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The Best Ways To Use Photos In Lessons

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Edutopia has published Using Photos With English Language Learners, an excerpt from the recent book on teaching ELL’s that Katie Hull Sypnieski and I have written.

Check out my New York Times post for English Language Learners is on protest movements and using historical photos for language development. It includes a student interactive

There are obviously plenty of ways to use photos effectively with English Language Learners and other students.

I’m going to share some ideas here, and hope that others will chime in with comments.

Of course, photos from the Web can have some use restrictions. Fortunately, there are millions that have few or none. You can find information and resources on how to find them at The Best Online Sources For Images.

Online “virtual” corkboards are great tools to use with online images. See The Best Online Virtual “Corkboards” (or “Bulletin Boards”).

And check out The Best Online Tools For Using Photos In Lessons.

Using Freire & Fotobabble With English Language Learners

Also, The Best Ways To Modify The Picture Word Inductive Model For ELLs.

Here are my choices for The Best Ways To Use Photos In Lessons:

My personal favorite is using photos using the Picture Word Inductive Model. As I described briefly in my recent New York Times guest post, and in my book, it’s an “inductive learning process where students first brainstorm twenty words related to a picture, then put those words into categories and add new ones that fit those categories. Next they complete a “cloze” (or fill-in-the-blank) activity with sentences about the picture which are then put into categories of their own. They convert those sentence categories into paragraphs, and, finally, arrange the paragraphs into essays.” You can see sample pictures and read more about it here.

A related lesson is using Picture Data Sets. For example, students can identifying images that fit a specific criteria (one week my ninth graders compiled images of Jamaican music, Jamaican history, and Jamaican nature attractions and then wrote about each one). These can also include students putting images into different categories and then having other students try to identify which ones they had in mind. Sites on The Best Online Virtual “Corkboards” (or “Bulletin Boards”) list work very well for these kinds of activities.

Picture This! Building Photo-Based Writing Skills is a post from The New York Times. It describes in detail a somewhat similar process, though with some major differences, that would be suitable for all students. It’s a good exercise.

Image Detective is an online media literacy activity. It’s a nice web exercise, but its process can be adapted any photo. First, the teacher or student poses a question about the photo. Next, the student identifies clues in the photo that help them answer the question. Then, the student investigates background information on the picture and/or topic it represents. Finally, the student makes his/her conclusion. The final project looks like this:

My Question Is:

Clues I’ve Identified:

I am fairly confident that:

My best reasons for thinking this are:

A question this raised for me is:

Through Holly, I’ve learned about a neat Ning group called Images 4 Education:Exploring Images In The 21st Century Classroom. It’s chock-full of ideas on how to use photos in lessons, and definitely worth a visit (or two or three).

The New York Times Learning Network also suggests another good way to use photos — by students adding “thought bubbles” to people in photographs. You can read more it in the “warm-up” section of this post.

Picturing America is a site sponsored by the National Endowment For The Humanities, and it’s quite impressive. It has an interactive gallery of historical images, and provides lesson plans that include some pretty good ideas on how to use them.

I’ve recorded a five-and-a-half minute podcast on “Using Visuals to Teach Text” for Linworth Publishers, who have published my first two books, English Language Learners:Teaching Strategies That Work and Building Parent Engagement In Schools.

On the same page where you find the podcast, you’ll also find a link to a short article I wrote for the Library Media Connection titled Freire’s Learning Sequence. Or you can just go directly to it here.

A picture is worth a thousand thoughts: inquiry with Bloom’s taxonomy is the title of a very useful resource from Learn NC. It shows a photo, along with the original Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid. By clicking on each thinking level, you are shown questions about the photo reflecting the level. It’s a very simple and visual way to teach Bloom’s Taxonomy, and can easily be replicated as a student assignment in any classroom. I like this interactive A LOT.

Regular readers are familiar with Tom Barrett’s “Interesting Ways” series, where he shares countless ways to use different web tools and teaching/learning strategies (you can see all of them at that link). They are on several “The Best…” lists. He’s just published another great one called “20 Interesting Images to use in the Classroom.”

I’ve written about another photo less at “Blog challenge: compare and contrast photo”.

