixes. They learn that simply understanding and recognizing number prefixes can help them interpret the meaning of unfamiliar words, both mathematical and non-mathematical. This game package includes black line masters for:
-Bulletin board number prefix introduction sheets
-Game board
-Game cards
-Concentration cards.
-A variety of games
-Activities to send home
-Easy to use teacher’s guides
-Easy game assembly

Click here to download this unit! 
Please follow me and rate this wonderful freebie!

Check out this site for more game and activities for teaching Math Prefixes in any language!

Math Prefix Activities

Happy Teaching,

from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language

ESP Project Leader Profile: Gina Mikel Petrie

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this ESP project leader profile, we meet Dr. Gina Mikel Petrie from Eastern Washington University, and she shares with us her ESP work in Nicaragua. I was introduced to Gina by another ESP project leader, Mike Ennis, who is located in Italy. The world is indeed a small place when our friends and colleagues are not only living next to us but also living halfway around the world away from us! Please read Gina’s bio:

Gina Mikel Petrie, PhD, is an associate professor of English as a Second Language at Eastern Washington University and coordinates and teaches in the ESL Bachelor’s and TESOL Certificate programs, which in part prepare pre-service teachers to teach ESP. Since 2012 she has carried out research and provided professional development to teachers in Nicaragua, many of whom teach English for Tourism and Hospitality. She will complete her first English Language Specialist assignment in July 2018 at Ammon Technical College, Jordan, carrying out needs analyses and workshops related to ESP and CLIL in the English Department.

In her responses to the interview questions, she shows us how she moved instructors from general English to ESP in Nicaragua. (By the way, making the transition from general English to ESP is a theme that will be explored in the next edition of ESP News, the newsletter of the TESOL ESP Interest Section.)

Gina Mikel Petrie
Associate Professor of English as a Second Language
Eastern Washington University

Define leadership in your own words.

I think a key to good leadership in any context is active listening—true active listening—being able to hear what the other person is truly saying and not letting your own thoughts interrupt that process. A leader needs to act, which means they need to make some choices, and the more those choices have been filtered through the perspectives of the stakeholders, the more likely they are going to be effective. I believe that we often walk away from an interaction thinking that we have understood the other person when we are only really walking away with what we expected to hear. So, in short, I think active listening is key to leadership.

Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful?

This does not begin like an ESP project story, but it ends as one.

Over the last six years I have supported the English program at a small private technical school in Cárdenas, Nicaragua. I carry out professional development and curriculum advising.

When I first began working with La Escuela San Miguel, the school provided general English classes that were attended by high school students and adults in the village area. The program provided six levels which could take students up to the intermediate level. In 2014, for the first time, a group of students was about to exit the current program, and they wished to continue learning English. I was asked to design what the next six levels of the program should look like so they could do so.

Through many conversations with the students, the school director, and the teachers, it became clear that English for most of the students was directly related to tourism—either their work had been reshaped by needing to speak occasionally with visiting tourists or they hoped to get a local job in the area in tourism. Thus, I moved in the direction of an ESP focus on English for Tourism for the next six levels. This decision made sense to us all, and I got to work designing the curriculum.

Of course, this meant a shift in pedagogy as well for the school, at least in those next six levels–to refocus the learning on skills that the students could connect with their real everyday communications with tourists. As with many programs moving from general English teaching to ESP, this meant a change from focusing on grammar lectures, reading general subject texts, completing grammar exercises, and occasional written assessments to a focus on functional language in context, “just enough” grammar, role-play activities, and constant formative assessment. It was with pedagogy that we hit a bit of a wall. The teachers indicated that they wished to make the change, but my visits to their classes showed evidence that they were relying on their previous pedagogies.

This is where the story turns, because this is where I really started listening to what the teachers were saying. I began to ask different questions: about what grammar lectures meant to them, about how they felt when they carried out role-plays in their classrooms, and about what “English teaching” looked like to them. In other words, I began to listen to teachers’ affective experiences, which shape our instructional choices far more than we may wish they did. Once I began responding to this other kind of information, we began to move pedagogical practices in a different direction. We were all taking a leap of faith together.

