Today is so exciting – we’re learning how to use picture talks as a powerhouse activity in your proficiency-oriented world language class! It’s my favorite beginner-friendly comprehensible input activity for teachers new to this approach. Students love this fun Spanish and French activity and you will too. It’s low-prep and high input – the best of both!
How to Do Picture Talks in Class
Picture talks are exactly this: you put a really outrageously compelling photo in front of someone. So if you’re teaching about Día de Muertos to your students, put up some really, really interesting pictures with lots to look at. Give students whiteboards or put them on Pear Deck, etc.
Give them anything they can use to write things and show that info back to you. And then, as you ask them questions, have them respond on the whiteboard.
It works especially well, in levels one and two when responses are limited and input is the name of the game.
Make Picture Talks work Better for Early Levels
In levels one and two, I would put a word bank underneath this bad boy. Think about – how many times can you hear the phrase “How do you spell Alebrije” before you lose your great lesson momentum (or get real annoyed lolz)? My limit was about 11. So put it in the word bank. It’s also a great opportunity for things like content vocab, high frequency verbs, and phrases you want them to use and master. Definitely include picture or theme specific words to what you’re showing. For alebrijes: color, or snake or statue, eyes, wings, things like that.
Tips for Picture Talks
This activity is INPUT focus, so don’t expect spelling – it’s not a writing exercise.
Just putting a word bank there for the spelling really takes the edge off of writing activities for ones and twos. Remember that all of the ACTFL descriptors for Novice Lows-Mids are MEMORIZED words and phrases. Creative language only pops up here and there at Novice High, and inconsistently at that.
Another thing that you can put there is ideas for them to write things – prompts if you will. This saves you from the ever-present (Miss G, what do we write?)
Put things like:
- describe what you see
- list the objects
- write where everything is
- describe the clothing, appearance, emotions, actions etc of the people in the picture
- write what is and what isn’t in the pictures
- how does the picture make you feel? is it a happy scene? a sad scene?
- describe where the picture is
- describe the animals and plants in the picture.
Here’s a couple of ways that you can work with picture talk.
Teacher-led or student-led refers to language use only. All of these activities are student-centered! Ask them tons of questions about the picture and ask them to respond to each question. This is a really good directed way to check for specific structures that you are aiming for. This is good especially before review time maybe or if you are really targeting specific structures. For example, if you have a quiz on the super seven verbs.
Then I would ask them things like “What’s in the photo? Where is the photo? What colors does the statue have?” You’ll use specific questions that will get you specific high-frequency verb answers.
Referring only to language-use.
If you are just looking for students to give you as much language as they possibly can, which is way more fun – picture talk is a perfect prompt. It gives them a different purpose, though, right? It gives them a different language purpose. I did this activity with my French twos.This activity generated tons of language in class – you’ll love it! If you try picture talks this way, they will literally write anything and everything in order to make this happen.
How it works:
Ask them to write as much as they can about the picture, give them a little word bank, and maybe a time limit. Two minutes works well. I did this for a Mardi Gras unit, it was really, really fun with my French 2s. I gave them a white board, a few Mardi Gras terms and put some high frequency verbs underneath it. And then I made a race out of it. And they wrote everything that they possibly could in two minutes about the picture.
The person, the class period, the group of 4 (however you want to organize it) with the most accurate words win!
I would have a class job be a few things – someone to help count words, someone to keep score, and someone to double-check accuracy with the word bank words. It’s a great game to play! Students would play it for 50-minute stretches and not get bored.
Remember that the quality of your pictures matters as much as your input. Put visually compelling, clear, and beautiful pictures on the board! It’s gotta have details and layers to work.
Classroom Jobs and Teacher Roles
I would go round and circle words that were accurate on their whiteboards. Make sure your definition of accurate is clear and consistent. I allowed 1 letter or accent mistake per word for it to still count (again, spelling is not my priority in language class – communication is. Lots of smart people have atrocious spelling and tons of typos in their native languages.) There was also a referee, somebody who held the timer and would go around and count words.
Some fun variations: Do a knockout round with the top three students. Then we also did races for each class period against each other, counting up the totals for each class. And it was all a word game, it was really, really fun.
You can get students to write a lot in a game like this. So way one is if you’re looking for specific structures, way to more language.
French Picture Talk Example
French teachers, are you ready to try a out your new picture talk skills right away? Check out this easy to use unit with built-in picture talks:
Spanish Class Activity for Dia de la Raza
This picture talk unit is ready-made for mid-October when Día de la Raza happens.
All right, time to reflect. Now that you have three ways to work with picture talks, what’s one thing you think you’re going to try this week with something that looks really fun to you? If you already do picture talks, did you hear something today that might make it a little easier for you? Did you see something in here for drawing that you might want to try? What might be a little bit better for you this time around?
More Tools for CI Oriented Teachers
If you are interested in more activities like this, and you like this whole style of approaching proficiency, then I have something that’s really going to help you out. If you don’t already have this, make sure you get your hands on this. I actually just revised it and tweaked it to make it absolutely perfect for you. But it is a completely free over 20 page ebook of my best ideas and strategies for how to make proficiency doable in your classroom.
Have you ever wished the transition to proficiency were easier to do? Grab the FREE toolkit here to learn the framework for updating your practice to comprehensible input – without all the overwhelm – and prepare for the challenges ahead.
Not by putting more work on your plate or trying to replace the things that you’re already doing. But ideas that are focused in this same mindset of let’s not try and add more to what we’re doing.
Free Conference for Comprehensible Input Teachers
Free Conference for World Language Teachers
If you’re ready to jump in and get started with proficiency and teaching with comprehensible input, I have another resource to help you on your journey below:
Sign Up for the Next Practical & Comprehensible Free Virtual Conference! Every year, I gather together the best and brightest in the field of world language to share with you how to switch to proficiency through comprehensible input. All with practical ideas that you can use tomorrow. It’s a FREE virtual conference – join the waitlist and find out more about the speakers here.
This year in 2023, the conference will take place April 21-23rd.
Rooting for you,
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