A Visual Bucket List: A Life Lesson for Learners

Well. Two years. It’s ELTpics second birthday!! And that means Take a photo and… is a year old! A whole year….  So, to celebrate, for the next month there will be a special post each week, three written by Special Guest Stars 🙂

The first of those stars is, as A-Listers go, probably ELT’s answer to Meg Ryan in her heyday (a dark-haired, Texan Meg Ryan) with all her bounce and contagious optimism. Let’s face it, anyone who has been with this lady with her brilliant smile and amazing energy (ELTpics set this week, by chance) is likely to place the same order: ‘I’m having what she’s having…’. As the giver of free webinars every Friday, come rain or shine, an integral part of eConsultants, the creator of The 30 Goals Challenge… her achievements speak for themselves.

So without further ado or waffle, I give you…. Shelly Terrell 🙂 (and if you’d like to read our interview with Shelly, it’s here.)


You may be familiar with the euphemism, “Kick the bucket,” which is another way of saying someone has died. Now, you might be wondering how such a morbid topic would make such a powerful and engaging lesson for learners. From this idiom, evolved a custom or practice that my students living in Germany told me must be American and this custom is the bucket list. When I first introduced this activity to my students, they had never heard of it and that is where ELTPics comes in. A bucket list is simply a list of things you want to do before you die (UrbanDictionary).

Introducing the Topic

In order to introduce this topic, show students a few pictures representing things you would include in your bucket list and have them guess what activities the pictures could represent. Can you guess from the pictures below what is on my bucket list? Whoever guesses right gets to tell me what kind of Roscothepugpic I should add next to the ELTPics pool.

Images for eltpics by @dfogarty , @sandymillin and @mscro1

Discussion and Tasks

After this discussion, have students quickly jot down items to include on their bucket lists but ask them not to show anyone, yet. Then encourage them to search through the ELTPicssets to find pictures that represent three of these ideas. Instruct learners to use their mobile devices or laptops to go to the #ELTPicswebsite and browse through the themed sets. Let them know they might find their activities listed under various categories. By browsing through the sets the learners are categorizing the vocabulary and associating the vocabulary with various images which is very effective for learning.

Pair or group students and have them play the same guessing game. Give them time to share their lists with each other and discuss their lists. A lot of language will naturally emerge from sharing their lists. I walk around during this time and take notes for group feedback and also to bring up during our class discussion.
Now it is time to regroup and have a whole class discussion. I ask my students to share the most interesting or surprising item they discovered on their partners’ lists. I write these as I want to statements on the board and also write down any vocabulary or phrases that emerge during the discussion. We also review any grammar structures that we come across. You can see what my board looks like below. I have horrific handwriting, but you can get an idea of the very interesting ideas my students in Germany came up with. The best part of the discussion are the personal stories and reasons behind their choices. I learn a lot about my students from this lesson. From this specific class, I learned about heliskiing and one student also shared how he wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro because he was born in Africa but lived in Germany most of his life and had never been back since he was a child. Climbing the mountain would be a symbol of him visiting his birthplace. I have repeated this lesson again and again and my students really enjoy it. They learn about culture, each other, and it is a lesson they can apply to their lives.

Board work…

Taking it Further

I like to encourage my students to share their lists online. This way they continue to use the language outside the classroom. Students can read other bucket lists and watch videos at the Bucketlist.org community or help others accomplish their bucket lists in thiscommunity.

Another idea is to have a follow-up class where students share items they already accomplished from their bucket lists. You can either have this lesson straight away or give them till the end of the semester to encourage them to either share something they accomplished from the past that would have been on the list or for the very brave to try and accomplish by that class date. I believe everyone has thought of what they would like to accomplish or do before they pass away. Have students share videos and pictures of one of these accomplishments and reflect upon how they felt about the experience in a video or Pecha Kucha like presentation. They can add these images and videos to the ELTPics collection. Here’s a recent picture I added to the collection of me riding an elephant in Thailand which was on my bucket list.

