How To Incorporate Photos In Language Lessons

Photo by  Kinga Cichewicz

Getting students producing the target language can be difficult, especially when they are uninspired to try out new things and don’t feel comfortable taking risks to keep growing their language skills.  If you can incorporate your students’ own voice and preferences in your lessons, they are much more likely to feel comfortable in participating. In this article I’ll address a few ways to use students’ photos in a language classroom to get them creating their own language.

A Word A Day On Instagram

I first started thinking about how to incorporate Instagram in my classroom when I realized how many of my own students followed my own Instagram account.  Then Clase De Español and I started following each other, and I really liked her posts of word(s) of the day.  Then I thought how I could leverage a platform students are already on to get them thinking about my own Spanish class.

To get this Word A Day idea started, you’ll want to start a dedicated Instagram account for your classes, and make sure that it is private so that you can be sure to have a safe space for students to chat about their images.  In order to create content, each unit you can give students a question to answer with an annotated photo. For example, if the unit is on pastimes, ask students to take or find a photo and annotate it with the target language. If a student likes watching movies, they can take a selfie with a movie playing on TV (or however they want to visually interpret “watching a movie”). Then they can use an app or software to write the pastime on the photo.  I have used Canva and Google Drawings to quickly annotate an image using layers.  If your students have access to Photoshop, they can use that.

To share the photos, you can have students turn them in to you, and you can post them on the class Instagram account.  If you want to go with this option, you’ll want to use a social media management tool like Buffer to schedule posts to post automatically at the time you choose.  

For another option that will take some burden of you (or anyone else) having to maintain the Instagram account, you can have students share photos on their own account with a designated hashtag.  You can have students follow the hashtag to know when an image is tagged. If you like this idea and still want to have a dedicated class Instagram account, you can repost to the class account your students’ images if you follow the dedicated hashtag. Now how do you get students creating more language with this activity?  

Make sure that students comment on at least 5 photos (or you can make up the number) every unit.  I would do this as a completion grade to keep the activity low-risk and to encourage students to use the language.  You can also plan a day to show the photos to the class where they see them as an entire class or in small groups, then make sure they comment on a few of the photos in the target language.

What Did You Do This Weekend Homework?

So many times it is more fun for students to talk about themselves and their own lives than it is to meet a specified educational objective.  One way to keep students interested in your class and using the target language is to ask them to take photos of what they did over the weekend, and turn them in on a shared board of some sort.  In the past I have used Padlet and Nearpod Collaborate.  You can also uses a shared Google Slides deck. Give each student a slide on the deck so that they know where to turn the photo in.  You can have students comment on their own photo (of course in the target language), or you can have them turn in only the photo.

Once in class, the activity is for students to work with a partner and comment on or caption as many photos as they can.  If you want to keep the comment confidential, you can have students submit their comments and captions in a Google Form.  Or if you want students to see what others are writing, they can comment directly on the application where the photos are being shared.  

Alternatively, if you want students to practice speaking, you can use this opportunity to walk around the class and listen to what kind of language the students are creating. Or, you can have students talk together about comments or captions for several photos, and they can record the conversation with Vocaroo.  To share the spoken conversation, they can share the Vocaroo link on a shared doc.  Alternatively, they can turn it in for a participation grade via a Google Form, or your favorite LMS.

Telling (Hi)stories From Around The World

Any language teacher knows that language and culture cannot not be separated. That is why it’s important to include notable holidays from countries of your target language in your curriculum.  Since I teach Spanish, I use this list of holidays from the University of California.  For this activity, once a marking period, or maybe more often, students choose a holiday they want to research and which story they want to tell.

I like the idea of students choosing what they want to research as a project, because this will cut down on the likelihood of students doing overlapping projects.  I also suggest that you have students answer a specific research question for this assignment, that way you won’t get them copying a project they found online.

If you read my article on voice and choice in your language classroom, this activity will sound familiar.  But here the idea is for students to find images that answer the research question about their chosen holiday or historic event.  They can find images on Google search, see this article on how to filter Google images.  Alternatively they can act out a scene and take photos of this.  They then need to put the photos in a slide deck. All of this can be assigned as homework.

In class, students will work with a partner to annotate what is going on in someone else’s images.  You can set this up as a gallery walk, which I described in this article on kinesthetic activities.  If you want to try another strategy, have students put their photos on a Google slide deck, then share it by forcing someone to make a copy.  To know how to do this, see this article from Shake Up Learning.  With their own copy of another student’s slide deck, students work in pairs to annotate the images.  When they finish, have all students turn in the annotated slide deck on the same Google Sheet or Doc.

To conclude this activity, you can have students look at and comment on the annotated slide deck of another set of students.  This way they will get learn about yet another perspective of a holiday, and will be able to give support to a few of their classmates.

Remember To Keep The Focus On The Target Language

The three activities described in this article can be modified in a myriad of ways to keep learning fresh and to keep students interested in your language class.  It’s important to remember to keep students producing the target language. You may not think that they are capable, and they may not think that they are capable. But if you keep them building on previous knowledge, your students will be able to write and speak the target language in the first weeks of class.  To keep learning interesting, incorporate Instagram, and images on sharing apps throughout your curriculum, and enjoy how much your students are growing.

ed tech, languageBryn Hafemeister3, a