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Captioning and describing a picture, though incredibly simple as a resource idea, has proved to be an extremely valuable teaching resource for both oral and written communication. Simply put: teachers provide a picture –preferably with lots going on—and then ask students to describe what they see. As students describe what they see, they write it down on the blank space surrounding the picture. Alternatively, teachers can have the students write the descriptions down on a separate piece of paper though I find this is probably unnecessary. While this is going on, teachers have ample opportunity to provide feedback to students. Depending on the age, the proficiency of students, the image, and whether we are doing it in class or for homework, I usually have students come up with between 10 and 30 sentences to describe the images on each sheet. As well, on some sheets, I have the students write a main caption which is helpful for developing the skill of identifying and describing main ideas. In a similar vein, I sometimes edit the title out of the image and ask the students to supply a title.
I have included a large selection of images for describing as this is an activity that I use again and again because the long term benefits are dramatic. In particular, students get a great deal of sentence level writing practice and really become comfortable with a few select areas of grammar such as writing in the present progressive, using prepositions of place, using there is expletive constructions, and writing about causes and effects. The images also allow for the introduction of select vocabulary in a very meaning focused way.
Using Present Progressive:
Because pictures are moments frozen in time, it is natural to use the present continuous to describe actions contained within the picture. In the first student sample, the students have produced sentences such as:
They are planting trees.
She is looking up.
he is digging.
She is holding an umbrella.
Preposition of Place:
The images also provide opportunities to describe the position of objects in relation to other objects using prepositions of place.
He is on the hay.
The hay is on the pole.
The images also present opportunities to say what is in the picture using expletive construction with 'there'.
In student sample 2, the students write:
There are many roads.
There are two bridges.
There is a river.
There is a town in the castle wall.
As students are writing sentences like these, teachers have a chance to give feedback such as explaining subject verb agreement (there is versus there are).
Other areas of language that come out naturally using images like these are saying what something looks like: The dog looks sad. The horses look tired. Identifying cause and effects: She is unhappy because it is raining.
If students have problems coming up with ideas. You can suggest things such as what people are wearing, what they are holding, where they are looking and what things are made of.
Disclaimer: These materials could be found on the internet for free. You can use the sample to find the others.