When teaching someone to speak a language, it is a good idea to use the target language and avoid translation as much as possible (teach using conversational approach). Well, if you do not have a language in common, or you cannot translate, how do you make yourself understood? To make the input comprehensible to the student, teachers use body language and pictures. For this reason I have developed excellent acting skills to demonstrate anything from a stomachache to giving birth, and have accumulated a large library of pictures and flashcards. Simple flashcards created on the computer or downloaded for free, ads and glamorous photographs from glossy fashion magazines, or simple pictures from publications printed on recycled paper are all great helpers in teaching. Pictures help bring a piece of the real world into the artificially created classroom environment and can be used in a variety of different activities. 

Why use pictures and flashcards in teaching?

Because a picture is worth a thousand words. If you and the student do not have a language in common (or even if you do, you still want to avoid translation at all costs, anyway), pictures or flashcards are an excellent tool for illustrating vocabulary. Sure, it is fun sometimes to hop around and pretend to have a pouch on your belly to depict a kangaroo, but certain other objects or concepts might be more difficult to portray, and that’s where pictures come in handy. You will need to prep ahead of time, but you quickly learn that one picture can be used to teach various topics.

Because pictures are versatile. Pictures can be used to teach different languages to students of all proficiency levels. Beginners can benefits from learning basic vocabulary, colors, shapes, and learn how to describe what is happening at the moment by using the present continuous tense. Intermediate and advanced students can learn more sophisticated vocabulary and more complex ideas and concepts such as travel, dating, and communications. You can also use pictures to teach idioms.

Because many pictures are free and easily accessible.
You can create your own flashcards on a computer if you have decent computer skills (ona PC, open a Word file, go to Insert, click on Clipart, then search for an image, then insert it, and you are ready to print it out).

There are many sites that offer free flash cards, for example:




My favorite way of procuring pictures is from magazines. I look at a variety of magazines, catalogs, newspapers, and even supermarket weekly specials in search of ads and pictures that to demonstrate a variety of topics. Once you start accumulating a ton of them, you might want to organize them in categories – I use an expandable file folder where I designated different compartments to different topics, such as basic vocabulary, colors, numbers, clothing, shopping, food, sports, verbs, home and furniture, appearance, and others.

For some examples of pictures from magazines that are now a part of my arsenal check out our Pinterest board:HTTP://WWW.PINTEREST.COM/WRLDCLSSLNGGS/A-PICTURES-WORTH-A-THOUSAND-WORDS/

Because pictures engage your students’ (and your own!) creativity. What you can see in the picture is just a part of the story, and coming up with the rest of it can be a fun conversational activity. In addition to that, a picture can evoke memories and ideas that in turn stimulate a conversation that otherwise would not have happened.  

Because pictures are fun. I am a very visual person and that is why my other passions are photography and visual arts. Bringing pictures to your classroom, whether they are printed or digital, taken by you or a professional, can brighten up your teaching and bring in some art appreciation to your lessons. In addition to that, images that circulate on Facebook, Pinterest and other social media networks can stimulate a lot of interesting discussions, educate students on the pop culture of their new country, and add humor to your day. 

Pictures can be used to teach: 

  • vocabulary (person, bench, ocean, day, cat)
  • questions (what is this, who is this, where are they)
  • prepositions of place (on, under, near)
  • possessive pronouns (his shirt, her car, their books)
  • adjectives (colors, sizes, shapes, physical appearance)
  • present or present continuous tense (what is he wearing, where are they going, why are they smiling)
  • and much more!

Activities you can use with pictures/flash cards.

Have one student look at a picture and, without showing it to the class, describe it in as much detail as possible while the other students paint a mental picture of it. At the end of the description, the listeners get to see the actual image, compare it to the mental image they created, and add pertinent details.

Working in pairs or individually, students come up with a story about the picture. It can be a photo of a celebrity and students can draw on the knowledge about the actual person, or it can be completely fictional.  

Students ask questions using questions words (who, what, where, when, which, how, why) about the picture.

Students bring their personal pictures to class and talk about their families, travel, customs, traditions, etc.

Students bring to class an image they saw on Facebook or another social media network, describe it and explain why it is meaningful to them.

Ask students to bring to class a picture that they find in a magazine and describe it to class.

If you manage to get two pictures that are similar but have a lot in common (for example Louis Vuitton ads that you can see onHTTP://WWW.PINTEREST.COM/WRLDCLSSLNGGS/A-PICTURES-WORTH-A-THOUSAND-WORDS/) students must find similarities and differences between the two pictures.

Memory test: Students study a picture for three minutes and then, relying solely on their memory, state 10 facts about the picture. At the end of the exercise, they look at the picture to verify the validity of their statements.

Working in small groups or individually, students prepare an advertising campaign for a product, the picture of which is provided by the teacher. The objective is to use adjectives and create statements that entice potential customers to try or buy a product.

Art-inspired: Students draw a picture as described by the teacher or another classmate, or create a collage or a vision board from old magazines and then make a presentation about their masterpiece. 

The possibilities of how you can use pictures in teaching are endless. If you have interesting ideas about how to incorporate pictures into teaching, please feel free to share them in the comments.