Instaclassroom ELT..

Instagram is a social network app for photographers. Like Twitter, it enables users to follow photo (2)the people that they find interesting as well as their friends. It doesn’t seem like the most obvious tool that could be used by English language teachers, but we think it can be a great tool in the classroom.

We live in an era where almost everything can be done by the touch of a button. You can book a table at your favorite restaurant, check if the bus is running late or order a pizza! The mobile revolution has reached our classrooms transforming the way we teach and learn. Today’s iPhone and android smartphones are multimedia studios that fit in our pockets. Users can take photos, record videos, edit and share the world around them on the go.

Apps like Instagram can help teachers guide their students to understand the world and learn a new language. The world is full of visual representations that are core to the understanding of social practices and human interaction. Our 21st century students must be aware of the choices made in a certain ad campaign to discover a possible hidden agenda or go beyond what the eyes can see. For that, we must encourage them to look critically into the world of pictures and photography. image_1355190938833505

In March 2012,ScottThornbury wrote about using photographs as a way of encouraging students to engage with the language outside of lesson time. He suggested asking students to take photos of examples of English that they see on the street between lessons, and listed questions that they could be asked in the next lesson as a source of research and discussion. Based on his idea, I asked very similar questions to one of my students who had just got an iPhone for the first time and loved playing around with the camera.

My student expressed an interest in something and I used it our advantage. She’s interested in photography and she’s going to take photos whether I ask her to or not. By being adaptable and using the content she has already created, I’m able to have an authentic stimulus in the classroom that leads us to explore areas of language that are genuinely interesting, relevant and useful to my student.

Photography can teach us a number of lessons that can be applied to the learning setting. One of them is that we can always make it better. Tell your students not to be afraid of taking a bad photo, that they will improve their skills, and that they should go ahead, try more and their pictures and their learning will be enhanced day-by-day. Hopefully this positive attitude will influence their language learning too.

Teachers can also make use of Instagram in order to use pictures for their lessons and for presentations at conferences. Tag your pictures with #eltpics and any teacher in the world will be able to use that picture for educational purposes without having to worry about copyright issues. If you are an English teacher who uses Instagram, tag your picture #eltpics so they can be added to the ever growing library of pictures for teachers.

Instagram in the classroom

Instagram can become a powerful tool if you want to explore the world of pictures in ELT. Here are some ideas:

1) Summarizing a caption in 140 characters

Many of our students are regular users of Twitter and other social forms of social media so therefore they are used to creating short texts. Combining Instagram and Twitter can be a way of helping your students to become better at summarizing an event or a narrative.

– Have your students take pictures of a topic you’ve previously assigned and upload it to Instagram and Twitter simultaneously.

– Tell them they have to come up with a caption that summarizes the story behind that particular photo in no longer than 140 characters.

What's the caption? ... Any ideas?

What’s the caption? … Any ideas?

2) A narrative picture sequencing

With this idea, your students will have fun and learn how to create narratives from photos taken by themselves and get engaged in a meaningful way.

– If you work with groups, create a hashtag for your class to use on Instagram such as #brunosclasslevel3.

– Assign participant numbers to your students. Student number one is the one to start the story with his picture. He must include a short introductory text to the narrative plus another tag: #photo1, for example.

Once upon a time, in a far-off land..........

Once upon a time, in a far-off land……….

– The following students have to pick up from where the previous student left off and continue the story plus the appropriate tag: #photo2, #photo3 and so on.

– You can also use a webservice like to create an individual narrative from a user’s photos.

3) Mine is bigger!

Practice comparatives and superlatives with pictures.

– If you’re teaching comparatives and superlatives, ask your students to take pictures of a given object, person or attitude (whatever that works for you).

– In class, group your students in pairs and have them compare the pictures

– So as to practice superlatives, ask three students to come to the front and show their pictures. One of them has to describe the pictures by using superlatives.

4) I spy… something environmentally incorrect!

Help your students to become more critical thinkers by searching for environmentally incorrect attitudes and capturing them.

Can't see the what for the trees? ....

Can’t see the what for the trees? ….

