Have You Got a Picture File?
Over the many years that I taught ESOL, there were certain goals that I always wanted to achieve beyond the specific language objective for any given lesson. Those goals had to do with realism and cultural influences on the targeted language point. I especially had these goals in mind whenever I did EFL teacher training to groups in non-English speaking countries where both local teachers and students don’t have the wonderful opportunity to be immersed in a country with native English speakers and their culture on a daily basis the way ESOL teachers and students do.
One thing I found could help me accomplish these extra goals to a large extent, and what I found was the single most useful teaching aid a teacher can have, is a picture file. A wonderful resource such as a picture file doesn’t cost much to make since all you need is magazines, some glue or tape, sturdy paper or backing material, and a pair of scissors. To put your file together, choose magazines that have lots of pictures, and cut out anything you find of interest. Don’t overlook simple pictures, because even the simplest may have various teaching points to focus on. Use large pictures in front of the entire class; use large or small ones for individual or small-group work. Trim the edges and glue the pictures onto sturdy backing sheets. (Construction paper or tag board is excellent for this purpose.) On the back of each mounted picture, list a variety of teaching points that the picture can be used for. Let’s take a look at a simple picture, one that you might think uninteresting at first glance, and I’ll show you what teaching points we can use it for.
Vocabulary Items: trees, grass/lawn, bushes, flowers, sign, walkway, driveway, roof, shingles, windows, siding, offers, housing market, credit report, mortgage, property taxes, equity
idioms: It’s a steal. / curb appeal / get the price down / down payment / Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.
(Present Progressive) They’re selling their house. / People are making appointments to see the house. / The seller is asking $225,000. / The realtor isn’t getting many offers on the house. / The buyer is thinking about not renewing his contract with the realtor.
(Simple Past) The buyer signed a contract with the realtor six months ago. / Only two people made appointments to see the house last week. / The realtor said that they buyer’s price was too high.
(Simple Future) The buyer will have to lower the price. / The realtor won’t renew his contract with the buyer. / Few people will want to pay so much money for that house.
Countable and Uncountable Nouns: realtor, real estate, grass, bushes, sign, money, price, offers
Active and Passive Voice: The house was built in 1982. / They built the house in three months. / The house is being sold by a well-known realty company. / The realtor is advertising the house in local newspapers.
Prepositions / Prepostional Phrases: on the lawn, on the driveway, in front of the house, at the front door, for a down payment, at home
Non-linguistic Topics for Discussion: housing crisis, “the American dream,” foreclosures, financial responsibility, credit crisis
See how much you can do with one picture? Pictures with action scenes are great, but don’t overlook simple pictures on plain backgrounds such as the one I've chosen to show you here. They can be very productive, too. And one more point that's important about a picture file is that it can be used for any level of language teaching from elementary to advanced.
Once you have a stack of pictures ready to go, number them. Then make a master list of teaching points you’ve found in the pictures. Next to each point, list the numbers of all the pictures that fit that teaching point. In other words, your master list will tell you what topics (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.) your files contain and what pictures can be used to demonstrate and work on these points. This way, when you teach a particular lesson, you can go to your master list and quickly pull out the pictures you need. Any time you add to your file, you can easily update your master list.
Here’s an additional tip about writing the teaching points that your pictures represent on the back of the pictures. When you hold up a picture and the teaching point appears on the back for you to see, you don’t have to crane your neck to look at what it is you’re holding up. The students see the picture and you see the teaching point.
And why should you create a picture file? A teacher-made picture file will suit you, your needs, your students, and the subjects you’re teaching. Commercial sets of pictures could never give you this personalized touch at a price that most teachers can afford. Moreover, if a picture goes out of date, is lost, or is destroyed, replacing it doesn’t require that you buy a new set; just find another magazine and there you have your replacement. If you don’t already have something like a picture file, I highly recommend you start making one right away. I guarantee that you’ll be glad you did.