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Tips and Free Lesson Plans For Using Photographs In Class

photography day link imageIn a world where images are present all around us all the time, teachers can easily use photographs to motivate students and make the classroom experience so much more rewarding. We know that students learn more when new language is accompanied by memorable and engaging photographs.

To help you make better use of photos in class we’ve enlisted the help of 2019 Wide Angle Photography Competition winner Mehtap Özer Isović to build a series of easy-to-use lesson plans. They’re all segment-based, click the buttons below to access the lesson plans!

Young learner button

Teenage learner button

Adult learner button

Found these useful? We’d love to know how you got on with these resources, please do leave a comment!

Also, feel free to share these with a colleague. Just send them this link, and it’ll direct them here -> https://oupeltglobalblog.com/2020/08/17/using-photographs-elt

Five Tips for using Photography in your Classes.

OUP Publisher Marc Goozée has put together a really helpful list of photography lesson ideas, applicable for any classroom.

1) Take advantage of students’ own photographs and experiences

photographs: of a young girl making a pose and looking at her shadow on the wall

Now that every smartphone has a camera we can take photos easily. Ask students to bring their own photographs into the class and tell it’s ‘story’ using the prompts below. Alternatively, this can be an instant activity for pairs of students who show images from their smartphones to each other.

  • What was the photographer thinking as they took the photograph?
  • Who or what is the subject?
  • What was happening during the shot or before?

Good photos to use could be of something your students have done over the holiday, a recent celebration they attended, or a new place they have discovered. You can use this photograph from the Wide Angle Photography Contest 2019, to model the activity for your students.

2) Run a photography competition

Following on from the activity in tip one, you can prepare a slide show of photos from a recent competition (you can download the photos and stories from the Wide Angle Photography Contest here) and ask students to be the competition judges. If you choose a different competition, try and find the judging criteria to give students a framework for justifying their decisions. You may want to simplify the criteria if they are complicated.

As an alternative, choose a theme and organise a photography competition in which students submit their own photographs anonymously to be judged by a panel of teachers or students from another class.

3) Film stills from popular releases

Talk with students about their favourite films and then bring a selection of film stills, using your phone or computer to take screen-grabs. Ask students in pairs to answer such questions as:

  • What is the name of this film?
  • What is it about?
  • What are the characters talking about in the scene?
  • What sort of relationship do the characters have?
  • What happened before this scene/what happens next?
  • Talk about other films have the actors been in.
  • Tell us about them?
  • Talk about other films the director has made.

This could also be set as homework. Students source photos from their favourite film/a series they are currently watching and as a paired starter activity they can share and discuss them as above. To make it more challenging, get students to start with the image half-covered if it is easy to guess what film it is from!

4) Use photographs of famous personalities

From students’ own culture, find a selection of photographs of pop stars, politicians, actors, presenters, sports’ personalities, etc. Use the internet to find images or cut them out from magazines or newspapers. Bring them into the classroom and lay them out on the table/stick them on the wall and ask students in pairs or groups to choose two or three and then share their opinions about them.

5) Be creative with grammar

photographs: cat avoiding the feet of pedestrians, black and white

Either with students’ own photos or ones you can find on the internet, choose an area of language you want to practise and approach it in a creative, imaginative way. In this example, using one of the Wide Angle runner-up photographs, students imagine themselves as the cat and complete thought bubbles coming from the cat’s head. They can complete these sentence stems to practise using ‘wish’ and ‘wonder’.

  • I wish I could………
  • I wish I was …..
  • I wonder ……..

References: Images by Jamie Keddie

Marc Goozee taught English in Spain, the UK, and Japan. Since the 1990s as editor and publisher, he has enjoyed producing materials for secondary and adult students from a variety of regions including the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Europe.

Mehtap Özer Isović is an English teacher with an MA degree in English Language and Literature. She grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. She has been teaching English for twelve years in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the International University of Sarajevo. Since 2015, she has also been teaching very young learners in several kindergartens.



25 Alternatives to Reading Aloud Around the Class

shutterstock_116955382Philip Haines is originally from London, England but lives in Mexico City, where he has been working as a teacher and teacher trainer since moving there in 1995. He is an author/co-author on several ELT series published in Mexico, in the primary, secondary and adult segments. Philip works as the Senior Academic Consultant for Oxford University Press Mexico.

