Look and Do: One photo, Lots of Classroom Ideas

Each month in this new blog post series, Katherine offers five practical and engaging classroom activities which all use the same photo as a starting point. The ideas can be adapted to work with all ages and levels and are designed to recycle language in an engaging way while developing a range of key skills for this age group. We encourage teachers to try out the ideas below and to write and tell us of any other ideas you have for using each month’s poster.

All photos are from the pages of National Geographic Learning’s new primary course book, Look!

Children in China

From Look Level 1

This photo shows a group of children playing outdoors in China. If you have a good idea about how to use it in a classroom, write a comment sharing your ideas in the comment section below.

1. Look and play! A listening game

This kind of photo, with lots of detail, is useful for practicing vocabulary. In this activity, learners don’t have to produce any language. They listen and point, showing that they understand the keywords. This makes the activity particularly useful for younger or less confident learners.

Put learners into teams, display the photo and have them take turns to listen and point. Make sure every learner has the opportunity to have a turn, and grade the instructions to allow less confident learners to respond to easier instructions. Suggestions (from easier to more challenging): Point to something pink / a bottle; a tree; a school bag/someone with short hair / two happy girls, etc. Award a point for each correct response. The team with the most points wins.

2. Look and speak! This is my friend 

Sometimes learners are more comfortable speaking about other people than themselves. This activity encourages learners to use their imagination and encourages creativity.

Display the photo. Then point to one of the children in the photo and talk about them, saying some things that are clear from the photo and some things that are invented. Speak in a convincing manner as a model for what you expect from the learners later. Say Look! This is my friend. (His) name is (Rhett). He is (nine) years old and he lives in (Mexico). His favorite sport is (basketball). Today he’s wearing … Etc. Use the opportunity to recycle any language or vocabulary you have recently taught. Older learners can be encouraged to ask you questions about your friend. Be inventive with the answers. This is an ideal opportunity for some humor. When you finish, put learners into pairs. They choose a person in the photo, then take turns to talk about their ‘friend’. Make sure learners have plenty of thinking time. It’s also useful to add some prompts on the board. E.g. name, favorite food, pet, etc.

3. Look and remember! A memory game

Memory games are a great way of developing learners’ observation skills and recycling language they have learned in previous lessons. This game can easily be graded to suit your class.

Prepare a list of 10 questions about the photo, grading questions to make them appropriate for your students’ age and level. Then explain to the learners that you are going to show them a photo for two minutes and they have to look very carefully because afterwards, you are going to ask them some questions about it. Display the photo for two minutes and then remove it. Ask the questions and get learners to write their answers on a piece of paper. Then display the photo again and repeat the questions so they can check their answers.

Suggested questions: What color are the boy’s glasses? What’s in the bottle? Is anyone wearing socks? Is there an adult in the picture? Etc.

4. Look, think and write! A diary entry

Photos are ideal prompts for writing. By focusing on the context of the photo, you can easily come up with an idea for a meaningful, ‘real’ writing task.

This photo shows a group of happy children, outdoors, having fun. It’s a great photo to use as a lead-in to a diary entry. First, display the photo and tell your class to imagine they were part of the group. They should imagine the place and the context, think about why they were there and who they were with, how they felt, and any other details. Then write some incomplete sentences on the board for learners to copy and complete or some simple prompts for more confident learners. Make a classroom display of the diary entries.

Suggested sentences:

We had a (adjective) time today. Look at us!

In this photo, we are in (place)

It was (time of day)

The weather was (weather word) and everybody was (adjective for a feeling)

(Person) took this photo

5. Look and tell a lie!

Children are often asked to describe a photo as part of a speaking exam. We usually develop their skills by showing them photos and asking them to tell us what they can see. But we can make this activity more engaging by tweaking the instruction and asking them to tell us a lie about the photo.

Display the photo and tell learners you are going to tell them three things about it. Then point and say three things that aren’t true. E.g. These children are in a classroom. There’s an animal in the picture. His glasses are purple. Encourage the learners to show surprise and then explain that you are telling lies. Make sure they understand that normally it isn’t good to tell a lie, but this is a game and they are allowed to say things that aren’t true. Put learners into small groups. They should take turns to point and say something that isn’t true. If you want learners to practice specific language, write some models on the board as support. E.g.

There aren’t any (boys) in this picture. There are some (robots) in this picture. This girl looks (sad). Etc.

We hope you found these tips useful! If you tried out any of these ideas in your classroom or have other ideas for classroom activities using this photo, let us know in the comments!

Author: Katherine Bilsborough

Katherine has been creating ELT materials for 30 years, for her own students and for some of the top ELT Publishers. She has written more than 30 course books and many online courses. . Katherine also writes monthly lesson plans for the British Council/BBC website teachingenglish.org.uk and blog posts for National Geographic Learning’s In Focus blog. She is the author of ‘How to write Primary materials’, a training course for ELT writers and is the Joint Events Coordinator for IATEFL’s MaWSIG (Materials Writers’ special interest group). Katherine is a co-author of Look, a seven-level primary series from National Geographic Learning.


  1. Two days after reading this blog- I tried to apply all these interesting activities and it went well. The students were excited and collaborated. It was fantastic!

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