By Larissa Albano

06 December 2013 - 11:08

'Students can write or tell a story by using a sequence of pictures' Photo (c) John Morgan, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.
'Students can write or tell a story by using a sequence of pictures' Photo ©

John Morgan, licensed under CC BY 2.0 and adapted from the original.

Teacher and blogger Larissa Albano, who won our latest monthly Teaching English blog award, explains how using pictures as a teaching aid can help language teachers engage their students.

If I say 'picture', what do you think about? I guess the words 'drawing', 'photo', 'painting', and 'film' might come to mind.

As for me, well, I think a picture is much more than an image, especially when I teach English. Pictures are essential when it comes to engaging students who are learning a new language at any level. They can be successful study aids during lessons, and they can act as useful prompts to help students when they are practising speaking.

So how can you use pictures in the classroom? Here are seven tips for bringing visual aids into your lessons, each starting with one of the letters in 'picture' to help you remember them.


Students can look at pictures or watch the first part of a video in order to predict what the topic of the lesson or the activity will be about.


The game Pictionary, in which players have to guess specific words based on their team mates' drawings, and other mingling games with pictures are fun activities that can be used with both children and adults to review the vocabulary they have learnt. In order to engage students, teachers can show a video or a picture only to half their class, and ask them to describe to the other half what they can see. This second group will then have to try to report what the other students have seen, as accurately as they can. Everyone will see something slightly different from the others, and the activity will strengthen their rapport.


Students can write or tell a story by using a sequence of pictures, or, if the teacher wants to really fire their imagination, the students can create a story based on just a single picture. This exercise can be particularly interesting and productive if the teacher encourages students to use specific tenses (such as past simple vs past continuous), vocabulary or functional language in their story - for example, describing a conversation at the train station.


At the beginner level, some students’ faces go blank when they are asked to answer a question. Teachers can avoid prolonged silence and prevent their students from feeling embarrassed by providing them with a picture. They can break the ice by asking the students to describe what they can see in the picture.


What’s the easiest way to explain the meaning of a word? Show it! Classrooms may be fully equipped, but they can’t hold everything. If there's an item or object that you want to show your students to help them remember the word for it, try showing them a picture. Flashcards are an invaluable resource for teaching or revising vocabulary. They can be easily downloaded or created online.


Not only does a picture give you the chance to reflect on what you can see, but it also represents the opportunity to develop your other senses by considering what you can hear, smell and touch. This is a useful exercise for teachers who are preparing their students for a speaking exam. Most of the time, speaking exams are in pairs and students worry that they may run out of words because their partner will have already said everything about the picture they have been shown. By using their other senses, your students can add new information and will be able to avoid repetition.


In any class, there is usually someone who is shy or quiet. So how can you draw them out of themselves and encourage them to practise speaking? If you ask your students – it doesn’t matter how old they are -  to draw a mask, put it on and pretend to be someone else, they may feel less self-conscious. Putting themselves into somebody else’s shoes can give students the chance to express themselves in a more forthright way.

Larissa is an English language teacher based in Italy and blogs at

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