IntrovELT: responding to images

Just over a year ago, I posted some thoughts about whether Communicative Language Teaching wasn’t a bit hard on more introverted learners, with its almost obsessive focus on maximising speaking and interaction.

I said then that I intended to experiment with (and share) some practical classroom ideas that might suit learners who are more introvert and prefer activities that allow for individual thinking time, processing language ‘internally’, so to speak, rather than by lots of pair- or group-work.

Well, it’s been a while, but I haven’t forgotten about doing this!  I’ve finally got around to writing this post, which outlines one such activity that I recently designed and tried out with a small elementary level class.

The background: there were three students, all Japanese, all with a reasonably good level of accuracy, range of vocabulary and understanding of grammar, considering their ‘elementary’ label.  They said they wanted to be better at speaking, but didn’t seem keen on spending the entire 90 minutes of their ‘conversation’ classes doing only this.  They also didn’t seem like extremely talkative people in general, even when I heard them conversing in their first language outside class.  So I thought it would be appropriate to try out a ‘quieter’ lesson, like this one I experimented with once before, with great success!

And here’s the procedure:

1. Prepare some pics

Before class, I went to the Guardian’s Eyewitness photo gallery and chose a variety of images that all seemed quite different in what they showed and how they showed it.  In total, I chose 8 photos.  I chose them at random, printed them out big (one pic per page) and stuck them around the walls of the classroom, creating a kind of gallery.  Here are the ones I used, in no particular order:

Cast members from the 16 long-running shows eligible for the BBC Radio 2 Audience Award

Muslim-owned businesses lie looted and ruined in the Miskin district of the Central African Republic

Residents around Mount Sinabung, in North Sumatra, flee for their lives after the volcano erupted. T

As part of our newly-launched Cities site, we asked readers to submit images that summed up their me

These haunting images show a few of the thousands of Afghan child refugees in Pakistan

Police block the road near the Cabinet of Ministers building in Kiev, Ukraine

The Scots Guardsman locomotive hauls the Cumbrian Mountain Express over a viaduct

Stylists, designers and followers of fashion at New York fashion week

2. Prepare some useful chunks of language

At the start of class, I wrote three columns on the whiteboard, headed ‘I find this picture…’, ‘This picture makes me feel…’ and ‘This picture makes me think of…’.  I showed the students this picture on the school’s iPad (as we were such a small group, we sat closer together, rather than me being far away by the board):

eyewitness dog

Together we brainstormed ideas to complete the sentences I’d boarded earlier.  In doing this, we covered how to ‘grammaticise’ this lexis, looking at structures such as ‘to find something’ + [adjective].  This quick group brainstorm served as a demonstration of what I wanted them to do next.

3. Students respond to the pics in their own way, in their own time

I gave each student 3 long slips of paper and told them to divide each strip into 3 columns, like on the board.  They then moved around the ‘gallery’ I’d created earlier, chose 3 pics they thought stood out for one reason or another (e.g. they really liked it or really hated it or thought it seemed familiar, or whatever), and completed one slip of paper for each picture.  Crucially, they were NOT allowed to identify themselves or the images they’d chosen on the papers, but just write sentences about them.

Here are some examples of what they wrote:




Once they’d each completed 3 slips of paper, I collected them all in.  I shuffled them and read them one by one (anonymously) to the group.  The two students who had not written the one I was reading had to go and stand by the image they thought it referred to (then the other student confirmed if they were right).

4. Take it out of the classroom

We left school and went round the corner to the Getty Images Gallery.*  The students used their notebooks rather than slips of paper this time, but followed the same basic procedure, completing the three sentences with their own ideas.

Once everyone had chosen their favourite 3 images (this took about 15 minutes), we regrouped and swapped papers so they could read each other’s descriptions.  Then each student chose their favourite of their own 3 pics and took the rest of us to see it.

As we visited each picture, the other students had to transform the sentence prompts from earlier into questions for each other:

  • How do you find this picture?
  • How does the picture make you feel?
  • What does the picture make you think of?

They gave their answers and this time justified them with more explanation, so more language was generated and their choices were more fully elaborated on.

Here are 2 of the images they chose:

2010, Yas Marina Cirquit, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Photo by Rainer W. Schlegelmilch/Getty Images)
2010, Yas Marina Cirquit, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Photo by Rainer W. Schlegelmilch/Getty Images)
Monza 1970 (Photo by Rainer W. Schlegelmilch/Getty Images)
Monza 1970 (Photo by Rainer W. Schlegelmilch/Getty Images)

I can’t remember now exactly what they said about these photos except that the first one “made [the student] think of Manchester City”!  I thought it was because of the light blue colour in the image; he said it was because of the Etihad logo in the background (who happen to be Man City’s sponsor).  So I learned something, too!

The point is that the reactions to the images were very personal, the language required to describe and explain their choices was therefore personalised and, I hope, more memorable.

5. Possible extension work

Things I could have done next, time permitting, are:

  • get students to choose 1 (or more) (image(s) for homework and do the same thing, then tell each other about them in the next lesson
  • get students to identify issues they are interested in discussing, based on the images (e.g. architecture, based on the first of Schlegelmilch’s images above, if that’s what interests the students), then have them create questions for each other to prompt such a discussion
  • get students to imagine/write/perform (e.g. via role-play or monologue) what someone in one of their chosen images might think/say about the content of the image

You’ll notice that there is speaking work involved in these activities – being a quieter and/or more introverted person is not the same as being unsociable or mute!  But rather than forcing interaction where people may prefer introspection, the latter precedes and scaffolds the former.  In my own personal experience, this makes any spoken interaction much richer and less of an intrusion on my own ‘head space’.

*This is such a great place to have round the corner from our school!  I’ve taken students there often before, and even blogged about it before – here.  It’s small, quiet, admission is free and the exhibitions are refreshed frequently so there’s always something new to see.  When we went, the exhibition was about Rainer Schlegelmilch’s photos of motor racing.

4 thoughts on “IntrovELT: responding to images

  1. A very nice activity, Laura. Thanks for sharing this. I like what you say about the need to cut down on ‘the communicative noise’ in the classroom. I agree that it is sometimes wrongly assumed that communicative language teaching is only about spoken interaction. Through this activity you demonstrate and remind us that in some areas of life (art, music, literature), we do not respond straight away. On the contrary, we think, ponder and contemplate before we go on to share our feelings – our reaction is delayed. And I really love the idea to take this beyond the classroom – I can’t think of a more authentic activity!

    1. Thanks, Hana. I agree that it’s really important to allow students time to respond to something. All too often I observe teachers who jump to answer their own questions, give their own ideas, steer the class in their own direction, etc., merely because a student didn’t respond to their prompt within 1 millisecond! So I really feel there’s value in activities that give the students (especially at low levels) a bit of internal reflection time before they’re expected to share their thoughts.

      If/when I come up with more lessons like this, you can be assured I’ll share them here… once I’ve had a moment to reflect on how I want to do this, of course! 😉

  2. Hi Laura,

    Thanks for this; increasingly I’ve also been thinking that CLT marginalises more introverted students, which is a real concern and something I’ve also blogged about. This sounds like a great lesson and I love the concept of IntrovELT – looking forward to reading more of your ideas about it!


    1. Thanks for your comment, Matt. I’ll be sure to check out your blog and see what your thoughts are on introversion! Do let me know if you post any classroom ideas…

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