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!