Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Power of the image: ways to use photographs in ELT

This was the title of a presentation at this year's VUS-TESOL conference, given by Paul Grainger from National Geographic Cengage.  What follows is a summary of what he had to say.

Using images as the basis for discussion
  • Show an image quickly and then hide it.  Ask the students what they remember about it.
  • Show the image for longer and pose questions - who are the people?, what are they doing?, what happened before the picture was taken?, what do you think happened next?, how does this picture make you feel?
The history of the image
  • Cave drawings
  • Printing press
  • Typewriter
  • Visual literacy
We have gone from text rich images to those where the picture is more and more important.

The power of the image

Today pictures are uploaded and shared on social media, giving them an immediacy and profound impact.  As the saying goes, 'a picture is worth a thousand words'.  As teachers, we need to exploit this, even at low levels when we can teach new vocabulary with images.  People think using images, so seeing comes before the use of words.  As Aristotle said, 'without image, thinking is impossible'.  We remember far more about texts if they are illustrated - the 'picture superiority effect'.

Images can be:
  • surprising
  • shocking
  • funny
  • sexy
  • powerful
  • disgusting
  • frightening
  • ambiguous

After 72 hours, we retain 65-70% of visual information, whereas we remember only 10% of something we've read or heard.  After a year, the retention rate remains at 65-70% for information we've seen, but drops to only 1% for written or aural information.

The best images to use in ELT are those which:
  • provoke an emotional response
  • arouse interest
  • generate discussion
Ideas for using photographs
  1. Captions - If you can make your students laugh, you can make them do anything!  Show them a photo of people or animals and ask them to imagine what they are saying.  This is a great warmer - it engages students and stimulates creativity.
  2. Creative question and answer practice - Show pictures of people and get students to work in pairs to ask and answer questions about them.  The person answering the questions pretends he knows the people in the picture and invents a whole back story for them.  For lower level students, you could limit the questions to the grammar point being studied.  You can do this activity with any picture in the coursebook - before a listening, for example.
  3. Personal photos - Tie these in with the topic of the unit.  Show your own photos before the start of the unit as an introduction.  Get students to ask questions about them.  Students can also use their photos.  This is very engaging for students as they get to know more about their teacher as well as being able to share personal stories with their classmates.
  4. Introducing a new topic or new vocabulary - Use photographs to generate interest in a new topic or to provide a visual reminder for new vocabulary. 
  5. Pre-listening/pre-reading - Get students to focus on an image before they do a reading or a listening.  This really helps with their prediction skills and can be particularly useful when helping students with exam strategies.
Advantages of using images
  • It motivates students
  • It makes the material more memorable leading to higher retention rates
  • It is a natural approach
  • You can present the usual in an unusual way
  • It's fun!

1 comment:

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