Published on July 7th, 2013


EFL Tips ‘n Tricks: 2 Pics + an Object = Tell a Story

I’m really lovin’ my teaching gig at AMA (the American Academy) here in Dalat.

I didn’t come over here to make a bundle of dough teaching English and living on the cheap here in Asia (though one certainly could do that in spades if one chooses to work full time in HCMC, etc.) But rather, I’ve deliberately chosen to teach only part time – mainly to provide a bit of structure to an otherwise nutso exotic, wanderlust life, as well as to plug me into the local community and give back a little something for my pure luck in being born and raised in a highly developed English speaking country. Well o.k. that and… to finance my air ticket splurges to ride camels in Mongolia, gawk at Uluru in Oz, etc. 😉

So part-time teaching on a short term contract (presently 6 months, but ideally 3 months with a month or two break come time to renew) is the name of my game.

And a most perfect scheme it is…

I only have 3 classes each week, each 1 hr. 45 minutes. I have two high level General English classes (GE3 and GE4) that meet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, plus a single Saturday morning class of CK2s (Clever Kids level 2 English). The GE3 class is small – most nights just 6 students ranging in age from 12 to 15 years. And the GE4 class, 6-8 university students including a few adults who come to class after working a full day at their nursing, etc. jobs. And the single Saturday morning class – a most ebullient bunch of twelve 8 yr. olds – who pleasantly remind me of what it’s like to be utterly innocent and playful.

So just 7 lesson plans to create each week – pretty sweet.  And though I’m sure the style and curriculum varies widely depending on which country and school you teach at, I’ve been pretty lucky in that – at both ILA in HCMC as well as here in Dalat – I’ve been blessed with a teach environment with a solid curriculum and a very supportive staff who allow me plenty of creative latitude, along with good resource books. I especially favor the books used for my classes here at AMA – published by National Geographic, the content includes very relevant, up-to-date, stories and situations (e.g. global warming, technology, etc.), and…

I must say, they’re refreshingly less Brit-centric than the “Cambridge” books I used at ILA – i.e. they acknowledge that there might well be more than one “proper” English word for “lorry” (uh, can you say, truck?), “biscuits” (uh, cookies, thankyouverymuch), “chips” (french fries), “flat” (apartment), etc. And don’t even get me started on “review” vs. “revise” (the Brits consistently use the latter to mean simply read/review a document/book – which we Americans uniformly reserve for actually EDITING something). I wouldn’t mind so much the persistent “tut-tuting” from my fellow Teaches from across the Puddle, but… you say “tomahto”, I say “tomaato” and all that, so kindly gimmyabreak. I mean, it almost seems as though they’re still a bit miffed ‘cuz we won the revolution for goodness sakes.  But the truth is, there must be at least a half dozen or more different “English” dialects in the world, and the Queen’s English simply isn’t the end-all.

A most nifty new tool for my EFL tool kit

Ah but I digress, suffice plenty of differences between teaching curriculums and teach environments here in Asia. But today I’m here merely to proffer another little “tool” from my EFL tool kit that I recently tried and have fallen in love with.  I don’t presume to have invented it (I believe I unearthed it in a supplementary “Warmers and Fillers” resource book), but it’s proven to be both fantastic as an effective speaking activity (both kids and adults love it), and it’s easy-peasy prep-wise – not to mention equally fun for me, the teacher to enjoy the amazingly imaginative stores that come out of the activity.  So without further ado, may I present my…

Even More Easy-Peasy Speaking Activity

Preparation/Materials:  Prep time: about 10 minutes.  For starters, simply search Google images for: 1 pic of 2-3 people – adults or kids.  For example:


Most any generic pic will do of 2 or 3 people – something that invites speculation – print them out in b/w, no problemo.


Likewise find a pic of a place – be it the seashore, a famous landmark, a snowstorm, a meadow of wildflowers, whatever strikes your fancy and invites speculation.  For example:


Print these pics out – I generally print one copy of each in b/w for each group.

And finally, grab a single piece of realia (some tangible object) such as… the first time I tried this I grabbed one of my “Vibram” shoes – you know, those silly looking shoes with a pocket for each toe.  I was pretty certain my students hadn’t seen anything like it, so it was sure to conjure up some imaginative ideas – and I most certainly wasn’t wrong!

More recently, I used a string of Christmas lights I had laying around (yes, even we nomads favor a string of blue twinkly lights to cheer up our transient nests).  Furthermore, for this particular lesson, the Director of AMA spontaneously showed up to “observe” my class, and suffice… this activity seemed to definitely tickle his language teaching toes.  I even plugged the string of lights in and momentarily turned off the lights in the classroom as I introduced it into the activity – creating a most dramatic effect for both boss and students.

But of course you can also use something simple like a banana, or a flashlight (uh, that would be a “torch” for my British pals), even a band-aid, or… whatever you happen to have at hand – just something that invites a modicum of unique speculation.

English level:  Elementary – Advanced.

Language point:  Speaking practice in general, or the pics/object could be related to a current topic like weather, etc. (e.g. pic of a blizzard, folks in the rain with umbrellas).

Class Size:  As few as 4, up to… could work with as many as 18 (I find that groups of 2 or 4 work best).

Activity Duration:  20 – 30+ minutes


Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4.  Explain that each group will be making up a story.  Introduce the people pic and have each group discuss who these people are, where they’re from, what jobs they have (or favorite subjects in school), what do they do for fun, are they neat or sloppy, adventurous or timid, are they happy, or sad, excited or bored?, etc.  I generally allow about 4-5 min. for discussion of the people pic.

Then introduce the place pic, and explain that they are to create a story about the people combined with the place pic.  Do they live in this place? Are they visiting?  Why are they there?  How did they get there? What are they doing in this place?  What do they eat there?, etc.  Again, allow about 4-5 min. for the groups to expand their story.

And finally – introduce the realia – the object that they must likewise somehow fit into the story of these people in that place.  Give them some simple as well as outrageous ideas to get them started.  But you’ll be amazed at what their vivid imaginations will come up with on their own.  Again, allow 4-5 min. to incorporate the realia into their story and prepare to tell their story to the class.

I generally allow about 3-5 minutes for each group (each member of the group telling part of the story) to tell the class their story, and I encourage the class to ask questions as they do.

I’m always amazed at the imaginative stories that come out of this activity.  The students get lots of speaking practice (both within their group, as well as in front of the entire class), and as each group’s story is completely unique, the kids stay engaged to listen to/ask questions of each and every story.

What aout you? Got a favorite EFL activity to share?
Do send it to me privately (TravelnLass at g-youknowwhat dot com) and if it meets my “trifecta” (i.e. easy-peasy, adaptable, versatile) I’ll post it here.

EFL Tips and Tricks: 2 Pics + an Object = Tell a Story

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

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