– Ask your students to take photos of attitudes they consider to be environmentally incorrect and post onto Instagram using a hashtag you created with them (e.g: #school_environmentallyincorrect)

– Ask them to include a text saying why they consider that certain attitude environmentally incorrect and to provide a possible solution

– Back in class, ask them to share their findings in a small group and to choose the most serious problems and report it back to class with its possible solutions.

5) There’s beauty in trash

What happens to an object before it is thrown away? Get your students thinking about waste and the trajectory it has made until it reached the bin.

– Get your students to take photos of objects that have been thrown away that triggered their curiosity as to what might have happened before it was tossed away.

– Have them upload a set of photos on to Instagram under a commonly decided hashtag (e.g: #beauty_in_trash2012)

6) Cliché hunt

Just like every popular service, Instagram inevitably has it’s clichés. If your students are active Instagram users, they may enjoy this activity.

– Ask your students what they understand by the word cliché.

Sun on sea, small sail centred, blue skies.....Cliché or not cliché? Who cares...... palpable freedom.

Sun on sea, small sail centred, blue skies…..Cliché or not cliché? Who cares…… palpable freedom.

– Once you have checked their understanding and given them similes and connected words (e.g. stereotype, tired, lazy, unoriginal etc), ask them to create a list of the kind of photos that a lot of people upload to Instagram.

– If they need help, show them an example, like “duckface”.

– Once they have finished, compile their lists onto the board.

– Give or show them the pictures from this article: and ask them to discuss why the pictures are so clichéd.

– After getting feedback, ask them to have a look at their own Instagram images and find their own clichéd photos.

The Practical Stuff

At the time of writing,Instagram is an iOS and Android app only. The app is only designed for smartphones, however there are free apps you can use on the iPad such asinstaflow which enables you to view your and others’ pictures. It is only accessible on computers via websites such,

As with any web service not designed specifically for ELT, there is always the risk of inappropriate content and advertising. In general Instagram are good at blocking obscene or explicit material, but there is a lot of spam advertising at the time of writing. It would be good to make your students aware of this if you choose to use it.

If you want to follow us on Instagram, search for theteacherjames and brunoelt. You can also find James’ photos on histumblr or onflickr.

And remember to tag your Instagram photos #eltpics!



Creativity and ELTpics

Creativity is often cited as one of the 21st Century skills we need to be teaching our students. Being creative seems to be an inherent part of what we think helps us to be good teachers. But why is creativity so important in language classrooms? And what exactly do we mean by creative thinking skills? I’ve run a number of workshops and training sessions recently which look at these questions and explore how we can nurture a culture of creativity in our classrooms, demonstrating practical ideas for exploiting images, video, poetry and online tools, and looking at the use of frameworks to encourage learners to actively and creatively engage in the learning process.

I like to think that the materials I write can act as a springboard to encourage teachers to be creative in their teaching and allow learners opportunities to be expressive with their language. Several of the ideas I use mention the wonderful ELTpics as a resource, so we thought it would make sense for me to write them up for you here.

1 A Story in Five Frames

This idea was inspired by this website: Five Card flickr stories

Put students into small groups and set them up to play a round (or two) of Five Card flickr. Students work together to create stories by choosing from five random pictures selected from Flickr. The random nature of the selection ensures that students put their creative thinking hats on, and you’d be surprised at what they can come up with. Obviously, if you wanted to focus on specific language, you might look at narrative tenses, or useful language for telling stories (e.g. time linkers: as soon as, by the time, during, while, etc. ) Or story-telling discourse markers like: In this story….Before long…All of a sudden…Anyway….In the end etc.

The same activity works well with ELTpics. Get your students in groups to choose pictures from ELTpics to make short stories. You can make it into a game by getting students to choose the first picture and a title, before passing their story to the next group, who write the beginning of the story, and pass it to the next group who continue the story etc. The group with the best story at the end win some chocolate.

2 Getting Emotional

This idea uses some ‘emotional pictures’ as a prompt for speaking and then poetry writing.

