Important Buildings

This week our post is by co-eltpics-curator, Sandy Millin. I leave you in her capable hands (or at least typing fingers):

This post is based on the ‘Important Buildings‘ set from #eltpics. It would be particularly good for higher level students (high pre-int +), especially those who are interested in history. There is a selection of ideas so you can mix and match to adapt them to your students.


On the board, write the phrase “A building is important if…” Encourage students to come up with as many possible endings as they can in pairs, then vote for the most interesting suggestions from the class/decide on a top 5 set of criteria.

Buildings mosaic

Made using the Mosaic Maker (image credits below)

Show the students the set of photos above (or any others you choose from the Important Buildings set).

  • Can they identify any of them?
  • From what they know of the buildings, do they fulfil any of the criteria the students decided on in their sentences?
  • Do they think any of them are truly ‘important buildings’?
  • Where do they think the buildings are?
  • What kind of people use/visit them? What for?


Give the students the ‘story’ of one of the buildings. They should read it and try to decide which one is being discussed. You may need to pre-teach the words ‘incomparable’, ‘inscribed’ and ‘icon’, or you could encourage students to work them out from the context.

This building is the greatest Norman building in England, perhaps even in Europe. It is valued not only for its architecture but also for its incomparable setting. For this reason it was inscribed together with the Castle as one of Britain’s first World Heritage Sites. In a nationwide BBC poll held in 2001 it was voted the nation’s best-loved building. Like Hadrian’s Wall and the Angel of the North, it is an icon of north-east England, its image is instantly recognisable to people who love this part of Britain.

The answer is ‘Durham Cathedral’, the bottom right image (my favourite building and my photo, so I chose that story, adapted from the Durham Cathedral website, but you could choose another!).

Once they have read about the building, the class can decide on why it is important, based on the information in the story.

They then create stories for the other important buildings, including reasons why they are important.


Give the students a selection of facts which they match to the buildings, justifying their decisions. For example:

  1. This is the tallest building in the world.
  2. This building is also known as Westminster Palace.
  3. A man who was born in Ireland designed this building.
  4. A huge fire destroyed most of this building in 1834.
  5. This is the largest mosque in Cairo.
  6. This building is not finished yet, but you can still visit it.
  7. The building opened on the 4th January 2010.
  8. Work on this building started in 1882.
  9. A pharoah is buried here.
  10. 50,000 people could fit into this building.
  11. When it was finished in 1902, this was one of the tallest buildings in New York City.
  12. This building was founded in 1093.
  13. This building was designed by an architect from Istanbul.
  14. This building is very close to the Sphinx.
  15. This building is 2m wide at it’s narrowest point.
  16. The builders started work on this building in 72 A.D and finished it in 80 A.D.
  17. This building has six stories, four above ground and two below.
  18. The tower of this building is 66m high.

2 / 4 Houses of Parliament (top left)

6 / 8 Sagrada Familia (top middle)

11/ 15 Flatiron building (top right)

1 / 7 Burj Khalifa (middle left)

9 / 14 Pyramid of Khafre (centre)

5 / 13 Alabaster Mosque (middle right)

3 / 17 The White House (bottom left)

10 / 16 The Colosseum (bottom middle)

12 / 18 Durham Cathedral (bottom right)

I found out all of these facts using Wikipedia, but you could use local tourist websites, or the specific sites for the buildings, if they have one.

At home, students find out two facts (or more) about an important building in their city / country.


Students brainstorm a list of questions about one or all of the other buildings. If you have internet access, they work in small groups in class time to find out the answers to these questions and create a presentation, blog post or poster based on the building they have chosen. If not, they do this at home and bring it to class the following week to show/present to their fellow students.

Building tours

Some of the buildings from the image above allow you to take virtual online tours. These include:

Students brainstorm ideas about what they might see on one of these tours. After they have taken the tour, then write/speak about what they remember from it, and what else they would like to find out about the building.

Grammar/Vocabulary focus

This set would be great for teaching passives, comparatives and superlatives or narrative tenses. Vocabulary-wise, you could work on the functions/uses of buildings, architectural features (for ESP) or prepositions of place.

Your stories

As always, if you took one of the pictures from this post, it would be great if you could share what you know about the building.

We would love to hear how you use this set in your lessons, which ideas work for you and if you have any others.

Photo credits

From top left: 1. Parliament (@pysproblem81), 2. Sagrada Familia (@cerirhiannon), 3. Flatiron Building, New York City (@jocelynlpayne), 4. Burj Khalifa, Dubai – tallest building in the world (@hmbaba), 5. The Pyramid of Khafre (@abfromz), 6. Alabaster Mosque (@abfromz), 7. The White House (@cintiastella), 8. Colosseum, Rome (@chriscattaneo), 9. Durham Cathedral (@sandymillin)



Landscape Stories

This week’s post is by our second guest – and second Welsh guest, at that – Ian James (@ij64). Ian was the artist behind eltpics 2000th photo and other great, atmospheric shots (including a ‘personal’ Corcovado). Originally from Cardiff, Ian has been in Barcelona for – oh – more than half his life – and works at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (having passed through The Big Two elt establishments..). I leave you in his very capable hands:

Prepositional Landscape Stories

First of all, I’d like to thank the kind folks at eltpics for allowing me this opportunity to combine two activities that take up rather a lot of my time: teaching (at work) and landscape photography (in my free time). With no further ado, here’s my contribution to the eltpics blog: a lesson based around photographs from the “landscape features” folder … and a few others snacked from other folders!

