I’ve been rifling through some old files and folders from a couple of years back and I came across this. It was originally written as a follow-up to an ACEIA conference in Seville. As I’d been talking about images and identity and motivation with friends and colleagues on Twitter recently, it seemed a timely discovery and I thought I’d share it. It also ties in with one of the activities I model at my IATEFL UK 2011 workshop.
Working with images from the students’ world
Our day-to-day lives are full of images: on our computers, on our mobile phones, on bus stops, in newspapers. Images are taking over from text as a way of explaining and commenting on the world around us. Images chosen or created by the students, images that come from the students’ world, can provide a great springboard for negotiating meaning and practising interpretation skills. Activities built around these images put the students in the position of being the experts and of explaining and representing the world they live in. This in turn gives them a powerful sense of ownership and achievement and helps them see English, not as an external subject to be studied, but as an integral part of their world and their place in it.
1 Choose an image which represents a personally relevant aspect of your home town. Show it to our class and invite them to interpret the image, asking them what it shows and why they think you choose it.
This is an image I like to share with my students here in Cadiz. I tell them it has a strong link with my hometown. They think I’m referring to Wales and the weather there.
2 Talk to the class about the image. Tell them what it means to you, why you choose it and what it shows about your hometown.
I tell my students that I’ve chosen this image to represent Cadiz, not Wales, and that one of the thing I love about my new hometown is the wild, winter storms when gales blow in from the sea and batter the old town and the sea front. I tell them that I love to watch the sea when it’s wild and grey and that sometimes it’s good to get completely soaked to the skin walking home along the sea wall. I also say that it reminds me of home. That I grew up on a wild western coast buffeted by gales and that moving to Cadiz was a little bit like coming home – though to a much better climate!
I generally follow up the teacher talking time with a student retelling stage. In pairs they recall what I said about the image, discuss anything they aren’t sure about, come back to me with questions if necessary. Students generally identify with the broken umbrellas image but take (joking) offence at my choice and would rather portray Cadiz with something like this:
2 Ask the students to think of examples of iconic images of their home towns. Ask them to picture them in their minds and then ask them to describe the images to a partner in as much detail as possible. Be on hand to help with vocabulary and language as and when needed. Fairly intensive negotiation of meaning will sometimes be necessary in order to talk in English about something that is so heavily rooted in their L1 identity.
[If you have access to internet in class, they could google an image and present it to the class. This could be instead of, or after, the visualisation. Or this step could be assigned as homework. I have students email me their photos and we look at them together in class.]
3 The next step is important in helping students visualise themselves as successful language users, to creat a positive image that they can call on for motivation and confidence.
Working with the class as a whole, imagine a situation where the students might realistically comment on their chosen image to a “sympathetic outsider”, someone who knows nothing of their town or the background to the image they’ve chosen but who is genuinely interested in listening. [For example in Cadiz we imagine they’re sitting on the cathedral steps taking advantage of the free wifi. The image is the wallpaper or screen saver. They get talking to someone else on the steps, a tourist maybe or an exchange student. They ask about the photo. ] Encourage the class to create a detailed profile for this outsider, concentrating on visualising the person they’re going to talk to.
4 Set up role plays with the outsider. Model the role of the outsider yourself at first and then ask the students to role play describing and explaining their image to this person in pairs.
5 After the role play, discuss the experience, the successes and the difficulties.
6 Recast the task, possibly as a written commentary to accompany the chosen image. Publish this if possible – in the school or online.
Alternatives / extensions
Ask students to choose representative images of their home town to be included in a publication which will promote their home town to an audience of “outsiders”. Ask them to justify their choices or run a competition where the class judge the various candidates and choose three or four successful images.
1 Show students a photo on your mobile phone. Encourage them to ask you about it.
2 Ask students to show and share any photos they’ve got on their phones.
3 Repeat the procedure as above for imagining a situation where they might possibly repeat the same exercise in English. Role play the situation.