Using Students’ Photos in Class

With my Level 3 class this summer, I’ve asked them to bring in 2-3 photos of themselves that they want to show the class, and we all look at the photos together and talk about them as a class. I got this idea from Adriana Ramirez, a Spanish teacher, who posted the idea online and said she uses it with her Spanish 2 students.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I showed the students 3 of my own photos. I tried to choose photos that were interesting and that I could talk about for a few minutes. (I chose two photos from my wedding and one photo of my friend and me outside in huge piles of snow.) I showed the pictures and talked to the students about what was in the pictures. I also gave background info about the people in the pictures, when the pictures were taken, how I was feeling at the time, etc. It was basically a PictureTalk.
  2. I asked the students to bring in 2 or 3 of their own photos that they wanted to show the class. I encouraged them to bring pictures that showed them doing something they love or showed something important to them. I had them sign up on a piece of paper for what day they would bring their pictures and show them to the class. I had one student present each day for a few weeks.
  3. When it was a student’s day to present, I displayed their photos for the class to see. (Most students used photos from their cell phones, so I had them text me the photos. I used my cell phone USB cord to connect my phone to the classroom computer, and then I displayed the pictures on screen for everyone to see. A few students brought in hard copies of photos, so I used the document camera to display them.)
  4. The students told us about their photos. I asked them questions about the pictures, and their classmates also asked questions. This usually lasted anywhere from 10 minutes to 15 or 20 minutes. In some cases, the pictures ended up leading into a fairly long conversation, which was great! As we talked, I wrote up on the board any words that I thought were unfamiliar to my students and paused to explain them if necessary.

I loved this activity, and I definitely want to use it again in the future with other classes. First and foremost, this activity was a really good way to build our class community. The students and I got to know each other better by looking at each other’s photos. Many students brought pictures that gave us a glimpse into their home lives and their hobbies. I discovered that one of my students loves riding horses…one of my students likes taking pictures of himself standing next to cool cars he sees around town…one of my students likes making piñatas and has even entered his piñatas in competitions and has won awards…and the list goes on. It definitely helped us all get to know each other better and feel like more of a community. The students seemed interested in each other’s photos and often asked each other questions about them.

The one potential problem with this activity is students’ level of ability. I did it with a Level 3 class, but it is a very multi-level class, so the students’ abilities to talk about their pictures were all over the board. Some students were able to say a lot about their pictures while others could say very little. But it ended up fine because I was able to guide the conversation. With the students who couldn’t say much about their pictures, I asked them a lot of questions and talked about what I saw in the pictures. This helped in a few different ways: 1) It allowed even low-level students to make a “presentation” about their picture; 2) It allowed me to keep providing input to all of my students, even during a seemingly output-focused activity. Just to give an example, this was roughly how one lower-level student’s presentation went when he showed a picture of him and his dog:

Me: Tell us about your picture.

Student: Me…my dog.

Me: I like your dog! He’s cute! [turning to the other students] Do you like his dog? Do you think his dog is cute?

Other students: Yeah…yes…[various answers]

Me: What is your dog’s name?

Student: Monster.

Me: Monster?! Oh, wow! But he’s not scary. He’s cute, and he’s small.

Student: Yes.

Me: Where are you? Are you in a forest?

Student: Yes, in a forest.

Me: Okay. Were you taking your dog outside for a walk in the forest? And then you took a picture?

Student: Yes.

Me: Were you cold? You’re wearing a coat.

Student: Yes. In winter.

Me: Oh, it was in winter? Yeah, it was probably very cold.


As you can see, even though the student was “presenting” his photo, I was the one doing most of the talking. The pictures were really helpful because I could see what was happening in the pictures and ask students questions related to them. I could also point to the picture while I was talking to help all the students in my class understand the words I was saying. Of course, with some of the higher-level students who were able to produce more language, I did not need to guide the conversation as much.

All in all, I think it’s a great activity to build class community and to give students an opportunity to get used to giving little presentations in class. At the program where I teach, some of the upper-level teachers require their students to give presentations during class. Although this photo presentation was very informal, it can help students to feel more comfortable standing up in front of their classmates to make a presentation, which will help them when it comes time to make more formal presentations.

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