Teaching with Pictures

Text by Jamie Treat

We all learned in Basic ESL Tutor Training that pictures can be an excellent teaching tool. Many of us, however, feel unsure of our drawing skills and, aside from the basic uses (question hierarchy, vocabulary), we are at a loss when it comes to tapping the full potential of pictures. The following exercises are designed to help even the most hesitant tutors learn how to create richer learning through pictures.


_ One person chooses a picture from a stack of pictures and says:

I know everything about this picture.

_ The other students ask questions about the picture such as:

Why is she crying?

What is in her pocket?

Who is that guy on the right?

_ The person holding the picture has to come up with an answer to each question. No answer is wrong, unless it contradicts something in the picture. Pictures from magazines such as National Geographic work well for this activity. They may be related to a topic you’ve been working on with your student or not. Higher level students can practice embedded questions. Instead of asking :

How did he get that scar?, the student could ask:

Could you tell me how he got that scar?


Find or draw a simple picture related to a topic students have been working on. Give the picture to one student. He should describe it to his partner, without showing it to her, and she should try to replicate it. Make sure students have the language they need to complete the task, for example:

  •  Vocabulary to describe what’s in the picture

  •  Prepositions to explain the relative position of objects

  •  Ways to ask for and give clarification: What did you say? Could you repeat that?

  •  Ways to ask for and give feedback: How’s this? Is this long enough? Not quite.

Courtesy of Literacy Now


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