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

I Explain The Picture Word Inductive Model In My Latest British Council Post

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.”

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.

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:

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.

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 a 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

Very Helpful Research On Using Photos & Videos In Lessons

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

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.

“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.

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

The Image Bank is from The British Council.

Fed up with end-of-year tests? A Digital Scavenger Hunt is the solution! is from Larissa’s Languages.

Describing photos (comparing, contrasting and speculating) is from EFL Smart Blog.

David Petrie: A house of mystery and secrets and Katherine Bilsborough: What? Who? When? – Using a photo to practise question forms are both from The British Council.

The Atlantic has just published some great pictures at “A Visual History of Kids Being Unimpressed with President Obama.”They’d be perfect to use with English Language Learners to have them talk and write about them.

A picture is worth a thousand words is a good lesson from Take a Photo and…

Picture Word Inductive Model with Highschool Newcomers by Wendi Pillars is an exceptional step-by-step description of how to use one of my favorite ELL teaching strategies.

Literacy Through Photography for English-Language Learners is from Edutopia.

From Images to Words is a good post by Marisa Constantinides.

Things To Do With Photos is from ESL Resources.

The power of free mobile apps – No 1 PicCollage is from Larissa’s Languages

Touchable Memories is a lesson from Film English.

10 Intriguing Photographs to Teach Close Reading and Visual Thinking Skills is an excellent post from The New York Times Learning Network.

Analyzing Images with Student Artwork from Poland is from Wendi Pillars.

“Photographer Writer Illustrator” Would Be Unique Way To Use Photos With ELLs

Help Students Close Read Iconic Images is an excellent post by Frank Baker in Middleweb. It includes some excellent links to student hand-outs.

Seven ideas for using mobile phones in the classroom is from tekhnologic.

33 Most Perfectly Timed Photos Will Take Your Breath Away is a useful photo gallery

Another Jimmy Fallon Game Useful For English Language Learners

See Think Wonder

The Best Resources For Using “If This Animal Or Image Could Talk” Lesson Idea In Class

The Best Resources For Teaching/Learning About How To Write Compare/Contrast Essays

Ekuwah Moses writes a great description of the Picture Word Inductive Model instructional strategy.

“WordsEye” Is A New Cool Tool That Could Be A BIG Help With Language-Learning

Behind the Lens: 2015 Year in Photographs is a great set of photos from The White House. They would be great to use with ELLs.

“KnowMe” Has Immediately Become The Most Useful iPhone App In My Classroom

Say what you see – vocabulary and images is from TEFL Geek.

360° Photos for ELT is from TESOL, and Robert Sheppard shares a very create strategy for using photos with ELLs.

Excellent Ideas On Using Photos In Lessons

An ELT picture is worth a thousand words -Five ideas for using images in class is from the Cecilia Nobre ELT Blog.

ELT Sparks has a nice lesson idea in Most Influential Images.

I’ve sometimes shown photos to students, hid the captions, and challenged them to write their own. It’s easy hide the captions at The Atlantic Focus photo blog ; the Boston Globe’s Big Picture These  sites show large images with captions at the bottom of the photos that are easy to cover-up. In addition, Getty Images has the ability to click on an icon and have the captions disappear.

Speaking of captions, The British Council has a special site where ELLs can write captions for photos.


I’ve written at The New York Times Learning Network how I use collages as a language learning activity. In addition to the already-created collages I link to at that post, it’s easy for teachers and students to make their own. Here are a few free sites that let you do just that:



Be Funky




I’ve just discovered a new place to find already-created photo collages – The NY Times has a feature called “Flashback” that shares photos from their archives.  If you click on the “grid” icon on the top right, you’ll get a great collage to use in class.

Here’s a new collage from The New York Times – it’s on goats!

The NY Times has published another nice collage that would be useful.

The Smithsonian Learning Lab has some nice ideas on how to use images in lessons.

