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How Do You Use Photos In The ELL Classroom?

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I love using the Picture Word Inductive Model instructional strategy with English Language Learners, and I talk about it extensively in my upcoming book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work.

The New York Times Learning Network, which is onThe Best Places To Find Free (And Good) Lesson Plans On The Internet list, shared an intriguing photo-based lesson which, with some modification, might be a neat adaptation of the PWIM.

I thought it might provide an opportunity to not only share what they published, but to also solicit ideas from readers on how you’ve used photos in the ELL classroom.  Please leave them in the comments section.

You can read the whole Times lesson at Picture This! Building Photo-Based Writing Skills, but here’s the part that really interested me:

Gather a range of interesting photos so that you have a different photo for each small group of 4-5 in your class. Remove and keep the captions for each, and mount each in the center of a large sheet of paper.

Put students in groups and tell them that they will be doing what’s called a “text on text” exercise. Their job will be to write comments in the space around the photo, leaving room for others’ writing as well.

Write the following four “response choices” on the board to remind students of the kinds of things they should be writing in response to the photo they receive. Tell them they may do any or all of the following:

Make a personal connection to the photo. (E.g., “Reminds me of when I visited the Empire State Building in third grade.”)
Write a question the photo brings to mind. (E.g., “Why can you see only the backs of people’s heads in this shot?”)
Write a detailed observation about the photo. (E.g., “The color red is everywhere–the sun, one person’s shoes, and the flowers and curtains in the background.”)

Make a guess as to what information the original caption of this photo imparted. (E.g., “This looks like the dedication of a memorial to someone who died.”)

Give the groups each a photo and 3- 5 minutes to write. When each group finishes, have them pass the large paper with their photo to another group, moving clockwise. When each group receives the new photo, they should add their comments to those already there. They can continue the work of adding personal connections, observations or questions, and/or can respond to previous writing as if in “conversation” with the notes left by previous students.

Continue this way until all the groups in the room have seen and commented on all the photos. (Make sure each photo is returned to the group that had it originally, as part of the fun of this exercise is reading the responses to the original comments.) Ask the class to discuss how their relationship to the photos and their understanding of what each “says” deepened as they wrote and responded to what others wrote. How true do they find the saying, “A picture paints 1,000 words?” Why?

Finally, read the captions you removed originally and have students guess which photo went with which caption.

I’ve used some versions of these ideas, but it seems to me that elements of NY Times lesson might have some potential.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I’d be interested in hearing how other teachers have used photos effectively in their classroom, too.  Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. Hello Larry, Hello world!
    These are some fun ideas — I’m going to link to your post on http://images4education2010.ning.com/
    This is a free opportunity, a six-week online workshop, that’s just starting this week [a timely post by you]

    I think the world needs to coin a new word/phrase for “Thank you Larry”
    – my world could use such a word, to acknowledge all of the times your posts and links have added spice to my life, to lessons, to activities, to conversations, to educator reflection, and so on.

    You are a gem, Larry!
    from a fan,
    Holly

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