An open door…..?

The door to a new idea... (photo by @nutrich)

Welcome to our third weekly blog post, and the first of our regular Guest Blogger spots. To launch this spot, we have asked one of #eltpics keenest contributors and greatest ‘promoters’, Ceri Jones, to add one of her ideas to this collection.

Ceri is a well-known ELT writer, teacher trainer and teacher, as well as one of Wales’ finest exports. She currently lives in Cadiz, in Spain, with her partner and children, and her blog is a treasure trove not to be missed. Over to you, Ceri; take a photo and…..:

(Read Ceri’s Burning Questionnaire here. )


It’s a great honour to be asked to write a guest post for the #eltpics blog. I’ve always been a big fan of the #eltpics initiative, and was so pleased to see the photostream “coming of age” on its first birthday with more than 5000 photos and a great new space for sharing ideas for the classroom.

I’d like to introduce one of my favourite webtools for working with images: the mosaic maker.  It’s so easy to use and produces interesting collages at the press of a button. Coupled with eltpics, it’s great. Here’s an example:

'Doors' mosaic (credits below)

I made it by adding links from the #eltpics “Doors & windows” photostream and the mosaic maker did the rest. I don’t know why I like mosaics so much, I think there’s something in the symmetry that’s appealing, and I guess maybe they’re one of those formats you find all over the place  – on billboards, in magazines, online – and they have a kind of familiar yet contemporary feel to them.

I like to use them in class. If I can project them on a whiteboard, that’s great! But mosaics can work just as well as photocopies too. Maybe just one on the floor in a circle of students, or three or four per group around the class – on their desks or maybe pinned (or blutaked) to the wall. See how well the one above works in black and white:

"Door" mosaic, black & white

Here’s one idea for how to use this particular mosaic in class. I’m sure there are lots of others too. And obviously each new mosaic lends itself to a new idea, but I hope that some of the steps here are generative enough to be used with any mosaic or collection of images on a similar theme.

Step one: choose a photo …

Ask the class to look at the mosaic. Is there any one door that attracts them in particular? It may be the first one to catch their eye, or they may need to look a little longer, linger on the details, before they choose.

Step two: thinking time

When you see that students have chosen a door, ask them to think about why that particular door attracts or interests them. Do this quietly and individually, letting each student work at their own pace. After a few seconds of thinking time, give the student a slip of blank paper – not a page, just a thin strip, to emphasise that they don’t need to write a lot, they’re just writing a quick note – and ask them to quickly jot down a few thoughts. (This can mean quite a lot of monitoring in a large class – one way around this is to write the prompt at the top of the strip of paper.)

Step three: micro writing

I go round the class encouraging the fast finishers to write more, to stretch themselves, maybe nudging the slower students with prompts, leaving the thinkers alone to gather their thoughts, trying to allow everyone the chance to write something. I use micro writing tasks a lot to generate ideas and scaffold speaking tasks, especially with multi-level classes.

As the students are writing I often pick up a text by a fast finisher and read it out to the class. In this case I’d ask them to guess which door is being described. My rationale here is to provide a model for the weaker/slower writers, but also to give feedback to, and stimulate, the faster/stronger writers. As I read out the mini texts I paraphrase or correct if necessary – and when I hand the paper back to the student ask them to check what they wrote and to write another text. I might repeat this two or three times before drawing the writing stage to a close.

Step four: speaking

Once you’re happy that all the students have chosen a door and are confident enough to be able to explain why they chose it, collect the strips of paper from all the students. Ask them to work in small groups. Ask them to explain which door they chose and ask their partners to guess which door it is. To round up ask for a show of hands for the most popular doors and the most popular reasons for choosing them.

Step five (optional) : redrafting

If you want to, you could return the slips of paper to the students at this stage and ask them if they want to change anything or add anything to their notes. If they hadn’t written in full sentences earlier, ask them to do so now, working towards a redraft of their initial writing. Often coming back to their writing, they will want to rethink and reshape what they’ve written.

Step six: bring it closer to home

To round off, ask the students if any of the doors look like doors they know in the real world, and if they do, where they are and what significance they hold (if any) for the students. This stage can throw up interesting conversations.

And a seed for another lesson … please help it grow!

If you are one of the photographers, please leave a comment with the story of your door (I’ll add mine in a comment box). We could use these in class too as a follow up task. Students could read your stories, match them to your doors and then made make a story of their own. (If you search on google images for door + book cover the results can be quite interesting and are a starting point for a whole new lesson plan … but I’ll leave that one to you 🙂 )

And, of course, if you have any interesting photos of doors, please add them to the eltpics “doors & windows” set!