In most ELT classrooms there are at least a few students who do not particularly like reading. There are many possible reasons for this, but one factor is that students often do not find the act of reading in the classroom very engaging, despite potentially interesting content. Teachers often capture students’ interest with pre-reading and post-reading activities, but when it comes to the actual process of reading some students are simply not engaged.

A common while-reading activity is to have one student read aloud while the rest of the students follow along in silence. While this way of working has some merits, it also has its drawbacks. It can be both stressful and boring at the same time. It can be stressful for the individual student who is reading aloud and it can be boring for all the other students who are listening and following along in silence.

Below are 25 while-reading activities that reduce the potential stress and boredom described above. These activities are designed for classes where all the students are working with the same text. It must be pointed out that these activities do not always lead to maximum comprehension, but we sometimes need to sacrifice this for the benefits of more engaged, participative and motivated students.

The activities are based on four principles:

  1. The activities can be done with practically any text
  2. All the students have something to do while reading
  3. The activities should be low-stress
  4. They can be done with little preparation

The activities have been categorized by how the students are grouped:


The activities have also been categorized by the kind of response students need to give.

  • Perform actions
  • Underline
  • Say part of words
  • Say words
  • Say phrases
  • Say sentences / lines of text


Whole class

Perform actions

Stand up / sit down –
The teacher chooses six words from a chosen section of the text and writes these on the board. Each student chooses three of these words and makes a note of these in their notebook. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and students read along in silence, but stand up and then quickly sit down again every time they hear/read their
chosen words.


Whole class

Perform actions

Perform the action –
The teacher chooses some important/common words from the chosen section of the text. Students and the teacher decide on a specific action to perform for each of the chosen words. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and the students listen and read in silence, but perform the appropriate action whenever they read/hear the corresponding word.


Whole class

Perform actions

Click / clap –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and students read along in silence. Every time the teacher gets to a full stop/period the students clap their hands once. Every time the teacher gets to a comma the  students click their fingers once.


Whole class

Perform actions

Follow with finger –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and students read along in silence and follow along with a finger. The teacher can check that every student is following the text by seeing where their finger is on the page.


Whole class


Fill in the blank –
The teacher chooses and circles several words in the chosen section of the text. The teacher read the chosen section of the text aloud, but says ‘blank’ in place of those chosen words. Students listen and follow the text at the same time and underline the words that were substituted with the word ‘blank’. Students then compare with each other and check with the teacher.


Whole class


Spot the missing words –
The teacher chooses and circles several words in the chosen section of the text that can be omitted without the text sounding strange. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud but misses out the circled words. The text needs to be read in a natural way so that it flows and sounds normal. Students listen, follow the text and underline the words that were omitted. Students then compare with each other and check with the teacher.


Whole class


Spot the mistakes –
The teacher chooses and changes several words in the chosen section of the text. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and the students read along in silence and underline the words they think the teacher has changed. Students then compare with each other and check with the teacher.


Whole class


Secret message
The teacher selects some words from the chosen section of the text so that the first letter of each of these words spells out a secret word or short phrase. The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and students listen and read along in silence. However, every time the teacher comes one of the previously selected words the teacher substitutes the word with a funny noise. The students need to underline each of these words. The students then need to work out the secret message.


Whole class

Say parts of words

Finish off words –
The teacher reads a chosen section of the text aloud and the students listen and read along in silence. However, every now and then the teacher says only the first one or two syllables of a word and then pauses. The students need to say the missing parts of the word in chorus. The teacher continues reading once the students have completed each word.


Whole class

Underline and say parts of word

Say only that part of the word –
The teacher chooses a feature of word morphology that is common in the chosen section of the text. This could be the plural ‘s’, ing-endings, ed -endings, –tion, etc. The students go through the section of the text and underline all the examples of that feature of language. The teacher then reads aloud and the students need to call out in chorus only that part of the word at the same time as the teacher reads it.


Whole class

Say words

Banana –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and the students listen and read along in silence. Every now and then the teacher substitutes a word in the text with the word ‘banana’. The students need to call out the word from the text that was substituted. Special thanks to Quyen Xuan Vuong for sharing this activity.


