Resources for Teaching Languages to Children


Tuesday Tips: A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

IT MAY BE A WELL WORN EXPRESSION, but it continues to be true- a picture is truly worth a thousand words, and as language teachers we know how powerful one can be. Given our goal of 90% (or more!) in the FL classroom, we can make pictures work really hard for us. Pictures can do a lot of leg work- they can help us avoid translating concrete, tangible vocabulary, and can provide context and inspiration for further conversation.  And, they can be used in a whole host of games and activities to practice and reinforce the language (see three examples below)! But, I would maintain, certain pictures are better than others. Here's some tips I consider when choosing pictures for individual vocabulary words:

*DOES IT ACCURATELY REPRESENT your target vocabulary? For some things, this is easy- an apple is an apple. On the other hand, which better represents the number '6'- one picture of a beach ball with the number 6 in the corner, or a picture of 6 beach balls with the numeral in the corner? I've seen too many pictures like the former, which, in my opinion, don't fully convey the meaning. Think about what the word means and choose a picture which really illustrates it well.

*IS IT VISUALLY PLEASING? I must confess, I am a stickler for nice photos and illustrations- kids react better to them just as I do. Stick figures, poorly drawn illustrations or poorly lit photos don't make any of us feel excited. I have found the better the photo or illustration, the more engaged my students are, both linguistically and emotionally. Don't discount the power of the emotional connection kids (and adults) make with beautiful, eye-catching things!

*HAVE YOU HARNESSED THE CULTURAL COMPONENT? When choosing pictures of concrete things, strive for ones that portray the item in a cultural light whenever possible. A professor of mine many years ago spoke to this point- look for pictures that represent the item the way a native speaker would see it in their mind. So, for example, here are two pictures of bread, one being white bread and the other black bread, a common staple at Russian meals. To represent the word 'bread' in Russian, I would choose the black bread, as this picture would come to mind to a Russian long before the white sliced bread ever would.  This also serves to begin the process of embedding cultural representations in your students' minds and gives you the opportunity to point out cultural perspectives.

SO, WHERE CAN YOU GET GOOD PICTURES? Certainly commercially made flashcards are an obvious choice, though frequently I do find they lack in the cultural relevancy department. They are mass produced and often use generic clip art- not a catastrophe by any means, they have their place. However, don't limit yourself to them if you don't have to- Pinterest is one of my favorite sources of photos- do a search in your target language for even more possibilities. Google Images, of course, is another. Or, take photos yourself and upload them to your computer; if you are traveling to another country, take the opportunity to photograph realia, individual foods, fruits, veggies, etc. If you can't travel, consider taking pictures at the supermarket or at home, and print them out. If you have some artistic talent, create illustrations yourself, or have students do them (just be sure the pictures do a good job illustrating the concept).

*¿Qué hace falta?- This is a super simple game to practice vocabulary. Using a set of vocabulary pictures, place 3-5 in front of you or on the board, practicing each word as you place it. Instruct students to close their eyes, then take one picture away. When they open their eyes, ask which one is missing. After a few rounds, take away two pictures, then three- my kiddos love it when I take all of them away!

*Matamoscas- a perennial favorite and also easy to mount. Divide the class into two teams, and call up a kiddo from each team, giving them a flyswatter each. Put up two pictures on the board (be sure there is room below the picture for swatting!) and say one of the words- first kiddo to swat the area below the picture gets a point for their team. Keep the pace moving quickly!

*¿Cuál no corresponde? o ¿Cuál es distinto?- Perhaps you remember the Sesame Street game 'Which one of these is not like the others?'- it was great back in the 70's and it's still great now. Choose a set of pictures that are related plus one that isn't- three fruits and a cat, for ex. Place them all in front of your students and ask ¿Cuál es distinto?- un gato, of course. Here's the extra bonus- if you teach the sentence starter 'Porque es ___/ porque no es __', you can elicit additional responses that have to do with categories, such as 'because it's not a fruit'. As your students acquire additional language, the verb after 'porque' can vary (tiene, hace, anda, etc).

What fun picture activities do you do in class? Tell us in the comments!

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