David Deubelbeiss at EFL Classroom 2.0 posted this morning about photographs - "the fundamental intermediary for context in language teaching" as he writes. While I found myself agreeing totally, I also realised that my main use of photos is entirely different, and the photos I tend to use are also different. Which is one of the joys of a humanistic job, don't you think? No wrong solutions, and lots of right ones.
My own photo library - built slowly from magazine cutouts - has a selection of the lexical sets David mentions and includes in his post. However the ones I come back to again and again are all very similar: all cryptic or incomplete, and almost all captured rather than posed. Here are a couple of my favourites. (I also take the time to cut them out and mount them on decent card to protect them, by the way.)
NB These were cut from magazines, so are not in the public domain. I'll let you know if the Copyright Gestapo kick my door down in the middle of the night.
Here's one activity you can use with teens upwards and lower-int upwards.
I Can Explain Everything
1. Choose one cryptic or strange photo for each student. Don't give them out yet!
2. Ask the students to sit as far apart as your classroom will allow - this is an individual exercise, so give them space to think.
3. Explain that they will each get a photo and a blank sheet of paper. They will have to look at the photo and write a few sentences explaining or interpreting the picture at the top of the paper. Make it very clear you want an explanation, not a description. Ask them to write legibly.
4. Give out the photos and leave them to think and write in peace - usually 2-4 minutes is enough, but play it by ear. Be on hand if they call you, and monitor unobtrusively near the end of the time limit. (I usually do the same as them, BTW.)
5. Ask them to draw a line under their paragraph. Tell them that they are going to get a new photo and paper, which will already have an explanation. They will have to look at the new photo, read the existing interpretation, and write an alternative one, which must be totally different.
6. Ask them to pass the photo and paper to the student on their left, then look, read and write.
7. Repeat this until each photo has been round the class once. You will have several different interpretations of the same photo written on the same sheet.
8. Pin up each photo on the wall, with its paper, allowing students to mill and read. They can each vote for their favourite interpretation - but of course, can't vote for their own.
9. Round up vocabulary.
This lesson has the great boon that it allows your students to appear smart and imaginative to each other, which is vital with adolescents. I haven't tried it with younger learners - as always I'd love your feedback.
PS In a lovely moment of synchronicity, I found this glorious collection online.