Language Learning Opportunities Found in Online Photos

I love finding new uses for common teaching tools. Photos have always been one of my favorite visual aids because images evoke both emotion and thought. It’s unusual for someone not to have anything to say about an image. At the very least, a photo can be described objectively. What or who is shown? Describe what you see. However, if we bring a photo into language learning, the goal is to get the most and not the least use out of it.

Photos can stimulate writing, prompt group discussion, and put into practice newly learned language items and structures. In previous postings, I’ve shared ways to use photos in a pronunciation lesson on intonation and a grammar lesson on the passive voice. I also suggested using photos as a means to engage students at the start of a lesson. Today let’s begin to explore whole language activities based on photos. I’ll share one activity in this posting and two more in the next posting.

A number of sites offer albums titled This Week in Photos. Among them are:

Online news photos are coupled with captions, so students will automatically be faced with two forms of information: image and text. I give preference to MSNBC for two reasons: one, the editors note graphic content before actually displaying a photo and, two, the size of one collection is not overwhelming (approximately a dozen photos in each weekly album). Using recently taken photos can facilitate the following activity:

  1. Categorizing with a partner. Students can work in pairs or small groups and select one or two photos for each category:
  • Having Importance Politically
  • Having Importance Economically
  • Having Importance Socially
  • Most Powerful Image

If in a language lab, partners can discuss choices at their assigned computer. If in a classroom, the teacher could print out 10-12 photos from one album and post them around the room for viewing. Choices can be compared as a whole class, with each small group being asked to explain one of their choices. (Example: Which photo did you think had the most importance politically and why?) An optional writing assignment can be to express one’s personal reaction to a selected photo (perhaps the one that was voted Most Power Image by the majority).

TIP: Let some of the top choices in other categories lead into a current events discussion.

(To Be Continued)

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