Using an image as a springboard for online work

As teachers around the world have moved from face to face teaching to online teaching, we’ve decided to change the focus of this series of blog posts too. For the next few months Look author Katherine Bilsborough will be sharing ideas of how to use an image as a springboard for online language work with your primary students. Some ideas will be for synchronous learning, such as using a chat box for interaction. Other ideas will be for tasks that students can do offline and then, where appropriate, share their work in a later lesson. These are ideas that you can use or adapt to suit your unique teaching context. If you use any of them, we’d love to hear how it went. And if you have any tips or advice for other teachers, we’d love you to share them in the comments section below.

The LOOK Level 1 Cover


In this butterfly-focused lesson, students start off by playing a guessing game. Then they develop their visual literacy by looking at, and thinking about, a photo. They do some language work, practicing using can and can’t for abilities and then they do a simple creative writing task. After this, they do a drawing dictation and they finish the lesson with a fun activity to get them moving and stretching and do one final, self-reflection task.

Before you start

Explain that students need a notebook and a pencil or pen.

Butterfly lead in: A guessing game

Tell students to write the letters of the alphabet from A to Z in their notebooks. If appropriate, dictate the letters. Then tell them that you are going to show them a photo of an animal but before you show the photo, they have to guess which animal it is. Tell them that the animal has nine letters (butterfly). Each student has to guess one letter from the animal word. They can write their letters in the chat box. As they write their letters, read each one aloud and say Yes, there is a (u). Or No, there isn’t a (p).

Note: Ask students to do this one at a time to avoid writing the same letter. For very small classes or one-to-one classes, students can make several guesses.

Students listen carefully and either tick or cross the letters in their notebooks. When they have discovered all of the letters, ask them to put them in the right order to spell an animal word in their notebooks. Give them a minute for this. Then ask them to write the word in the chat box or, if appropriate, to hold up their notebooks to their webcams so you can see them on their video links.

Display the photo in a slide or from your computer screen so that students can see it clearly. Ask them to think of one word (an adjective) to describe the picture. They can write their ideas in the chat box. Read them aloud as they appear. If appropriate, suggest some words yourself (beautiful, amazing, colorful, bright, lovely, surprising, etc.)

Butterfly abilities: Language in context

Ask students to write two headings in their notebooks: A butterfly can and A butterfly can’t. If appropriate, add a slide with a model for them to copy. Then give students three minutes to write as many things as they can think of on the first column. E.g. fly, move its wings, see, sleep, eat, move, lay eggs, make a noise, etc. Ask students to share their ideas in the chat box and to add any new ideas to their own list. Then do the same with the other column.

Note: Here you can encourage students to be creative by suggesting a few funny things. E.g. dance ballet, ride a bike, speak English, etc.

Butterfly senses: Creative writing

Ask students to imagine that they are one of the butterflies in the photo. Give them a few instructions to help:

Imagine you are one of these butterflies. You are on this tree with lots of other butterflies. Move your wings up and down. Look around you. Look at the things near to you. Now look at the things far away. What can you feel? What can you see? What can you hear? What can you smell? What can you taste?

Dictate this title and these incomplete sentences or display them on a separate slide:

I am a butterfly on a tree

I can feel …

I can see …

I can hear …

I can smell …

I can taste …

Students copy the words into their notebooks. Then give them five minutes to complete the sentences using their own ideas and words.  Students can share their writing in a number of ways., depending on the tools and platforms you are using. E.g. They can write it in the chat box, they can read their texts aloud, they can hold up the texts to their webcams, they can take a photo and upload it to a shared space, etc.

Butterfly views: Listening and drawing

Explain that you are going to describe a scene. Students should listen carefully and draw. Say: I am a butterfly and you are going to draw what I can see. Describe a simple landscape scene, pausing after each point to give students time to draw.

E.g. I am looking at a big garden.

In the garden there is a tree with apples.

There is a small boy in the garden.

There is a cat in the garden. The cat has a long tail.

Note: Here you can invite students to share their ideas in the chat box, by asking questions, encouraging answers and then choosing one of their answers before proceeding.

I can see something yellow. What is it? [choose a student’s suggestion, e.g. ball] Oh yes! It’s a ball! Thank you [name of student]. Draw the ball.


When students finish, if appropriate, ask them to label as many things in their picture as possible. Then they can share their pictures in one of the ways suggested above.

Butterfly actions: Moving and dancing

If appropriate, ask your students to stand up. Tell them to listen and move. Give simple instructions to get students moving every part of their body. Adjust your language appropriately so your students understand your instructions.

E.g. You are a butterfly.

Move one of your wings up and down, slowly.

Now move the other wing up and down, slowly.

Now move both wings, up and down, slowly.

Now you are looking for food. Move your head from side to side. Now move it up and down. Open your eyes wide! You see something to eat. Open your mouth wide and eat it!

Now move your butterfly legs. First one. Move it up and down, bend it at the knee. No the other one. Move it up and down, bend it at the knee.

Now stretch your legs out. First one. Wiggle your foot. Now the other one. Wiggle your foot.

Now move around in a circle. Once, slowly. Now again, in the other direction.

Butterflies can dance!

You’re a happy butterfly. Do a butterfly dance.

Butterfly lesson: Self-reflection

Finish the lessons by asking students to complete a sentence in their notebooks and then to share it in the chat box. First dictate the beginning of the sentence (below) and then tell students to think back and remember the activities they did, before writing.

The best thing about this lesson was …

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 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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