Working Creatively with Images

CREATIVITY Is intelligence having fun’ (Einstein)

Don’t you just love that quote? In previous blog posts we talked about the importance of developing creative teaching and the need to start with ourselves, becoming more creative as teachers. In the last blog post we explored a framework to use with existing course materials to teach more creatively and in this post we’ll look at another, maybe less well-known, framework for you to experiment with.

Being creative: you & them

Having a course book to plan your lesson around is a great help to structure your delivery, however, we can lose our motivation using the same text book again and again. Sounds familiar? Now, imagine the impact your diminished motivation can have on our learners’ motivation! Creativity, I feel, is at the heart of learning because as teachers we need to rethink every lesson to engage and re-engage our learners, because without it… there is no learning happening!

Through applying different ideas to exploit images and visuals we can inject new life into the course book and our classroom. In the SCAMPER framework we focused on ways for you to be more creative. The taxonomy we’ll explore in this post will support your learners with their creative thinking.

I’m sure you have all heard of Bloom’s taxonomy. Bloom developed his classification of thinking in 1956 to show different levels of thinking one can use, with creativity being one of them. Now, I do not necessarily agree when this classification is presented in a pyramid with ‘knowing’ at the bottom’ and ‘creating’ at the top as it implies that the top, which represents the higher order thinking skills, is more important. However, to get to these higher order skills we need to have developed a solid base of factual knowledge first. In English language teaching that means that learners need be able to remember and recall specific vocabulary items and grammar structures, as this is a prerequisite if you want to apply and convey more complex thinking skills. So, creativity in the classroom often looks like one of the ‘Bloom’ verbs such as creating, inventing, rewriting, reorganizing, combining, rearranging, designing etc.

‘Creativity is intelligence having fun.’

Now, less of you might have heard of the Frank Williams’ taxonomy (1993). Williams was an educational psychologist who developed his own learning taxonomy based on the way he thought people learned. It is based on 8 processes he believes foster creative thinking and is used in some Australian schools to provide differentiation and raise the level of challenge. So maybe Einstein was right after all when he said ‘Creativity is intelligence having fun!’

The power of his framework is that is does not only address cognitive skills -thinking- but also highlights emotional abilities learners need to develop in order to allow themselves to start thinking outside the box, such as developing curiosity, using their imagination, dealing with complexity and risk-taking, allowing for mistakes. These abilities have been identified as important conditions for developing creativity.  Williams’ framework can be a useful tool for adapting existing materials, modifying activities and developing questions which provide stimulation and develop both learners’ language and creative thinking skills.

Below is a succinct summary of the 8 levels and what they relate to written by Davenport (2017)

Image from MET  (modern English Teacher)  – Volume 26, issue 4, written by Allen Davenport

Putting it into Practice!

So let’s have a look how we can apply some of levels above in activities based on images.

Image from Close Up B1+ I

Fluency: I love using a structured but scaffolded approach to writing so often stick the image on an A4 or take a screen shot and place it in the middle of the interactive white board. Then divide learners into groups of 3 or 4 and ask them to label all the things they can see. One learner can be the scribe and write next to the image all the words they recall. After about 2 minutes, tell learners to stop and draw a line around the image and their words. Now they pass on their sheet of paper, and the next team writes outside of this line the phrases/short sentences they can see. Again one scribe and after 2-3 minutes stop the activity. The image is then handed back to the team that started.

You can either stop here, learners check spelling/ collocations and you feed-in corrections or new language, or you can move on to developing originality; can they think of any other ways to put this tap to good use? Or maybe, can they think of a message that they want passing drivers to take away after seeing this unusual fountain?

After all this brainstorming it’s time to work on elaboration.  Learners are going to build on the words/ phrases, sentences and ideas discussed and will write a descriptive paragraph, article or maybe even narrative. Whatever genre you have in mind! Students can write alone but then exchange their ideas for feedback, mainly focusing on how they can enrich the text even further. For example, through adding in more adjectives, adverbs, adverbial clauses etc.

