Picture dictations

Day five of the Five days five posts series, and unfortunately this is just post four. I’m writing this on the train bound for Córdoba, where I am giving a workshop on speaking activities for teenagers at the XIV Jornadas CETA (Córdoba English Teachers Association).

For this post I’m moving away from working with video, and focusing on one of the activities I’m going to use in my workshop this afternoon. In the PET speaking exam, students are given a photograph and asked to describe it. Many candidates simply give a list of things that come in the photograph, but stronger candidates distinguish themselves by organizing their descriptions in a more orderly way. This activity is a simple way of helping them to achieve a more organized way of describing a scene.

I begin this activity by revising prepositions of place and ways of describing position in a picture – at the top, at the bottom, in the top right corner, etc. then we describe a photograph together as a class, to make sure they are using the vocabulary correctly.

Then the students are seated in pairs, back to back. One of them is given a photograph and is asked to describe it to their partner. The partner has to draw the picture as it is being described. The student describing the picture has their back to the other student so that s/he cannot make adjustment to the picture which is being drawn. The other student only has their partner’s words to guide them as they draw. If they are unclear about a detail, they can ask for clarification, and in that way they help their partner to structure a description in a more logical way. Once the description is finished, they compare their pictures with the original photograph. Then they change places and the exercise is repeated.

The pictures can be of anything, so it is a good idea to tie them in with the topic which you are covering in class at the time (a good source of free pictures is www.eltpics.com). If possible, I like to project the photograph on the IWB, which means that everyone is describing the same picture at the same time, as this allows them to compare their drawings not only with the original but also with those of their classmates, and this can be quite motivating. If this is not possible, photographs cut from colour magazines work just as well, and the students can be asked to bring the photos in themselves, which saves on preparation time. A good tip is to keep any photos they bring in in an envelope in class, so that fast finishers can repeat the exercise in future classes.

6 thoughts on “Picture dictations

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  6. As a first grade ESOL teacher, I have learned to avoid rhetorical questions, such as “Do you understand?” or “Do you have questions?” to my little scholars because these questions would never get reliable answers, if they ever get one.
    Throughout the few years I have been teaching ESOL, I have realized that my students will always answer in the affirmative or remain silent, giving the impression that they understood the lesson. Besides, questioning the instructor seems to also not be something they are used to, at the light of their cultural background (considered inappropriate). That is why; I have looked for another way to determine if they understood the concept, through performance-based assessment, where my students perform a task to demonstrate satisfactory level of understanding.
    I usually used to use concrete objects, hands-on instruction, nonverbal communication and contextualized instruction to enhance comprehension. When the content is cognitive accessible, students not only will learn it but also will acquire language components indirectly.
    But this other strategy entitled “picture dictations” appeared to be from far the one that brought so much fun in our classroom after I started implementing it. It made our first grade ESOL session more alive and “noisy” (positive noise). The students I was struggling to make them talk started talking without even realizing it as their affective filter dropped to zero due to the game and drawing factor of this strategy. It is also a strategy not only incorporate Art integration but also is highly age appropriate because at this young age, our students usually take great pleasure in drawing.
    I have been truly bless by this strategy you shared in your blog and I am looking forward to share it with other colleagues across my school building.
    Thank you,

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