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So which pictures are best?

I recently wrote in defence of pictures in modern language teaching. In essence, they allow us to teach through the medium of the target language without recourse to English. In addition they can be stimulating, attention grabbing (so important!) and even amusing.

One point I neglected to mention in my post was the cultural information supplied by good pictures. The same point is made here. Far more effective to show a picture of a cultural icon than to describe it, especially when some students will come with less inter-cultural knowledge than others.

So what are the best pictures?
  • Clarity of image is the first prerequisite when teaching vocabulary. A stick figure or simple line drawing/icon does the job perfectly well, and may be less distracting than an amusing depiction of a word. (Stick figures can, in themselves, be amusing, of course, and the teacher can play on their expertise or lack thereof when establishing a rapport with a class.)
  • For more open-ended, advanced level activities a suggestive picture will be most productive. I blogged about that here
  • Authenticity of image is important when the stress is on intercultural understanding, but not so when the picture is being used to teach vocabulary or grammar.
  • Blurred images can be good for practice once words are known - you can achieve this by just adjusting your projector lens!
  • Partial images are motivational - using the keyhole/iris feature of the IWB is easy and effective for this.
  • Pictures based on the teacher's own life may be motivational.
  • Spot the Difference pictures are good.
Pupils themselves often enjoy drawing. My standard way of introducing both regular -er verbs and the perfect tense (regular avoir verbs) was to get students to come to the board and draw simple pictures, enabling the class to practice through question-answer and repetition the verb dessiner in all of its forms. Il a dessiné un chat ou un chien? (Il a dessiné...) Tu as dessiné un éléphant? (Non, j'ai dessiné...) Qu'est-ce qu'ils ont dessiné? (Ils ont dessiné...) J'ai dessiné une maison? (Non, vous avez dessiné....) You've got the idea. Mini whiteboards can then turn this into a further whole class or paired activity.

Picto is an excellent source of pictures for language teaching. The Half Baked Software people have effective simple images. Microsoft's image bank is, of course, very good and for sites with an "any use" policy (including commercial) I have been using Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons.

Here is an excellent (and I do mean excellent) link to an article by Harry Tuttle with ideas for using pictures at intermediate and advanced level:

Try here for further picture searches or here.. 


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