Whole class

Say words

Say only those words –
The teacher chooses and identifies about four or five words that appear frequently in the chosen section of the text. The teacher writes these words on the board. The teacher reads the section of text aloud and students listen and read in silence, but say only the chosen words in chorus as the teacher reads them.


Whole class

Say words

Every third word 
The teacher starts to read the chosen section of the text aloud and students listen and read along in silence. However, the teacher reads only the first two words and the student need to say the third word in chorus. The teacher then reads the next two words and then the students say the sixth word in chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.


Whole class

Say words

What’s the next word? –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud and students listen and read along in silence. However, every now and then the teacher stops reading aloud and the students need to read the next word in the text in  chorus. Once the students have said the word, the teacher continues reading but stops every now and then and the students need
to say the next word in chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.


Small groups

Say words

One word at a time –
Students take turns reading one word at a time around the group until the end of the chosen section of the text.


Small groups

Underline and say words

Alphabet words –
The teacher assigns each member of the group different letters of the alphabet; so that all the letters of the alphabet are assigned and so that each student has several letters. Each student needs to look through the chosen section of the text and underline all the words that start with their assigned letters. Then the group reads the chosen section of the text aloud, but each student only says his/her corresponding words.


Whole class

Say phrases

Listen, read and repeat –
The teacher selects a short section of the text. The teacher read the section aloud one short phrase at a time. After reading each phrase the whole class repeats in chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section
of the text.


Whole class

Say phrases

Finish off the sentences –
The teacher reads the chosen section of the text aloud to the class. Before the end of some sentences the teacher stops and the whole class has to read the rest of the sentence aloud in chorus.



Say phrases

Sentence tennis –
The teacher chooses a section of a text with two paragraphs of similar length. One student is assigned the first paragraph and the other student is assigned the second paragraph. The first student reads part of the first sentence aloud but stops part of the way through whenever they want. The other student has to listen and read in silence, but read the rest of the sentence aloud from where the first student stopped. This is repeated for the rest of the paragraph. For the second paragraph the students swap so that the second student starts reading each sentence.


Whole class

Say sentences

Every third sentence 
The teacher divides the whole class into three groups. The groups are called 1, 2 and 3. Group 1 reads the first sentence aloud in chorus, group 2 then does the same with the second sentence, and group 3 does the same with the third. Group 1 then reads the fourth sentence and this continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.


Whole class

Say sentences

Dice sentences –
The teacher divides the whole class into six groups and assigns the numbers 1-6 to the groups so that each group has a different number. The teacher roles the dice and all the students in the group with that number read out the first sentence in chorus. The teacher roles the dice again and the corresponding group reads the second sentence in chorus. This continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.


Whole class

Say lines of text

Secret lines –
The teacher chooses a section of the text with enough lines of text for every student to have one or two lines each. The teacher assigned one or two lines to each student in a random order. The could be by handing out numbers at random to each student or by cutting up a photocopy of the text and giving out a line or two of text to each student. Each student identifies their lines in the original text. The whole text is read in the correct order by each student reading their line(s) of the text aloud.


Small groups

Say sentences

Nominate next reader –
One student reads the first sentence aloud from the chosen section of the text and the rest of the group listen and read along in silence. When the student finishes the sentence, he/she nominates the next student to read aloud by saying the name of that student. That student then reads the second sentences aloud and then nominates the next reader. This continues until the end of the chosen section of the text.


Small groups

Say sentences

One sentence at a time –
Students take it in turns to read one sentence at a time around the group until the end of the chosen section of the text.



Say sentences

Fizz / buzz / bang –
The teacher selects three words which appear frequently in the chosen section of the text. The teacher writes these three words on the board and next to the 1st word write ‘fizz’, next to the 2nd words writes ‘buzz’, and next to the 3 rd word writes ‘bang’. Students then take it in turns to read one sentences at a time and substitute the selected words with ‘fizz’, ‘ buzz’ or ‘bang’ as indicted on the board.



Back to School EFL Teaching resources and lesson plans

The new academic year is upon us! Are you ready? If you’re struggling for lesson plan ideas, we’ve got you covered.

