Ten Ways of Using Pictures in the Digital Classroom – Focus on Form

This article is written both for my colleagues that teach EFL and CzFL. It is in English, with some occasional explanations/examples in Czech. The underlying principles should be the same for each of the languages.

Over the years, some of my most faithful students, both for EFL and CzFL have reached an upper-intermediate level, breaking through the B1 plateau. Their vocabulary is large, they are very fluent when speaking and their listening skills have improved. One thing I notice sometimes with more advanced learners though is that the greater their fluency, the more elementary mistakes they make when speaking. These are, in Czech: mostly case endings even for basic words like počítač, kancelář, kolega; in English, they are mostly articles, prepositions, word order, verb forms.

I knew I needed to address these mistakes, but given the variety of minor issues, I didn’t want to spend a month revising each grammatical point. Eventually, I thought of using simple picture drawings – scenes that include buildings, interiors, people and can be found anywhere in text books, picture dictionaries and children’s books.

The idea is I put a picture in a Google document at the top of the page and create some very simple exercises below. As the lesson develops (I am talking about 1-1 adult learners), I add more activities on the go, depending on what is needed. It’s fairly controlled but enables the teacher to see where problems are and address them either immediately or in the next lesson. After three to four lessons I evaluate whether the student’s accuracy has improved.

I shared this idea on Twitter and in a professional Facebook group and got some splendid ideas for more things to do with pictures  – thank you Helen, Zhenya and Melvyn! I will try to explore these soon and write a follow up to this post.

This is what I do:

1. In Google Jamboard, put up the picture and write some words on the right. While you and your student are sharing the same doc, the student moves the words on top of what they represent in the picture. You can include new words to develop the S’s vocabulary and to challenge them. There is some nice negotiation going on when the student has to ask the teacher to describe the meaning and figure it out. There is immediate feedback, as the teacher sees whether the word has been placed in the right spot.

UPDATE: Here is a Jamboard I have used with my Czech student. And here is one for my English student.

2. Receptive vocabulary development: In a Google Doc, the teacher writes some true and false sentences or sentences with two options and the student either corrects or chooses the correct one. Example: (a) The sofa is opposite the cage with a budgie (T/F) (b) The sofa is opposite the case with a budgie/a family portrait. Challenge your students with a mix of words they should know or slightly above the level, but don’t make it too hard.

UPDATE: Here is a Google Doc with exercises for Czech. Same picture as in the Jamboard. And here is one for English – less elaborate than the one for Czech.

3. Productive vocabulary development – finish the sentences either in writing or speaking. The microwave is right next to…

4. Grammar –  for Czech, I would ask the student to complete the endings of some words. If I see this is a problem, I copy a simple table with most common words and their endings at the top of the page. Example: Kluk napravo se dívá na televiz__, která stojí vedle počítač__ (remember, your students are fairly advanced, so you can use more complicated sentence structures, prepositions and vocabulary). For English, I would use sentences without articles, leaving in blanks before nouns. Example: Complete the sentences with a/an, the or 0: ___girl on __ right is watching __ TV.

5. Once they are correct, I take the same sentences from (4), insert blanks before nouns and ask the student to add a suitable adjective/number/personal pronoun. This is especially challenging for Czech because of the variety of endings. Example (CZ): ____ kluk napravo se dívá na ____ televizi. Example (EN). The ____ girl on the right is watching (what)___ on TV. Again, grading the amount of challenge is totally up to you and how the student is coping with the language.

6. Prepositions – The teacher writes some sentences and blanks out the prepositions. In Czech, you would want to leave the words after the prepositions in their correct form so that the student can decide on the preposition from the ending. In English, you can include some phrasal verbs – always a great challenge for Czech learners!

7. Count the things in the picture. I’m very proud of this one and it works especially well for Czech (counting is a bit of an issue in Czech, to put things mildly). My list for Czech includes things that are in the picture 1x (jeden, jedna, jedno);2x (dva nebo dvě?); 3-4 x (takes the Nominative plural); 5+ (pět dětí, hodně trávy – Genitive Plural); dual objects (dvoje kalhoty); irregular plurals. Example (Cz). Počítejte, kolik je na obrázku: člověk/kalhoty/talíř/voda.

In English, countable and uncountable nouns come into play, as well as irregular plurals, too. Also some/any/not any. Ask your students to count: person/child/leaf on the tree/beer/as well as some common nouns to make it fast-paced and check if they use the articles well for the singular and plural.

For al the previous exercises, I recommend having only three to five sentences in each to keep the pace fast and to go through as many as possible. Remember, this is/ought to be revision! Moving on to freer production now:

8. The teacher asks the students to describe the picture in five sentences using the new vocabulary from (1) as well as any other words.

9. The teacher asks the students to say what they think of the picture. Because the students are B1+, they often come with plenty of interesting opinions, stories from their own lives and so on. I like this stage.

10. Ask the students what the people in the picture are probably saying. You can see if they use real-world, modern language. In Czech, a variety of cases is needed, for instance the vocative case used to address people.

Thanks for reading. I hope I will follow up with more creative ideas soon and let me know in the comments what you do with pictures.

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