Using photos in class: Photo Opportunity

In his second guest blog, Ian James shows you how you can begin using photos in class to get students speaking in a variety of tasks that does away with TEFL textbooks.

Photo Opportunities

It may be a strange way to begin a post on using photos, but I’ve never really agreed with the popular adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Nor do I believe in the existence of a new “image-orientated generation”, as if it were a newly-discovered tribe whose special needs and distinct sensibilities we are obliged to respect and cater for – more on that in a future post if they let me back. There may be a few more of them about these days, but visual images have always been open to interpretation and the curious-minded have always been open to interprete them … even before someone invented the term “visual literacy”.

What has changed of course is the ease with which we can produce, manipulate and share visual images. And given the fact that language is embedded in images, it would seem foolish not to take advantage of this new image-friendly reality to elicit it from our students.

Here are four tech tools to help you begin using photos in class … and, hopefully, get the most out of them!

1. Make a “Talking Photo” with Fotobabble

Fotobabble is a “Talking Photo” application which allows you to upload a photo and then “babble” about it (i.e. make a voice recording) for a minute. Your creations can be embedded on a blog, as well as shared on Facebook and Twitter. Here’s an example of me describing a photo of a favourite possession.

2. Describe and draw famous photos with Educreations

Educreations is an on-line interactive whiteboard which enables you to record yourself while drawing on a blank “canvas” with your mouse. Your animated drawings can also include uploaded photographs. One of the ways I’ve used this tool is to ask students to record themselves drawing a famous photo. After embedding the animations on a class blog, other students can play the recordings and try and identify the photo being described. As an extension to the activity, students can also upload the real photo to a separate “slide” and, after doing a bit of research, record themselves giving background information on the photo in question. If there are copyright issues, students can provide a link to the photo just under the embedded animation. Have a look at the example below to get an idea of how it works.

Image at end is ‘Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper’, by Charles C. Ebbets
Source: Bettman Archive
Link to original photo on Wikipedia
3. Make photo slideshows with Voicethread

As many of you will already know, Voicethread has been around for a good few years now. In fact, if you’re already familiar with this tool, you might like to skip this part. If, on the other hand, you like incorporating  technology into your teaching but have not yet tried Voicethread, … you should!

Voicethread has not really been superseded in versatility by any of its more recent competitors. Many of these seem to have wasted a lot of time and effort reinventing the wheel, and some of them seem to left the odd spoke out in the process. Voicethread is the multimedia slideshow application par excellence. It allows you to upload various different types of media (photos, videos, text documents etc) and then make audio recordings to accompany them. But, what makes Voicethread really stand out from the crowd is the fact that visitors to slideshows can also participate in the action by leaving their own comments. The resulting “conversation” is, for the moment, about as participatory and communicative as anything you’re likely to see on the internet. There are three basic comment functions: making a voice recording with a microphone, recording a video comment with a webcam and leaving written comments. Here’s an example Voicethread that I made a few years back. 

4. Create a photoblog with Instragram + Tumblr

As you’ve probably heard, Instagram has recently done a bit of playing field leveling by releasing an application for Android smartphones. If you are one of those teachers who feel they are able to ask their students to do smartphone tasks without excluding the “have-nots”, why not think about creating a class photoblog? You can do this easily by setting up a Tumblr blog and then getting your students to sync their Instagram apps to it (they’ll need the email address and password of the Tumblr account to do this). Here’s an example photoblog with a few Instagram photos I took today.

One idea you might like to try out for using photos in class is to appoint a class “instagramer” at the end of each lesson. Their job would be to add a new photo to the photoblog for discussion at the beginning of the following class. The chosen “instagramer” could talk about the whys, whats, whens, wheres and whos behind the photo and answer any other questions their classmates would like to ask. You may like to suggest some photographic subjects (e.g. I walk past this every day | I saw something very strange today | This is how I get to work | This makes my blood boil | This made my day | I talked to this person today | In my opinion, this should be in the news | I saw this graffiti etc) or just leave it up to them. If you have any more ideas for ways of integrating Instagram, please leave a comment below. I’ve only been using the application for a few weeks myself and would love to hear them.

Note: Unfortunately, Tumblr doesn’t have a “comment” function, which would
allow students to leave written comments on each other’s photos. You can get around this problem by installing a third-party
comment platform called Disqus. It’s quite an easy process, just sign up for an account and paste the Disqus code into the html of your blog. Here’s a tutorial to show you exactly what to do.

Before I go, here’s a few conversation questions to get your students into a photographic frame of mind. You might like to ask them to discuss the questions in pairs or small groups before you send them out into the field. Happy snapping!

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One Response to Using photos in class: Photo Opportunity

  1. Pingback: Photo Opportunities « tefltecher

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