To welcome you and your students back to class, we asked three of our former contributors Vanessa Esteves, Christopher Graham, and Julietta Schoenmann to devise a series of lesson plans and activity worksheets for your EFL classrooms. From adult through to primary, we hope you can find these resources useful in the year ahead.

Have a great year, from all of us at the Oxford University Press.







These resources are available to Oxford Teacher’s Club members. Not a member? Click here to register!


Using a social media project as a tool for motivating young adults learning English

Close up of smartphone with social media icons

Image courtesy of pixabay.

Stacey Hughes, former EFL teacher, is a teacher trainer in our Professional Development team. Here she uses course material from Network to explore how social media can be used in the classroom to motivate young adults learning English.

Want to get young adult learners really motivated? Then make the language they are learning meaningful by linking it to authentic English practice opportunities. One way to do this is to set up a social networking project in which students can apply the vocabulary, grammar and communication skills they have built up in class. In this blog I will first list some of the pedagogical benefits of using a social media project. I’ll then suggest a few ideas for projects before outlining how a social media project can be set up in class.

Why use a social media project?

A social media project provides English practice opportunities in an environment that is familiar. Many of our students frequently use social media already when they tweet, post questions or comments online, blog, share videos or links, and chat online. By linking this social media use to English learning, students feel that what they are learning is meaningful for authentic communication and they can personalise learning as they build a network of classmates and peers to communicate with. Social media also provides plenty of models for how language is actually used and endless opportunities to use critical thinking skills to evaluate sources of information. Finally, social media projects can show young adults how to apply social media skills to further their professional growth.

Examples of social media projects

Social media projects aim to get students to use social networks to perform authentic tasks or solve authentic problems. Smaller projects include creating a profile or uploading and sharing a photo with a comment. An example of a larger project might be researching to find a place to live or places to stay on holiday. The projects can be chosen to suit the language level of the student.

Below is a list of social media projects you can do with your students.

  1. Build a personal or professional profile
    Students decide how much information to share and the best image of themselves to project, where to post the profile and how to share it so others can see it.
  2. Post a blog or comment
    Students respond to another blog or set up their own personal or professional blog. They comment on and rate an article, product or event.
  3. Connect online
    Students find an old school friend or a new friend in another country, join a group online that shares their interests, or collaborate on a project.
  4. Investigate something local
    Students learn about a local problem, find out about local events, or contact an organisation in their community.
  5. Find out
    Students find places to stay when travelling, find a job or a place to live, find a suitable restaurant – the possibilities are endless.
  6. Evaluate a website
    Students decide whether the information on a website is credible or not, or if a site or posting adheres to accepted ‘netiquette’.
  7. Game
    This may seem an odd choice, but there is a lot of language involved in learning the rules of the game and playing it well. Many games also have online forums and opportunities to link up online with other gamers.

Lesson plan for setting up a social media project

The following example of a social media project could be done over several weeks.

Use social networking to find a job

Level: Elementary and above

Aim: Students will research job finding resources and present their findings to the rest of the class.

  1. Lead-in: use an image or anecdote to begin a discussion about finding a job. Ask students if they have experience looking for a job and what resources they used to find one. Find out if they use any social networks (friends, family connections or social networks online) to look for jobs. This discussion could bring up some interesting cultural differences.
  2. Put students into pairs or small groups to brainstorm resources they could use to find a job. They should list a variety of resources, not just online ones. Ask each group to share their list with the class. Example resources include a career centre at school, newspapers, websites, professional networks, company web pages, jobs fairs, and personal networks (friends and families).
  3. Write the following questions on the board:
    1. Where is it?
    2. Who can use it? How?
    3. What kind of information is available?
    4. Do you get personal attention?
    5. Can you set up interviews?
    6. What employers use this resource?
  4. Ask each group to research the job-finding resources they have brainstormed and answer the questions. You may ask each member of the group to research a different type of resource, or each student could research them all. The research can be assigned for homework.
  5. If you are doing the project over the course of several weeks, ask students to bring in examples of new vocabulary they have found. Use these new terms to create vocabulary walls or a class wiki.
  6. Bring the groups back together to share the information they found. Ask them to create a group presentation. The presentation could be on a poster or could use presentation software such as PowerPoint or Prezi. Encourage them to use tables, charts or bullet-points for a good visual effect.
  7. Each group can practice their presentation in front of another group. Ask the groups to give each other feedback by posing questions: Was there anything you didn’t understand? Do you have any questions about the information that the group didn’t answer?
  8. Ask each group to give their presentation. Encourage groups to listen to each other, take notes and ask questions.
  9. As a follow-up, ask the class to write a short blog listing ways to use social networking to find a job. Ask each group to list 1-2 ideas, then collate these into one document. Share the document online and invite other classes in the school to read it.

