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Activity: Using Picture Prompts in the ESL Classroom

By Gillian Hendrie

Encourage your students' love of story-telling or description by giving them a picture as a prompt. Get their creative juices flowing as they consider the "before" and "after" to the picture.

Images

Butterfly If a picture paints a thousand words, your students should be able to come up with at least a hundred or so to describe an image. For younger students, choose an image that seems to come from the middle of a story and which contains some people or animals. Older and more advanced students could be given an image of a landscape.

It is fairly easy to search for images on the Internet to view or download. Links to useful sites are in Resources section below. You could also use clip-art, cartoons, magazine images or even your own photographs. Action shots work well, as do photos of people or animals in unusual positions or with strange expressions on their faces.

Discussion

Ask the students:

  • Who/what is in the picture? (Give the characters names, ages, etc.)
  • Where are they? Have them describe the setting as best they can.
  • What is happening now?
  • What do you think has happened before this point?
  • What do you think will happen next? (Try to elicit more than one outcome.)
  • Will there be a happy ending?

Vocabulary

As you go through the questions above, list all the vocabulary suggested on the board. Try not to preempt the students: this should come from their reactions and their ideas about the picture, not yours.

Writing

Depending on your students, have them work either on their own or in pairs to write out the story. It should have a beginning, a middle and an end, as discussed during the question time. Encourage them to make it funny.

Resources For Sources of Images

Enchanted Learning Intended for K to Grade 3 learners, some of the images are too "babyish" for older students. Images are mainly black-and-white. You must be a member to view the full screen printouts ($20 for a single user; $125 for a school subscription for one year).

101 Picture Prompts to Spark Super Writing! by Karen Kellaher. Available as a paperback on Amazon with photos, artwork and cartoons, this book includes suggestions of how they can be used to prompt story-writing in Grades 3 - 5.

Story It has some picture prompts for Grades 3 - 6. Some have a beginning already written out for continuation.

SRI&ETTC This site provides some action photographs - fire, sports, etc. - suitable for middle or high school.

Bright Ideas provides a photograph with a written prompt. Suitable for middle school.