Step One : Lead-in

a) Ask your students what they know about Google Street View.

b) Use an application called Mapcrunch to show them a few randomly-selected Google Street View images and ask them to speculate as to where the images are from. Encourage them to justify their guesses by referring to the landscape features in the photos. Make sure the Hide location checkbox (bottom right corner) is checked as you click (Go!) through the images.

Mapcrunch : randomly selected landscapes from around the world

Step Two : Prepositional stories

a) Show your students the collage of photos below (thanks to Ceri for introducing me to Mosaic Maker) and use them to elicit more vocabulary related to landscapes (cliff, valley, hill, waterfall etc)

Eltpics : landscape features

b) Write up two lists on the board. In the first you should include verbs of movement e.g. walk, climb, fly, jump, dive row, swim, drive, run, get etc. In the second list, write a series of prepositions of movement e.g. around, up, down, into, out of, across, over, under, through, between, towards, onto, off, past, up to etc.

c) Give them a few minutes to think, then ask your students to find as many possible verb-preposition-noun combinations as they can e.g. you can dive into a lake, you can jump off a cliff, you can run through a forest, you can fly over a mountain etc.

Note : Instead of the lists, you might like to use this Wordle.

d) Now you’ve gone through the possible combinations, it’s time to put them into action. Tell your students that you want them to imagine a story based around the photos in the collage. Tell them to choose 6 photos (or more … or less … it’s up to you, or them!) and prepare a story which includes some of their verb-preposition-noun combinations. Encourage them to establish logical connections between the main events, which should take place using the collage images as setting/background. They could start with something like “We set off at 7.00 in the morning. We were … etc”. (Optional language focus: Narrative tenses (Past simple, Past continuous, Past Perfect) and/or adjective order (e.g. a deep dark Welsh lake).

e) Give them time to prepare, making notes if they like, then ask them to tell each other their stories in pairs or small groups. Listeners should look at the collage and identify the photos mentioned.

f) Ask your students to write up their stories for homework.

Step Three : Personalised discussion activity

Project the following document on the screen and ask your students to go through the questions in pairs or small groups.

That’s about all for now! Thanks to the following people for contributing their fantastic photos: @pacogascon @mkofab @mk_elt @VictoriaB52 @mrsdkrebs @worldteacher @pysproblem81 @sandymillin @escocesa_madrid @SueAnnan @elt_pics

Ian James | Tefltecher | @ij64


This is an activity for adult ESP students –  civil engineers, to be more specific. It’s a bit of a post I’ve just written as a response to a question I was asked at TESOL France. For the longer version of the post, with ideas for architects and general English students too, click here.


Show learners a selection of photos of bridges, or ask each student in the class to bring one photograph to the lesson and allow the group to look at all the images. I’ve made a mosaic of some of the images from the eltpics Bridges set, using the mosaic maker.

Images by @pacogascon (x2), @mkofab / @shaunwilden, @mkofab, @pacogascon / @arzuteacher, @escocesa_madrid , @vickyloras

Vocabulary and reading for vocabulary

Students work in pairs to make notes about vocabulary they would need to give a presentation on the structure and particular features of the bridges. Brainstorm the words they want on the board, then divide the vocab search task up between the students. Quite often, as general EFL/ESL teachers rather than engineers, we won’t know all the terminology, but if you have internet access, allow students to find words from pages such as Wikipedia (try this or this) or technical pages describing bridges in English.

Remember that even if you don’t have access, the chances of some of your learners having iPhones, Blackberrys etc is fairly high.

Speaking and preparing to write

Once the group has all the vocabulary they need, they are ready to prepare their presentations. Put students in small groups or pairs. In a 1-2-1 class, this activity will still work, but you’ll need to help with the planning or it could be intimidating. Ask each group to choose two or three bridges from the selection and decide what information will interest their audience eg where the bridges are, when they were built, what technique was used, how the technique works, why that particular type of bridge may have been chosen rather than another type, technical details such as measurements and materials used in the chosen bridges etc. You may choose to ask them to imagine they are giving the presentation as a bid for a contract to modify, improve or provide a second bridge next to the existing one, although an information presentation is probably enough. Students plan their presentations in pairs, and find other images or information, as they need.


Students write their presentations. This can either mean writing text to add to powerpoint (or similar) slides, or it may mean writing a script for an orally delivered presentation. This will depend on your students and what they prefer.

Final stage (reading, or speaking and listening)

Set a simple task, such as What do you think is the most interesting aspect of the bridges chosen? Ask students to read all the class presentations, if they are the text type, or ask each group to give their presentation, after rehearsal time. Readers / Listeners answer the question set and think of at least one question to ask each group. Allow question and answer time. Again, questions can be written or oral. If written, provide a piece of paper for each group’s presentation, and ask each reader to write their questions on the correct sheet. Allow time for answering in both cases.

If you decide to get students to give an oral presentation, it’s always worth working on posture, body language and eye contact as real life skills, rather than just focusing on pronunciation etc.

And just to end, if you took any of the photos in the mosaic, it’d be great if you could tell us the story behind them…. just drop into the comments section.