(This project plan was adapted from Network 1 Teacher’s book, page vii)

In conclusion

The plan above demonstrates how a social media project can bring the real world into the classroom and make language learning meaningful for authentic tasks. It brings in a range of related vocabulary and grammar, and practices all four skills, but keeps the focus on the task. This focus is motivating and completing the task can give students a sense of achievement, especially if they then have a live audience to share with.


The whys and hows of syllabus writing

Mature woman working at her deskKaren Capel, an Academic Coordinator and teacher trainer, returns with another post for Coordinators and Directors of Study, sharing her tips for writing an effective syllabus.

More often than not teachers receive syllabi which are kept unread. I remember receiving mine at the beginning of the academic year and just archiving them after marking which pages of the Student’s Book to omit. Why? Because they were more of an outline of what to cover than a syllabus. Why is this a problem? Because as coordinators we cannot be present in every class and certainly cannot see each and every lesson plan our teachers produce and implement. As a result, syllabi are valuable tools that allow us to guide and support teachers in various ways.

First and foremost, a syllabus should inform of the teaching points needing to be covered in order for students to reach the objectives set for the course and therefore pass tests and exams. Secondly, it should instruct teachers which methodology to use and the type of lessons you expect, as well as the balance of interaction patterns, time devoted to the different skills, amount of TTT (teacher talking time), etc. A good syllabus will, as a consequence, be a benchmark that enables teaching staff to be aware of what is expected from their lessons.

How can we write a syllabus which serves such a purpose? Here are 4 tips:

1. Keep the target audience in mind

It is crucial to know the teachers on your staff and write accordingly. Syllabi for newly qualified teachers should not be the same as those for experienced ones. It is therefore essential for you to know the type of teacher in every level so as to include the necessary information and cater for every teacher’s needs. Undoubtedly, less experienced teachers will need more thorough explanations and step-by-step indications of how to work with every task in the book, as well as ideas on the kind of warm-ups they can use, ways of eliciting information from students, extra activities they can incorporate in their lessons, etc.

2. Think of the syllabus as an extended lesson plan

Explain how you would work with each unit, including links between the different activities, appropriate warm-ups and follow-ups, whether you would propose activities as pair-work, group-work or individual tasks. Think of plausible questions which may be asked to enrich the lesson and useful tips regarding the development of skills and strategies. This will help teachers save time when planning, help them embed new techniques or methods, and seek help in those areas where they are less confident. It would be expected for new teachers to stick to these plans more strictly and for experienced teachers to take bits and pieces they find helpful and use these guidelines more flexibly.

3. Use syllabi to adapt coursebooks to the target students

No matter how good a text is, it is impossible for it to cater to all students, learning styles and needs. As coordinators, it is our responsibility to make sure students feel comfortable in their classes and that the materials used are appropriate to their ages, levels and interests. Sometimes it is necessary to replace activities or texts, which may be either too childish or too complex for students, with alternative or complementary ways of presenting certain points. It may also happen that topics which are either too culture-specific or just not interesting for a particular group of students appear. Should this be the case, those activities should be replaced with more appropriate and engaging topics your students will find more relatable and enjoyable. Make sure you cover all these noteworthy elements properly.

4. Remember the final recipients

The people who will be impacted most by what you plan are the students; a vast majority of whom are likely to be ‘digital natives’. Students expect technology to be used in class, as it represents an instrinsic aspect of their lives and they see it as a natural context for learning. It is therefore of paramount importance to incorporate technology into the syllabi we produce in order for teachers to understand its relevance and utilise it in their lessons as well. Try to include links to websites that both teachers and students may find of interest, be it to read a good contextual piece or study tips, or to do some practice through interactive exercises or games.

What other aspects do you consider when writing a syllabus?