I’ve written quite a bit about the Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM) as a wildly effective instructional strategy. The PWIM is most well-known for being used in teaching English, but it can also be used very effectively in the content areas. I wanted to share an absolutely phenomenal Science lesson and a fairly decent Social Studies one.

If anyone has suggestions of other good content lessons using the PWIM, please let me know.

I’ve previously written how I used photos of my students in class to promote their metacognition. It’s always gone well. Alison Anderson wrote a guest post in Richard Byrne’s blog that I think took that concept a step further and has made it a regular occurrence in her classroom. In the post, titled Look At The Camera and Say “Think,” she describes how she takes pictures of students at work and asks them for their homework to describe what was happening and what they were thinking. She describes it more in-depth and shares a lot of other good ideas. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Ana Maria Menezes, an English teacher in Brazil, has worked with teachers in other countries to create a neat An Image A Week project. Each week, students share a photo and write about it. You can learn all about it at Ana Maria’s blog post, PROJECT: An image a week (with EFL learners).

Photos with Strange or Funny Details Deemed Most Memorable is from Scientific American. It reinforces what most of us know already when we pick photos to use in class.

What Would This Animal Be Saying And/Or Thinking?

“Weird Photo Quiz” Could Be Adapted For English Language Learners

“Thinglink” Could Be A Great Tool For ELL’s

“ImageSpike” Seems — Almost — Just Like “Thinglink”

Dave Dodgson comes up with a creative way to use pictures in the classroom.

Very Helpful Research On Using Photos & Videos In Lessons

Analyzing Primary Sources: Learning from Images is from The Barat Educational Foundation.

Wow, MarQueed Could Be One Of The Best New Web 2.0 Tools Of The Year

The Best Sites For Beginning iPhone Users Like Me list includes several tools that let you provide audio descriptions to your photos and then share them.

Shelly Terrell has created an excellent slideshow called “Working With Images” that shares a number of ideas on how to use images with English Language Learners:

This year, it seems like the fashionable web tool to develop is one that will annotate images. I’ve posted about several of them on this list, and others didn’t it make it.

However,the incomparable Richard Byrne discovered what might be the best one of them all. It’s called Szoter. You can read about it at Richard’s blog and see a video there (however, at the time of this posting, Vimeo appears to be off-line completely).

Using the online version of Szoter doesn’t require registration, you can upload or grab images off the web (just insert its url address), and the final product looks just like an image would look like using the Picture Word Inductive Model (see my previously mentioned “The Best” list or my book to learn more about that instructional strategy). You can link to it or embed it, as I have done here (as long as you leave some white space around the image, the labels will still show up when you embed it):

http://i.szoter.com/32e80add2a641227

Students are going to love using this!

“Using Photographs to Teach Social Justice” Is An Excellent Resource

“The Victorians” Looks Like A Great Site

Wendi Pillars provides a nice step-by-step explanation about how to use the Picture Word Inductive Model with English Language Learners.

What A Neat Lesson Idea For Using Photos!

Front Page News Photos Stimulate Lively Debates in Adult ELL Classes is a useful article from TESOL.

What’s Going On In This Picture? is a weekly series from The New York Times Learning Network. It’s suitable for ELLs and non-ELLs alike.

Year-End Review: A Recap of Our CCSS for ELLs Posts is from the blog, Common Core and ELLs. I’m adding it to The Best Resources For Learning About Common Core Standards & English Language Learners.

Scott Thornbury is ending his A-Z of ELT blog, and has a nice recap of its highlights.

Using Images is a feature from the British Council. Here is how they describe it:

Using images is a complete set of resources for low-level and high-level students which combine photos and audio to help get your students activating their higher level thinking skills, as well as improve their exam-level listening and speaking skills. Each pack contains teacher’s notes, student worksheets, audio and images.

Stories waiting to be told is a post from the Close Up blog that also offers some excellent ideas on how to use photos with ELLs.

In Looking For Assets, Not Deficits I talk about a new site and strategy called TimeSlips.

Thinglink for World Language Educators and Learners is a post by Catherine Ousselin.

