Let's do Picture Description

Jepulin Das Block Resource Person, Rampur block
Jepulin Das


Picture description is a very useful method for teaching English as a second language. Teaching English, specially, English as a Second Language (ESL) has always posed a challenge for the teachers and often demands approaches different than that of traditional approaches to provide learners with comprehensible input.  Picture description is one such approach for reinforcing vocabulary, speaking ability and other language skills when combined with speaking and writing activities.
Pictures are handy and useful substitute to traditional teaching methods. Most students regardless of cultural and language barriers can comprehend pictures. But first let us understand what is picture description- 

A picture description is a careful observation of a given picture and describing it in the form of a composition having meaningful sentences.

This method is great for helping students to acquire new vocabulary and practice pronunciation. What we need is just any picture - it may be a picture from the textbook or an image of some advertisement or picture from a magazines or newspapers or for a resourceful teacher any picture downloaded/printed from internet. It is advisable to use pictures which describes something familiar to the students like- the picture of a classroom or market or a park, etc.
How to use picture description method in classroom?
At the very first step, show students the picture and ask them to verbally identify what they see in the picture. Students with higher language proficiency might be more responsive during this part of the activity. This will in turn help in peer learning as students with lower language proficiency will be able to learn and identify objects from the picture. The teacher can ask any student to write down the identified words on the black board or may ask the class to write down in their copies.
The next step is sorting, i.e. classify the identified words in to categories like -

  • noun, verbs, adjectives 
  • people, place and thing
  • living and non-living things
  • familiar and unfamiliar words
  • words with one, two or three syllables, etc

This step can be done as a class to support peer learning.

                In the third step, ask students to compose written sentences about the picture with the help of the words. Some students may need support at this stage and this activity can be done in groups having at least one higher proficiency student in each group. 
Initially the teacher can provide sentence frames and ask the student to supply one of the vocabulary words in the blanks. Look at the given example –

rainbowpic Identifiedobj

The teacher may provide sentence frames, such as –

  • The _____________ has seven colours.
  • The ________is shining in the sky.
  • A  ________ is flowing.
  • There is _______ on the bank of the stream.
  • The fence is made of _________. 

Later students may ask to form full sentences or paragraph to describe a picture.

Some tips that a teacher can provide students for picture description –

  • To describe a picture a student has to take a close look of the picture for 10 to 15 second and note down all the things that could be seen the picture.

While observing a picture we can ask the following questions –

  • Where does the scene take place?
  • How many persons are there in the picture?
  • What are they doing?
  • How do they look?(happy/sad/excited, etc.)
  • Arrange the answer in a logical order
  • Write meaningful sentences
  • Strat the picture description with -  ‘In this picture…’/ ‘The picture shows…’, etc.
  • Describe the background of the picture.
  • Use present continuous tense.
  • Try to use adjectives as much as possible.
  • Use appropriate punctuation marks.
  • Start the sentence with a capital letter and end it with a full stop.
  • Describe the picture in 6-8 sentences.
The combination of describing a picture, sorting and writing work together in this activity will help ESL students to acquire language proficiency.