21 thoughts on “A Visual Bucket List: A Life Lesson for Learners

    • That’s exciting. Please let me know how the lesson goes. You can tweet me @ShellTerrell or email me at ShellyTerrell at gmail dot com. I’m excited to find out if your students enjoyed it as much as mine.

  1. As a teacher who cares a lot about the visual aspect, I really like this idea.
    Any hints for something that I’m struggling with (related to the sharing online part). The minute any text is online my students paste the whole thing into Google Translate and the English goes out the window…
    Loved the elephant picture!

    • Hi Naomi,
      Perhaps you can get them to make a slideshow, Glogster, or Animo with their pics and lists instead. Especially on Glogster, they can just post the pictures with #1 Someday, I want to … and so on. They can also do a narration on Fotobabble?

  2. Gads! Can anyone tell me of what practical use this is? A 14(?) year old kid…. They will what? Want to go ride an elephant somewhere? [I think their bucket list should include perhaps: Graduating from grade 8, or grade 12. Not getting killed in a car accident by age 21. But they probably have those ideas anyway!] Oh, boy. Yes, that little exercise, will truly cure cancer, end the energy crisis, or whatever. But it sure is a great way to waste an hour or three, and not have to actually teach the kid anything useful that they might use in life, 20 years from now! It seems greedy, in a way. But then, this is the “me” generation. No wonder business people and taxpayers are fed up, and want reform in education. No wonder politicians respond with never ending tests. No wonder “Johnny STILL can’t read”…. Some 40 years after Rudolph Flesh’s lament.

    • There’s a strong chance ‘Johnny STILL can’t read’ because he’s never been motivated to, never been given anything he’d want to read. If everything in the classroom is about passing grade 8 or grade 12, which according to you consists of passing never-ending tests, or is about simply staying alive, if Johnny is never allowed to dream, to be creative, to access his imagination but is required to stick to the practicalities of just staying alive in his very grey world, is it any wonder Johnny STILL can’t read?
      And maybe Johnny’s 35 not 14 anyway – there’s no mention of this being an idea for teens…….
      Just a couple of thoughts.

      • Hummm… Well let us see… Let me address your points….

        Today Johnny can read any junk off the web he wants. (Often Bad!) Free newspapers are provided to a number of classrooms. (Good! Though, most newspapers today are junk. So it is a matter of the “luck of the draw”!) Comic books are now allowed as reading material. (Some do have advanced vocabulary. This can be Good or Bad, depending.) Although…. Textbooks by reputable firms no longer exist, so Johnny has to read whatever came from the ipad store. (And here, the gamut runs from OK, to Trash. So again it is the luck of the draw.) This might be one reason Johnny still cannot read. He has not seen any good books lately.

        Well, let me see. If I “teach” you how to bake a cake….. How the hella would I know if you can bake one? BY ASKING YOU TO BAKE ONE! An odd test, but a valid one. If I ask you to paint my house or change the oil in my car, or whatever…. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

        Now, when I was young, at the school I was at, we had standardized tests. Aside from wasting a week a year, and being bribed by the nuns with chocolate bars to take them, I see no real harm to me….

        Mind you, I agree with you: Those 8 weeks, might have been used more productively. But then 1.5 years of “Music”, which taught me to hate music, operas, teachers, musicians, and singers…. Was that a productive use of my time? And it taught me nothing useful! Nor did I learn a thing about any of the world’s great music. It did teach me a “swear word”, though: “Peter and the Wolf” I also had about 1.5 years of “Art” classes. I learned nothing there, either. Nothing about the great art of the world, and still cannot draw a thing. Too bad those teachers did not teach. They did love having us listen to 10 minutes of ONE opera, and draw boots on a stool, however! How often have I used that in 56 years!???

