Using Pictures to Practice “What’s this?” and “What are these?”

Reflection

It is the end of the third week of my Intro level ESL class, and we have been studying “be” verb for about two weeks now. We have done activities ranging from fill-in-the-blanks to describing videos using the correct forms of the “be” verb. Today we did something a little different.

The Activity: We started class by reviewing the “What’s this?” “It’s a ________.” construction together on the whiteboard. After briefly reviewing, I asked the students to raise their hand if they had a cell phone that could take pictures. All but one student did (my phone is quite old and doesn’t have email capabilities, so I was fine with that), so I asked the class to get into two groups. I then asked the two groups to leave the classroom for about 30 minutes and take pictures (at least 4) of things around campus. I explained the pictures had to be of things so we could talk about them using the “What’s this?” construction when they got back.

The students left the room excitedly and went around campus to take pictures. When they returned, each group had about 5 pictures they emailed to me via their smart phones. I then spent a couple minutes putting the pictures into a Power Point presentation. This part of the class could have been more well thought out as it took a few minutes to complete and it might not have been the best use of class time.

Once the pictures were all in the same place, I gave each group about 2 minutes to write one question and one answer for each picture (there were 10 pictures). I instructed the groups to write the questions according to the “What’s this?” construction, and the answers according to the “It’s a…” construction. We used the “What are these?” and “They’re….” constructions as well.

After we got through all the pictures, the group took turns giving their questions and answers for some of the pictures. The groups got to work together to fill in the vocabulary gaps that they might have had and they ended up creating some really great sentences.

Reflection: I had planned on doing some kind of picture activity about a week ago, but I wasn’t quite sure what shape the activity would take. When I began planning, I just knew I wanted the students to take the pictures and engage with each other to create sentences using the “It’s a…” and “They’re…” constructions. I knew that time was a big consideration, and in retrospect I probably should have given less time to complete the picture-taking portion of the activity.

When the students returned from taking their pictures, they seemed energized and excited to share them with the class. I suppose there should always be a good balance between creating excitement and creating good opportunities for language production in the ESL classroom, but I can’t help but feel like the more excitement the students have for the activity, the more comfortable and willing to use English they will be. This, I’m sure, will not be the case for every activity, but isn’t there something awesome about engaging students in activities that they enjoy? I would bet it varies from class to class, but I have noticed that my students interact in English more (even though many of them speak the first L1) when they are excited about the activities we are doing in class.

While the two groups were writing their questions and answers about each picture, I noticed a lot of interaction that seemed to result in good, grammatical English sentences. I would be interested to hear the interactions that went on more closely and examine them for examples of uptake. There is something pretty great about low-level students being able to work in small groups and use their strengths to interact with other low-level students and create excellent English together. In the small groups, each student has the opportunity to be the teacher and the student.

Overall, I think the activity was fun for the whole class, and it gave the students an opportunity to create language around a digital artifact that they created together (the pictures of things around campus). The activity also allowed us to practice the “What’s this?” “It’s a…” construction in a context that the students chose themselves. Aside from the more formal language production I was trying to elicit, the students were also given the opportunity to communicate less formally to negotiate meaning as they decided which pictures to take and what questions and answers to write about each picture. Some new vocabulary words were looked at, and while time management could have been more thought out, the activity appears to have been a success.

 

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