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Using Digital Cameras in the ESOL / EFL or IELTS Classroom

Worksheet 1 - Taking Photographs

Worksheet 2 - Making a photo Story



Taking Photographs


If you haven't got time to read - here's the lesson


Students and teachers alike enjoying having their mobile phones switched on in class so they can look at text messages recieved and share photos of new editions to their family. Sadly, convention causes us to have our ringtones on silent and to gently chuckle along to ourselves as we read or look at a picture. What, as someone in teaching recently siad, we turned the table on this and used the phones as a teaching tool?  I'll be looking at this in more detail in other blog posts but here, we'll deal with photos.

Most mobile phones have decent cameras in them these days and with that much power, students have the ability to snap away at anything they like, for free. Of course, none of us are the very talented and famous photographer, David Bailey so we don't really care what the photos really look like, what's more important is the language that will be produced by talking about then before, during and after the process.

Before we start - some possible issues.

- Not everyone will have a camera phone. This might make some activities difficult, especially homework tasks. Your institution or school might have some digital cameras you could lend, or they might want to consider investing in some.

- How do you share or show the photos? The best way to share photos is if you have an Interactive Whiteboard or a projector, but even just a standard computer monitor will do. Students can gather round to look at the photos together.  Annoyingly, lots of mobile phones don't have standard USB connection ports and this might make it difficult to quickly upload photos from the phones as students will need their special connectors. One way might be to ask students to upload their photos to a repositiory, you might have moodle at your institution or something similar, but you could also use the fabulous www.flickr.com and ask students to store their photos there. If you do have an interactive whiteboard or will use a central computer you could ask students to store their photos on memory stick which they could plug in.

Using Photos in Classroom Time.

1. In pairs students go away and take photos of  a series of increasing ly difficult objects to find. This is the only idea I've had enough time to develop into an actual lesson -  I've made a worksheet for this here.


2. Signs. In pairs students take photos of signs.  They then come back and discuss these in class.

3. Where is it? Students take photos of familiar places that are not obvious, other students have to guess where it is.

4. Recreate these photos. Student have to try to reproduce famous photos or pictures. (not sure about this one!)

Outside class time - photo lessons that need some preparation.

1. Tell me about your favourite photo. Students bring in their own photo and talk about why it's important to them or why they like it.

2. A day in your life - in photos. Students take a sequence of photos showing a day in their life which they can them show and explain to the rest of the class.

3. What happened at the weekend? The same as the task about but this time about the weekend. This could also be extended to include a celebration or other party.

4. My favourite place/ food/ person.

Feedback- How did it go?

Will let you know. Please let us know of any other digital photgraphy lessons you've done.

Making a Photo Story

Can't be bothered to read the blog? Download the lesson here http://chrisspeck.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/telling-stories-with-photographs.doc

This is the second time I've blogged about using digital cameras in the language classroom, so if you missed it, here's a link to my first effort. http://chrisspeck.wordpress.com/category/using-digital-cameras/

Last time I got students to take photos of different nouns, and also some abstract nouns like happiness and sadness. This worked well and generated lots of language between the students as they did the task as well as more  when they presented their pictures to the rest of the class via a slideshow on PowerPoint

This time I wanted students to really communicate with each other and try to tell a story using pictures and themselves as actors. This would generate huge and meaningful discussion as they did the task as a group and would also provide opportunities for presentation. I knew it would be hard for lots of students to understand a visualize what they had to do, so I found my own picture slide show for them to watch first.

Lesson Plan

I used this lesson with a group of older teenagers from various parts of the world.  To carry out the lesson we used: Digital Camera (many students used their phones), computers that we could upload the photos onto, an interactive whiteboard or projector so that students could show their work to the class. You also need a copy of the worksheet - which you cut up into four sections and distibute seperately: Get the worksheet here - http://chrisspeck.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/telling-stories-with-photographs.doc

1. Ask students if they read comics or picture stories in the newspaper or anywhere else. Elicit their views on them, do they think they are good way to tell a story?

2. Show them the first comic slide show - snoopy and ask what them to tell each other the story.

3. Now pass them the second picture slide show. Ask them to tell the story to each other once again.

4. Explain that they are going to try and make their own picture story using digital cameras. Before they do this, it's a good idea to go through the language section in Part 3 so that students are aware and have the tools to be able to make a story together.

5. Put students into groups and get them to do Activity 4. It might be tough for students who aren't very creative but remind them that it doesn't have to be a masterpiece. Indeed, this is an English class and not a photography or film class so the real task is not making a photo story but using English to do so.

6. Ask students to work in their groups, uploading their photos to software that will allow them to show their images and write some captions. Perhaps the easiest program to use is PowerPoint, but there many more avaliable including Picasa, Windows PhotoStory, Windows Moviemaker or even Flickr. They could also audio commentary.


7. Have students display their photo stories to the rest of the class. Encourage feedback and questions.

- When I did this lesson I was unsure whether students would 'rise to the challenge' and make a story, but they were very creative and surpassed my expectations.

Further Reading

21st Teaching has some good ideas on using photo stories http://21stcenturyteaching.pbworks.com/Ideas-for-Photostory-3-Projects

Copyright 2010 English Language Space Station.