I read Gina’s profile with interest because it focused on listening to the “teachers’ affective experiences,”  and in June, I participated in a webinar hosted by the Research Institute for Learner Autonomy Education (RILAE) at Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS) in Japan:

Affect and Learner Autonomy

3.30 pm to 5.30 pm (Tokyo time)

In our second Lab session, we explored the role of affective factors in the development of learner autonomy. By affect, we mean the motivational and emotional factors that influence success in language learning. Questions we considered were: What is the relationship between affect and learning? What tools and strategies can language learners draw upon to achieve a greater sense of awareness and control over their emotions? and how can research in other fields influence research in applied linguistics? Through a series of short presentations, we shared ideas and engaged in discussion about this important aspect of the learning process.

The slide and recordings are available online. (You will need to scroll down the page). Gina’s interactions with teachers reflected my presentation insofar as listening and leadership are concerned. It also brought to mind Maynard’s perspective-display sequence and the relevance of active listening in that connection.

Do you have questions or comments for Gina? Please feel free to contact her directly!

All the best,

from TESOL Blog

Exploring a Local Community Through Writing: Examples of Writing Assignments

In my June blog, I described several writing projects that teachers can implement to help students become familiar with their local academic environment (campus, institution, or program). In this post, I will expand the list of writing tasks aimed at helping students socialize in their local communities by adding writing assignments that will give students a chance to become involved in their local social environment (i.e., city or town).

Here are some ideas for your writing students:

  • Attend an event (e.g., festival, fair, cultural celebration, sporting event, concert) sponsored by the local community and write a paper reporting on this experience.
  • Write a paragraph/paper analyzing one of the current issues in the local community. In addition to analysis, they could describe one of the current issues in the local community and propose a solution or a series of solutions.
  • Ask them to think of an area in their local town or city that could be improved. This area might be a single building such as the city library or a school, or it could be a larger area such as the city square, a park, downtown, or a certain street. Students could describe current problems they see with this area (e.g., insufficient parking, unclean conditions) and propose solutions to these problems.
  • Explore local businesses (e.g., companies and stores) and write a response to the following question: What effects (if any) does globalization have on local businesses?
  • Explore local restaurants, grocery stores, clubs, organizations, churches, and schools and write a paper describing the effects of globalization on (choose one): (1) local food and dining industry, (2) social life, and (3) religion and education.
  • Examine products in the local grocery store and write a comparative paper describing similarities and differences between local products and products in their home countries.
  • Analyze an article in a local newspaper, newsletter, or magazine.
  • Visit a local museum, library, or exhibit hall and write a reflective piece on their experience.
  • Write an opinion paper on cleaning and recycling measures (or lack thereof) undertaken by the local city administration.
  • Volunteer in an event sponsored by the local community and describe their experience.
  • Examine menus from local restaurants and write a paper discussing whether or not they believe the restaurants cater to diverse populations of customers.
  • Write a review on their favorite restaurant in town. The review might include type of restaurant, menu, price range, food quality, atmosphere, service, and student’s own experience.
  • Examine menus from local restaurants and write a paper about whether or not restaurants offer healthy choices for customers (generally speaking). Students could also offer suggestions on how to provide more nutritious options for the public.
  • You could invite a guest speaker from a local organization, club, or supporting services and ask students to write a paper about this visit. The prompt and the genre of the paper will depend on the topic or nature of the presentation.
  • Interview a representative of a local club, organization, or supporting services and write an interview report.
  • You could organize a photo contest in which each student submits a photo titled “How I See This Town,” along with a paragraph describing what the photo represents.
  • Write a short paper-advertisement (aimed at tourists coming to your area) describing (choose one): (1) shopping opportunities, (2) performance arts and culture, (3) family activities, (4) recreation, (5) dining options, (6) outdoors opportunities, (7) sporting events, and (8) nightlife. Students could use the city website (if applicable) to gather the information, or you could bring brochures and flyers from the local visitor center.
  • Create a one-, two-, or three-day itinerary for tourists and visitors. Similar to the previous task, students could use the city website (if applicable), or you could bring brochures and flyers from the local visitor center.
  • Describe their favorite attraction in town explaining why they like it and why it is a must-see for all tourists.
  • Visit a local gift shop, examine the gifts for sale, and write a reflective paper on how these gifts may represent the city, town, or area, and why they might be memorable for visitors.
  • Explore a historical building in the city, look up factual information online (if available), and write a summary briefly describing the history of the building project, the materials, and the interior and exterior of the building.