Image from Life Second Edition Elementary, Unit 2

Again we start with fluency; list all things you can find in a house made of plastic. Learners list ideas and after several minutes reveal the image and get them to compare their list with the image above. This is a good moment to review other lexis they can see in the image and /or feed-in language as needed.

The next stage focuses on developing flexibility: get learners in pairs to categorize/ group or classify the items they can see In the image. This is not only a great way to recycle vocabulary but also to engage them in deeper thinking of how items are connected and differ. As there is no wrong or right answer students can be as creative as possible as long as they can justify their grouping.

If you want to further extend the activity you can move on to curiosity and imagination. Curiosity: You can get students to discuss what do you know about plastic? Do you know what it is made of? And do you know how long it takes to break down in nature? These are some interesting questions and they might well inspire your students to do research and become more aware of plastic and its impact on the world. If you want to keep the lesson focused on the image, you could use ‘Think of 3 questions you’d like to ask the people in the picture about their plastic possessions.’

Personally I think this image has so much to offer that I’d also include a focus on imagination. You can make this as serious as you’d like but plastic is such a common commodity that many of us can’t imagine a life without it so why not ask; imagine what would happen to these items if plastic can no longer be produced?  What do you think will happen if we stop using plastic?

Image from Pathways Second Edition level 2, unit 4

The last activities are all linked to the image above. Risk-taking is one of the conditions learners need to be comfortable with if they want to be creative in life. To be creative at time you might need to take decisions or actions which are seen as different, odd or risky by others but might present a rewarding outcome if all goes well. So getting learners to take risks in the classroom with using challenging language or expressing ‘different’ ideas can be a good start. For example, I’d ask my learners to tell their partner about a risk they took, but now regret. Or get them to agree on 4 reasons why doing dangerous activities might have a positive effect on someone’s life.

Complexity means that we challenge learners to make sense of complicated ideas, so you could give your learners a quote that relates to the context (in this case the image) to discuss, for example what do you think Machiaveli was trying to say with “Never was anything great achieved without danger?” Or you can give them a question to explore, for instance what would be different in our society if everyone took risks?  Again there are no set answers but questions like these can challenge learners beliefs and will trigger the use of different language to express their ideas effectively.

Now, of course your role is to ensure you select activities that provide an appropriate level of challenge for your learners. Whilst your learners are on task -it goes without saying-  your role is monitoring and collecting examples of great language as well as language that be improved for the feedback stage. Remember to plan in plenty of time for your feedback stage as this is where learning happens; you can praise, correct and feed-in language you feel your learners need.

So that’s it for now. I hope this post has given you some inspiration of how you can exploit the images in your course book beyond Bloom’s taxonomy by applying some of Williams’ ideas! Happy experimenting and let us know how it went in your classroom!


Davenport (2017) Appropriating a taxonomy of creativity for use MET volume 26, issue 4, 2017 pages 8-11

Williams, F.E. (1993). The cognitive-affective interaction model for enriching gifted programs. In J.S. Renzulli (Ed.), Systems and models for developing programs for the gifted and talented (pp. 461-484). Highett, Vic.: Hawker Brownlow.

Author: Anna Hasper

Anna Hasper is a teacher, trainer and international English Language Teaching consultant based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Anna’s specialty is enabling teachers within local constraints, such as limited resources, to become the best teacher they can by enhancing all students’ learning opportunities through engagement. She has been working in the ELT industry for over 13 years and has worked on various projects for the british Council, International House, Ministries of Education, private schools, education providers and publishers in primary, secondary and vocational contexts. She loves exploring new places and learning about different cultures and has worked in a variety of countries such as China, Jordan, Iran, Uganda, Senegal, Algeria and Armenia. She currently writes and trains teachers for publishers and delivers a variety of Cambridge accredited teacher training courses (TKT, CELTA, YL Ex & Delta Module 3) around the world.

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