Janus: A double-helping of New Year ideas from Sandy and Fiona

Sandy Millin: LOOKING BACK

As we come to the end of the year, many people look back over what they have done and reflect on it ready for the year ahead. How about using eltpics to prompt your students to reflect in class?

Before class

Take a screen shot from a set which has a range of pictures from different situations. In this case, they are ‘Close Ups‘, but you could also use ‘Things I Like Doing‘, ‘-ing‘, ‘Every Picture Tells A Story‘ or make your own selection of pictures and put them through the Flickr Mosaic Maker. If you don’t have a screen in your classroom, you could also print a selection of pictures.

Close ups screen shot

During class

Show the images to the students. They should tell their partner anything they can about the different pictures, using any clues they can see. For example: what time of year/day was the picture taken? Was it indoors or outdoors? What materials/colours/shapes can they see?

Now ask them to think back over the last year and look at the pictures again. I have tried to keep them as generic as possible, but if you know your students well, you can perhaps predict better the kind of pictures they will respond to. They should choose one or two pictures which bring back memories from the year.

Put the students into small groups. They should indicate to the other students which pictures they have chosen. Their group should then ask them questions to find out about the memory. You could encourage the students to take this into their senses as well, rather than purely describing the events. This word cloud could help students to think of questions to ask:

Questions and senses word cloud

Once everyone has shared their memories, students could:

  • write a diary entry from the time of their memory.
  • record a video/audio diary entry from the time of their memory.
  • choose their favourite story from the group and write it up, using the picture that prompted it as an illustration.
  • try to remember as much as they can and tell someone from another group.
  • choose a picture that wasn’t selected by anyone in the class and create a ‘memory’ prompted by it, using the word cloud to help them think of questions.

Image credits

From the close-ups set, by:

1st row: @cgoodey; @dfogarty x 4; @sandymillin x 2; @dfogarty; @fionamau

2nd row: @vickyloras x 7; @fionamau x 2

3rd row: @fionamau x 5; @pysproblem81 x 2; @sandymillin; @vickyloras

4th row: @EclipsingX x 2; @sandymillin x 3; @evaguti x 4

5th row: @cerirhiannon (all)


Fiona Mauchline: LOOKING FORWARD

Looking back, looking forward. Image by @sandymillin

I thought for my post I’d try digitalising something I’ve done many a time with paper and magazine photos: make a glorious, personal New Year poster showing students’ hopes, plans and resolutions for the coming year.

I usually do this with a stack of magazines – in groups, students zoom through ripping out any photos they think might be useful until there’s a pile of photos in the middle of their group. They then choose photos they’d like to use for their poster, with no limit to quantity, and after sticking the photos on a sheet of poster paper, they write a sentence, paragraph, a few words… to go with each image, explaining the hope, plan or resolution. The language is ’emergent’ in that the students will be expressing whatever they want to express, so there’s no pre-taught vocab set, but you inevitably review/present future forms, want to etc. Obviously.

The future looks bright... Image by @thornburyscott

When Sandy and I were mulling over what to do for this post, I decided to find a way to create a New Year poster using eltpics and Glogster. It worked, though as I go through the stages, I’ll drop in some tips, as it was not THAT easy – at least for a Glogster novice like myself. I think it’s fair to assume that what I did any student could do with perhaps some technical support and creative nudging from teacher, and a little language advice at the text stage. Ultimately, it was fun, creative, engaging (I was engrossed for ages!) – and I ended up with something rather different from what I had intended to create!

[this is where I wish I had little photos of my hands doing the different stages, like those How to (cook / sew / do origami…) books years ago] [make that someone with nice nails’ hands]

1Selecting I went through various eltpics sets such as Close-ups, Music, -ing, and Emotions looking for images that drew my attention and downloaded them. At this stage, I hadn’t planned what I was going to say, but had a vague idea of concepts like ‘travel’, ‘write letters’ (note to self: there weren’t any photos for the latter, must take one later today). I collected 25 photos and left them on my desktop.

2 Poster maker I opened a Glogster account (There’s also Glogster for Educators). Free. Now this is where it got a little tricky, as there isn’t a ‘How to make your first poster‘ tab, so – if you’re technologically dim like me – you wander around Glogster for a bit wondering what it’s all about and how it works. However, despite getting mildly frustrated, abandoning the project and coming back to it after a coffee, it worked out well in the end. Once you’ve set up your account, you just hit Post New Glog (sounds more like a nice festive drink, surely?)

