Look and do: five classroom activities!

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!

From Look Level 2

On the move!

This photo shows a busy street in São Paulo, Brazil. If you have a good idea of how to use it in a classroom, write a comment sharing your ideas in the blog below.

1. Look and Imagine! Thinking about the senses

Photos of a place that may be familiar to learners are useful to encourage children to use their imagination. In this activity, learners are encouraged to imagine that they are in the scene and to think about what they can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. They look, listen and speak.

Put learners into pairs and display the photo. Give them a minute to look at the photo, then say: Imagine you are here. What can you see?  Model a couple of suggestions. I can see a street. It’s busy. I can see a bus. It’s red. It’s moving. Then point to a space out of the picture’s frame and say There are some children here. They are waiting for a bus. Make sure learners understand that besides talking about what they can actually see, they can also talk about what they are imagining. Ask the question again and encourage the students to speak with each other. After a few minutes, ask What can you hear? Again, offer a few examples. I can hear people talking. I can hear music from a car. Ask the question again and get learners to tell each other. Then do the same for the following questions: What can you smell? What can you taste? What can you feel? Monitor learners as they speak, encouraging them and offering help where necessary. Praise their use of English but also praise their imagination. Make sure they understand that you expect them to invent information.

2. Look and Write! A poem

Images can be prompts for creative writing. Writing a poem is great way to motivate learners and get them to think creatively while recycling language. The types of poems that work best in an English class are those which follow a specific structure. The restraints of the structure offer support and make the task more accessible and enjoyable. This activity can be done individually or in pairs.

Display the photo. Then read aloud this poem:

On the move

On the move!

A busy street in a large city

A red bus and a black car

Lots of traffic

On the bus!

Two men talking about books

A tired woman thinking about work

Lots of people

In the car!

Dad driving, Mum singing

Two children talking about their day 

Lots of people on the move

Write the poem on the board. Then point to some of the words in bold and elicit a few alternative ideas. Draw attention to different types of words (adjectives, nouns, verbs). Erase all of the words in bold and replace them with lines. Ask the learners to copy the poem structure from the board. Then ask them to create a new poem by writing new words in the gaps. When everyone has finished invite learners to read aloud their poems for learners to compare their classmates’ with their own. It’s a good idea to make a display of creative writing too.

3. Look and Point! Adjectives game

Photos of scenes are a great way to practice adjectives. In this activity, learners have to listen, understand ,and point, but don’t have to produce any language themselves. This makes it an ideal activity for younger learners.

Put learners into two (or more) teams with an equal number of members. Display the photo and ask learners to look carefully and think about what they can see. Then give pointing instructions to each team in turn. One person from the chosen team comes up to the board and points. Award a point for each correct response. The winning team is the one with most points. This kind of game often ends in a draw but the game element adds to the motivation.

Suggested instructions:

Point to something: red/white/blue/yellow/narrow/wide/high/low/long/short/dark/light/heavy/fast/transparent

4. Look and Compare! This is big

Photos are ideal prompts for practicing specific language structures. In the activity below, learners practice comparatives. What other structures could you practice?

Display the photo and point to the bike. Say This is fast but … a car is faster than a bike. Then point to a window and say This is small …. but a book is smaller than a window. Write this list of adjectives on the board. big/small/narrow/wide/high/low/long/short/dark/light/heavy/light/slow/fast

Then put learners into pairs A and B. First Learner A points to something in the picture and says a simple sentence. E.g. (pointing to a bicycle wheel) This is small. Then Learner B says a more complex sentence. E.g. Yes but a (pencil) is smaller than a (wheel). Then learners exchange roles and repeat the activity. They continue the task in pairs until they have used all of the adjectives at least once.

5. Look and Write! Describing a past experience

An image of a busy scene is an ideal prompt for a simple writing activity to practice was and were. This activity practices affirmative and negative forms. It can be simplified to practice just affirmative forms or made more complex by changing the activity to a dialogue between two people with questions and answers.

Display the photo and tell learners to imagine they were with the photographer of this photo. Write the beginning of a text on the board, including some gaps.

I _____ in this street in São Paulo that day. I _____  with my friend. We _____ on holiday. There _____ lots of shops and there _____  a big hotel on the corner. The weather _____ very nice. It _____ cold and raining.

Read aloud the text, pointing to each gap in turn. Write in the correct words to complete the text.

I was in this street in São Paulo that day. I was with my friend. We were on holiday. There were lots of shops and there was a big hotel on the corner. The weather wasn’t very nice. It was cold and raining.

Then ask learners to copy the first sentence and to complete their own text, using their imagination and including at least one example of was, were, wasn’t and weren’t.

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.

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