These writing tasks can be adapted to your local environment, the level of your students, and your teaching objectives.

Apart from helping students develop their writing skills, these assignments will also allow students to become more familiar with the local community. They can be fun and motivating because students have a chance to participate in some local events and organizations and get involved in the life of the community.

If you have suggestions on how to engage students in the local community through writing projects, please share your ideas.

from TESOL Blog

💕Friday freebie!💕

Hi everyone,

Get your students fluent with number counting and identifying numerals and written words with this fun freebie.  Click here to download.

Here are 3 pages of numeral and word number cards zero to eleven. There are black and colored pages for your games or word wall and an outline coloring page for your center activities or to send home. You can use these cards as a word wall, memory or concentration game, game cards, review or as a center activity.

I just posted it as a freebie on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Please rate this product after you download it!  thanks,

Happy Teaching!

Check out the Fun To Teach ESL Blog

from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language


Buddy up! the very first day find a buddy or buddies for your ELL student.  Buddies can orient the student to the school, play at recess, or work together with the ELL on class assignments and projects.  Student to student interaction builds a sense of belonging and community.
Use technology!
Google translate, books on tape, and the wide variety of free phonics programs make learning fun!
Bring out your best charade moves! 
Model and demonstrate what you want the student to do.  Repeat the directions slowly or have a buddy repeat classroom directions.  Be redundant in the way you present information.  Gestures, actions, pictures, objects and writing are all great communication tools to use.  Choose and few and use them regularly.  Check for understanding frequently.
By Consistent! 
Create a variety of simple clear instructions, routines, procedures and expectations.  Using these consistent cues will offer predictably and comprehension for students learning English.
Don’t hesitate to talk! 
Speak to the student directly throughout the day.  Don’t worry if the student does not respond verbally, listening is learning for the ELL student.  Remember that learning is taking place even if the ELL does not speak for the first weeks or months.  Provide opportunities throughout the day for teacher to student interaction.  Don’t let your English learner be a wallflower!  Bring ELLs into your classroom community with lots of direct teacher talk and eye contact!
Be patient! 
When the student does not understand, say less and simplify your speech.

Write it up! 
Post written objectives, vocabulary, and assignments.  Preview and review and allow plenty of time to practice new vocabulary in authentic classroom situations

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Hang it up!
Create and use visual demonstrations during your lessons.  Drawings, charts, maps, graphic organizers and pictures.  Hang them up to increase comprehension of the lessons you teach.
Get hands-on!
Use manipulatives.  Students learn without language when teachers offer learning through hands-on activities. 
Highlight it!
Highlighting vocabulary, important words or summarizing sentences are great ways of modifying assignments for ELLs.   English learners can understand difficult passages by identifying simpler language within the text that clarifies the meaning.
Show what you know! 
ELLs can communicate by labeling, drawing, copying, and underlining.  English learners can create outlines, make charts, diagrams and pictures to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge.  
Speak up when you don’t know!
Teach your ELLs what to do when they don’t know.  Instruct ELLs how to ask a buddy, raise a hand or call the teacher when they don’t understand what to do.   Modeling works great to make sure ELLs know how to ask for clarification.

Communicate with ELD teachers for advice and assistance in creating a learning environment for your ELLs.  Classroom teachers with experience teaching English learners can be a wealth of knowledge.  Tap into their counsel.

Happy Teaching!

from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language