Choose some pictures from the emotions set on ELTpics. I particularly like these ones: Photos taken from by @sandymillin @VictoriaB52 @dfogarty @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,

Ask the students the following questions:

What emotions do you think this person is feeling?

Why do you think the person feels like this?

It’s a good idea to try and include a few ambiguous photos here, so that students have something to say. They may disagree with each other 😉

Tell students that actually there are only six basic emotions, which are recognised by all humans by their facial expressions. Can the students guess what the six basic emotions are? (Answer at the end of this post)

Get students to talk about situations in their lives when they have experienced any of these emotions, e.g. a time when they were surprised, happy, or angry etc.

Now, it’s time to look at the poems. When I do poetry with students, I like to take them out of the classroom, maybe to a park, or garden, or somewhere where they can breathe fresh air and feel inspired. First of all, I get students to think about the different senses; what can they hear/see/smell? This can bring up a lot of interesting language (especially if you’re sitting in a London park!).

Using some of the language and ideas, I get students working together to choose an emotion and write a poem following a simple framework. Here are a couple of poems that my Intermediate students wrote:

What I love about this activity is that by giving students the framework and a bit of creative inspiration, you enable them to come up with something really special. Most of my students have never written poems before coming to the class, let alone written a poem in English. It is a hugely confidence-boosting activity. And sometimes the results are spectacular. I like to read the poems aloud too and work on rhythm and stress patterns.

Poetry is important because it makes us think, it opens us up to wonder at the sometimes astonishing possibilities of language’ – John Burnside

3 A Museum Of Me

This last idea was inspired by a museum exhibition which ran a while ago at the Oxo Tower Wharf called ‘A Museum Of Me’. Visitors were asked to become a part of the exhibition by writing about their dreams, hopes and other secrets and putting their ideas into a tin, or adding them to the exhibition, and reading what others had written.

Go to ELTpics and choose a few pictures which you think say something about you, or your life. Put the pictures into a mosaic maker like this. So, what do you think these pictures say about me? (Answers on a postcard, please)

Image made using photos taken from by@melgarrish @asalinguist @antoniaclare @worldteacher @sandymillin @thornburyscott, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,

Show the collage to the students and get them to guess information about you and your life. I often use this activity at the beginning of a course, when meeting with a new group of students. It’s a great get-to-know-you. The obvious follow-on is to get students to make their own collage. Here, you can stick with tradition; give the students a load of magazines, scissors and glue (we are ELT teachers, after all) and get them to cut out pictures that mean something to them, and make them into a poster collage. Or, if you want to involve them in some digital literacy at the same time, just send them to ELTpics and let the mosaicmaker do the rest. (For more ideas similar to this one, see our earlier post Could be, might be, must be… )

I strongly believe that creativity is at the heart of real, genuine learning. We can teach students grammar, CEF statements and skills objectives, but if we fail to engage students’ creative processes, then the real learning is likely not to be there.

If you’re interested, I have made a Scoopit Magazine with various teaching ideas and articles relating to creativity and creative thinking here:



Antonia Clare is a teacher, trainer and materials writer whose special interests include creativity and the use of video and new technologies in ELT.  She has taught and trained in many countries around the world, including Italy, Spain, Hong Kong, Portugal, Poland and the UK and is a co-author for Language-to-GoTotal English, English in Common and the award-winning series Speakout (published in partnership with the BBC).

P.S The Answer: The Six Basic Emotions are: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise (Speakout Intermediate p68)

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 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.

Wave your flag

Normally I introduce our guest posters, but on this occasion the post includes a photo and bio at the end :), so there is little for me to add apart from saying it is a genuine pleasure to be able to offer you the ideas below, the timing of which is perfect, and to say THANK YOU to….. Sue Lyon-Jones….

Take a photo and…. cultivate parsnips with it, by Sue Lyon-Jones

Image made with BigHugeLabs Mosaic Maker using photos taken from by @mrsdkrebs, @aClilToClimb, @sandymillin (x3), @teacherphili, @pysproblem81, @elt_pics (x2) used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,”

In the wake of the Diamond Jubilee and the UEFA cup, and with the 204-nation-strong summer Olympics just underway, I thought patriotism might be an interesting topic to explore with students for those amongst us who are brave enough to venture into parsnips territory… parsnips being an acronym for politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms (and/or Israel) and pork, in case you didn’t know 🙂

With that in mind, here are a few ideas that could be used with Intermediate level learners in an unplugged conversation class.

