This school year marks the first time I have had the opportunity to work with younger students on a 1-2-1 basis. My kids are 11 and 12, hence the tween label. In this series of posts, I would like to describe several activities that have worked particularly well during our classes (90 mins once a week). Here, you can read about my favourite activities that involve using photos taken by the students with their smartphones.
You might have read how I prepared for my first 1-2-1 class with one of my students and remember I approached this new teaching experience quite apprehensively. I am happy to say my “kids classes” have become one of my favourite parts of the week (now here’s the sentence I’ve never thought I would say!)
All of the activities described below require the use of smartphones/digital cameras and make students responsible for creating content for each one. Using smartphones, instead of banning them, was somewhat of a novelty for my students, who don’t really get to use technology during their English lessons at school. An additional perk for me was that all these classes were paperless: no copying or cutting for me, no worksheets that are inevitably going to get lost/torn/crumpled and forgotten for my students
#1 Photo Bingo
Before the class
- Brainstorm with your student and agree on a topic (some of mine included: Food, My room, On my way to school, Animals, In my classroom, My wardrobe)
- Ask your student to take 5 pictures connected with the topic you’ve chosen and have them for your next class
I usually leave Photo Bingo for the last 10 mins of class
- The person who didn’t take pictures needs to guess what’s in the photos taken by the photographer. They have 10 guesses.
- Depending on your students’ range of grammar the process might look something like this:
There is a banana in your picture. Yes, there is./ No, there isn’t.
Is there a banana in your picture? Yes, there is./ No, there isn’t.
You took a picture of a banana. Yes, I did. / No, I didn’t.
Did you take a picture of a banana? Yes, I did. / No, I didn’t.
- The game ends with Bingo! once all 5 photographed items have been established correctly / the time is up
- Switch roles with your students (now you’re the photographer) and do the activity again next week / in two weeks time.
We’ve been playing Photo Bingo every month with my students and it has become something they look forward to. We’ve recycled and learned loads of vocabulary (they have to know what’s in the picture they bring to class) and the game created a genuine context for asking/answering questions. It was also a convenient, paperless alternative to traditional bingo games.
The game does require your students to be mature enough to a) remember to take the pics for the coming class b) take the task seriously enough and take pics of relevant objects. Doing this activity with just one student certainly made it easier to control.
#2 Photo comics with Pixlr
You will need a free mobile app Pixlr to edit the photos on your phone. It is very versatile, easy to use, allows you to save images to your phone, and works offline (other than uploading images to social media/clouds).
Creating a photo story / comic with my students has been a fun, creative, and engaging process. We first came up with a storyline (10-20 pics long), some sketches to help visualise what we want the story to say, and captions for each image. Next, we spent around 20 mins taking pictures. Ideally, you’ll be able to take all the pics in the same location (although my students really wanted to go big here). Finally, my students edited the pictures and added captions. We spent app. 30min per class over the course of 3 lessons completing this task.
- one person tells the story changing the order of events, the other needs to stop the activity when that happens
- one person mimes what’s in the picture, the other guesses the caption
- turn the captions into gapped sentences
- the story happening in the opposite universe (change the meaning of each caption to an opposite one. Which story do you like better?)
I love how motivated my students have been during this activity (I’ve managed to create one mini project with each of them and now we’re in the process of creating longer stories). They’ve had plenty of great ideas and made a lot of effort to use language appropriately It’s been surprisingly easy to manage as they are already more tech-savvy than I will ever be, so we’ve had zero technical issues. We ended up with a cool, tangible outcome they could store on their own phones and I could email to their parents. Since we work using an app that’s entirely in English, we practice a lot of practical language of instructions in a very natural context (save, delete, insert, erase, type, upload etc.)
I was worried they would get too carried away playing with the app and lose the sight of what we are really trying to do here i.e. use English to invent and tell a cool story. It is definitely important to establish some ground rules before embarking on this project.
Here you can see a collage of edited pictures that introduce the main character in a longer story I’m working on with my student now.
#3 The ABC’s of me
This is the most personal photo project I’ve done so far and I now realise I should’ve started it at the beginning of the course.
The idea is very simple: for each class both the student and I take a picture of an object starting with a chosen letter of the alphabet. The object is also in some way important for the person who took the pic.
In class, we describe the picture and share the reasons why we chose the object to be in the pic. It’s a chance to elicit some language from the students, learn some new words in context, interact in a natural way, as well as find out more about them on a personal level and have a casual conversation. My students have really enjoyed finding out why I took pics of the things I did and we sometimes make a guessing game out of it.
My favourite thing about this activity is the fact that the content is brought in not only by me but also by my students who genuinely enjoy capturing images that mean something to them. I’ve never attempted giving my younger students this much freedom and independence because teaching groups, I was afraid of classroom management issues. I’m glad I’ve been able to experiment in a safe environment of 1-2-1 classes and I’d love to see such an activity done with a group of students.
If you tried using photos taken by your students/yourself in your lessons, I’d love to hear about your ideas and experience. Thanks!