This man collected 6,000 orphaned Polaroids. See what he’s doing to tell their stories. is a Washington Post story. I think his site could be useful for ELLs to write their own stories about his pictures.


Reader Idea | How to Use Interesting Photos to Help Students Become Better Writers is from The New York Times Learning Network.

Meet the contestants of this year’s World’s Ugliest Dog competition would be great to show to ELLs and have them use adjective to describe the images.

Using Pictures in the ESL Classroom is from TESOL.

The Inference Collection features images with accompanying prompts for students.  I think it can be very useful. I learned about it from Altagracia H Delgado.

Here are two amazing collections of images that could be used to provoke engaging conversation and writing with ELLs:

I Show The Contrast Between The Two Worlds That We Currently Live In By Combining Photos

I Show The Contrast Between The Two Worlds That We Currently Live In By Combining Photos Part Two

Helping Students to See the Beauty in a Place Like Baltimore is from Crawling Out Of The Classroom.


Read Between the Brushstrokes: Using Visual Art as a Historical Source is from The Smithsonian.

Photo captions: Write captions for the funny photos. is from The British Council.

Photos Can Trigger Change in a Town is from The Atlantic. It shares some ideas on using photos in community projects created by students.

Using Picture Talk to Support SIFE Learners is by Tan Huynh.

Amtrak has created a couple of good “Find The Difference” photos that would be good for vocabulary instruction.

“WindowSwap” Is A Great Site For English Language Learners

Quite a while I ago, I posted about the great work of Claudia Leon and Margaret Montemagno, and the ideas they shared about teaching ELLs at this NY Times Learning Network post, How to Use Interesting Photos to Help Students Become Better Writers.

Claudia has shared some of the student handouts used in that lesson, and she’s given me permission to post them here. They’re great!

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Contest Winners is an annual contest that has great photos that ELLs can use to describe and write about…

40 More Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think is from The NY Times Learning Network.

Google Doodle Video Collection Can Provide Good Lesson Introductions

CityWalks lets you choose cities from around the world and then virtually take a walk through them. It’s like an expanded version of “Windowswap” (see “WindowSwap” Is A Great Site For English Language Learners).

These Unexplored Historical Photos Are Remarkable has some photos that might be good to have ELLs write about….

How to Spark Engagement in Math With Pictures is from Edutopia.

Teach Kids to ‘Read’ the Images They See is by Frank Baker at Middleweb.

Imagine It is a nice photo tool from ELT Buzz.

The Comedy Wildlife Awards always provide images students could write and talk about.

How to Incorporate Visual Literacy in Your Instruction is from Edutopia.

Prompt Conversations With Google Drawings is from Richard Byrne.

Lesson of the Day: Photos of the Past is from The NY Times Learning Network.

Using Visual Thinking Strategies in the Classroom is from Edutopia.

6 Museums With Exceptional Teacher Resources is from Edutopia. I especially liked two “thinking guides” from one of the museums cited (The Columbus Museum of Art) that could be used with images.

5 No-Prep Activities Using Photo Apps is from TESOL.

Betsy Markman has shared a great Google Jamboard “slideshow” that students can use to write about an image.

This NY Times Learning Network Post On Using Photos Is A Must-Read For Educators, Especially ELL Teachers

Analyzing Primary Sources: Bloom’s Taxonomy Image Writing Prompts is from Primary Source Nexus (thanks to Wendy for the tip).

Narrated Five Photo Story is a good lesson plan from Wesley Fryer.

Picture This! is a “participatory photo project” for ELLs that looks interesting.

Nice Use Of The Picture Word Inductive Model For An ELL History Final

I think the photos in this next tweet could be useful for showing ELLs and having them discuss and describe them:


Five Photography Assignments That Invite You to Look Closely at the World is from The NY Times Learning Network.

125 Picture Prompts for Creative and Narrative Writing is from The NY Times Learning Network.

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

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