Age group Level

Adults and older teenagers Intermediate +

Lesson Focus

Taking part in group discussions


  • To practise using polite phrases used for expressing agreement and disagreement

  • To listen and respond appropriately to questions

  • To respect turn-taking in group situations

  • To use and understand non-verbal cues

Discussion ideas

  • To explore a range of differing viewpoints about patriotism

  • To encourage students to reflect on and critically examine their personal view of patriotism

  • To consider ways in which patriotism might be regarded as a force for good

  • To discuss ways in which patriotism and/or nationalism can be used to mislead, manipulate or oppress

  • To consider and explore differences between patriotism and nationalism

  • To discuss strategies for guarding against those who seek to misuse patriotism

Important Note

Image from ELTpics by @mkofab

Make sure your students have bonded as a group and you know them really well if you are thinking of using these activities, and proceed with caution if you have asylum seekers or refugees in your class who may have fled from situations where they were being oppressed or victimised by others, in the name of patriotism or nationalism. Even if you think you are on safe ground, I would still recommend checking that all your students were happy to discuss the topic before beginning the lesson, and arrive prepared to do something else instead if needs be.

Pre-task activity 1

Explain to learners that they will be debating a controversial issue in today’s class, to practise taking part in group discussions. Elicit polite expressions and phrases that can be used to interrupt the flow of conversation or express disagreement with someone’s point of view, and get students to write them on the board. Run through turn taking conventions and non-verbal cues that are used to convey information during discussions.

Pre-task activity 2

  • Write or display the sentence ‘What is patriotism?” on the board.

  • Ask learners to discuss the question for a minute or two with another student.

  • Give each learner a post-it note and ask them to make a note of what patriotism means to them.

  • Instruct students not to show their post-it note to anyone yet, and to put it away till later.

Lesson Activities

I prefer to avoid taking a “do this” or “do that” approach to mapping out lesson activities, because I think the most important factor in the equation is the learners, and what works well with one class may be entirely the wrong approach to use with another group of students. The slide show here provides some suggestions that can be adapted to suit most contexts.

I’d probably start off by displaying slide three, and asking learners to discuss it with the person next to them before feeding back to the whole class. As it’s a fairly provocative quote, hopefully this would spark sufficient interest to get the ball rolling; but if not, I’d repeat the process until things clicked.

Image from ELTpics by @amandalanguage

Be prepared for the discussion to head off at a tangent at any point and let it do so, as long as it turns out to be a productive one. Step back, monitor and make a note of any language which emerges and how the learners interact with each other. Play Devil’s advocate to nudge the conversation back on track if it reaches a dead end or starts running out of steam. Make sure you allow enough time at the end of the lesson to run through anything you picked up on that needs clarifying, wrap things up, and give feedback. Encourage students to evaluate the lesson, and reflect on whether they enjoyed it and found it useful.

Post-task activity

Ask learners to look at the post-it note they used for the pre-task activity. Does it still reflect the way they feel about patriotism, or not? Invite them to share what they wrote on their post-it note with the rest of the class compared to how they feel now, if they feel comfortable doing so.

Ideas for follow-up activities that students can do at home between lessons, using technology

  • Encourage students to create their own word clouds about patriotism, using tagxedo.

  • Ask learners to create their own twitter hashtag to crowd source people’s views about patriotism, and feed the results into visibletweets to create an animated presentation.

  • Ask students to blog report of the lesson using posterous or record a summary of it with vocaroo, for the benefit of any learners who may have missed the session.

  • Ask students to create an electronic poster about a patriotic event or aspect of patriotism, using Glogster.

    All images used in this blog are taken from and used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,”


Sue Lyon-Jones is a freelance ELT materials developer, ESOL tutor and teaching with ICT consultant based in the UK. She publishes and writes the content for the free English lessons and ELT resources site, ESOL Courses. Her current areas of interest include teaching with web based technologies, interactive materials development, educational games, mobile learning, and Dogme ELT.

