Monthly Archives: November 2011

ESP: imagination & ideas through images

.... I love Paris in the Fall....

I met a teacher called Karen at the weekend.

I’d just given a session at TESOL France (great audience, by the way) on helping students overcome some of the ‘issues’ involved in doing writing skills activities in the classroom, including supposed lack of imagination and opinion, or a shyness about sharing the aspects of their personal world that I call The Twilight Zone. I had had some techno-problems at the start of my session, so had lost a few minutes of my precious hour, and this resulted in my not getting to the section on using images. We had a lot of fun with the sections on ‘the people in the room’ and ‘music’ though…

After the session, Karen said to me that she thought her students, as fairly wealthy higher education students of technological subjects like engineering, would feel that using music to access their imaginations was ‘frivolous’, not serious… I know what she meant. Sometimes, students in their late twenties and above are more open to ‘teen’ activities than those in the ‘tween adolescent ‘teen’ and real adult’ years. When you start living Real Life, hey, you realise it’s worth having some fun from time to time, but students who can almost touch the end of their teen years if they stretch out as far as they can (either ahead or behind), whose hormones are settling and have not long left the really yeuchy teenage years behind can be loathe to associate with those years (just as young teens hate doing stuff they think children might do).

After chatting to Karen for a few minutes, we came to the conclusion that images would make a better ‘sensorial’ launchpad for these university-age (ie late teens/ early 20s), serious types, and I then spent some time pondering some ideas, with an eye on ESP in particular.

So here are a few teaching ideas for (budding) civil engineers and architects in particular (mainly because I teach and have taught a lot of them) and which can also be adapted to general courses, both with older teens and adults.

All images are from the eltpics photographic resource for teachers.

1 BRIDGES (this section has also been published on the eltpics blog, Take a photo and…. but you can scroll down to part 2, if you prefer…)

(Civil engineering)


Show learners a selection of photos of bridges, or ask each student in the class to bring one photograph to the lesson and allow the group to look at all the images. I’ve made a mosaic of some of the images from the eltpics Bridges set, using the mosaic maker.

@pacogascon (x2), @mkofab / @shaunwilden, @mkofab, @pacogascon / @arzuteacher, @escocesa_madrid , @vickyloras

Vocabulary and reading for vocabulary

Students work in pairs to make notes about vocabulary they would need to give a presentation on the structure and particular features of the bridges. Brainstorm the words they want on the board, then divide the vocab search task up between the students. Quite often, as general EFL/ESL teachers rather than engineers, we won’t know all the terminology, but if you have internet access, allow students to find words from pages such as Wikipedia (try here or here) or technical pages describing bridges in English, like this.

Remember that even if you don’t have access, the chances of some of your learners having iPhones, Blackberrys etc is fairly high. ‘Use whatever’s in the room’ is a dogme ‘rule’, however plugged or unplugged that may seem.

Speaking and preparing to write

Once the group has all the vocabulary they need, they are ready to prepare their presentations. Put students in small groups or pairs. In a 1-2-1 class, this activity will still work, but you’ll need to help with the planning or it could be intimidating. Ask each group to choose two or three bridges from the selection and decide what information will interest their audience eg where the bridges are, when they were built, what technique was used, how the technique works, why that particular type of bridge may have been chosen rather than another type, technical details such as measurements and materials used in the chosen bridges etc. You may choose to ask them to imagine they are giving the presentation as a bid for a contract to modify, improve or provide a second bridge next to the existing one, although an information presentation is probably enough. Students plan their presentations in pairs, and find other images or information, as they need.


Students write their presentations. This can either mean writing text to add to powerpoint (or similar) slides, or it may mean writing a script for an orally delivered presentation. This will depend on your students and what they prefer.

Final stage (reading, or speaking and listening)

Set a simple task, such as What do you think is the most interesting aspect of the bridges chosen? Ask students to read all the class presentations, if they are the text type, or ask each group to give their presentation, after rehearsal time. Readers / Listeners answer the question set and think of at least one question to ask each group. Allow question and answer time. Again, questions can be written or oral. If written, provide a piece of paper for each group’s presentation, and ask each reader to write their questions on the correct sheet. Allow time for answering in both cases.

If you decide to get students to give an oral presentation, it’s always worth working on posture, body language and eye contact as real life skills, rather than just focusing on pronunciation etc.



(Engineering / architecture)

Show students images of contrasting landscapes. These are taken from eltpics set Landscape features. Again, you can also ask them to bring photos to class, but it’s a good idea to make a mosaic as back-up, just in case.

Images by @worldteacher (x2), @ij64, @cherry_mp, @pysproblem81(click on image for a better view)

Tell them they have to design an environmentally friendly house which will not spoil the landscape in any way. Give them time to work with a partner to choose ONE of the landscapes and to work out not only what they will build and why, but HOW.

The rest of the activity is essentially the same as 1, and you may choose to get students to choose their landscape AFTER they have researched vocabulary, as that is when they will know which they find easiest/most challenging etc.

During the final stage, ask listeners / readers to ask at least two questions, including one beginning What if…..? Encourage as much debate as possible.


(Architecture / (engineering) / general English)

Show students several photos of contrasting buildings such as this mosaic (images taken from eltpics Contrasts and Urban sets).

Images by @mkofab, @sandymillin / @jocelynlpayne, @sandymillin / @fionamau (me!), @mkofab

Put the students in pairs and give each pair a set of questions with space for them to add two or three more of their own. The questions can be as technical or as untechnical as you like, like these:

Allow students to add two or three questions for another pair to choose from, if they want.

Students read the questions and together choose between four and six to answer. This way, they themselves decide how technical or general their work will be. If you find that, in a pair, one really prefers the technical questions, and the other prefers the more imaginative ones, get students to change partners so they are with someone with similar interests.

Students then answer their chosen questions SEPARATELY. If they need, they can write words in their L1 and look them up afterwards. This is preferable than them simply trying to express only what they know how to say.

Before they speak to their partner and compare their answers, allow them a vocabulary ‘moment’, either using technical web pages as above, dictionaries or you, as appropriate.

Students then compare their answers to the questions they chose and discuss any differences.

Finally, ask students to combine their answers and their partner’s to write a text or a presentation. Allow them to choose the text type and title they want, with the proviso that it must be about at least one of the buildings in the images and should use as much of their new language as possible. Tell them they can write a story, a powerpoint presentation and script, an information page like a wikipedia entry, an advertisement, a project outline for alterations or a business proposal. Whatever they like.

Encourage students to exchange their texts from time to time, to help each other edit and correct.

Organise a ‘show of work’ as appropriate to the texts written, and encourage readers / listeners to ask questions.

And that’s it! For now at least. There will be more posts inspired by TESOL France coming very soon, though…… See you then, I hope.

Oh, and if you spot any of your photos in this post, please do tell me the story behind them in the comments bit 🙂


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