Most ESL students have taken enough courses and classes to become accustomed to pictures, flashcards and illustrations. So accustomed, in fact, that they may not be fully engaged in some activities. After all, why should they care about “Mr. Thompson” or “Susan”, or “Betty”?
They do care, however, about their family and friends. Which is why using photos in your ESL classroom will breathe some fresh air into any activity. Here are some creative ESL activities and games you can play with photos.
10 ESL Activities Using Photos
If you happen to have a magnetic whiteboard, get your hands on some Avery Magnet Sheets or similar magnetic printable paper, and print one head shot for each of your students. You will have personalized magnets that your kids will absolutely love, and which are great for any number of games or activities. Leave the corner of your whiteboard for the Student of the Week and simply stick the student’s photo there. Or use them to spark some friendly competition! Ask students to take out a sheet of paper, imagine they had to interview their favorite sports or movie star, and tell them to write as many questions as they can. Walk around the classroom and see how many each has written. On your whiteboard, place their photos from top to bottom to show who’s written more so far.
What’s on the Menu?
Why use only magnetic photos of your students when you print any type of photo out of magnetic paper? It may be more expensive than regular paper, but oh, so worth it! In this case, take a few days to get some snapshots of real meals, anything from a plate of spaghetti to a burger with fries. Print the photos on magnetic paper and presto! They will be ready to create their own menus. Smaller boards are ideal for them to create a menu and practice restaurant role plays.
Comparatives and Superlatives
Ask students to bring in some family photos, particularly where you can see people standing as a group. Have students compare them by saying who is taller than who, who’s the shortest, etc..but don’t stop at physical descriptions. Have them share with the class who’s the most musical, most artistic, better at sports, etc…
Try this great worksheet where students use the possessive case to talk about their families, but replace the black and white illustrations with photos of real people, members of your family. Ask students to guess or imagine details about them, who they are, what they do, etc…You may choose to correct them in the end and supply the real facts, or not.
This is a wonderful extended class project. The first thing you have to do is get your hands on a Polaroid camera, or simply use a regular digital camera and print the shots later. Have your students come up with an idea for a short story plot. Take a sequence of photos of your students acting different scenes of the plot. Once you have all of the photos printed out, students assemble them into a book or magazine format and write the captions below each one.
Ask students to bring 4 or 5 photos from home, any type of photo as long as the student does not appear in it: trips, vacations, family members, objects, pets, etc…Tells students not to show them to their classmates. Mix them up and stick them onto the board. Students ask each other questions (using Present Perfect, for example) to find out which photo belongs to whom: Diego, have you ever been to Rome?
A Sequence of Steps
At home, take photos of something being done in steps, for example someone baking a cake. First, you get a shot of the eggs in the bowl, then the flour being added, everything mixed, then poured into a cake tin, etc… Bring the photos to class and ask your students to put them in the right order. Finally, have them write step by step instructions using vocabulary for sequences: first, second, then, next, etc…
What’s Wrong with This Picture?
You can have a lot of fun with this one! This is a great way to practice modals like should, shouldn’t, must, or mustn’t. Take a few pictures of objects or things around the house in places where you wouldn’t ordinarily find them. For example, shoes in the fridge, a pizza on a pillow, a stack of magazines in the bathtub. First ask students what is wrong with each picture and then to tell you where this item should be: The shoes shouldn’t be in the fridge. They should be in the closet. You mustn’t eat pizza in the bedroom. You should eat it at the table.
What’s the story?
Bring photos that show something interesting or that could spark a conversation, for example, a photo of someone reading a book, building something, or carrying out any type of activity. Hand them out and ask students to write a paragraph imagining the story behind the photo. Encourage them to get as creative as they can be, and tell them there are no right or wrong answers.
A picture says a thousand words…
Bring photos of different types of landscapes. Give one to each of your students and ask them to write a description of what they see. Stick the photos vertically on one side of the board/wall and the descriptions on the other side. Students take turns matching the right description to each photo.
There are so many ways in which you can use photos to enhance activities and engage students. Children love looking at photos, and it’s a lot easier sometimes for them to connect to real people rather than cartoons or illustrations.
Also, bear in mind that if you want to save on paper, you can always prepare Power Point slides for some of these activities. Remember that a photo op is also a great learning op!