Buddha and Oral Exams

Anne Robinson, from the North East of England but based in Santander in Northern Spain for, well, a few years now, is a teacher, teacher trainer, author and the Senior Presenter for Cambridge ESOL in Spain. This of course makes her an expert in exam preparation classes! She uses photos and eltpics in her classes, so I invited her to share some of her ideas here. As Anne sent me various smaller pictures, I’ve dotted them through the post to keep you guessing – it’s not a case of either of us going slightly mad, honest.

(Check out Anne’s Burning Questionnaire here – nice reading.)


Pictures and photos play a prominent part in the University of Cambridge ESOL Speaking Tests. They are there to stimulate candidates’ imagination and language production.

What we examiners often notice is that certain details in a picture are missed. Not a problem, because it’s not a question of being stuck for words – just that certain things about pictures leap out straight away and others can pass by unnoticed.

In the Cambridge English: Preliminary Speaking Test, each candidate is given a photo on a particular theme and is asked to describe it.

Please tell us what you can see in your photograph’.

Image by @sandymillin for eltpics

Candidates should speak for about one minute, without help or intervention from the interlocutor or the other candidate. This can prove to be a difficult task. They often get off to a spurt with a few sentences, then dry up and start repeating things they have already mentioned.

So, picking up on details in the photograph can help tremendously to give them enough to say.

One way of training students to think about and notice where things are is to give them parts of a scene.

Each student/group of students is given (or shown) one part of the photo only.

They are asked to think about and discuss:

  1. Where they think their piece of the photo fits: at the top/bottom/in the middle of the photo? On the right/left/in the centre?
  2. What else they think is in the photo?

They then get together and try and reconstruct the whole photograph.

Finally, show them the whole picture and see how it compares with the ones they built together from their imagination.

Three legged Buddha Image by Anne Robinson for eltpics

Then, give them the Preliminary Speaking Test instructions:

I’m going to give you a photograph of an art display. Please tell us what you can see in your photograph.

Then they could be given another photograph such as this one and asked to talk about it:

Living (?) statue Image by @fionamau for eltpics

To complete the activity in the way they would in the Cambridge English: Preliminary exam, you can then ask them to discuss:

Your photographs showed examples of street art. Now, I’d like you to talk together about the art you like and the kind of art you don’t like to go and see.’ (Allow about 3 minutes for this.)


I love the java jive….

Love the Jave Jive? Busting for a cuppa? When Canadian teacher Vicky Loras, one of the lovely founders of eltpics, based in Zug, Switzerland, tweeted us her morning coffee and, in doing so, took eltpics to the 7,000 mark, I knew I just had to have her as guest blogger on Take a photo and… Vicky inspires many teachers around the world via her beautiful blog, so here she is to inspire you too. Also check her out on our Burning Questionnaire blog, where she shares a bit about her life with us.


That cup of coffee. Picture 7,000 at eltpics by Vicky Loras.

Things I Do Every Day –

An Activity for Beginner English Learners

I am very happy the picture of my favourite coffee cup came up number 7,000 in #eltpics, in the Daily Routines set! This is how I would use it in class, along with the other photos in the same set – I think it would be great to use with my true beginners to practice the Present Simple (my German speakers would benefit a lot, as there is only one present tense in German and only time adverbs distinguish between doing something as a regular activity and doing something at the moment of speaking).

I would start by showing them the photo(s) and saying:

I drink coffee every day. What do you do (stressing this part to him) every day, Werner?

I wake up early.

Werner wakes up early, I would then say, writing it on the board to stress the change of person and ending. Then I would ask another student to model it one more time and then have others ask each other What do you do every day? And then repeat the other person’s answer in the third person, until they have all had a turn or two and understand the change in person. The sentences can become progressively more complex: I drink four or five cups of coffee every day.

Perhaps then we would move to other question form, such as How many cups of coffee do you drink every day? How often do you wake up early? Anything to help them practise the question form (do you) and asking about the regularity of an activity in the Present Simple and answering for all persons.

This would also help them a lot in understanding the use of the Present Simple, as it can be quite a tricky tense. If you have any other ideas of how to use the same photo, I would love to hear them!