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.



11 thoughts on “Bridges

  1. Pingback: ESP: imagination & ideas through images | macappella

  2. My picture is taken in Porto, Portugal. It is one of the bridges that joins Porto with the city across the river Douro, Vila Nova de Gaia (where all the Port houses are). It’s huge! The cars drive along the bottom section, nearest the river, and over the top runs the tramline that connects the two cities. People can walk over either part, but I recommend walking over the top as the views are amazing! Nestled under the bridge on the Porto side there are lots of little houses and their gardens almost piled on top of each other.

    • Thanks for that, Cat. Now I really want to go to Porto! Not too far away either. Were you visiting or living there? I love Portugal, but have never been that far north – must do it. 🙂

      • I was on holiday. It was the conclusion of a road trip from Madrid (where I live) up to the north coast of Galicia, all the way round the coast down to Portugal. We ended up in Porto before driving back home to Madrid. Apart from one weekend in Lisbon, I’ve never explored the south of Portugal at all. It’s on the to-do list for some future holiday! Any places you’d particularly recommend?

  3. I’m glad to be somehow contributing to this activity: thorough and highly efficient planning; it’s amazing how much you can do with just a bunch of pics.
    I took pictures 1, 2 and 6. Number one is the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, in Bristol; it was taken in February 2009, a cold cold winter in the British Isles, in fact, some snow can still be spotted on the bridge towers and chains. The bridge, which dates back to 1864, is impressive, not so much because of its size, but for the place where it stands: on top of a high hill overlooking the city of Bristol – the city views from there are magnificent, as the bridge itself; it reminds of Britain’s colonial past and Industrial Revolution. That winter I had taken a leave from work to attend a crash English course in Dublin. We were told at school that a low cost company was offering flights to many destinations in England at bargain prices so, some of us checked the website and managed to get some extemely cheaply priced return tickets to Bristol – I recall we didn’t even pay 5€ each.
    The bridge shown in photograph 2 corresponds to Shinkyo, the graceful Sacred bridge at Nikko, Japan. It is located in an area off Nikko city which is crowded with temples and shrines. It is also close to Nikko National Park, that lodges amazing waterfalls and beautiful scenic trails. The bridge consists of a single red lacquered arch spanning over river Daiya, typically Japanese. This small bridge is utterly elegant and its beauty is enhanced by the wilderness surrounding it. It is said to represent the two snakes taht helped the founder of Nikko cross the river. The photo was taken in July 2010. Family and friends went on holiday to Japan for about three weeks. Nikko is a dream site that I fully recommend.
    Finally, bridge six is the so called Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge at County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is a small pedestrian bridge made of wood. wire and rope. It spans twenty metres between mainland and a tiny islet in the Irish sea, and hangs suspended thirty metres above the raging cold sea. Carrick-a-Rede means “rock in road” and the original one, which consisted of a single handrail, is thought to have been built by fishermen three hundred years ago. The current bridge was restored and is kept by the National Trust. It is a very windy place and crossing the footbridge is quite an experience, actually: it looks really unsafe and you always have the feeling you’re about to fall off as it’s constanlty swinging and swaying. The photograph was taken in 2009 during a tour around Nothern Ireland; we pulled out on our way back to Belfast from the famous Giant’s Causeway and we came across this little wonder.

    • Hi Paco,
      It was your photo of the Cliveden Suspension Bridge that gave me the idea for the post in the first place, so you had quite a lot to do with it! 😀 And thanks for the ‘bridge stories’, they’re great. Reading these comments makes me want to travel – albeit vicariously – I want to know more and more about each place. Snake bridges, rope bridges, snowy bridges… you’re right, you can do a lot with just a bunch of photos. Thanks for telling us about them,

  4. Hi Fiona,
    First of all, great post and how nice to see two of my pictures in your mosaic. When the eltpics topic was “bridges”, it took me just a few minutes to come up with lots of pictures I had taken over the years in many different places. There must be something that appeals me in that gap between two sides that can be bridged by those wonderful structures in stone, steel or wood…
    The picture in the middle of the mosaic was taken on 13 April 2009 in Spain. We stayed at l’ Escala and made a day trip to the medieval town of Besalú. I remember it was not really sunny that day but we took lots of pictures with my husband’s new camera:-), had lunch outdoors and laughed a lot with a oddly-shaped piece of meat 😉
    The top right picture was taken in my own country, in Bruges, on 7 August of this year. Bruges is a top destination for tourists as it very picturesque and steeped in history. We were there for a concert but stayed one night and on the following morning we made a boat trip on the canals, a must for tourists and Belgians alike 🙂 We were just about to go under the “Meebrug”, one of the city’s oldest stone bridges, when I took this picture and although I am not a good photographer at all, I really like this one. The two sides are horizontally divided by the bridge that also splits the houses vertically.Sheer luck:-)

    • For someone who is ‘not a good photographer at all’, you take amazingly good photos! 😉 Besalú is an amazing place, isn’t it? And the bridge is very distinctive. I’ve never been to Bruges but your description – as well as your picture – makes it sound like a place I want to visit! Thanks for adding your stories to the post,

  5. Hi Fiona,
    Your ideas are great and thanks for including my photo here.
    This is the photo of Galata Bridge in Istanbul.I took this photo from Galata Tower last summer while my family and I were visiting historical Galata Tower and nearby areas. When I was at the tower I saw the beautiful view of Istanbul and I thought it would be nice to take a few shots from there.So this is the one of the photos of Istanbul from the tower.

    • It’s a wonderful view, isn’t it? And an impressive bridge. I wonder what was there before they built it.. a ferry? An older bridge? And Istanbul’s such a great place – crazy, beautiful, vibrant…. Thank you for the photo and for the comment.

  6. Pingback: Interactive techno-travels | take a photo and….

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