        Since passing grade 8 and/or grade 12 is a requirement for most jobs… I would assume that yes, this is important. This is what the taxpayer wants. This is what business wants. So, since WE are paying the tab, well….we’d like what we are paying for. So passing grades 8 and 12 does have some value. At least passing grade 8 does. And the government seems to want that, too.

        And “staying alive” is important. Somebody sang a song about that, years ago. So Yes, I would say “surviving” is a useful thing. Not that you’ll learn much about that in school. For that, you need real world experience…

        As for being allowed to dream, well, hey, we ALL do that at night. It is just that some of us, just do not remember them. I do. Since most of my dreams are nightmares, believe me, I wish I did not.

        As for being allowed to daydream, well, I have seen plenty of that around. Too much of it. Johnny cannot read because he can only Tweetspeak or Textspeak, or read LOL cats. He daydreams instead of getting down to business, and learning how to read.

        Johnny is in school 8 hours. The day has 24 hours. In the other 16 hours, I will bet you that Johnny does use his imagination. I will bet you he does that in school, too. (Whether it is for any good use, though, I wonder!) For myself, I would just like some productive use out of his imagination. What I would call “applied creativity”.

        Today we have a bunch of snake oil salesmen saying they can teach creativity and imagination. Poppycock! MOST Human beings are naturally creative. MOST of us already have an imagination. These things do not need to be taught. And the thing is, in the real world, we have to get to work. We are not all being creative little celebutards. Some of us actually do things in the world.

        If the bankers had been a little less creative a few years ago, trust me, the world would be in better shape! But let me tell you also, about a VERY creative man, with a phenomenal education. His name? Bernie Madeoff. He made off with some 56 billion dollars, and by the time all the bills are paid, it will have cost some 72 billion dollars. What a bucket list HE had! (I seem to recall a $25,000 dollar statue of himself!) The people he ripped off, are really happy about it!

        And YES! you’re right. We DO live in a VERY grey world. And it’s getting “grey-er”. One does not have to be a PhD in History so know that! Nor does one have to be a Futurist. Nor does one have to read every “current events” posting to know it either. It is just a fact. Has been for years. Will be for years.

        If Johnny is 35 and still in school, “Mission Control: We have a Problem!” Unless Johnny is becoming a lawyer or an MD type of doctor, he should be out of school. And law students and doctors should be studying, and practicing their careers. Bucket lists, can come later. And I have never seen an unimaginative lawyer! And most of them can even read. But if Johnny is 35 and cannot read, Johnny needs to get out of school, fast…

        I’m sorry, but I simply disagree with you. “Bucket List” is a neat game to play at those “get know you seminars”, and to “team form” (HAH!). It can be fun. I have been a victim of a number of these games. I simply do not enjoy them. And few of my co-victims were that happy either. The time we spent with those silly games, could have been more productively used in other ways. And we, sadly, paid for it…

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  6. Excellent activity! I’ve adapted it and I use it as a kind of warm-up so the students get to know each other a little better.
    What I do is I ask them to send me the link to the photos they choose and I compose the papers myself. I print them and I take them to the class.
    Every day, at the beginning of the class I put a paper in the middle of the table and I ask them to hypothesise on who might have chosen those pictures. I ask them to write a name and a couple of reasons for their choice so we work a little on creative writing.
    Then, we put their choices in common and we ask the one who chose the pictures to come forward.
    The rest of the class will ask yes/no questions until they understand what each picture represents to that person.

    Thank you very much for the idea!

    • What a great way to adapt this and extend it for the year. I bet it really helps with the students developing relationships with each other which I think is very important. Also, it’s a bit of a review and reminder for those who wrote their lists. A way to get them to continue thinking about the goals they once wrote about. Thanks for sharing.

      • Yeah, Shelly, it was wonderful!

        After that, I learnt there’s a film with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman called Bucket List, so I bought it and put it in the “Lending Library”.

        Very well rounded all in all! So thanks a lot for the ideas!!! ;o)

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