A nice drop of Glog or will a wee dram do you? Image by @cgoodey

3 Starting your poster What you get is a what looks like a poster made of old red jeans, so you go to the top menu bar and click on Content. This allows you to select the photos you’ve left on your desktop. It’s a bit temperamental, though, so I found that it was actually easier to upload in threes or fours. When your photos are in the Content window, you can drag and drop. Once you’ve dragged and dropped all three or four, delete them from the window and go for the next few. Repeat the process.

Curiously I found that as I was dragging and dropping, I was mentally writing the texts and began to discard some images that didn’t quite allow for the same feel. For example, I had this one:

Vejer de la Frontera, Spain. Image by Jane Arnold

but the text in my mind was ‘spend more time in Vejer‘ – which, as you’ll see, was more specific than the rest, less poetic, so I blipped it. In all I blipped 8 photos, a third of the originals. I’ve noticed that students also discard magazine images as they create, sometimes because the colours, shape or size are wrong, but also because of the ‘inner composing’ that goes on. One of the images I’d chosen refused to be uploaded, so that had to be discarded too, but I’ll add it at the end of this post to make up for it.

4 Composition Change the Background to Solid Colour (you can change your colour later, but the red jeans thing is distracting at composition stage). You can now move your images around your poster, change their size etc. You may find that, like me, you shrink some of your photos during stage 3, so you have an idea of how many will fit.

This is the stage at which it’s a good idea to encourage your students to begin to plan their thoughts/texts so they can group images a little. If they leave it until later, they’ll go nuts moving images and text boxes around and trying to get everything to fit.

5 Adding text When you have your images more or less where you want them, it’s time to add text. Go back to the Add Content button and then hit Text. Hit the Use this button several times (again, I batched them in fours) so you get several text boxes. They’ll appear somewhere around the middle of your poster and are not necessarily easy to spot if you have a dark colour there. Drag and drop the boxes towards your photos. These text boxes are fiddly until you get the hang of it, but if you select the words ‘Sample text’ so they are shaded, you’ll be able to delete them without deleting the whole box. If the shading doesn’t appear, you’ll zap the whole text box and get mildly annoyed the fourth or fifth time you do it. Believe me. By clicking on the little ABC that appears to the left of the text box, you can change font, font size, colour, go Italic, Bold etc etc. It’s worth playing around with font colour as, unless you leave your texts between photos, the images will render some colours invisible. My final poster is in pretty glorious Technicolor but I think it’s legible.

6 That’s about it. You can change the way the photos overlap, move texts and images etc as you please. I can’t see a Print button but the amount of ink you’d consume would be pretty major anyway. You can also embed all your posters on a class blog or wiki and use them as a ‘read and comment’ activity. The posters are bright, fun and personal, and at least one of my own sons is just waiting to get his hands on the computer to have a go….here’s a sneak preview of mine:

Part of Fiona's 'glog'. Image credits below.

And here’s a link to the complete glog (NOTE: WordPress blogs aren’t very Embed-friendly, and their hostility extends to ‘glogs’, so I’m giving you a link, but if you use a wiki, Blogger etc embedding is possible. Here’s a link to show you how, and many thanks to Marjana aka @mscro1 for sending it to me.)

Next week, a guest post by one of eltpics’ top contributors…. Oh, and here’s the photo I couldn’t upload:

 Photo credits on the poster: red hair – @pysproblem81  weights – @AnthonyGaughan   trolley-bus – @olgabarnashova   water – @fionamau   sunrise – @CliveSir   coffee – @melgarrish    Buddha – @pacogascon    daisies – @aClilToClimb   fireworks – @elt_pics   parrots – @thornburyscott    musicians – @mrsdkrebs   Brussels sprouts – @Alice_M   painting – @fionamau    connected to home – @Amandalanguage   figure and sea – @mkofab    windows – @nutrich

Shopping for Cambridge Oral Exams

“I’m going to give you each a photograph. I’d like you to take turns to describe your photo to your partner, then find similarities and differences.” Or words to that effect.

Exam classes are notoriously hard to make interesting, truly useful, learner-centred and so on, so I thought that for this week’s post, I’d tackle this aspect of ELT. I’ve chosen to use images from the Shopping and shops set, as they often seem to appear in the examiners’ kit. The ideas are variations of old favourites, too ‘favourite’ for me to know whose ideas they were originally, so I apologise for not crediting.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Choosing the images

As I said, I’m using Shopping here, but there are many others that would do, including Working week. As you look through the photos, you may see some you really like, but be careful – mentally brainstorm the vocabulary for what you can see; are your students going to struggle too hard to come up with the words? Can they see a sufficient number of things they can describe? Look at this picture. I really like it, but had to discard it – can you see why? Try brainstorming it yourself.

by @sandymillin

The next stage of choosing is to cover each side of the images and decide if one side is easier to describe than the other (you’ll be chopping the images in half – I use Paint). Have a look at this photo. My initial reaction was Oh yes! Love this! So British!

by @Amandalanguage

But let’s cut it in half. The student getting the lefthand side might not have too many problems (flowers, boxes, blue plastic, house, windows, trees….)

