Skip to main content

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.. 


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…