Visual prompts: my 3 favourite illustrators

In this post, I am coming back to the issue of organising my classes around images rather than topics and lists of conversation questions. I am sharing the list of my 3 favourite illustrators and some tips on using their work during lessons.

I love using various visuals with my students, especially during conversation/speaking classes. I find visuals really useful with advanced students who wish to work on their fluency in a natural conversation setting but at the same time want to talk about something meaningful, don’t mind serious topics and hope to broaden their vocabulary.

When it comes to choosing visuals, I wrote about searching for thought-provoking photographs hereMy next source of interesting images are illustrations circulating on the Internet. Here are my 3 favourite illustrators whose work I often use with my students in class:

  1. Paweł Kuczyński

  2. John Holcroft

  3. Steve Cutts

Social commentary these illustrations offer enables us to use them to supplement or introduce a very wide range of topics:

  • technology
  • modern society
  • modern lifestyle
  • health
  • work life
  • politics


Here is how I usually introduce the image to my students

I display the image for a couple of minutes and ask them to study it quietly on their own. Then, I ask them to answer several questions individually or we brainstorm different ideas together:

  • What comes to your mind when you see this illustration? Why?
  • What doesn’t come to mind when you see this illustration? Why?
  • What title would you give this image? Why?
  • Would you hang it on the wall in your apartment /use it as a desktop background for your computer or mobile? Why?
  • What do you feel when you look at this picture?

Here is how I usually try to guide the conversation about the illustration / inspired by the illustration

If there is a title, I usually reveal it so that my students can confront their interpretation with that of the author. I ask my students to identify the problem/issue this visual represents and I try to find out the following:

  • Do you agree X is a huge problem nowadays? Why? Why not?
  • What can be done to solve it / reduce it?
  • Do you personally feel affected by X?
  • Why do people find themselves in such situation?
  • What are the consequences of X ?
  • What are the positive sides of X?
  • What would the world look like without X?
  • Do we contribute to X in any way?

Sometimes, this part of the lesson requires little to no interference from me (unless it is a 1-to-1 lesson) as the students moderate and develop the discussion on their own. My main task here is to facilitate: provide new vocabulary when needed or clarify grammatical doubts. I usually take notes of pronunciation issues that possibly take place.

Here are some more ideas for using the visuals (speaking and/or writing)

  • What would you ask the person in the picture about? 

Students brainstorm possible questions they would ask the person in the illustration (if there is any).

  • Imagine the picture is a snapshot of your daily life. What is going through your head?

Students imagine the visual represents their own life and try to identify with the situation.

  • It was a long day/ It is going to be a long day

Students imagine the picture shows the beginning/ending of their usual day and need to come up with a story that is going to follow/ build up to this moment.

  • You are an art dealer, sell the picture to a potential buyer

Students come up with reasons why people would want to have the picture/ having the picture would make somebody’s life better

  • Interview the author

Students work on an interview with the author, inventing questions and answers that hopefully explain the reasons why he created such work.

Personal Experience

I have tried using some of the work by the artists listed here with every B2 and above group/student with varying degrees of success. Some students found the visuals very compelling, inspiring, and thought-provoking, others felt overwhelmed and said it was “too artsy” for them (interestingly enough, they meant the form and not the content). My own enthusiasm and genuine interest in the topics these illustrations represent surely helped sell the lesson and guide my learners through it, but on several occasions I had to quickly move on, seeing almost zero interest in my student’s eyes. The most important thing I learned here: always know your audience, don’t be afraid of experimenting but bear in mind you might have to regroup in an instant.

Are there any artists whose work you like using with your students?



  1. This lesson is exactly the kind of lesson I want to be teaching every time I teach.

    I have been dabbling in promoting creative thinking in the #ELT classroom for about a year now, paying more careful attention to my questions and tasks. As I teach courses in a school which uses coursebooks, I have been adapting the coursebook material as best I can and with positive feedback from students and really rewarding results for me as a teacher, I’d definitely recommend it!

    I am genuinely in awe of how great this collection of questions and tasks is, so thank you so much for sharing!

    • Hi Helen, thank you so much for such positive feedback and some further artwork suggestions.

  2. Hello!. First, this website has helped me a lot recently, and made me think and plan my classes a bit differently. So I want to thank you for the amazing work you’ve been doing here. This idea of making conversation classes with images instead of topics is really interesting and I’ve recently started trying it.

    By the way, Joan Cornella would be my suggestion He is a catalan artist. Although in my experience not everybody reacts very well to some of his works. Well, we’ll have to try to be sure.

  3. Love this idea. Have planned my next lesson round this. Love the pictures by Steve Cutts . Am looking forward to hearing my students comments and extending their ideas. Thanks you.

  4. Great ideas which Do make a difference!!! Congratulations!!
    I am really happy to have found your page and deeply thankful, too!
    All the very best to you!

    • Hi Elis,
      Thank you for such a kind comment. I hope you keep finding some other interesting ideas here. Take care!

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