On the left...

But what about the student with the righthand side? How can (s)he show range of vocabulary?

...and on the right

brussels sprouts, parsnips, turnips, brick wall, broccoli of some kind, metal post, something like dirty carrots…….. Perhaps not. They’d be ok with onions and vegetables, but the panic button would probably be hit.

First idea: Matching (needs three photos – or six if you think pairs can cheat by looking over the shoulders of neighbouring pairs)

Create two mosaics using the halves of three photos (three left sides, three right sides in a different order). Try to ensure the difficulty level is similar. I used Paint to cut, stored on flickr and then used the mosaic maker to create the mosaics. You can print and laminate sets (ie pairs) or just keep the digital version.

By @pysproblem81


By @pysproblem81


Give half the class the left mosaic and half the class the right mosaic. Put students in pairs and ask them to brainstorm vocabulary for each image. Remind them to work quietly so the other half of the class can’t overhear/cheat.


Put a ‘left’ with a ‘right’. Tell students it’s important that they do NOT show each other their mosaics until after they have worked with all three photos. One student in each pair chooses a photo to describe to their partner for their partner to guess which half to match it with. They should describe the picture in as much detail as possible while their partner listens silently. (The silence is important at this stage). When they have finished, they swap roles with the other student choosing one of the remaining images to describe. This time, allow the listener to ask questions. They do not compare their photos yet but ask them if they felt different, being able to ask questions or not, and if so, how so.

After a show of hands ‘Who thinks they’ve matched the halves?’, ask them to work with the third image, but instead of describing, they should ask and answer as many questions as possible to work out what the complete picture looks like eg I can see some oranges on the right – is it a place selling fruit? Are there any bananas in your part of the picture? Are they any people buying fruit? Etc.

When they’ve run out of questions and have worked together for two or three minutes, students show each other the mosaics.


Ask students to talk about where they think they photos were taken and why, what time of year they think it is, what any mystery objects in the photos might be etc. Remind them that if they have no idea, it doesn’t matter – saying ‘ I don’t think it was taken in Mexico because….’ is better than saying ‘I don’t know’.

As a nearly-final awareness activity, ask them to the three different ways of working with the pictures (1 describe/listen silently 2 describe/ask a few questions 3 ask and answer questions as a dialogue). Tell them to consider which way was best for showing different structures, vocabulary, communication strategies etc, which way made them feel more supported or more vulnerable etc.

Then really finally, brainstorm the language they used, the language they felt they needed but didn’t have and discuss it as a class, focusing on phrases like ‘In the background…’, ‘I’m not sure what it is, but it looks like/could be etc… and reminding them that there’s more to one of these photo tests than ‘In my picture I can see…’.

Second idea: Picture dictation (Two photos, or four if you think neighbouring pairs can see each other’s photos).

By @chiasuan

Select two photos as before (again avoiding photos with obscure vocab) and make two copies of each, cutting one in half either literally or using Paint, as I have.

Stick the half you want to keep on plain white paper, ranged left or right as appropriate. You can also get students to choose their own pictures from eltpics and prepare this at home, in which case they need only choose one and prepare it. It takes less than five minutes. (Though it’s always wise to have some of your own as back-up in case ‘the dog ate my homework’.)

Let’s call your photos A and B. In each pair, one student has a complete photo A and a half photo B. The other student has a complete photo B and a half photo A. Ask them to look at their half photos, and think of three or four questions they’d like to ask their partner about the missing content. Here are some more half pictures and links to the complete versions (at the end of the paragraph) – see if you can imagine what’s missing before you look, though, and note down three or four questions you’d want to ask a partner. (here and here)

By @dfogarty (above) and @eannegrenoble (below)

When they are ready, they take turns describing the missing bit of their partner’s half picture so that it can be drawn. It’s a good idea to ban questions from the listener at the start then allow them after a few minutes, and afterwards discuss the difference, as with the previous idea. I’d also suggest a final language focus stage as well, so the student has a language reference to take home, rather than just a drawing of debatable quality.


Next week… a guest post!

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.


An open door…..?

The door to a new idea... (photo by @nutrich)

Welcome to our third weekly blog post, and the first of our regular Guest Blogger spots. To launch this spot, we have asked one of #eltpics keenest contributors and greatest ‘promoters’, Ceri Jones, to add one of her ideas to this collection.