Note: This article by Sue Lyon-Jones originally appeared as a guest post on take a photo and… The eltpics ideas site for teachers, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

A Word in Your Shell-Like…

A word about #eltpics’ Creative Commons licence

#eltpics are created and curated by people involved in some way in teaching and training, especially in ELT. From the very beginning the idea has been for these to be a useful and used resource in the classroom, on blogs etc.. The success of #eltpics and the associated blogs and has been phenomenal. The culture of co-operation and shared ideas is alive and well and hugely evident in these initiatives.

It’s great to see that the images are being put to such splendid use in classrooms and on blogs all over the world. As we become more digitally literate, we should share a sense of responsibility with our students. By using a Creative Commons (CC) resource such as #eltpics (and making clear that we are using a CC resource by using proper attribution) we are highlighting an important area of present and future digital literacy.

The licence associated with #eltpics is Attribution Non-Commercial Use. [link to ] In practical terms, this is quite straightforward in most areas. One area which has caused some concern has been the use of #eltpics in blogs/ webpages which use advertising. If the revenue from the advertising goes to the blogger/ author then that blog page and its content are commercial and, as such, the use of an #eltpics image is not allowed under the CC licence. However, one thing to remember is that you can always get in touch with the photographer and they can waive any of the conditions.

Under the attribution aspect of the Creative Commons licence, any use of an image from #eltpics has to be annotated with a suitable attribution. This can be put after the image, at the end of a page, blog, slideshow etc.. As people have asked about how to attribute #eltpics in blogs on worksheets etc., we thought it might be useful to set out an attribution guideline following the Creative Commons license recommendations. So…

From 01/07/2012 the following guidelines apply to attributing #eltpics.

If you’re using an unmodified, original #eltpic, the attribution should read like this:

“Photo taken from by @ij64, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,”

If you’re using derivative work:

Reflecting in Red

“Image made using a photo taken from by @ij64, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,”

If you’re using more than one #eltpics image the twitter names can be listed:

                                                           The Colour of Summer

“Image made using photos taken from by @ij64, @goldsteinben, @elt_pics used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,”

If you use #eltpics a lot, then it may be worth keeping a copy of these attributions to hand so they can be copied and pasted (with relevant twitter username )
As we move towards #eltpic 10,000 (ha! Unbelievable!) I hope more and more people get involved with contributing and using this fabulous resource. As always, huge thanks go out to all those who’ve been involved in the contribution, uploading and promoting of these images that say so much.

Victoria Boobyer

Double snippets

Things are frantic at the moment – it’s that time of year – so while I get my act together and find enough time to upload, and do justice to, some of the wonderful guest posts that are coming in, I thought I’d post a ‘double-whammy’: a link to an article about eltpics, and the shortest of the guest posts – short does mean sweet, though.

The post has been written for us by Clive Elsmore, who is based in England, is originally from Scotland and has spent happy times in climes that make for wonderful photos.

Some of the images by Clive Elsmore (@CliveSir) at eltpics

Clive took the 8,000th eltpics image, so we invited him to send a few words on how he would use eltpics in class. Over to Clive:


Thinking back to my time in India, without exception all my students struggled to invent stories. They couldn’t do it in their own language let alone in English. Even personalising it would result in requests for a model which, if given, would then restrict ideas and language. This difficulty was really a reflection of their own life experiences – these particular kids had had a patchy education and often received little encouragement for verbal creativity outside school. Owning a book was uncommon.

So, a way to help develop creative writing or more fluent speech might be to group the children in fours or fives and to give them a larger number of selected photos. These could be cut from magazines or, given the facilities, printed from the ELTpics collection Choosing from ELTpics would make it easier to establish a theme if one was needed. The kids would select a picture, be encouraged to talk about it, collaboratively invent a story using all of the visual cues, and then each would tell another group, the class, or write down, his or her part of the story. Extra stimulation might come from mixing in realia such as an old key, a hairbrush, a used envelope containing a scrap of newspaper, a broken pot and so on, all drawn from a bag.

