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


New beginnings

Take a careful look at these photos and grab a piece of paper and a pen:

Setting your self a time limit of three minutes (get that stopwatch going..) brainstorm your answers to these questions: What do the two pictures have in common? What is the relationship between them? What story do they tell?

Have you got your answers? Now compare your impressions with a partner or two and decide on your pair/group answers. Do you need any help with language? I can help…. OK. So what were your answers? Let’s see how many good ideas we can come up with.

For the record, here are MY answers – in case you just happen to be sitting alone at a computer and don’t have anyone else to compare with.

For me, they are both almost perfectly centred, they show balance and harmony. The one on the right happens to bear the title ‘Peace’; the one on the left suggests a sense of peace, both inner and outer. They also tell the story of eltpics. The one on the left, taken by Victoria Boobyer, was the first photo to be uploaded, kicking off the eltpics resource on 18th October, 2010, whilst the one on the right, by Chiew Pang, was the 5,000th to join the collection – on 18th October 2011. Don’t you just love birthdays?

And in honour of eltpics’ first birthday, here is the first post, giving the first idea, using the first photograph.


This idea will work with any level, even with beginners if you speak their language. Choose a photograph – or show a selection and ask students to choose one as a group.

Students need a piece of paper, divided into four. Ask them to write the headings Questions I want to know the answers to, Adjectives, Nouns, and Verbs / -ing actions.

Give them four or five minutes’ thinking time (or more – you know your class) and ask them to write notes in the four boxes. Beginners can write in their own language, others can write in a mixture of languages or, obviously, in L2. To begin with, sit still – if you move around, you’ll interrupt the thinking – but after a couple of minutes, help students with language, feed in correct question forms or whole questions if needs be, lexical items and so on. With beginners, their questions can be reused later as examples of how questions are ‘built’ in English.

Here’s what my kids came up with:

Questions: What’s he sitting on? How did he get there? What’s the thing in front of him? How is he feeling? What’s he doing?

Adjectives: sad, dirty (feet), alone, not wet, calm, still, empty

Nouns: fishing rod, bamboo, cushions, mud, feet, not a stone, water, hat, net, raft, man

Verbs / -ing actions: fishing, thinking, feeling, (not) going, (not) catching, hunting, sitting, build, float, get wet

You can then have students compare in pairs, but a group discussion is better with many groups as some may feel they have little imagination. Also because ideas sometimes just kinda grow from other people’s. If you have the image on the board (blu-takked, projected, or using an IWB), brainstorm words, write them all up, share those ideas, then invite students to ask their questions for anyone to answer. Answers needn’t be true – and kids will tend to create their own truths anyway “Can’t you see it isn’t a fishing rod? It’s a bamboo thing. For cleaning swimming-pools” (I quote) etc, though adults may want The Real Story….

When you have finished language inputting, discussing, sharing ideas etc, invite students to use their nouns, adjectives etc and the answers to their questions to write something simple inspired by the photograph eg a simple poem, a haiku, a 25-40 word story…..I noticed when I did it that I didn’t need to say ‘now compare and help your partner correct any errors’; because I’d let them work from L1 to L2, they asked each other how things sounded, there was an element of pride, they wanted their story/poem to sound like A Real One. You can then upload the written pieces along with the image to a class blog or wiki, make a poster… whatever you feel.

Here are a couple of examples by Spanish (pre) teens (aged 14 and 11):

A man sitting on water. Not fishing.


He builds a raft,

cushions and wood.

Sits and floats.

To somewhere.


One sunny afternoon, I saw a man fishing. One hour later, he was neither fishing nor hunting. I saw him sitting, with mud on his feet, his bamboo net empty. Not one fish.


And by a highly eminent friend of mine (“JA”):

I am surrounded by the sea.
The sea of loneliness.
Nothing else around me.

Here, alone, I can only be
Sad and lonely
But I am still free.

Wait! What do I see?
My friend in his boat
He is bringing me tea.


If you try it, we’d love to hear how it went – and feel free to add your students’ work to the comments.