Oh, and here are the credits for the doors, starting from the top left

Row 1 – @asalinguist, @aClilToClimb, @cerirhiannon, @asalinguist

Row 2 – @theteacherjames, @nutrich

Row 3 – @europeaantje, @antoniaclare, @mamalarut

Row 4 – @aClilToClimb, Jane Arnold, @nutrich, @aClilToClimb

Comparing and contrasting

Here’s a step by step idea for practising the language of comparison and contrast.
Step 1: Choose a theme (in this example, it’s transport).
Step 2: Choose three or more pictures from one of the eltpics sets (click for the transport set)
Step 3: Right-click on each picture and click on a size. The picture will open.
Step 4: Click and drag the picture to powerpoint (or similar)
Step 5: Arrange the pictures on one slide so that the students can easily see them all.

Example slide based on transport

Step 5a: For a non-tech classroom, print the resulting single slide.
Step 6: In class, show the students all of the images. Give them a moment to look at the pictures and think about what they could say about each.
Step 7: Put students in pairs or threes and challenge them to write as many sentences as possible comparing and contrasting the images in 10 minutes (mine came up with about 10 sentences per group of three students).
Step 8: Use the resulting sentences to work on the language of comparisons, or an FCE Speaking task, or anything else you choose!

New beginnings

Take a careful look at these photos and grab a piece of paper and a pen:

Setting your self a time limit of three minutes (get that stopwatch going..) brainstorm your answers to these questions: What do the two pictures have in common? What is the relationship between them? What story do they tell?

Have you got your answers? Now compare your impressions with a partner or two and decide on your pair/group answers. Do you need any help with language? I can help…. OK. So what were your answers? Let’s see how many good ideas we can come up with.

For the record, here are MY answers – in case you just happen to be sitting alone at a computer and don’t have anyone else to compare with.

For me, they are both almost perfectly centred, they show balance and harmony. The one on the right happens to bear the title ‘Peace’; the one on the left suggests a sense of peace, both inner and outer. They also tell the story of eltpics. The one on the left, taken by Victoria Boobyer, was the first photo to be uploaded, kicking off the eltpics resource on 18th October, 2010, whilst the one on the right, by Chiew Pang, was the 5,000th to join the collection – on 18th October 2011. Don’t you just love birthdays?

And in honour of eltpics’ first birthday, here is the first post, giving the first idea, using the first photograph.


This idea will work with any level, even with beginners if you speak their language. Choose a photograph – or show a selection and ask students to choose one as a group.

Students need a piece of paper, divided into four. Ask them to write the headings Questions I want to know the answers to, Adjectives, Nouns, and Verbs / -ing actions.

Give them four or five minutes’ thinking time (or more – you know your class) and ask them to write notes in the four boxes. Beginners can write in their own language, others can write in a mixture of languages or, obviously, in L2. To begin with, sit still – if you move around, you’ll interrupt the thinking – but after a couple of minutes, help students with language, feed in correct question forms or whole questions if needs be, lexical items and so on. With beginners, their questions can be reused later as examples of how questions are ‘built’ in English.

Here’s what my kids came up with:

Questions: What’s he sitting on? How did he get there? What’s the thing in front of him? How is he feeling? What’s he doing?

Adjectives: sad, dirty (feet), alone, not wet, calm, still, empty

Nouns: fishing rod, bamboo, cushions, mud, feet, not a stone, water, hat, net, raft, man

Verbs / -ing actions: fishing, thinking, feeling, (not) going, (not) catching, hunting, sitting, build, float, get wet

You can then have students compare in pairs, but a group discussion is better with many groups as some may feel they have little imagination. Also because ideas sometimes just kinda grow from other people’s. If you have the image on the board (blu-takked, projected, or using an IWB), brainstorm words, write them all up, share those ideas, then invite students to ask their questions for anyone to answer. Answers needn’t be true – and kids will tend to create their own truths anyway “Can’t you see it isn’t a fishing rod? It’s a bamboo thing. For cleaning swimming-pools” (I quote) etc, though adults may want The Real Story….

When you have finished language inputting, discussing, sharing ideas etc, invite students to use their nouns, adjectives etc and the answers to their questions to write something simple inspired by the photograph eg a simple poem, a haiku, a 25-40 word story…..I noticed when I did it that I didn’t need to say ‘now compare and help your partner correct any errors’; because I’d let them work from L1 to L2, they asked each other how things sounded, there was an element of pride, they wanted their story/poem to sound like A Real One. You can then upload the written pieces along with the image to a class blog or wiki, make a poster… whatever you feel.

Here are a couple of examples by Spanish (pre) teens (aged 14 and 11):

A man sitting on water. Not fishing.


He builds a raft,

cushions and wood.

Sits and floats.

To somewhere.


One sunny afternoon, I saw a man fishing. One hour later, he was neither fishing nor hunting. I saw him sitting, with mud on his feet, his bamboo net empty. Not one fish.


And by a highly eminent friend of mine (“JA”):

I am surrounded by the sea.
The sea of loneliness.
Nothing else around me.

Here, alone, I can only be
Sad and lonely
But I am still free.

Wait! What do I see?
My friend in his boat
He is bringing me tea.


If you try it, we’d love to hear how it went – and feel free to add your students’ work to the comments.