ELTpics number 8,000 by @CliveSir (Clive Elsmore).


The second item for this post is a link to a summary written by Shaun Wilden. Every Wednesday at 12.00 and 21.00 GMT or BST as appropriate, Twitter hosts a chat for educators called ELTchat. People from around the world ‘meet’ on twitter to discuss the day’s topics, using the #eltchat hashtag, and the chat has become so popular it was

Bathroom sink. An eltpic by Shaun Wilden, in the Household Objects set.

nominated for an ELTon award this year. On 30th May this year, the midday eltchat was about using ELTpics, and Shaun, one of ELTchat’s founders, wrote the summary, which you can read here.



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!

What…… like…?

This week’s post is by Sandy Millin, co-curator of #eltpics.

Last week I was looking for ideas to help me revise personality adjectives with an intermediate class. In my bookmarks I rediscovered Ceri Jones’ Back to the Drawing Board lesson plan, in which she started with an egg shape on the board, and the students ended up with profiles of people they had drawn themselves. It worked really well, and led to us focussing on four questions which are often confused by students at many levels:

  • What does he like?
  • What does he look like?
  • What was he like?
  • What would he like to do?

By the end of the lesson, we had revised the personality adjectives a lot, but the students were still struggling with these questions, and especially how to answer them – they tried to start every answer with ‘He likes…’ regardless of which question it was.

For the next class I turned to the eltpics ‘Every Picture Tells a Story‘ set and created the following handouts:

Images by: @ij64, @klizbarker, @aClilToClimb (x2), @mkofab, @jinotaj

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Each pair was given one picture with the associated questions and instructed not to show it to anyone else. They had to work together to answer the questions in as much detail as possible. I helped them with vocabulary where necessary.

They then folded the paper in half so that they could only see the answers and not the picture.

Pairs then got together in groups of four. They looked at the other pair’s answers and tried to imagine what was on their original picture. If they wanted to, the readers could sketch what they imagined. After a few minutes, they were then allowed to look at the original image and describe how it differed from what they expected. I tried to choose images which would promote discussion for my students – other images may be better for your class.

Other ideas

  • Every Picture Tells a Story‘ is a great set for modals of speculation. What must have happened? What could happen next? What could they be thinking? What might you do in the same situation?
  • In a similar way to Ceri’s lesson, students could use the questions as the basis for profiles of the people in the pictures.
  • They could also use ‘What would they like to do?’ as the start of a story describing what happened after the photo was taken.
  • The picture could accompany a newspaper article describing where the person was seen or a ‘wanted’ poster.
  • Any of the images from the same set could even be the centrepiece of a whole storytelling lesson. Laura Patsko explains how.

Next week, a special guest……..


20 x 20

Shortly after his ‘star turn’ as Pecha Kucha compere at IATEFL this year (held in Glasgow), Jeremy Harmer sent me a short description of his experience and asked if it might be of use or interest for this blog. ‘It certainly would be!’ was my immediate reaction. However, rather than just upload Jeremy’s description as is, I’ve been a bit cheeky. I decided to send him a few questions – a gentle interrogation, if you like – to expand a bit on how it felt to be The Main Man at such a big, annual event. The following post is, therefore, the initial description, followed by my interview with….. Jeremy Harmer.

20 x 20

This year, for the second time, I was asked to host the Pecha Kucha evening at the 2012 IATEFL conference in Glasgow. I agreed to do so with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement, because I knew (if we got the choice of speakers right – and we did [see below]) that it could/would be a great evening; trepidation because it is difficult and demanding (boo hoo, I hear you say) to do something amusing which, at the same time, sets the scene, explains what Pecha Kucha is (see the link below), introduces the speakers and gets some audience involvement.

...keep counting..... Image by @vickyloras

I found myself searching for a theme. And then I had this great idea! Because people worry about using pictures and whether pictures are in copyright etc, why not use ‘creative commons’ pictures – i.e. pictures where the photographers/publishers say that anyone can use them! And the best resource (for us ELT practitioners)? Eltpics, of course.

