From a Picture, a Thousand Words

They say A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS.  Indeed, there is so much one can say about any given image.  So let’s see just how much we can say about one picture.  (Don’t worry, we won’t count up the words; we’re not necessarily aiming for 1,000).

The point of this project is to comment on and analyze a picture; how the students express that is up to the teacher.  The easiest way is probably to write notes in a bullet-point list or in a table.  But if you want them to practice their writing, they can write full sentences within full paragraphs.  Or let them audio- or video-record their comments and analysis if you want them to practice speaking.

Choose the Picture(s)

You’re free to select a photograph or painting or anything other than an icon, but choosing images drawn specially for language learners (like these) is probably the best way to go.  Find the Differences pictures might work (although you’ll only need one of the pair), as should pictures designed as conversation prompts.  Most importantly, the picture needs to depict a scene; there should be a sense of motion, with different people doing different things (or the same thing in different ways, or reacting differently if not doing something themselves).

You may want to use the same picture for everyone in the class, which will allow them to compare their answers.  However, depending on the picture and on the students’ proficiency level, the results might be too similar.  Giving each pair of students a different picture would allow for some variation.  Plus, when the students share their results, their classmates would be able to pitch in their own comments.

This project is divided up into sessions.  You can do multiple sessions at once or spread them out.  As they target different grammar/communication points, maybe you’ll want to save each session for a day or week in which you teach or review the relevant topic.

Each session here comes with a list of questions.  Again, how the students store their responses is up to you.  It may be best for students to work in pairs so they can brainstorm and approach the picture from multiple perspectives.

Session 1 – First Impressions

  • What’s the first thing you noticed about this picture?
  • How would you describe this scene in one sentence?
  • What single adjective comes to mind when you see this picture?
  • After looking at this picture for a minute, what continues to stand out to you?
  • How does this picture make you feel?

Session 2 – Identification

Feel free to give the people (and animals, if you want) names.

  • What do you see in this picture? List all the nouns you can.
  • Where does this scene take place? What building are they in? Does it appear to be in a big city, a small town, or the countryside?
  • When does this scene take place? What time of day is it? Which season of the year? Are any holidays involved? Is it right before or right after some big event?

Session 3 – Directions & Prepositions

  • Where are things and people in relation to each other? List 20 or so relative locations (the same object or person might be used multiple times, as an apple might be next to a book and on a table and in front of George).
  • Where is a likely or natural entrance into this scene’s location? From there, how would you get to something or someone in the picture? Do this for 4 different things spread out (perhaps one in each corner).

Session 4 – Descriptions

You may color the image if it’s not already colored.

For each person in the picture:

  • What do they look like? Tell us about their physical features. Are they unique in any way? What are they wearing?
  • What does their attitude seem to be?
  • What are they doing in this moment?

For each of 6 different objects or animals:

  • What adjectives could you use for it?
  • How would you describe it to someone who doesn’t know what it is?

Session 5 – Comparison

If you have a Spot The Differences picture, use its counterpart now.  Alternately, put away the picture, then draw it (recreate it) from memory.  It doesn’t have to be accurate or even look good.

Compare the two pictures.

  • For anything quantifiable, use words like ‘too’ and ‘enough’ to express the differences between the pictures.
  • Use comparative adjectives to express the differences between the pictures.

Session 6 – Speculation

For each person in the picture, guess (based on all you’ve seen):

  • What is their relationship with the other people in this picture?
  • Does their apparent action or reaction indicate their characteristic behavior, or is there a reason things might be out of the ordinary?
  • How do they feel about what they’re seeing or experiencing?
  • What are they about to do?
  • Why are they present in this scene?

Session 7 – Assessment

  • What conflicts can you identify? What is the likely source of the conflicts? – OR – What potential sources of conflicts do you see? Why might they turn into problems?
  • Who is doing something to benefit other people?
  • Which action, event, or feature seems to draw the most attention from the people in the picture?
  • If the same behavior in this picture took place at a different time, location, or culture, how might it be viewed differently?
  • What does this picture say about family, community, commerce, entertainment, art, recreation, technology, etc.? (choose one that seems to be the primary focus)

Session 8 – Conclusion

  • What is your impression of this picture, now that you have spent a lot of time with it? How is it different from your first impression?
  • What is the overall tone of this picture?
  • Which character do you most appreciate or relate to? Why?
  • Would you visit this scene if you could? Why or why not?
  • If you could change one thing about the picture, what would you change?

Of course, you may to add your own questions, or even your own sessions.

Once students have completed the final session, have them present their conclusions and favorite things about the picture, or let the rest of the class ask them questions about it.  See if anyone would have assessed it differently or arrived at different conclusions.

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