Ceri is a well-known ELT writer, teacher trainer and teacher, as well as one of Wales’ finest exports. She currently lives in Cadiz, in Spain, with her partner and children, and her blog is a treasure trove not to be missed. Over to you, Ceri; take a photo and…..:

(Read Ceri’s Burning Questionnaire here. )


It’s a great honour to be asked to write a guest post for the #eltpics blog. I’ve always been a big fan of the #eltpics initiative, and was so pleased to see the photostream “coming of age” on its first birthday with more than 5000 photos and a great new space for sharing ideas for the classroom.

I’d like to introduce one of my favourite webtools for working with images: the mosaic maker.  It’s so easy to use and produces interesting collages at the press of a button. Coupled with eltpics, it’s great. Here’s an example:

'Doors' mosaic (credits below)

I made it by adding links from the #eltpics “Doors & windows” photostream and the mosaic maker did the rest. I don’t know why I like mosaics so much, I think there’s something in the symmetry that’s appealing, and I guess maybe they’re one of those formats you find all over the place  – on billboards, in magazines, online – and they have a kind of familiar yet contemporary feel to them.

I like to use them in class. If I can project them on a whiteboard, that’s great! But mosaics can work just as well as photocopies too. Maybe just one on the floor in a circle of students, or three or four per group around the class – on their desks or maybe pinned (or blutaked) to the wall. See how well the one above works in black and white:

"Door" mosaic, black & white

Here’s one idea for how to use this particular mosaic in class. I’m sure there are lots of others too. And obviously each new mosaic lends itself to a new idea, but I hope that some of the steps here are generative enough to be used with any mosaic or collection of images on a similar theme.

Step one: choose a photo …

Ask the class to look at the mosaic. Is there any one door that attracts them in particular? It may be the first one to catch their eye, or they may need to look a little longer, linger on the details, before they choose.

Step two: thinking time

When you see that students have chosen a door, ask them to think about why that particular door attracts or interests them. Do this quietly and individually, letting each student work at their own pace. After a few seconds of thinking time, give the student a slip of blank paper – not a page, just a thin strip, to emphasise that they don’t need to write a lot, they’re just writing a quick note – and ask them to quickly jot down a few thoughts. (This can mean quite a lot of monitoring in a large class – one way around this is to write the prompt at the top of the strip of paper.)

Step three: micro writing

I go round the class encouraging the fast finishers to write more, to stretch themselves, maybe nudging the slower students with prompts, leaving the thinkers alone to gather their thoughts, trying to allow everyone the chance to write something. I use micro writing tasks a lot to generate ideas and scaffold speaking tasks, especially with multi-level classes.

As the students are writing I often pick up a text by a fast finisher and read it out to the class. In this case I’d ask them to guess which door is being described. My rationale here is to provide a model for the weaker/slower writers, but also to give feedback to, and stimulate, the faster/stronger writers. As I read out the mini texts I paraphrase or correct if necessary – and when I hand the paper back to the student ask them to check what they wrote and to write another text. I might repeat this two or three times before drawing the writing stage to a close.

Step four: speaking

Once you’re happy that all the students have chosen a door and are confident enough to be able to explain why they chose it, collect the strips of paper from all the students. Ask them to work in small groups. Ask them to explain which door they chose and ask their partners to guess which door it is. To round up ask for a show of hands for the most popular doors and the most popular reasons for choosing them.

Step five (optional) : redrafting

If you want to, you could return the slips of paper to the students at this stage and ask them if they want to change anything or add anything to their notes. If they hadn’t written in full sentences earlier, ask them to do so now, working towards a redraft of their initial writing. Often coming back to their writing, they will want to rethink and reshape what they’ve written.

Step six: bring it closer to home

To round off, ask the students if any of the doors look like doors they know in the real world, and if they do, where they are and what significance they hold (if any) for the students. This stage can throw up interesting conversations.

And a seed for another lesson … please help it grow!

If you are one of the photographers, please leave a comment with the story of your door (I’ll add mine in a comment box). We could use these in class too as a follow up task. Students could read your stories, match them to your doors and then made make a story of their own. (If you search on google images for door + book cover the results can be quite interesting and are a starting point for a whole new lesson plan … but I’ll leave that one to you 🙂 )

And, of course, if you have any interesting photos of doors, please add them to the eltpics “doors & windows” set!

Oh, and here are the credits for the doors, starting from the top left

Row 1 – @asalinguist, @aClilToClimb, @cerirhiannon, @asalinguist

Row 2 – @theteacherjames, @nutrich

Row 3 – @europeaantje, @antoniaclare, @mamalarut

Row 4 – @aClilToClimb, Jane Arnold, @nutrich, @aClilToClimb