50 Ways To Use Images In The ELT Classroom is from David Deubelbeiss.

How to use a great resource like eltpics for your teaching #ELTchat Summary shares good ideas on using pictures.

Observing, Describing & Inferring with {Picture of the Day}: Reading Photos “Closely” is from Hello Literacy.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words: An ELTPics Introduction is from ELT Experiences.

Having English Language Learners Use Cellphones To Identify High-Interest Vocabulary

The Best Ways To Modify The Picture Word Inductive Model For ELLs

“Going To” for prediction – Look at the photos and say what is going to happen is a great slideshow and lesson plan from EFL Smart Blog.

As I’ve been sharing, there are tons of ways to use photos in lessons with English Language Learners. The Awkward Family Photos site is a great source for them. Some are inappropriate for classroom use or just too mean-spirited to use, but there are tons of excellent ones, and the site has an index to easily search by topic, especially by specific holiday.

“The Image Story” Is A Nice Site & Provides An Even Better Classroom Idea

Picturing U.S. History is a good resource for using photos in lessons. Thanks to Michelle Henry for the tip.

Feedback, as always, is welcome. Please contribute your own suggestions on using photos in the classroom.

If you found this post useful, you might want to look at the 460 other “The Best…” lists and consider subscribing to this blog for free.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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

89 Comments

  1. A couple of ideas from me:
    1. Picture dictation. A nice one to use the very first time you meet a class. Find an interesting/amusing photo and explain to the students that you have a secret picture. They can ask questions but you can only reply with yes or no (officially). You will find out whether your students are capable of “You see dog on picture?” or “Am I right in thinking that the woman is doing some kind of manual labour?” Once they discover that the photo is of a cat doing the washing up, you choose one student who can then choose a friend and they both come to the front of the class and describe the photo to their colleagues. We’re not looking for brilliant artwork- we’re looking for successful information exchange. The two people cannot use their hands or draw anything on the board, and can only use the target language. Teacher can make notes of some of the great phrases they used, and some help that they need, but shouldn’t stop the flow of exchanges between the students.

    Idea number 2. In groups of about 12, arrange the students into 6 pairs. Tell them that they will each receive a picture of a woman. Well, all except one pair that will receive something else. Each pair then have to describe their ‘woman’ to the others. Allow some time for them to prepare – particularly the pair that have a picture of a rabbit, or some other funny photo. After each description, the others can ask questions. Did you say she’s wearing a dress or a skirt? After six descriptions, they discuss who hasn’t got a real person. How long can the ‘liars’ survive? Be aware that in some cultures lying is seen as something you should never do – so it will have to be explained that it is only a game and that lying, in this context, is acceptable.
    Jeremy

  2. Great post. I’m always interested in using photos to build reading comprehension, vocabulary and writing skills. This is most helpful.

    PJVermont

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  4. I am Sarah Nell York in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class. I commented on a couple previous posts of yours, but I have to say that this is perhaps one of the more helpful ones for me! With each blog post we write, we must put a picture to go with it. Of course I always just use Google Images. I never even knew there were this many organized sites available for teachers or for anyone for that matter. Thank you for the great post! I will continue to follow your blog even after my time in this class is up. I have a feeling your advice and information will come into great use when I am a teacher!

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  49. I love your ideas for using pictures in the classroom. I use photos for a several different types of lessons that might spark ideas for others.

    Since I’m a foreigner to my students, I find that they’re often excited to see photos of my family and where I lived in America. I usually use those as part of a getting acquainted lesson where they must create questions to ask me based on a grid of short answers (a bit like a cross between Jeopardy and TicTacToe). If they form a correct question, I’ll show them a slide with a photo and some text. I include things like my hometown, my pets, my favorite foods, my hobbies, and my family when I was a child. If there’s time in the lesson, I accept follow-up questions about the pictures.

    In one lesson for practicing imperatives, I have a series of funny photos with no captions. I give several examples where the caption is a simple imperative like “Smile” or “Stop that woodpecker!”, and I ask them to work together to create captions for the others.

    In another activity, I have a group of LOLcat photos using (intentionally) bad English and I ask them to correct the sentences. They get a laugh from the photos, and they practice basic error correction at the same time.

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