And so I set about searching the various collections on the eltpics site. I consulted @fionamau and she made some great suggestions. But I found other funny pictures too which had nothing to do with my main theme which was ‘how to encourage terrified Pecha Kucha speakers’. That meant finding pictures of people from the collection and I found some great ones. I was spoilt for choice.

Did it work?

One of the stars.......... Image by elt_pics

Well that’s for you to judge. You can watch my Pecha Kucha introduction here. Much more importantly, you can see the 8 2012 ‘stars’, and very good they were.

I hope you enjoy it.  

What I discovered (as I was preparing my PK introduction) is how versatile any picture can be. Ss readers of this blogsite know, you can do anything with a great picture, and that’s why eltpics (I can say this because I was not an instigator and I am not a curator) is so damn good!


Jeremy, when was the first time you hosted or ‘compered’ a Pecha Kucha?

I first hosted a Pecha Kucha in 2011 – but I had been a Pecha Kucha speaker three times before that. My first ever PK ‘appearance’ was at IATEFL Exeter in 2008 (the first time IATEFL did one). I think I may have been more frightened and on edge than at any time I have ever performed before or since. But a kind of delicious edginess!

How did you feel the first time you were asked to compere? Was it not a bit daunting?

It’s both more and less daunting to host than to be a speaker. Less because you are not expected to ‘star’, as speakers are. More because I guess it’s up to you to ‘set the tone’, and most importantly to make the speakers feel good and comfortable.

What did you speak about then?

Time! (Because of the 20-seconds-per-slide thing!)

A little extra time.... Image by @SueAnnan

How would you describe the ideal Pecha Kucha?

I think the ideal Pecha Kucha event has (a) a big, friendly audience, a range of speaker personalities, and (c) a range of PK ‘moods’. Not all PKs have to be funny – though it’s great if SOME are!

What advice would you give to someone considering trying it?

Try it, try it try it!

Try it, try it, try it! Image by Victoria Boobyer

Why do you think this has become a popular form of conference entertainment?

I think it’s a combination of awe at the courage of the speakers – and it does take some ‘nerve’ – together with a wonderful mixture of the audience wishing them well but enjoying the spectacle of seeing them suffer a little bit! And (this is the important bit) the format actually ‘concentrates the mind’. In all the PKs I have seen, everyone finds their own unique way of rising to the challenge – and that’s great to observe.


How did you go about using eltpics when you were preparing? Did you look for pictures to match your ideas, or did you look for pictures that would give you those ideas?

I can’t remember where the idea first came from – but I was desperately searching for some kind of a theme to make what is essentially an introduction mildly amusing/interesting. The job (as I see it) of the ‘compere’ is to warm the audience up and introduce the speakers. I had no idea how to do that. Then perhaps someone mentioned ELTpics on twitter or somewhere (I really can’t remember). Or perhaps it was one of the speakers asking me about pernission to use images or something. Anyway, I just decideD to go and have a look.

I started by just looking around, browsing through categories. Then I got in touch with one of the curators, who suggested some eltpics with expressions/faces and that got me going. After that I just kept browsing – finding, for example, a picture of Rome’s Colisseum (which gave me a humorous line), a bowl of cherries and the boy facing backwards on the donkey! The more you look the more you find! I ‘collected’ about 35 pictures, and then had to discard them as the pecha kucha took shape. Once I had decided to get the audience to yell things out that kind of narrowed things down a bit.

Do it your own way.... Image by @klizbarker

Do you think you’ll use eltpics again?

Well I’m in the niddle of preparing a ‘big’ talk about using, abusing, and not using technology (whatever that is!) in language teaching. I will certainly go back to ELTpics (a) to tell my audience about them, and (b) to demonstrate some ideas. But I will also be using them for some time to come.

When are you sending us your next photo? 😉

I sent one recently of an extraordinary parking sign I saw. There will be more – especially if they have something ‘interesting’ to say.

* Have you read Jeremy’s answers to eltpics’ The Burning Questionnaire? Click here.

Image by @Harmerj